Opening Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the “What it Means to be African” Public Dialogue by Prof. Nuruddin Farah, at the Centre for the Book, Cape Town

18 May 2015

Thank you, Programme Director:
Esteemed Author and our Guest Speaker tonight, Prof Nuruddin Farah
Renowned academic, Prof Harry Garuba,
Chair of the discussion panel, Prof Shaun Viljoen
Members of Parliament present here tonight
Esteemed Writers, Academics and Members of the Media
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

WeAreAfrica_BlogWe gather here tonight witness and experience a festival of ideas and cultural exchange. Tonight is a practical definition of what Africa Month means and has set out to achieve.

We gather here at this special and sacred Centre for the Book in Cape Town. It is one of those sacred sites where we find the minds, the ideas and literary products of some of the greatest writers that have been known to man. I believe their spirits are with us.

Considering who we are and where we are, we cannot help but celebrate that we are in the company of some of the greatest contemporary minds in Africa today. This is a special evening.

I mention this because this conversation and discourse is a significant milestone in our struggle for self-determination. In fact, none but ourselves should define what it means to be an African in the world today.

It is a conversation and intellectual engagement that helps to define our identity and determine our own future. We are who we say we are and not what others think. We are Africa!

The centrality of this conversation become relevant and more important because it is here in Cape Town’s university that our students and youth have begun to grapple with the issue of colonial symbols, for instance. This is part of the struggle for self-definition and identity.

We are still confronted by challenges of national identity and unity. We are still confronted by problems of prejudice and stereotypes, including racism, Afrophobia and sexism.

As a result, this dialogue tonight is also a stepping stone, a platform for redefining and embracing that larger identity of being African in the contemporary world!

It is our creative intellectuals who must lead the redefinition and regeneration of the continent. And the men who have been chosen to lead the discourse tonight are part of pioneering African Cultural Renaissance Men!

As far as I am concerned, the time has come for Africa’s renewal to be taken to a higher level by the continent’s highly gifted creatives: poets, writers, intellectuals, musicians, chefs and artists.

It is for this reason that we have Africa Month – A Festival of Ideas & Cultural Exchange.

In this journey towards African renewal, I also wish to remind us that tonight marks the birthday of Walter Sisulu. He was, of course, one of our brilliant minds. His legacy lives in our minds.

But tonight is also a very sad day. We are gathered here just a week after the passing of struggle stalwart, Mme Ruth Mompati. She gasped her last breathe at the Cape Town Military Hospital, not too far from here.

She was a towering giant in the liberation struggle and a mother to generations of activists in our movement.

She will always be remembered as a fearless and loyal cadre of our movement who selflessly dedicated her life to the struggle for the betterment of the lives of the people of South Africa.

Amongst the many recognitions that were bestowed on her was the highest Award from the Liberation Movement, Isithwalandwe/ Seaparankoe.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we all rise and observe a moment of silence in honour of this giant tree that has fallen? May her soul rest in peace.

Tonight’s conversation is the fourth in a series of “We Are Africa” public dialogues that we have held over the past few weeks in celebration of Africa Month.

These dialogues take a retrospective look at where we come from, interrogate the current state of our being as Africans, provide great insights about the future of the African continent and affirm our place in the world.

They remind us of the importance of us as Africans being the chroniclers of our own stories and the cartographers of our destiny. As poet June Jordan puts it, we are the ones we have been waiting for.

We have been celebrating Africa Month under the theme We Are Africa – Opening the doors of learning and culture to promote peace and friendship from Cape to Cairo, as the Freedom Charter our prised document from the people’s collective in 1955, proclaims!

In fact, we must declare that We Are Africa. We must stand united. We believe this is part of the role of the artist: to promote the ideal of an African continent and world with a human face.

Our guest speaker this evening, is none other than distinguished academic and internationally renowned author, Nuruddin Farah.

In a career that spans over five decades, Prof Farah has written over ten novels and lived in several countries on the continent and elsewhere in the world.

He is one writer who is the embodiment of African diversity, as he has broken the colonial barriers across the African continent.

We are honoured that over the past decade Prof Nuruddin Farah made South Africa his home. What I find remarkable about him is that, much as he is one of the most dynamic and cosmopolitan African writers alive, he remains true to his roots.

Many have argued that Nuruddin Farah is long overdue for the honour of a Nobel Prize for Literature. But as Africans we must appreciate and honour him for his role in ensuring that African narratives are part of the global discourse.

It is against this backdrop that as South Africans we honoured Prof Nuruddin Farah with the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the South African Literary Awards last year.

Prof Farah, I am delighted and honoured that you are here this evening, as you could not make it to the award ceremony last year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as you are aware, Prof Farah is not alone tonight.

We have another distinguished literary scholar and public intellectual, Prof Harry Garuba, who is equally gifted and respected in the literary and intellectual landscapes.

I believe that with Prof Shaun Viljoen as the moderator, this session will provide us with food for thought.

This festival of ideas is an outward expression of the recently ratified Charter for African Cultural Renaissance. Through this initiative we reaffirm our commitment to implement the ideals and reinforcing the principles of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.

Our challenge is to ensure that the ideals and principles as enshrined in this Charter and other similar blue prints are a perennial part of our everyday lives as the arts fraternity and ordinary African citizens.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, as the South African society we must reaffirm our commitment to elevating the role of arts, culture and heritage in nation building, social cohesion and promoting Pan African unity.

Our intellectuals are the custodians of our nation’s soul. They are the mirror that reflect who we are and what we aspire to be.

Africans are story tellers. Let the conversations continue!

Ngiyabonga! Thank you!

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