Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of the Africa Month Programme and the 10th Anniversary of the African World Heritage Fund Seminar,Maropeng

Arts and Culture Minister Mr Mathi Mthethwa-fWe meet here today on what is and surely must be described as a historical occasion – at the opening of the two day seminar that commences today, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the African World Heritage Fund.

Gathered in this room are the leading intellect lights on heritage in Africa, heritage practitioners; and the important discussion today and tomorrow must set and renew the continental agenda for heritage preservation and promotion.

We are also here to launch the Africa Month programme for May 2016, the series of events and activities that will help sharpen our vision and practices in Building a Better Africa and a Better World. The month of May has been declared as Africa Month to celebrate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963.

We meet here at the Cradle of Humankind, which tells the story of the earliest history of humanity, a story of birth, and a story of migrations.

All who crossed rivers and oceans left behind artefacts, footprints, monuments, evidence of their journeys. They multiplied and diversified into a celebration of many languages, colours and cultures.

This is why we can speak with confidence about African world heritage and the heritage that Africa bequeaths its people and the world.

This is why we assert the right of people to cross borders and seek social and economic opportunities.

This is also why we assert the right of peoples to permanent peace and sustained stability within their places of birth, free of the war-mongering of others, for no-one should be forced to move under duress.

Our gathering here today is also therefore to pay tribute to this human journey, this African journey, where we are witnesses to an ongoing quest across time and space for our most precious belonging – and that is our freedom.

In the words of the poet, Ben Okri (from his poem Mental Fight):

“You can’t remake the world

Without remaking yourself.

Each new era begins with-in….

We could use the new era

To clean our eyes,

To see the world differently…

Only free people can make a free world.

Infect the world with your light.

Help fulfill the golden prophecies.

Press forward the human genius.

Our future is greater than our past.”

The quest for African Unity

The African continent can take pride in being the first continent to conceptualise and work towards unity and freedom from oppression.

Rejecting the divisions of colonialism as imposed at the Berlin Conference, and inspired by success in key battles, which demonstrated that colonialism was not invincible, such as the establishment of the first Black Republic in Haiti – the San Domingo Republic, the Battle of Isandlwana and later the Battle Of Adwa, among others, intellectuals, freedom-fighters, workers, developed an ideology of African liberation.

This sought to free the continent and its people(s) from colonialism, segregation and apartheid and put in its place equality, economic independence, social justice and a flowering of culture.

From the first Pan African Congress in 1900 in London spearheaded by Henry Sylvester Williams and W.E.B Du Bois, the call was for a unified perspective embracing both Africans in Africa and in its Diaspora.

We are proud that South Africans can be counted amongst those earlier generations who made enormous contributions towards this effort. The speech of Pixley Ka Isaka Seme in 1906, on the “Regeneration of Africa”, and later our contribution in the efforts of the African cause, notably through the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC and later the ANC) in 1912, the first liberation movement of Africa, have put us in a common conversation and with a shared vision on the continent and elsewhere in the world.

The movements towards decolonization were also strengthened at the end of the 2nd World War with many African states fighting for their independence.

But even at the advent of a free Ghana, let us remember that the great Kwame Nkrumah still declared that Ghana would not be free, until all Africa was free. Thus too the formation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 and the firm embrace by the African power bloc of the struggle of the South African people against apartheid.

The changes in 1994 with the formation of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa heralded a new era as we continued to refine a struggle for Africa’s freedom that spanned a century, confirming W.E.B du Bois’s prophetic words that the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the colour line.

Building a Better Africa in a Better World

While there have also been setbacks in countries and regions where divisions along ethnic lines have been further hardened by those who seek to gain economic advantage from fanning the fires of difference and division, this only reinforces the need for an Africa that  emphasises commonalities, shared vision and joint efforts.

The transformation of the OAU into the African Union and renewed efforts to have programmatic relations between Africa and its Diaspora have created a climate conducive to the re-assertion of African identity and renewed a movement towards rebirth and economic regeneration.

