Cultural industries and the development of South Africa

African culture is a formidable force which can neither be ignored nor neglected

Published on 14 April 2012

Author(s): Music in Development

Type:  News

Setting the Stage

In the 1995 World Commission on Culture and Development report, ‘Our Creative Diversity’, it was argued that the concept of culture is inextricably bound to development (WCCD, 1995). This essay seeks to provide an exploration through key ‘culture and development’ discourse in order to provide a more avant-garde perspective on the developmental debates relevant to South Africa. Bernstein identifies that ‘South Africa has seen very little research on the precise ways in which culture and development interact’ (Bernstein, 2006: 40). In this, this examination aims to contribute to the reduction of such deficits.

Key Arguments

Through an analysis of ways the concept of ‘culture’ can assist us in providing us with a more informed understanding of the developmental happenings within South Africa, it is argued that;

  1. Cultural Industries (CIs) can contribute to the economic development of South Africa through employment creation for the traditionally marginalized Black African majority. In particular Black African Women will benefit from the CI because of the relatively low barriers to entry. Such employment opportunities will aid the economic development of those involved and will contribute to South Africa’s economic development.
  2. CIs can contribute to the social development of South African in narrowing economic dualism and reducing inequality. CIs also have the potential to contribute to Nation Building within South African society and can be used as a tool for deepening the understanding between fragmented social groups, thus aiding the ongoing democratic transition.


  1. The potential of CIs to contribute to economic and social development depend on the capacity of the South African government to facilitate growth in the CIs sector.
  2. The potential of CIs to contribute to economic and social development is dependent on the ability of the South African government to exploit the energies of the industry to the wider projects of poverty reduction.
  3. And. the innate ethical base on which the cultural products were traditionally made (i.e. authentic representation of culture, reflection of local values, and meanings) has the potential to be jeopardized in the wider context of shifting socioeconomic global landscapes. Such jeopardy may pose a serious threat to cultural identities, and disrupt social development.

Context: Culture and it’s place in Development

Radcliffe postulates that there is ‘no doubt culture has arrived in development’ (Radcliffe, 2006a: 2). Indeed, culture has been a consideration within post-war development theory (Watts, 2006), but held until recently a relatively peripheral stance within development debate. The recognition of culture within development theory has resulted from the perceived incapacities of Modernization theory (Harrison, 2006), and the emerging ‘Neo-Weberian renascence’ in recent years that argue the importance of incorporating the notion of culture into political and economic understandings of development (Berger, 2006: xvii).

The notion of ‘culture’ is ‘complex’ (Gasper, 1996: 636), ‘polysemic’ (WCCD, 1995: 10) and ‘potentially nebulous’ (Casson & Godley, 2000: 2). Connotations vary over space, place and differing histories, following a similar theoretical journey to that of development theory. For instance, both of these concepts are largely defined by the theoretical and social context in which they are employed (Quartesan, 2007; Gasper, 2006). As such, both culture and development landscapes are characterized by varying fluctuations in theoretical and practical consensus (Radcliffe, 2006a). In this, it is important to recognise that much of the discussion provided should not be seen as universally applicable but is instead solely an attempt to provide and contribute to an area of debate that deserves expansion.

Though a relatively small amount of theoretical discourse exists, the fundamental awareness of ways in which culture and development coexist can be seen on an international level with the 1988 to 1997 World Decade for Culture and Development.

The increased focus on culture within development debate is the result of various social phenomena. For instance, the perceived threat of globalization creating a global homogenous culture; increased pressure from civil society; the success stories of South East Asia; and the ‘need for social cohesion’ (Radcliffe, 2006a: 3). Alongside this has been the failure of traditional developmental assistance (Svob-Dokic, 2007). It was postulated that conventional forms of assistance failed to fully consider the cultural complexities involved in promoting development and instead unilateral Eurocentric models of economic development were perceived as universally applicable (Ishemo, 1995).

Culture & Development: Its Relevance to South Africa

The notion of ‘culture’ is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the development of South Africa (Bernstein, 2006).

South Africa and Development

When the African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994 it was stated that ‘Attacking poverty and deprivation must…be the first priority of a democratic government’ (ANC, 1994).

