Dear President Ramaphosa
I realise there is a commission of inquiry currently underway investigating state capture. But I want to go on record and bring to your attention the fact that the arts and culture sector in this country was captured. Long before the Guptas. Your party, our government has squandered billions of rands meant for the struggling artists of South Africa. And all of this can be traced back to cadre deployment. Why not appoint a man like Njabulo Ndebele as minister of arts and culture? Why always individuals whose creativity extends only to creative ways of defrauding their artists?
But Jacob Zuma becoming a recording artist must surely rank as a low point, even by the low standards of the ANC. To use arts and culture money to record the favourite struggle songs of Jacob Zuma is a slap in the face of every artist and writer in this country. And as the acting director of Durban’s bid – Durban’s successful bid – in becoming the first Unesco City of Literature not only in South Africa, but in Africa, I hang my head in shame that the City of Durban can fund Jacob Zuma's struggle songs, but do nothing in 14 months to show the world what the literary capital of Africa should look like. Nothing. In 14 months they could not even constitute a governing body to oversee the functioning of what other countries consider a crowning glory. (By the way, to show you another example of corruption: When a delegation was sent earlier this year to an international Unesco City of Literature gathering in Iowa, neither I as the director nor my deputy director was a part of the contingent!) And now they fund Jacob Zuma’s struggle songs. Under the Unesco City of Literature banner. A project that they have not worked on, let alone celebrated (unless we were not invited!) since 1 November 2017! It is a disgrace.
The City of Durban are a disgrace, using monies promised for Unesco City of Literature projects to fund the legal bills of a man who is soon to swop designer suits for the orange garb. Do they think we are stupid?
This is how TimesLive reported the story: “Ngcobo [Thembinkosi Ngcobo, head of parks, recreation and culture – DD] said after the city had been named as the City of Literature in November by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Unesco, it had decided to celebrate this through many forms, including music.” This is rich coming from a city that has barely marketed the city as a Unesco City of Literature since November 2017. And did anyone tell Dr Ngcobo there is such a thing as a Unesco City of Music?! Which Durban is not! Moreover, what gives him the right to pronounce on Unesco City of Literature matters? He was not even involved in the bid process. Surely democracy implies consultation with relevant stakeholders?
As the director of Durban’s successful Unesco City of Literature bid I want you to know, Mr President, that I regret the day I brought such an accolade to Durban. Forget the narrative the city tries to spin about how they worked on this bid. This bid was driven and won by six ordinary citizens. We gave our lives for this project, but I want publicly to declare I regret ever bringing such an honour to Durban. I know my committee members feel the same. I feel I have let the writers down. I should have listened to wiser counsel who warned me that the City of Durban would use this project only as the proverbial feeding trough. And so it has come to pass.
Secretly, I hope that Unesco will take a principled stand and make history by withdrawing Durban’s status as a Unesco City of Literature. Because Durban, an ANC-led municipality, has made a mockery of writers of this country; they have made a mockery of the Unesco City of Literature brand and of the ideals of the Unesco Creative Cities Network. In their first act as a Unesco City of Literature, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, the head of arts and culture and the ANC-led City of Durban have chosen to fund Jacob Zuma. The only thing that comes close to this act being regarded as a Unesco City of Literature project is the well-worn phrase “stranger than fiction”.
I sincerely hope, Mr President, you will investigate this flagrant state capture of the arts and culture sector in our Unesco City of Literature. As the most experienced curator of book festivals in this country, and the only person in the world to have pioneered both a Book Town and a Unesco City of Literature, I can assure you this is only the tip of the iceberg, albeit the most obscene act of corruption in the arts and culture sector to date.
As a man whose inaugural speech as president captured the hearts of all South Africans with your famous Hugh Masekela quote “Send me”, I can only hope that you will send me to lead the City of Durban’s Unesco City of Literature programme and not let me be banished to the outer edges of Siberia like all the valiant whistleblowers to date. Use your power to crush corruption and ensure the independence of a democratically elected governing body for South Africa’s and Africa’s first Unesco City of Literature. Empower us to be free to invite authors who write books like Why the ANC will fail or The President’s keepers. For was it not the writers of this country who fanned the struggling embers of resistance during apartheid? I don’t need money. The team of six that brought Unesco City of Literature glory to Durban never asked for a cent. We are the dreamers, for whom money is secondary. SEND US MR PRESIDENT TO TAKE OVER THE UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE IN DURBAN. And send Dr Thembinkosi Ngcobo and the City of Durban back to Nkandla to inform Mr Zuma there will be no recording contract.
Darryl Earl David