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The Annual Arts Summit, convening to investigate the power and potential of the arts Eswatini

The Eswatini National Council of Arts and Culture today presented the 1st Annual Arts Summit, convening to investigate the power and potential of the arts. Bringing together thought leaders for conversation and connection, the Arts Summit engages experts from across numerous fields, aiming to challenge old ideas, spark new ones, and catalyze potent partnerships across disciplines.

The Arts Summit explores how we define and shape our world through the stories we tell (and the ones we don’t). How can arts reframe our world view — shift/expand what we think is possible? Through a series of long conversations, presentations, discussions and breakout sessions we will broadly explore art, as a tool, and a strategy for moving us forward, Said Vusi Nkambule during a briefing with our team.

Local Spiner Master P and others listening during discussions

The kingdom of Eswatini is one of the few remaining countries whose sovereignty is deeply rooted in its people’s respect for culture. Culture has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th century despite the influence of western ideologies, especially during colonial times.  While the colonial agents suppressed and attempted to alienate Emaswati from their roots, the traditional leadership especially the Royal Family ensured the continued survival of Swati culture.  Even today His Majesty King Mswati III and Her Majesty the Indlovukazi remain the undisputed symbol and custodian of culture having assumed this role from King Sobhuza II and the rich history of a long line of Swazi rulers.

Arts and Culture has progressively moved from the shadows and now has the potential to take centre stage.  The Arts and Cultural Industries have over the past few years emerged as a huge potential of becoming one of the kingdom’s major sources of foreign currency, employment and a means to assert the people’s national identity. They have contributed immensely in attracting tourist inflows and in building the country’s image.   The promotion and development of the Arts and Cultural Industries can only enhance the capacity to create new jobs, generate income and increased inflows of foreign currency if it is based on a clear policy.

Panel Discussion (bookings, marketing, branding, social media) Nduduzo Matse, Sipho Makhabane, Illa PenBoy

Support for culture is manifest at the highest level and is enshrined in the country’s constitution.  The preamble to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini states that “…Whereas it is necessary to blend the good institutions of traditional law and custom with those of an open and democratic society so as to promote transparency and the social, economic and cultural development of our nation…”

Many Swati art forms have for years played second fiddle to western and other African cultures.  The national radio and television stations are dominated by foreign content.  The media also tends to show a preference for promoting foreign artists at the expense of locals. Eswatini has become part of the “global village” and its citizenry cannot escape the impact upon its way of life of many foreign cultural elements which may enrich or weaken the indigenous cultural values and social norms. The development and stimulation of the national arts and culture will enable the Swazi to have the capacity for selective assimilation of cultural values, norms and practices from foreign lands.

Mshikishi Mdzebele (Artist) 

CREATIVE INDUSTRY

The kingdom of Eswatini is endowed with talent in the cultural industries; however, the level of development of each of these components is still, in many cases, at infancy.  The challenge for us is to adopt policies, programmes and strategies to promote the development of talent and creativity and the general growth of local cultural industries.  These should yield public appreciation, participation and consumption of our diverse arts and culture products. There is a need to recognise and reward the artists for their contribution towards the promotion of traditional, contemporary values and artistic skills.

Cultural industries have the potential to promote the livelihoods of the marginalised, the poor, and the vulnerable. Cultural industries create employment opportunities and produce economic gains and incomes at all levels. These cultural industries further contribute to cultural development by protecting and enriching cultural values, promoting creativity, optimising skills and human resources.

The industries associated with cultural products permeate every aspect of the daily lives of our people. It is the duty of the state to ensure that the cultural industry – on both the practical and theoretical levels – actually benefits the lives of ordinary people living in this country.

The summit seeks to unpack four main areas music, theatre, film and festivals;

1. Music

Music is an integral part of Swati society.  We sing when happy and we sing when sad. There are traditional songs for every occasion.  With globalisation, local musicians have embraced other genres of music.  Swati artists face the challenge of inability to record and mass produce their music due to limited facilities in the Kingdom.  Furthermore, they get limited airplay in the electronic media and have less coverage in all media compared to foreign artists.  Until recently very few local artists actually sang and recorded in SiSwati.  Indigenous and traditional Swazi music is still not easy to access on a commercial scale.

The policy will be to promote Eswatini’s rich heritage of traditional and popular music incorporating the new genre as the need arises. This will include support for research and training and the preservation of traditional music, traditional musical instruments and the requisite playing skills.  The government will enact relevant legislation to protect the economic and moral rights of the artists and their creations from exploitation. Investment will be sought to enable the development, recording, publishing and marketing of Swazi music at home and in the international market.