South Africa being awarded the chance to stage the 2010 FIFA World Cup may be considered a symbol of South Africa’s progress since the end of Apartheid in 1994, thus it may be deduced that the ANC has made key developments in the reduction of poverty and deprivation. Indeed, the implementation of a democratic government and investment in state building has produced multiple benefits. However, poverty, deprivation and inequality still persist behind the guise of international sporting events; this just being one of the contradictions between the international image presented by South Africa and the undertones of relative economic and social backwardness (Butler, 2004).

Mokate indentifies a trend of relatively poor performance of the South African economy in terms of real growth and employment possibilities since the mid-1960s (Mokate, 2000). However more recent evidence suggests a more optimistic image with three consecutive years of GDP growth between 2004-2007, with the Department of Trade and Industry recording an average real economic growth rate of 5.1% in 2007 (DTI, 2008). This has been a trend throughout multiple African economies ‘for the first time in three decades…growing with the rest of the world’ (World Bank, 2007: 1). However, unemployment remains high at 41% (OECD-ADB, 2006). Despite damaging unemployment figures, the recent economic experience may justify an increasingly positive image of South Africa and evidence that the economy is beginning to establish and consolidate itself after the economic struggle experienced in the immediate post-Apartheid era.

However, despite these recent steps of economic progress, South Africa continues to be characterized by inequality in the distribution of income and wealth (May, 2000a), registering a Gini Coefficient of 0.59 (OECD-ADB, 2006), and with widespread poverty, particularly amongst the Black African majority. The cause of such inequality and poverty has been placed on their relationship with labour market structures and unemployment (Mokate, 2000: 57). For example, the economy can be seen as having ‘sharp economic dualism’ with large sections of the 47.9 million population (UNESCO-UIS, 2008) participating in the second economy (OECD-ADB, 2006: 461) causing what Torres et al. refers to as labour market ‘segmentation’ (Torres et al., 2000: 74). Those negatively affected by the segmentation are generally those within the second economy that is mainly made up of the 38.6 million Black Africans, of which 20 million are Black African Females (StatsSA, 2009).

The causes of this economic picture are largely the result of multiple barriers to entry to the primary labour market (Torres et al., 2000). Perhaps most significant is the continued presence of the ‘distortions and dynamics’ constructed during the era of Apartheid (May, 2000a: 3). For instance, the OCEDs 2008 Economic Assessment of South Africa, refers to the racist Apartheid education system which disallowed the participation of the majority Black population (OECD, 2008). As a result the Black population has a skill deficit in the contemporary formal economy thus minimizing economic opportunity in the labour market (OECD-ADB, 2006). Attention is also pointed towards the ‘suppression of entrepreneurial initiative’ within the Black Population under the Apartheid era. As such, although a small minority of the Black majority may be included in the current formal economy through initiatives such as ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE), the vast majority of the Black African population continues to be marginalized on the basis of historical Apartheid discrimination.

Development Strategies

The reduction of poverty and inequality, and promotion of development has been at the heart of South Africa’s government since 1994 (Simkins, 2000). The history of growth policies initiated by the South African government is somewhat lengthy. The adoption of the ‘Reconstruction and Development Programme’ (RDP) by the new democratic government in 1994 seemed to ‘provide an icon for the new South Africa’ (Munslow & Fitzgerald, 1997: 60), as did the ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution’ (GEAR) strategy introduced in mid-1996. The most recent development effort being the aforementioned ‘Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative’ (AsgiSA). All three of these growth strategies have been aimed at providing employment and increased economic opportunities for the disadvantaged Black population of which 27.4% of the economically active are unemployed (StatsSA, 2009). Indeed Torres et al. highlights that 93% of total unemployment within South Africa are Black Africans (Torres et al., 2000). The government response was the ‘Expanded Public Works Programme’ (EPWP) that targets creating 2 million jobs for those currently out of work with specific attention being paid to the 30.9% of economically active Black African Female population that are unemployed.

