Proving a protest can be creative and even beautiful, the South African technical production and live events industry came together on 05 August 2020 to #LightSAred, lighting up 505 buildings and landmarks across the nation in emergency red. More importantly, it proved effective in drawing government’s attention to the crisis the sector is currently facing.

In the two-week build-up to the campaign, Sharif Baker, Chair of the Technical Production Services Association (TPSA) and spokesperson for #LightSAred, was in constant communication with radio, television and print media while attempting to engage with relevant government departments.

He says, “On the advice of our council, Advocate Lance Brogden, our last communication was issued to the government on 4 August, requesting a discussion where we could collaborate on finding solutions for the events sector. We received an acknowledgement from the DSAC the following day. Collen Hlatshwayo, deputy director for cultural development in event technology, met with us on 5 August for a round table discussion and was willing to participate in an interview on the #LightSAred live stream broadcast.”

“We can confirm that the DSAC now acknowledges our existence as the technical production and live event industry, is aware of our cause, our requests, and has accepted the undertaking to engage in a consultative process to develop a strategy to ensure that the sector does not cease to exist during this time.”

Baker adds, “We can confirm that the DSAC now acknowledges our existence as the technical production and live event industry, is aware of our cause, our requests, and has accepted the undertaking to engage in a consultative process to develop a strategy to ensure that the sector does not cease to exist during this time.”

The campaign’s other key objectives – which it is hoped can be achieved through these discussions – is for government and financial institutions to extend financial relief to those who are prohibited from working, and for government to recognise and support the non-profit organisations that are providing the only safety-net professionals this sector currently has.

While all industries have been impacted by COVID-19, the live events space is especially affected. Having had no income for five months and no indication of when the prohibition on live events will come to an end, as well as inadequate financial support, many business have closed or entered business rescue – with others soon to follow without an intervention.

“Everyone was hungry. They were hungry to dust their boots off and were wanting to get sore legs again, push a flightcase, and roll a cable. The need was there. Everyone was ready.”

Duncan Riley of DWR Distribution came up with the concept, based on similar campaign held in Europe. He says, “This was a humbling experience. When we initially started the #LightSAred movement, we thought we’d reach a few rental companies and theatres in our industry. But before we knew it, it took off. Everyone was hungry. They were hungry to dust their boots off and were wanting to get sore legs again, push a flightcase, and roll a cable. The need was there. Everyone was ready. This has unified the industry and a renewed honour and respect for each other.”

The support came from many quarters, including professional bodies such as TPSA, Southern African Communications Industries Association (SACIA) and the South African Events Council; as well as the media with Hot 91.9 FM, Cape Talk, East Coast Radio, LM Radio, and eNCA; and all sub-sectors within the live events space and even the public. As a result, the #LightSAred hashtag reached over 1 million people on Facebook and was trending at #4 for South Africa on Twitter.

The #LightSAred hashtag reached over 1 million people on Facebookand was trending at #4 for South Africa on Twitter.

Baker concludes, “It is a cause worth fighting for, and we believe we can assist the government to kickstart the economy by hearing our collective voice.”

Let’s hope so.

Photos supplied by LightSAred; Table Mountain photo by A Gorman.