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By unknown | Nov 23, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

HAVING sent the questions ahead as requested by her PA, it feels eerily pointless to sit with Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana, listening to her answering the same questions.

HAVING sent the questions ahead as requested by her PA, it feels eerily pointless to sit with Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana, listening to her answering the same questions.

On the periphery of the meeting the minister's mistress of spin has also gone through the list and offered advice on how asking one particular question was going to be tantamount to filibustering, given the squeeze on the duration of the interview.

"You could be asking other questions then," she says with a big-sister-knows-best shrug of the shoulders.

In its place she suggests something "I'd personally like to know", a classic of those innocuous ones that could, at worst, only allow her principal the chance to, what's the phrase, beat her own drum.

True to form, when Xingwana finally gets to speak for herself, she would not talk about music promoter Morris Rhoda "as the matter is in the courts".

Her ministry, after initially buying into a commemorative concert for Miriam Makeba and paying Rhoda and his production company R3million, suddenly withdrew.

They are now in the high court a few good streets away from her well-appointed 10th floor Pretoria office, trying to recoup the loot.

The fracas has since enraged the Makeba family, who are adamant it is not compatible with the good nature of their matriarch, Mama Afrika, who died one year ago aged 76.

A good black woman, the minister is soft-spoken with a highly pronounced Basotho-like R sound in her diction.

She speaks like she doesn't want to offend.

It felt therefore inappropriate, like it would be offensive to ask that, of the R150million - she very nearly said she did not want to talk about it - she says has been set aside for the 2010 World Cup, our source says R100million is unaccounted for.

She has appointed a task team, the minister says, headed by Professor Pitika Ntuli and Sibongile Khumalo to assist with her departmental World Cup project.

Xingwana talks freely about her meeting last week with artists: "I believe the meeting went very well. I'm happy that the artists were free to raise their concerns."

The meeting, at which she and a handful cabinet colleagues were accompanied by President Jacob Zuma, tackled such issues as piracy, intellectual property and copyright "but also general empowerment and funding".

With funding a perennial problem in the arts, she says her department's R2billion kitty is stretched as "almost a billion or more goes into infrastructure in previously disadvantaged areas".

After renovating, maintaining and building new institutions, there isn't much that's left but her burden is eased somewhat by funding bodies such as the National Arts Council and the National Heritage Council who each sit with a budget of less than R100million and the National Film and Video Council which has R39million to disburse.

The worldwide economic meltdown has also not helped issues and she had to rely on her colleagues at Trade and Industry to "fast-track the funding from the Lotto - as you know there is funding there for arts, culture and heritage".

Through cooperation with other departments, Xingwana has already mooted the idea of rebates for the film industry.

"So, there is hope," she says satisfied, summing up their response to the artists.

There'll be another bigger meeting next year, stretching far into the arts industry.

Starting with the draw for the World Cup on December 4, the department will showcase "our poets, musicians - from various communities, arts and crafts". She is unambiguous: "The look and feel of the World Cup must reflect our African-ness."

Sporting a Bafana Bafana jersey under her leather jacket, Xingwana says: "The opening and closing [ceremonies] will be dominated by the cultures of the six African countries participating in the World Cup."

A member of the national working committee of the ruling party's women's league since 1993, her curriculum vitae shows a strong hand in women's issues, especially the advancement of rural folk.

"I've been a gender activist all my life."

But Xingwana, who confesses "I'm a rural girl" gives her audience the gratifying impression that even with arts and culture, she has her ducks in a row.

A former deputy minister of minerals and energy (2004 to 2006), the Wits University BSc graduate, who moved from heading agriculture and land affairs to her current post, has had a stint in various portfolio committees - from defence, environmental affairs and tourism to international relations, peace and stability.

It is no wonder her ethos is in inter-ministerial co-operation.

The Ras Dumisani fiasco "was unacceptable" and her interactions with other departments will "ensure such [disasters] do not occur again".

But it is the passion in her voice that should perhaps be used to tell the skeptics what a helluva World Cup this is gonna be!

Xingwana, 54, is into African music and dance.

"I went to the Durban Film Festival, which I enjoyed very much."

The little spare time she has allows her a turn at the movies and theatre to sample the works of the likes of John Kani.

With hindsight, it wasn't such a terrible idea to lob the questions ahead.

And Lisa2, as it might have struck you, the minister isn't strictly averse to personal questions!


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