South Africa

'I support eight people. Now I've lost my income': Artist hit by Covid-19 lockdown

'I support eight people. Now I've lost my income': Artist hit by Covid-19 lockdown

Since last month's announcement of the 21-day lockdown, the arts and culture sector was hard hit with a wave of event postponements and cancellations.

For many performers and vendors, this meant an immediate cut in their income.

Mdu Nhlapo, a choreographer from Pretoria, said he is out of pocket by nearly R50,000 after several shows and festivals in which he was meant to perform in the coming weeks were cancelled.

Nhlapo said at the time of the lockdown announcement, he had been rehearsing for the Kucheza Afrika Festival, which was to take place from 2 to 12 April at the SA State Theatre.

“The work we do [as freelance artists] is like a day-to-day hustle, unless you’re a resident artist at a private company where you’re getting a regular payroll,” said Nhlapo.

“I support my mother, my six siblings and my son, who lives in Mafikeng in the North-West. Besides that, I also have to pay rent and look after myself,” he said.

Shane Cooper, a jazz and electronic musician for 15 years, said every day since the lockdown announcement, his inbox was flooded with cancellations.

“I was getting emails every hour about cancellations. I would say I’ve lost six months of income,” he said.

Last week, sports, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa said that the department had “reprioritised its budget allocation to avail more than R150-million to provide much-needed relief to practitioners in the sector”.

He said priority would be given to artists and practitioners who were already booked and whose income was affected by cancelled and postponed events.

“To benefit from the compensation, artists will have to submit a claim that does not deviate from the original Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) [that was entered into with the department], and provide supporting documents such as contracts as well as invoices to the department," Mthethwa said.  

In the meantime, Cooper is making music at home.

Nhlapo said he remains optimistic that things will get better.

“I’m at home now. I’m still working. I’m typing a script,” he said.

Many independent theatres and cinemas are also battling.

Cape Town's iconic art house cinema, the Labia Theatre, has asked its patrons to purchase vouchers for 10 admissions which can be used once the lockdown has been lifted. At a cost of R450, the Labia hopes the voucher system will be enough to keep it afloat and pay staff salaries until it can reopen.

“We didn’t want to ask for donations because we’re aware there are much more needy causes,” said Labia owner Ludi Kraus.

“So far, it’s been heartwarming to see how loyal our patrons have been. Our staff is on leave for three weeks and they’ll be getting their full salaries,” said Kraus.

Kraus said tough days are ahead because even once the lockdown is lifted, patrons won’t be rushing back to the cinema.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said.

- This article was first published by GroundUp