Targeted Candidate

Thembinkosi Goniwe, 29 July 2006

Dear Emma Bedford,

Please consider my concerns regarding your advertised Trainee Curator at the SANG. I am wondering how many potential candidates “from historically disadvantaged groups” that would apply given the stipulated required “Minimum qualification: BA Degree in Fine Arts or History of Art”? I am thinking of young black art practitioners who have no university or college qualification as required, for example graduates from Community Art Projects (now Arts and Media Access Centre), Ruth Prowse, FUNDA, etc – from community driven initiatives or organisations!

The question then, who really is your targeted candidate “from historically disadvantaged groups”, if those without formally recognized qualifications seem to be calculatedly excluded regarding unaddressed politics of ‘qualification’? Maybe this recruitment should be clear about its targeted candidate. Be frank about inviting or soliciting formally trained (university/college) graduates. If that being the case, then remove such patronising stigma: “historically disadvantaged groups”! For some black students with university/college degrees in Fine Arts are not from disadvantaged families; some are from middle and upper class families who do not neatly and un-problematically fit into the categorization:
“historically disadvantaged groups”.

The stipulated requirement of a “BA Degree in History of Art” is rather pretentious or misplaced given the lack of black students with such
qualification; let alone how many black students in South African universities/colleges are currently registered or majoring in the history of art discipline!

My point should be clear: there is need to specify who are targeted candidates for this Trainee Curator at SANG? This points to the question of transparency and sincerity of such recruitment processes and their anticipated outcomes.

Some explanation or rather a debate is important on this important move the SANG is making to address the “serious shortage of qualified, trained or experienced art curators in South Africa from historically disadvantages groups”. While questions regarding who is both qualified and
experienced to train or mentor whom at the SANG are pressing and thus demand response, for now I will pause here, of course hoping to hear your response to the above concerns.


Thembinkosi Goniwe

[This is a slightly edited version of a letter I wrote in response to an email Emma Bedford sent out soliciting recommendation of “any suitable
candidates” to apply to a “Mentorship Programme for a Trainee Curator of Contemporary Art at Iziko South African National Gallery”. My letter is a
comment on the contents of the advertisement.]


  1. Mokgabudi Amos Letsoalo | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    Thobela Ma Afrika,

    Say it again Thembi!!!

    I have personally gone through similar "trainee programmes" but still people who were my "mentors" still do not consider me qualified to be a curator. According to them I am good enough to be their assistants and nothing else.

    I am beginning to wonder if these "institutions" are not using this "training of disadvantaged" as a way of getting cheap black labour to do donkey work for white skilled museums and art galleries workers in South Africa. Is this a "modernised" perpetuation of Bantu Education? Where blacks are trained to be good servants or assistants to their White counterparts?

    Maybe I am wrong but I will like to see these " disadvantaged trainees" being given orportunities to run or direct museum and galleries on the same level (as their white counterparts or "mentors") after the completion of their "mentorship programmes". If the training they get is to be valued.

    Sebata Kgomo!!


  2. Mario Pissarra | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am


    I fully endorse the sentiments of your message to Emma Bedford at the

    SANG, and think that everyone concerned with transformation should

    welcome you giving expression to what is usually only thought and

    said in private.

    It is evident that class is increasingly a factor in addressing issues of

    access. It is also evident that there has been a significant increase in

    recent years in the number of black curators in SA; but that most are in

    junior positions and few institutions can show anything for their

    'training'. The corporates and public bodies who fund such programmes also

    deserve to be scrutinised since, even if their intentions may in some

    instances be sincere, it does not appear that much pressure is brought to

    bear on the galleries and museums who benefit from funds being made

    available for curator development. Certainly there is little to suggest

    that most of institutions actually structure training in any meaningful

    way that leads to visible outputs, other than PR for the sponsors and host


    The lack of proper training for curators is perhaps not surprising given

    that most 'dominant' curators learned on the job, often under the old

    order, so I have always found the notion that there are no trained black

    curators out there a perverse 'logic'. Certainly SA is not short of

    potential, but are the gatekeepers prepared to give 'others' a chance?


  3. John Nankin | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    It seems wrong that such an apprenticeship scheme should bar all those not already deemed 'educated'. What a crazy way to judge suitability for learning, especially here. But I would like to see a commitment from the sponsors and institutions running these apprenticeships to provide paid time off work and other means of access for further study (outside of the on -the -job training schemes ) for the chosen candidates.

