Creative economy in South Africa

Posted on July 27, 2017 01:23 am

South Africa has always wanted to promote its creative economy in a way that it can enhance job creation.Considering the country has enormous cultural potential that is spread across tens of ethnicities, Pretoria government is confident that South Africa can be competitive enough in the global market for creative products. In addition, most of the country’s policies in the last few years that I have seen would continue to promote creative economy development. Africa’s creative economy story began in South Africa, where young people, mostly educated, introduced a new style of entrepreneurial activities in the early 2000s by utilizing individual creativity which in simple language is €œmaking money from ideas€. Since then, the so called creative industries have continued to grow in the continent, especially design, music, as well as clothing factories and distribution outlets. In South Africa which has the continent’s most developed creative economy, companies offer stunning fashion and music products, with quality comparable to international products. These activities indeed enrich the image of South Africa, which is gradually becoming known as a creative country. This creativity boom has also been recognized internationally with multiple awards winners coming from the country. The South Africa story then became an inspiration for the national government and local governments to adopt the idea as a tool for economic development and job employment among the youths. The Pretoria government has attempted to encourage local governments to replicate the success of regions like Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng to areas that are yet to fully embrace creative economy like Mpumalanga. Of course, local governments are also interested in the idea, as it could be a new alternative to enhancing regional competitiveness in South Africa where each province compete to attract investments to spur their growth and development. Yet, the policy direction in promoting these industries at province and local levels is still unclear, whereas creative industries grow at a very local level within specific places or in clusters within cities like Johannesburg or Cape Town. The creative economy should not only become a South Africa narrative, but should also be integrated into local policies. Thus, local governments in regions like Mpumalanga need to thoroughly determine strategies for promoting these industries. In your blogger’s view, creative regional pilot projects should be designed for such areas. Through such projects, the ministry in charge of culture, arts etc need to helps the cities to highlight and promote their creative economy potential. While the development of creative industries in South Africa appeared as a bottom-up initiative from the creative community, such pilot projects will rather a top down policy, which is basically the rebranding of the whole country policy narrative. By this i don’t mean changing South Africa name to Azania as it has recently been mooted by radical nationalists.There are clear differences between South Africa’s creative industry and cities or regions within the country creative economy. While creative industries in cities like Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg mostly work based on pop culture and current trends, the local governments of areas like Mpumalanga tend to focus on traditional crafts and performing arts, which have existed for a long time among the local communities.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that such cultural industries are not creative. Such cultural products indeed still hold great interest for the local market and tourists. Foreign tourists continue to be dazzled by the complex paintings by South African artistes, as well as carving and webbing. This also reflects the extent of cultural diversity in South Africa. Yet, the nature of intellectual property and innovation in these cultural industries is different compared to the same aspects of other creative industries.According to the recent South African government’€™s concept, creative industries should also be linked with tourism. Creative products are expected to add to the value of tourist attractions. On the one hand, the South African government wants to build the future economy by encouraging emerging entrepreneurial activities, which involve young spirit and talent while on the other hand, the creative economy is used to preserve cultural values, which can also be economically valuable. The existing traditional cultural industries are €œtransformed€ and rebranded as creative industries. However, the development focus of creative economies then becomes unclear. In my analysis of different policies, its hard to understand what creative economy South Africa really want to develop. That aside, this interpretation is actually reasonable since the term of creative industries is vague in itself. South Africa’s definition of creative industries is strongly influenced by the Western countries concept, as there is quite a strong bilateral cooperation between South Africa and countries like Netherlands, Britain and US in the field of creative economy. In South Africa, creative industries include a wide range of content and copyright industries, as well as cultural-based industries€”.However, policy mechanisms for supporting contemporary creative industries are different to those for traditional cultural industries. To date, South Africa government still uses the same style in stimulating both types. Promoting creative industries needs not only the conventional way of delivering subsidies, but also, and more importantly, encouraging creativity and innovation.It should be noted that not every city or province in South Africa must promote a creative economy. The idea might be not applicable to all regions. Localities should have enough potential and agglomerative externalities to develop creative economy policy.Innovation should be encouraged within creative industries by also nurturing the competitive climate among them. These activities should be grown organically, whereby those entrepreneurs look for novel ideas through face-to-face contacts, mutual learning and competition with each other. A competitive climate is necessary to generate motivation in those industries to engender novel, valuable ideas. This process happens serendipitously and in an informal way. If we want to support creative industries, we need to stimulate such conditions. To do so, it is important to facilitate self-help mechanisms through which creative entrepreneurs can develop their own activity systems. The informal environment can be nurtured through co-working spaces where creative entrepreneurs can meet, share and learn from each other. These spaces can also function as a temporary workplace, especially for those newly established businesses that still cannot afford their own offices.Overall, the direction of the development of traditional cultural industries is different. Transforming them into creative industries would be challenging, as they have different development trajectories. The transformation might not be really necessary if cultural products are intended only to be a tourism commodity, as tourists are only interested in exotic products. In my view, it would be great for South Africa policy makers to consider developing creative industries in which inspiration comes from cultural values. That way, local cultural values can be packaged in a modern way, and thus be introduced to the Africa and global markets at a higher value.

Contador Harrison