The recent faster 5% rate of economic growth in 2005 has contributed towards the reduction in unemployment levels. However, the AsgiSA requires an average economic growth rate of 6% if it is to attain its aims of halving poverty and unemployment by 2014 (OECD, 2008). As of yet, poverty reduction has been somewhat moderate with only a 6% increase in poverty reduction between 1990 and 2004.

Ultimately, the development policies are yet to deliver the desired result (Butler, 2004; OECD, 2008: Le Roux, 2001) with 3.873 million people still unemployed (StatsSA, 2008). In particular, it is suggested that the EPWP will fail to fulfil its employment creation targets due to the temporary nature of work that characterizes the government infrastructure sectors that it targets (OECD-ADB, 2006). The persistence of continuing poverty and economic inequality are feared to have a direct result upon social and political stability of South Africa (May, 2000a: 3), potentially jeopardizing some of the ‘hard-won economic achievements’ (OECD-ADB, 2006: 461).

Continuing Development Problems

Within the socioeconomic context outlined above it is possible to identify certain themes that need to be addressed;

  1. The persistence of unemployment, particularly among the Black African majority caused by barriers to entry such as a skills deficit. Black African Women continue to be those most adversely affected.
  2. And, the continuation of economic dualism between those that are skilled and those that aren’t i.e. generally those that are White South African and those that are Black South African.

It is on the basis of these two persistent socioeconomic patterns that we consider the role of CI’s in South Africa’s development.

Cultural industries

In recent years, the inclusion of ‘culture’ within development has been extended to the addition of CIs. The South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science & Technology (DACST) define ‘CIs’ as ‘A wide variety of cultural activities which all have commercial organization as their prime motivating force’ (DACST, 1998a: 1)

UNESCO highlights the importance and potential of CIs within a nation’s development in the Declaration on Cultural Diversity Report (UNESCO, 2004). Graan (2005) identifies that over the past 20 years CIs have been recognized as promoters of economic opportunity, employment, and tourism. However, CIs are not confined to the promotion of economic benefits, but can also positively impact on social or human progress such as empowerment (Canclini, 2002). For instance, the employment base of CIs is largely rooted in grassroots initiatives because of the nature of the products that are produced. At the grassroots level across the developing world the population is often marginalized from economic opportunity. As such, it may argued that CIs provide a window of economic opportunity for such populations and as a result progress social, as well as economic empowerment.

South Africa and CIs

The South African Arts and Culture Annual Report 2007/2008 highlights that CIs are ‘recognized for [their] potential to generate employment opportunities and wealth creation’ (DAC, 2008).

South Africa has replaced its previous rejection of CIs (DACST, 1998d) with the creation of the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) and the establishment of the CIs Growth Strategy (CIGS). CIGS was built on the motivation that the cultural sector can be a potential source of more employment opportunities and a means to narrow South Africa’s aforementioned economic dualism (DACST, 1998d).

In this effort, the DAC have invested in micro-enterprises and education and training programmes. A recent report highlights that of 6078 beneficiaries, 45% of them were for women (DAC, 2008) .Indeed, in 2008 13.6% of total employment was in the Craft sector alone (StatsSA, 2008).

Furthermore, South Africa has built transnational networks with other developing regions that are recognizing the importance of culture. For example, collaboration with Brazil at the Art Mundi Craft Exhibition in Sao Paulo and the South African hosting of the India Brazil South Africa (IBSA) Summit in September 2007. The same report highlights government investment into 2000 projects across the country and the promotion of a Public Private Partnership aimed at the promotion of ‘accessibility and marketability of cultural products’ (DAC, 2008: 5-6). Networking with Northern and other African states has also occurred. For example, the trilateral relationship between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium, and South Africa looks to draw on the experiences of other countries experiencing the ‘Cultural Turn’ of South Africa.