  4. John Nankin | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    Is this a legitimate advertisment? It may be informative to refer to the Amended Employment Equity Act of 2006 – Chapter 3 Section 20 . (3) & (4) :

    (3) For purposes of this Act, a person may be suitably qualified for a job as a result of any one of, or any combination of that person's-

    (a) formal qualifications;

    (b) prior learning;

    (c) relevant experience; or

    (d) capacity to acquire, within a reasonable time, the ability to do the job.

    (4) When determining whether a person is suitably qualified for a job, an employer must-

    (a) review all the factors listed in subsection (3); and

    (b) determine whether that person has the ability to do the job in terms of any one of, or any combination of those factors.

    (5) In making a determination under subsection (4), an employer may not unfairly discriminate against a person solely on the grounds of that person's lack of relevant experience.

  5. Liese van der Watt | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    Thembinkosi is quite right in pointing to the contradictions in the advert which amount to exclusion, but apart from that, I am especially heartened to see that he is at last acknowledging that blackness is no longer an homogenous category (if indeed it ever was) – as he implied in a recent Michaelis lunchtime lecture.

  6. Khadija Williams | February 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

    I agree with Thembinkosi wholeheartedly, and think Mokgabudi also raises very important points. The assumption that blacks need training/mentoring in the SA art world is rife, as it is in corporate and academic SA too.

    It is interesting that whenever black people raise these issues, many liberal white people who are cosy in such areas start the whole essentialist argument. To say that white supremacy is alive and well in SA is not to say those that are on the receiving end (us blacks) are all the same. Even if we said so, what difference would telling us we are wrong make to the status quo. None!

    That is precisely the point. Constantly telling black people about blackness being heterogeneous is a way to detract from addressing being complicit with white supremacy and very cosy in an art and academic community that gatekeeps not just our physical and intellectual presence, but also our words.

  7. Moleleki Frank Ledimo | March 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

    What a Bunfight this has turned out to be!

    Let's face it, there are not many qualified curators in SA, let alone "black ones", "rural based ones", "indian ones", "township-art-based-one", "BEE-ones", "cousin-of-zuma ones" the list is just endless.

    Do we want to redifene who we are in terms of South Africans? When we have this definition and it selects people on their best written paper/proposal we will then decry/cry foul, that those who got selected were connected, resourced, served, privileged, elitist etc. Definitions/Classifications by their nature are there to exclude and include.

    DAG, JAG, Jun Smuts Museum, PE Museum, Anne Bryant in EL, MuseumAfrika, Museum of Gold in CT, Apartheid Museum did all not get this transformation fund from DAC. But here is SANG, which tried with its good intention to attract specific members of society, being shot in the foot by all of us!! What suggestions do we have on this issue that is constructive? Are we not supposed to be directing these issues to all SA museums? In fact aren't we all supposed to be toyi-toying at DAC offices to transform Art Galleries, Museums etc, for curators to be trained, overseas, irrespective of their background, with the ones with the grandest ideas accepted to do the course? I wish to get direction.

    I beg to differ with others, when all that SANG is doing is to assist in the broader national agenda, why don't we give them a chance or even give constructive criticism of what has failed and what needs to be done better!!!! I do not sit on the SANG board, but am feeling lost in small attempts by some organisation such as SANG to do their bit – if this bit's approach has fatal flaws let them be pointed out with alternatives!! Let's show some maturity in dealing with issues rather than emotions!

    Please let's not discourage those who are willing to apply! If I was not disadvantaged in the past, by studying at Fort Hare rather than study art at Wits and UCT, and was younger, I would apply! I do not speak in a twang, I still go home to Bloem every month, I live in the suburbs of Jozi, do not drive a Merc of Black Man's Wheels (BMW), nor do I dine out in Sandton, but I am South African who still yearns for equal opportunity!

    That's my long bit.

  8. Mario Pissarra | March 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

    "Thandu" , may I suggest that there is some irony in applauding Thembinkosi for "uncompromisingly speak[ing his] mind", and using a pseudonym to make this point… Stand up and be counted!

  9. kevin leathem | May 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

    stop complaining and look for a gallery that is looking for a curator dont aproach a gallery that already has one, as they are the ones being paid to do the job not you, wait your chance, they as the existing curators probably have years more experiance than you, thus, start you own dam museum… man

  10. Abdul Moses | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    i have been making shows and getting artist together for a while now, i believe i should get out there and do it, with a ba or not. afrika has a long history of many bad things but, there is the untold stories of self taught curators. experience counts more


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