It’s 11 days since a group of artists started a sit-in at the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (Pacofs) in Bloemfontein demanding accountability from management.
The 40 artists have accused the centre’s management of running down the well-known and established theatre.
They join artists in other towns across the country such as Johannesburg and Kimberly staging similar protests.
The provincial coordinator of the Culture and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) in the Free State, Mbuyiselo Ngodi said under the leadership of the acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Artistic Director Moeketsi Xaba, Pacofs has deliberately deprived artists of opportunities to stage productions.
Xaba also finds himself in hot water over the awarding of a tender deemed irregular and alleged bias and favouritism towards a councillor fingered in the Morar Report issued by Schalk Oosthuizen on December 12, 2018.
“In 2018 Pacofs commissioned a report that recommended policies that should be put in place to prevent wasteful expenditure and how to deal with conflicts of interest among board members. They say they’ve implemented the report, but they don’t tell us how,” said Mbuyiselo Nqodi, a theatre practitioner.
Following its completion, the report was handed over to the then chairperson of the council, Nkosana Sifumba.
Ngodi said artists were sick and tired of irregular practices being swept under the carpet.
“Disciplinary or legal processes were never instituted against perpetrators implicated in the report. Instead, the report was swept under the carpet,” he alleged.
Quizzed about the matter, Pacofs Council chairperson Advocate Thato Moeeng said, “Matters raised by the local artistic community regarding alleged corruption and maladministration have been duly acknowledged and are being investigated by the newly appointed Pacofs Council.”
He noted, “We are unreservedly committed to ensuring that fairness and transparency remain at the heart of all operations and that the integrity of the organisation is maintained.”
However, Ngodi said artists were not moved by the response. “We’re passionate about this sector and we want to hold them accountable. If they don’t give us satisfactory answers, we’re not going to move.”
Pacofs is no stranger to allegations of corrupt activities, with two previous artistic directors having been shown the door for alleged corruption.
Xaba ascended to the acting role of Pacofs CEO in November of 2020 when the then CEO Peter Pedlar, was suspended pending an investigation into his conduct.
Pedlar had joined the troubled centre in 2019 amidst expectations that he would turn the institution around. However, this was never the case.
Attempts to draw comment from Xaba who is implicated in the Morar Report proved futile as he did not respond to WhatsApp messages regarding calls for his removal from the centre.
The artists have also complained they are not represented on the artistic committee that reviews proposals for productions and submits them to the council for final consideration.
Ngodi said following a meeting early this month, Xaba outright rejected the request for representation on the committee.
“It doesn’t make sense for people who know very little about arts to make decisions regarding the industry without the inclusion of artists themselves,” argued Ngodi.
Police have been called in to try and get artists to leave the premises but their attempts were in vain.
“Police were called twice to come and remove us. However, because this is a peaceful strike which does not infringe on other people’s rights, including employees here at Pacofs. The police could not do anything. We are also conducting ourselves well and peacefully,” Ngodi added.