As well as the national-level recognition of the role that CIs can play in development, it has also been incorporated into development work at the grassroots level. For instance, the DAC focuses on the empowerment of Black Africans at a community level through both the AsgiSA and the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA). However, the promoters of grassroots level CI-orientated development are not confined to the boundaries of the South African government. For instance, grassroots Civil Society is also playing a significant role. McEwan’s (2006) study of the Amazwi Abesifazane memory cloths program illustrates the ways in which local-level development initiatives orientated around the culture and creativity can provide a form of job creation as well as the encouragement of economic growth, ultimately reducing the incidence of poverty. In this research, it is highlighted that the legacies of colonialism and apartheid continue in the form of social and economic discrimination resulting in the marginalization of the Black African population, especially women. It is argued that the economic empowerment of women is essential to inclusive development within South Africa. The Amazwi memory cloths program is,

‘[A] community rehabilitation project to promote healing of people effected by human rights abuses…dedicated to improving the lives of women by encouraging peer support, nurturing dialogue at the local level, and developing women’s self employment industry that creates products to market internationally’ (McEwan, 2006: 208-209).

Importantly, in this, another beneficial dynamic of CIs emerges; that is, its ability to promote and maintain traditional cultures that have been historically disrupted through socio-economic/ cultural processes; in South Africa’s case, the Apartheid. For instance, through the Amazwi Abesifazane program, the community based preservation and expression of traditional forms of apparel production, facilitates an affirmation of identity.

In many ways related to this concept of identity building is the promotion of ‘Social Cohesion’; an additional potential benefit from the promotion of cultural enterprise and one that has particular relevance to the post-Apartheid experience of South Africa. For instance, the DACs South African Arts and Culture Annual Report: 2007/2008 highlights the Mosadi wa Konokono campaign, which aims to promote social cohesion through grassroots community-based participatory development exercises. In particular, the programme encourages the participation of Black African women in community processes through investment in small micro-enterprises aimed at producing cultural goods.

The Amazwi Abesifazane and the Mosadi wa Konokono strategies symbolize the great significance that CIs can play in South Africa’s development. Specifically, the programmes attention on Black African Women, which aforementioned are the most economically marginalized in South African society. Thus, through the promotion of CIs that are especially rooted in Black South African localities, there is a direct economic and social benefit to those members of African society that have been historically neglected.

Importantly, the development of CIs also has the potential to contribute to other sectors of the economy. For instance, Tourism has been the fastest growing sector of the South African economy, being an emerging significant component of GDP (5%) and making up 7% of labour force employment (Butler, 2004). With the arrival of foreign visitors to South Africa increasing from 6.6 million in 2003 to 9.2 million in 2007 (StatsSA, 2008), this would suggest that the domestic market for cultural products is expanding at a relatively fast rate, thus potentially contributing to the development of the CI, with economic benefits transferred to suppliers.

Potential Limitations

Thus far, this essay has discussed the manner in which CIs can provide both economic and social benefits to South Africa. However limitative aspects of the CIs should also be considered. Three of the main limitations are considered here.

Firstly, and perhaps the most significant, is that the possible benefits, in the areas of job creation, economic growth, reductions in inequality, etc. are dependent on the ability of the South African state to control and exploit the industry the CI to deliver those ends. As Butler postulates,

  • ‘A major challenge lies in the need to harness the energies of the industry to the wider projects of job creation, poverty alleviation, sustainable rural livelihoods, and black economic empowerment’ (Butler, 2004: 60)

Thus, much of the potential success of the CIs in producing the economic and social benefits considered are dependent on the wider context and capacity of the South African government. As such, the efficiency and effectiveness of the AsgiSA, alongside programmes such as JIPSA and CIGS, is essential for South Africa to maximise its development gains from CIs.

Secondly, the consideration of government policy context needs to be extended to the consideration of the shifting socioeconomic global landscapes in which the South African CI is placed. In this, Radcliffe, referring to an example of Bolivian Musicians touring Japan to give school concerts, asserts that

  • ‘[They] are not mere entrepreneurs riding the wave of global economic opportunity, but work to times and others’ standards in order to make a living’ (Radcliffe, 2006a: 15).

Therefore the extent to which South Africa’s CIs develop is dependent on the suppliers of cultural goods to perform at the demand levels of the market and their ability to conform to market standards. Thus, the South African government, and in particular the DTI, must ensure suppliers of cultural goods participate in such compliance.

