COVID-19 Relief Fund Insufficient For South African Filmmakers

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COVID-19 is yet to reach its peak in Africa. The shortage of testing kits is further making it difficult to contain the spread. To help fight the spread of the pandemic as well as provide relief for those whose livelihood was affected, most African governments created COVID-19 Relief Fund. Consequently, these funds allow well-meaning individuals to make contributions. It is from these funds that most governments are rolling out economic packages for families and small businesses.

On April 21, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500 billion plan to boost the economy and relieve social distress. According to Daily Maverick, the unemployed who do not qualify for grants will receive 350 rand for the next six months. Also, the child support grant was increased from 300 to 500 rand. However, filmmakers are skeptical about their share from the COVID-19 Relief Fund.

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), South Africa usually release Calls for Funding late in the year. The call for application for animation, script development, and post-production would have opened in August 2020. However, the NFVF made the call earlier on March 27, 2020. This was an effort to keep the industry busy during the lockdown. Also, the NFVF will channel funding earmarked for canceled Film Festivals to bolster production budgets. Speaking on the relief, the CEO of NFVF Makhosazana Khanyile said,

“We stand in solidarity with the practitioners of the TV and Film industry and we hope that these relief measures we have put in place speak to the level of our commitment.”

COVID-19 Relief Fund may be inaccessible to many

The Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture has set aside R150 million for the entire sector. However, this appears to be grossly inadequate. South African film industry employs about 25,000 people. A 2017 study by the National Film and Video Foundation shows that the industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP was R5.4 billion.

Like every other industry, activities in the film industry has ground to a halt. Filmmakers are hoping that the government’s economic package will help them to prevent layoffs. However, the process for the application of the COVID-19 relief fund for filmmakers is a source of concern. Marion Seymour, the vice-chair for Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) says the amount is too small. Also, she expressed concern about the department’s demand for proof of contracts and proof that the contract cancellation was due to COVID-19. Film director Catherine Meyburgh said,

“Crew members, cast members, and those in production often don’t sign contracts. A lot of acting and crew are ad-hoc. You don’t even sign a contract. It’s often a verbal agreement.”

Impact of the lockdown on female filmmakers

A large number of female filmmakers in South Africa have lost their job. The fate of others hangs in the balance. Following the lockdown, SWIFT conducted a survey to determine the impact on women in the film industry. According to their finding, 87.5% of women have lost their work or contract. Also, about 12.5% of others are still in the negotiation phase. A Johannesburg-based filmmaker, Vusi Africa said,

“It’s not like South African theatres and cinemas were doing exceptionally well. We were struggling so you can imagine on top of that struggle to now add on Covid-19 and the fears that are attached to it. After the lockdown, are people going to be willing to go to the cinema? Won’t they be afraid to go to the cinema? People are still going to be wary.”

There has been a sharp rise in domestic violence globally. The loss of jobs among women is a serious source of concern. It often means that women have to rely on their male counterparts for survival. This can further escalate the growing femicide statistics in the country. Therefore, it is important that the COVID-19 relief fund in South Africa give special consideration to women.

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