Indigenous Cultural Entrepreneurship in South Africa

Wednesday, 9 December, 2009 - 09:31

The cultural landscape of South Africa tells a story of underdevelopment, disregard of certain cultures and also a story of preferential treatment of particular cultural communities and cultural practices. Many cultural communities in the country do not have the vision, confidence, self belief, persistence and expertise to establish cultural agencies which are capable of preserving, promoting and developing their indigenous cultures and position it as a central pillar of sustainable development. Cultural commissions or other state agencies have not done enough to empower communities to tap into the cultural industries sector and to create wealth for themselves.

South Africa consists of people who live out their culture in different or in similar ways. Culture includes all the various languages which people speak as their mother tongue and as a second or even a third language. It also includes the music, literature, visual arts, dance, drama, oral traditions, traditional practices which include food, fashion, architecture and heritage and the particular beliefs of a cultural group which all contribute to a unique way of life that is in certain ways distinct from that of another cultural group. All of these distinct cultural characteristics in some way or another contribute to a diverse, but also a shared and vibrant cultural landscape in South Africa.

However, the cultural landscape of South Africa on the one hand tells a story of underdevelopment, neglect and blatant disregard of certain cultures and on the other hand a story of preferential treatment of particular cultural communities and cultural practices. Hence, the challenge is to create enabling and creative cultural pathways to rectify these imbalances and to reshape the cultural landscape of the South Africa in order to reflect the rich diversity and set in motion supportive collaboration between the various cultural groups.

Cultural pathways refer to all the projects which are aimed at preserving, promoting and developing a specific culture. It may include anything that relates to culture such as a language, dance, literature, music, creative writing, crafts, visual arts, traditional fashion or food, heritage or a particular indigenous cultural project.

These cultural projects are carried out by various cultural agencies such as government departments, schools, universities, individual practitioners, non-governmental organisations, religious entities, cultural groups and councils. In this respect South Africa is privileged to have a wide range of professional cultural agencies that provide highly professional services which are geared at developing professionals for the cultural industry. These agencies are however very expensive and the entrance requirement to do any of the preparation programmes, such as a diploma, degree or certificate is matric with specialisation in an industry-related subject.

The cultural industries include the radio, television, print media, design, electronic media, tourism, heritage, cultural festivals, architecture, fashion, music, drama, education, book, crafts, language practitioners, advertising, agriculture, speech and language therapy, communication and related industries.

South Africa is also very privileged to have a wide range of amateur cultural agencies that do excellent work in terms of preserving, promoting and developing culture. They are committed to the task at hand and engage in extensive cultural mapping to provide the most relevant and best service possible. Cultural mapping involves identifying and documenting all of the local cultural resources, such as writers, poets, musicians, storytellers, dancers, historians, museums, books, galleries, craft industries, distinctive landmarks, local events and other industries, archaeological sites, etc. Comprehensive cultural mapping also enable communities to recognise, celebrate and support their own cultural environment. Such a workable and sustainable cultural environment creates ample opportunities for cultural entrepreneurs who are prepared to take the risk to translate these cultural resources into cultural capital for personal economic gain, but also to bring about local social development. 

Cultural capital refers to the goods and services which generate monetary benefits or other tangible or intangible benefits to cultural entrepreneurs and the communities in which they are active. To this effect indigenous culture has been identified as a potential resource to generate cultural capital and is seen by academics and activists in the field of culture development, as well as UNESCO as an alternative way of promoting development in poor rural communities in many parts of the world.

According to a paper written by Keith Nurse, titled ‘Culture as the Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development’ the “cultural industries sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world economy. Best estimates value the sector at 7 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and forecast are put at 10 per cent growth per annum (UNCTAD 2004). This growth is accounted for by rapid techno-economic change in products, distribution & marketing (e.g. e-books, iTunes,; the increasing commercialization of intellectual property, particularly copyright; the shift towards a post-industrial economy where personal, recreational and audio-visual services have expanded as a share of the economy; the strong cross-promotional linkages with sectors like tourism (e.g. festival tourism); and the convergence of media, the increasing concentration of large firms and the expansive growth of the digital economy (e.g. the Internet and ecommerce) that allows for easier production, distribution, consumption as well as infringement (e.g. piracy, file swapping) of cultural products, services and intellectual property.”

However, many cultural communities in South Africa lack the vision, confidence, self belief, persistence and expertise to take advantage of this development and establish cultural agencies which are capable of preserving, promoting and developing their indigenous cultures and position it as a central pillar of sustainable development.

In these respect state entities such as the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, the provincial cultural commissions, other state agencies and various cultural organisations can play a much more constructive role in empowering communities to tap into the cultural industries sector and to create wealth for themselves. Their role is to create an enabling framework and promote networking so that communities engage with one another.

We need however to guard against the notion that our indigenous languages and culture should only be exploited for commercial gain only, because it serves a broader purpose.

Socially it builds positive self-esteem and identity within communities. Culturally it unblocks the perceptions that indigenous culture is backwards and inspires creativity and originality within communities. Educationally it contextualises learning and teaching and promotes the value of indigenous knowledge. Entrepreneurially it stimulates the establishment of micro-businesses within the cultural festivals, film, video, print and electronic media, leisure software / computer games, TV, radio and internet broadcasting, advertising, architecture, music, publishing, visual arts & crafts, heritage and tourism, folklore, medicinal plants and other related industries.

Our indigenous languages and cultures do provide many meaningful, sustainable and feasible solutions for the many developmental challenges South African communities face.  Let’s be unashamedly proud about it and make it part of the global cultural domain.  Many other indigenous cultures all over the world are already doing it through cutting-edge technology. What are we waiting for?

- Christo van der Rheede is the CEO:
Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans


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