Finally, and in relation to the previous limitation, are the possible compromises that a CI would bring to the cultural expressions and identity of South Africa. It is argued that,

  • ‘Cultural goods and services are important to all societies as they represent the cultural values and beliefs of the author and artist, as opposed to only having an economic value…they should not be exploited merely for financial benefit’ (UNESCO, 2004: 24).

The OAU & UNESCO adds,

  • ‘They [CIs] can… pose serious threat to cultural identities, [and] moral values, by people who are not fully conversant with all the implications involved’ (OAU-UNESCO, 1992: 19)

In this, it seems that although CIs have great potential to promote South African development, fundamentally the structures of such Industries must stay rooted in the cultural meanings/ identities on which cultural expression was originally formed. Failure to do so, whilst providing economic forms of development, may jeopardise the social/ cultural integrity of South Africa and its people. In an ongoing process of nation-building since the Apartheid it seems illogical to compromise emerging progress made in social cohesion and maturity for the sake of economic development.


This exploration has contributed to the relatively small amount of discourse concerning Culture and South Africa’s development. On a theoretical backdrop of recent understandings of culture and development, the emerging significance of the relationship between these two notions becomes apparent. On this base, an analysis of South Africa’s social and economic landscape revealed the paradoxes that characterise its development. Whilst achieving some progress in economic growth, the benefits of such growth are unequal in distribution among South African Society, as such great inequality persists. Such inequality is formed primarily on the basis of the marginalisation of the Black African majority within the labour market, with little employment opportunity in the formal economy. It was identified that in particular, Female Black Africans contributed most to unemployment. Unemployment was largely the result of barriers to market entry, in particular a deficit in skills.

South Africa has historically attempted to combat poverty through economic growth. The most recent AsgiSA attempts to provide a more equal distribution of the benefits of such growth among the South African population through programmes like the EPWP. These focus primarily on job creation. However, the temporary nature of employment created and its incapacity to address the populations in most need of employment has meant that such development strategies continue to fall short of their targets. On this basis, the need to address the economic development of the marginalised Black African population is maintained.

It is within this context that CIs are invited to address the development problems. It is argued that CIs can contribute to both the social and economic development of South Africa. It is postulated that, in particular, CIs have the capacity to focus on the social and economic development of the segment of the South African population that is most marginalised, that is the Black African and, particularly, the Female Black African population. Through providing employment opportunities to these previously disadvantaged cohorts, it is suggested CIs can narrow the inequality currently prevalent within South Africa. Aside of the economic benefits, it has been recognized that social positives can also be produced as a result of CIs/ local-level ‘cultural entrepreneurship’. For example, McEwan’s (2006) example of the Amazwi Abesifazane community-level development program illustrated how economic opportunity can run alongside social empowerment, maintenance of traditional culture, affirmation of identity, etc.

However, potential limitations have also been identified. Primarily, it is the capacity of the South African government to harness and exploit the CI in a way that delivers the potential benefits associated with it, such as job creation for the Black African majority. If the government fails to utilise the CI in a manner to deliver beneficial ends, then development may be restricted. Thus South African development policy must increasingly incorporate CIs into the overall objective of more equitable growth. Further attention must also been draw on the prevailing socio-economic global context in which South Africa’s CIs can potentially contribute to development. Thus the DTI plays a role in ensuring the CIs conforming to international standards and market demand. Unsuccessful compliance may result in falling market demand and restricted CI growth, thus damaging job creation and the consequent development benefits.

However, in meeting the demands of prevailing market conditions there is a risk that the true cultural base on which CIs are formed will be undermined. In effect, this may detriment social development as cultural identities/ expressions/ goods within CIs lose their fundamental cultural meaning and are instead primarily seen in terms of market/ financial value. As such efforts of nation-building/ social cohesion may be undermined at the expense of economic growth. This is a difficult balance that must be explored by the South African government.

In sum, culture and development are coproducing when placed in the context of CIs. South Africa’s CIs have the potential to contribute to the development of societal groups previously disadvantaged and marginalised. This is due to strong correlation between the unemployed population and the populations most characterised by poverty. However, the potential of the South African CI to deliver developments is dependent on the competence of the South African government to manage and facilitate CI development.


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