Recently at the African Freedom Station I took part in a talk about excellence in the work of Black artists. My fellow panelists and I also dealt with the merits (and de-merits) of Western euro-centric education, gate-keeping, alternative standards of excellence, Black aesthetics, art development as well as South-South dialogue.
The discussion did not explore curatorial practice in great detail, i would concede that as far as the job i am getting paid to do which is that of chief curator and museum head requires various sets of skills i do not have – for instance municipal management, financial management, HR management and even curatorial work itself up until recently i did not have a formal qualification in curatorial work.
i am still working my way to getting a qualification in heritage management which i a post-grad qualification where the candidates do not come from a management background but mostly from an art/historical background and even the courses that we are dealing with don’t have a management component in them.
So clearly i am underqulified for the job i am doing – no disputes about that and no excuses but then one would have to ask where these skill sets might come from? the environment that i work in would not, i believe, be better served by someone with an MBA because museum and heritage management requires another set of skills – involving partly knowledge production, programming and a good sense of the cultural sector that an MBA might not be primed to understand. so the work is rather specialized and it is very difficult to find someone who can fulfill all of the criteria.
judging from what i have said it would be easy to conclude that i support the “it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got qualification so long as you know how to do the job” faction but this could not be further from the truth. but the issue of “skills vs qualifications” needs to be seriously unpacked.
Firstly this is not a new debate – mohlaudi or JZ are not special cases. This is why the NQF was introduced along with recognition of prior learning. If these measures have proved inadequate to deal with the challenges of our history and inequality then they need to be reviewed in a systematic way rather than simply to say that any standard goes.
There are of course very serious ambiguities in either approach so for instance I am sure that whichever way you slice it politics (as in political affiliations and ideologies as well as class and racial pigeonholing) do play a big part in this debate. I am sure there are those conservative of even those in the right liberal establishment who are rubbing their gatekeeping hands with glee at Madonsela’s report because it proves the failures of among other things cadre deployment. But let us not forget that cadre deployment was meant in part to deal with the fact that, because of the sunset clauses, a large part of the administration in the post-1994 period was populated by Nats and the ANC government could not have brought about social change with so many Nats still in in key positions and in the general staff in government and in para-statals. And of course if one had looked then, as is the case now, at how many Black people had the required qualifications to fill those posts there would be and still is a big gap between what is required and what is available.
The problem of course goes beyond the SABC and affects all levels of government and parts of the private sector as well and that is also a problem of the type of education that is available, the prohibitive cost of education, the lack of adequately skilled people to do the teaching, etc. etc. And for me the SABC itself is implicated in this lack of skills. As a public broadcaster I am not sure if the best people to head that behemoth and to occupy positions relating to content, are necessarily those with journalistic or managerial backgrounds but perhaps it ought to be people with an educational background.
The commercialization of the SABC in the 90’s I think was a really bad move because just at the time where programming needed to be more, not less, educational, entertainment became the new gospel at the SABC. Ratings, populism and advertising revenue became its most important function.
There should have been a more open and wide-ranging process of determining what the mandate of the SABC should have been and should be in the future. I think we as citizens and as TV license payers having been robbed of the opportunity to determine the nature of the SABC and having been robbed of a radical agenda within the SABC and that has been tantamount to criminal neglect by both the SABC and Government alike. By so saying I am not so naive as to think that the ANC leadership does not privately or overtly harbor fantasies of turning the SABC into a government mouthpiece. But that’s another debate.
For me the SABC could have and still could/should be a very effective tool to bridge the gap between the shortcomings of the state and the cultural, educational and social needs of a society that remains largely (structurally) under-educated and marginalized,
Those of you who have watched Soweto TV lately will know that is it is very bad mixture of hours and hours of gospel music, motivational talks and programming and music videos. Its like there is a second wave of social engineering designed to make Black people dumb in the name of giving people the content they want. Yes, Soweto TV is a community TV station and not the public broadcaster but why must ICASA renew their broadcasting license? And yes, if the SABC delivers boring programming no matter how informative it is people have more options now – internet, multi choice, eTV etc.
But I don’t think the SABC should be competing with these other media. It has a very important social and historical role to play…the internet, youtube FB, multi choice don’t have that responsibility (actually they do as responsible citizens). And because the SABC has that responsibility the government should fund them appropriately – provided they deliver on their mandate and provided that the content managers can produce content that is independent of Luthuli House.
And even then it does not mean that that educational content has to be boring. For instance (and this may just be a reflections of my class affiliations and tastes) the series Society and Home Affairs were excellent – they dealt with modern subjects and reflected a lot of the issues of contemporary South Africa in a way that was informative and entertaining.
But now let me once again go back to the issue of education and in particular educational institutions and what it is exactly they are supposed to be producing. I am not one of those people who advocates for the instrumentatlisation of knowledge but at the same time there has to be also sufficient room created for technical education. Let me use myself as an example – the type of education I received at both technikons where I studied was geared towards the idea that we were all going to be artists. In reality maybe only 10 percent of those that graduated are actually making (any) living at all from making art. For those who have stuck to it like Sharlene – three cheers for them but for others like me – we could have benefited a lot from more diversified curriculum. I realized probably in my third year that I was not going to be a full-time artist but for at least four more years after that I was in denial about it and that’s partly because there were few other options.
We were not introduced or taught art administration, or introduced to curatorial work or any of the professions up and down the value chain of art-making. As I mentioned earlier even now I am doing an MA in Heritage Management with Cynthia Kros which has no managerial component to it. Not that I was expecting such content in the course but I would say most of my fellow students over the past two years work in government institution and we need some of that non-conceptual, mostly administrative training for us to be effective bureaucrats.
I also do not want to pit informal education against formal education – that debate for me is unproductive, rather the issue is what is the quality of education one has received whichever route one has taken – or circumstances allowed one to take – and what are the standards that we can use to determine minimum standards and how do we benchmark excellence (assuming that excellence is something that is over and above basic requirements). And de-racialising the notion of excellence.
So again rather than ONLY blaming the people in high positions without qualifications we can also ask what role educational institutions are playing. But of course if those people do not themselves realize that there is something missing in their skill-sets or are unapologetic about it, as seems to be the case with Mohlaudi then we have a huge problem. As I said in the talk on Tuesday it is worrying when people working in youth development (many of whom working without remuneration and who are fulfilling a need in their communities – so I am not hating on them) are themselves in need of developing but somehow they feel that they are already there (wherever that is because I certainly would never ever claim that I am there) then again I have to be concerned about the futures of the artists they are producing.
Add to that an even more vexing question that of decolonizing our education system – (and our cultural sphere including our SABC). again this is something that requires a greater debate and cannot be left either to Luthuli House, or to technocrats. Tied to that is the notion of how we connect with other spaces on the continent in terms of content and then the rest of the so-called developing world. How do we decolonize without falling into an all too easy and simply reactionary and chauvinist conception of nationalism or worse one that has overtones of sexism, homophobia and tribalism.
Like some of the questions that emerged during the discussion at the Freedom Station the issue is very important to what museums ought to be doing in our (post)colonial setting, whom are we supposed to serve etc. etc.
Finally, please take this for the rant that it is…I am not as you know a broadcaster but I am a citizen and a consumer of TV and radio and I am a cultural bureaucrat who still harbors hopes for a revolutionary ethos in what we do rather than simply plodding along which is basically what I do on a daily basis.
PS: I need you good people to help me think about something I hope will be the basis of my long paper – i.e. trying to understand where the idea that memorialization can deliver social justice comes from and if there is any reasonable cause to believe that it actually can.