Sibongile van Damme is a poet, philosopher and Chief Executive Officer to the South African Heritage Resources Agency, SAHRA.

Sibongile van Damme: "Bureaucrats like us operate within a limited mandate"

September 2009 -

"We always say that there is not enough money to do what we have to. South Africa has the most ambitious of legislations and there will never be enough. Governments develop legislation, monitor implementation and fund so that a society can function and meet all its rights and needs. Governments also have to service international agreements and some of them are in the cultural sphere. Culture has become a globalised tangible object of trade. This scenario has pushed the arts into the periphery with the middlemen getting the fattest cuts. As cultural diplomacy grows we have to sit and watch as to who it serves. As a Director of an institution that comes out from these diplomatic relations, I think that the funding directed to my institution has to address the needs of my core business. Governments must get on with their work of developing legislation et cetera."

Sibongile van Damme

"People are becoming more and more aware of their rights within legislation. They are making demands, we are pleading with our governments for more funding. It is a cycle of struggles. But we cannot fold our hands, cast our eyes towards Pretoria where our national departments are and hope for the best. We must come up with innovative strategies, set up working partnerships and service them. We must recognize as institutions what we can and cannot achieve and what we do not have we negotiate with other institutions who we share the same objectives with. We must be willing to give of course as well, if we are willing to receive."

"Now, we have to recognize that bureaucrats such as me, business people and funding agents have to operate within a certain limiting mandate. For this group, to negotiate with community art centres for instance or local people who are dealing with different livelihood challenges is difficult. In a recent meeting where we were working on sourcing funds from a funding agency to address training needs in the area relating to the funding of management plans for world heritage sites, I cautioned my colleagues against saying that they will address community needs. We should not be promising people that we will address their broader needs. We come in our flashy four wheel drives in the dusty roads of Poffadder, decked in gold rings and Rolex watches and ask shoeless communities what their needs are. If there is an out break of lice, they may just tell you that they need shampoo, shavers, irons and ironing boards and to have their houses fumigated."

"We therefore need to be forthright with our agendas and tell them what we can fund and what we cannot. We must remember that what we are negotiating with them is our main core objective while they have many balls in the air that they have to juggle."

This interview was made in cooperation with the  Centre for International Heritage Activities