Key Interventions

  1. Organisation of local live concerts that enable musicians to showcase their talents.
  2. Encourage annual showcases that bring together local, regional and continental musicians as a way to cement regional and continental relations and identities.
  3. Encourage local musicians to develop and improve their musical skills and presentation through workshops, competitions and awards.
  4. Support the production of curriculum materials on the history and development of Swazi and contemporary music for utilisation in schools
  5. Establish strong partnerships between musicians, film, radio and television producers and broadcasters in order to encourage the development of original musical scores as well as showcase the development of music for distribution to audiences at home and abroad.
  6. Seize opportunities to showcase Swazi music and musicians of various genres during international events as cultural ambassadors, especially under the auspices of Eswatini diplomatic missions overseas.
  7. Develop appropriate legislation that will enable the duty – free importation of musical equipment by registered and practising musicians.
  8. Government should provide scholarship for artists who wish to study music.
  9. Remunerate artists fairly, irrespective of their nationality. The practise of giving less pay to locals should be stopped.
  10. Create a system to charge performance tax for foreign artists who come to perform in Eswatini and use such funds for the development of local musicians.
  11. Encourage the formation of bargaining groups, unions and association of artists and creators for improvement of their welfare.
  12. Pay local artists royalties for their music which is used in radio, television, films and other electronic media such as ringtones.
  13. Compile and maintain an up-to-date database of local musicians, and develop guidelines for classification and remuneration of artists

Watch part of the presentations that we were able to cover on day one from the summit here as soon as we have uploaded it.

2. Theatre

Theatre remains underdeveloped in Eswatini despite the country producing internationally acclaimed artists.  The Policy will promote the development of Swazi theatre based on traditional drama, music, dance forms and modern forms of dance presentation. This will include all theatre genre including support for professional theatre groups, community – based theatre groups and drama societies at educational institutions. The policy will encourage the development of dramatic skills and offer opportunities for presentation to the public through television, film and public performances.

Key Interventions

  1. Strengthen the administrative capacity of theatre organisations and groups.
  2. Develop training material for use in the upgrading of the standard of acting skills, stage setting and theoretical presentation.
  3. Incorporate theatre studies and appreciation in the school curriculum.
  4. Urge local authorities to provide facilities for theatre rehearsals and performance to take place.
  5. Commercialise theatrical productions through recorded material in both audio and video forms for consumption at home and abroad.
  6. Stimulate the development of theatrical skills, i.e. script writing, acting stage direction and stage design through a system of competitions and awards.
  7. Provide support and incentives to independent producers that make use of theatrical actors and content for purposes of broadcast.

3. Film and Television

Film and television are powerful media for transmitting culture through generations and to other nations.  The Eswatini film industry is at infancy and is dominated by small independent producers.  Many of them produce documentaries, record events, and produce marketing material.  Very few go for film production.  Proper production houses which are professionally run need to be encouraged.  Film and television have the potential to take our culture to the rest of the world.

Key Interventions

  1. Support independent producers for film and television through training to acquire the necessary skills.
  2. The state and the private sector should fund local film production to reduce over-reliance on television stations.
  3. Encourage the public broadcaster to allocate significant air time to local productions especially those with cultural content.
  4. Assist Independent producers to make quality productions and also encourage them to consider low budget films depicting local content. This model has worked in other countries.
  5. Reward and recognise filmmakers and scriptwriters through a system of competitions and awards.
  6. Market the country as a spectacular and desirable film location for production of films. This may also help to market the country as a preferred tourist destination.
  7. Develop clear guidelines for foreign film producers who wish to do their work in Eswatini. A structure needs to be formed to facilitate the process of granting filming rights by foreign individuals and companies.
  8. Local producers and personnel should be involved when foreign companies make films in Eswatini. This is to promote skills development of the locals.
  9. Local television stations should be encouraged to support independent local producers by accepting low budget films with local content.

4. Festivals and Exhibitions

Festivals and Exhibitions bring people from different walks of life together in an effort to promote, preserve and showcase cultural issues. The nation through relevant bodies should make a deliberate attempt to ensure Festivals and Exhibitions are vigorously employed in order to showcase aspects of the valued Swati culture. The state shall take such policy measures as are necessary to attract private sector investment in festivals as well as facilitate their commercialisation in order to ensure their viability and sustainability.

Key Interventions

Development of a national calendar of cultural festivals and exhibition to showcase and promote products of the Swati culture.

  1. Make use of National Events to promote social cohesion.
  2. Ensure participation by different cultural groups, schools and institutions of higher learning in national and International festivals and exhibitions of a cultural nature.
  3. Promote cultural exchange programmes, which promote co-operation between and among member states and the international community at large.
  4. Encourage schools to use such days as sports days, open days and prize giving day to showcase their cultural efforts.

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