South African Cultural Observatory

Meet the women behind SACO: Unathi Luthshaba - new Research Manager

BY 28.08.17

INTRODUCING Unathi Lutshaba, the newly appointed South African Cultural Observatory Research Manager, in a a question and answer session in celebration of Women's Month. 

  1. What is your name and how old are you?

My name is Unathi Lutshaba, 33 years old, SA Cultural Observatory Research Manager. 

  1. What did you study and what motivated you to follow a career in arts & culture?

I have a BCom Economics degree from the Nelson Mandela University, a postgraduate certificate in Applied Economic Analysis & Forecasting from the University of Johannesburg, as well as a Master’s degree in Development Studies. I am currently finishing my PhD in Development Studies. My research examines traditional values and the sustainability of the current economic systems in Dikidikana, in the Eastern Cape.  

  1. Tell us about your role at SACO and what are your main responsibilities?

I am the Research Manager at the SA Cultural Observatory. My responsibilities include providing high-level cultural statistical information to DAC and government, and a range of private and non-government stakeholders. Among the SA Cultural Observatory’s core functions are mapping studies of the cultural and creative industries within South Africa, generation of policy relevant research, and monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment studies of DAC-funded interventions, particularly those informed by the 2011 Mzansi Golden Economy strategy. I manage our orbit of research generated both within the organisation and by consultants. 

  1. How long have you been working for SACO and how did your career journey start?

I have been working at SACO for a year and 3 months now. I have always worked in research roles but in different sectors of the economy. Coming to work at the SA Cultural Observatory was an added opportunity for me to broaden my horizons whilst making an impact in the CCIs.  

  1. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The flexibility that comes with being a researcher and the awesome team made up of different skills and, the diverse and often creative – out of the box – ways of getting the job done. 

  1. How has working at SACO impacted your opinions on the arts & culture industry?

I have so much respect for the broader arts & culture industry and the people working in it. Plenty goes on behind the scenes before the final product that we get to see and enjoy is delivered. Whether it’s dance, music, literature, design, architecture or heritage preservation, craft and curating – it all seems easy, but when you are a part of the industry, you really see what goes into it and there is a real depth of underappreciated expertise and value in the CCIs. 

  1. What type of environment do you work in and what is it like to work at SACO?

I work in the arts, culture & heritage sector. So far, working at SACO has been refreshing and challenging. The research needs of the sectors and industries is significant and there is so much that we need to know and learn to better support the industry. 

  1. What personality type and character traits should one possess in order to work at SACO?

Open-minded, flexible, assertive and being able to manage your time wisely. 

  1. What advice would you give someone considering a career in arts and culture?

It’s a sector which allows you to grow, to make a meaningful impact to society whilst learning from people from all walks of life. 

  1. Where do you see yourself and SACO 5 years from now?

I see myself making a strategic contribution in an environment that offers me an opportunity to grow and develop my potential. 

  1. Where do you see the arts & culture industry in 5years from now?

Making a more positive impact than ever before in bringing our nation together.  Ultimately the CCIs and Arts & Culture industry really is about social cohesion and helping us see the world from different points of view. But we have to be open to it – arts and culture shows us how that can be done. 

  1. What are some of the challenges faced by the arts & culture industry?

Through the various domain workshops we host around the country, one of the major challenges raised is the issue of access to funding: not knowing who is funding what, where & how, not being able to put up proposal together that speaks to the funders’ requirements. I think more effort should be made to ensuring that no one is left out because the resources are there to benefit all people/ creatives. 

  1. What have been some of your career highlights?

I was recently promoted to be the Research Manager at SACO this Women’s Month - talk about recognition of women’s efforts in moving the Cultural & Creative Industries forward. I feel very proud to be working to advance the research sector of the Arts & Culture. 

  1. What does Women’s Month mean to you?

It’s about realizing and acknowledging that sacrifices were made for me way back before I was born, to ensure that my future is bright in ways I could have never imagined. Today I live that dream. 

  1. What would you say is most exciting about being a young South African woman right now?

Young women have countless opportunities available for them to grow and develop their potential. There’s plenty of support and resources available, especially if you align your planning with the country’s agenda.  

  1. What career and personal advice do you have for other young women in South Africans?

Work hard and luck is guaranteed. 

  1. What do you want to see happen in the future for female in SA, particularly those in the arts & culture industry?

I would like to see them pursuing what they love doing, not giving up on their mission, and not letting anyone deter them from realizing their full potential. They need to stand together and support one another’s ventures, wherever they are. 

  1. Name three women you admire the most in the whole wide world, and why?

My mother Nongeyi Mveli, Dr Judy Nxasana and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. These three beautiful women are an epitome of hard work, humility and love.

  1. What would you be doing if you were not working at SACO?

Probably teaching and studying fulltime towards completion of my doctorate.


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