Coupled with the power blocs of the South through partnerships such as BRICS and fora such as FOCAC we are moving the world towards the acceptance of a multilateralism and a multiculturalism, a cultural coalescence and a cosmopolitanism.

It is in this current climate in pursuit of commonalities that the current initiative on Africa Month is aimed at pursuing the agenda set out by our predecessors but sharpened by new generations.

This agenda seeks to make Africa a better place to be and to live by 2063.

An Africa that will occupy its rightful place in the world.

An Africa that is recognized as a maker of this world.

As Bertolt Brecht reminds us in his poem “A Worker Reads History”:

“Who built the seven gates of Thebes?

The books are filled with names of kings.

Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?

And Babylon, so many times destroyed.

Who built the city up each time?…”

If our starting point is rewriting the past to tell the truths of our reality, then our work is geared towards the future.

The Charter for Africa’s Cultural Renaissance further strengthens the continent’s hand at building cohesion between people, a shared citizenship, common identity and the ethos and practices of democracy.

The importance of the African World Heritage Fund

This month also marks the 10th Anniversary of the African World Heritage Fund since the Fund was launched on 5th May 2006. The theme of this seminar is timely as it is at once reflective and forward-looking: African World Heritage – Thinking Ahead”.

In a world in which increasingly people and places are in danger of imminent death and wanton destruction, where valuable African heritage has been defaced and destroyed by those who do not understand their worth to humanity, we welcome that this seminar focuses on the important areas of harmonizing heritage conservation and development initiatives, enhancing the role of communities and partnerships, and, importantly, addressing matters of World Heritage in armed (post) conflict regions.

Heritage conservation and sustainable economic development in Africa are two sides of the same coin.

Without preservation and knowledge of the past, our sense of self is uncertain, the present looks bleak and the future unknown.  Remembering the past however painful helps to understand the traumatic realities of the present and ensures the “re-capturing of the self.”

As Frantz Fanon, would say:

“It is through the effort to recapture the self and to scrutinize the self, it is through the lasting tension of their freedom that men [people] will be able to create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world.”

Thus to all who are here today as representatives of business and industry leaders, heritage institutions, local communities and the development sector in Africa, your task is to create the conditions for Africa to extend its freedom. As South Africa this conversation is important to us as we are also emerging from a great deal of rigorous discussion at local and national level of our own heritage landscape and are putting in place systems and practices for the transformation of this landscape.

We are pleased that he declaration and results of the Regional Youth Forum will also be presented at this main event so that there is a cross-pollination of ideas across generations.

The African month programme

While existing programmes of the Department of Arts and Culture seek to inculcate an African identity through the popularisation of the national flag and continental flag as well as the National Anthem and the African Union Anthem, it was important last year that we inaugurate an full Africa Month programme, a festival of ideas, a celebration of what it means to be African to deepen and expand our knowledge, engage in cultural exchange, sharpen our ideas but also together to face our continental destiny.

Africa Month Focal Areas:

  1. Know your history: Telling the African story

This year’s Africa Month programme has activities that share knowledge on the role of Archives and their importance in preserving the history of the state and of the people. The Archives programme is further complemented by lectures and colloquia that focus on African history and the impact it has on our present and future. Specific activities are focused on youth engaging with our legacy and what they need to do to shape the future.

  1. Build African unity and solving Africa’s problems

There are conferences focusing on African unity and renaissance, seminars on intra-African trade, a meeting of the Bureau of the 4th Pan African Cultural Congress, a focus on building communities of peace and diversity, examining water security and Africa, a gathering on the themes of Agenda 2063. Significantly, we shall also celebrate the centenary of Fort Hare University, an institution that has nurtured generations of African leaders, through lectures and engagement on the role of intellectuals in developing the continent.

We are proud that as part of our colloquia programme, we shall also be hosting the Nobel literary laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, (in partnership with Press Club SA and the African Independent), who will deliver a lecture in Gauteng.  The famous Ghanaian writer, Ama Ata Aidoo will discuss her work in the Eastern Cape. The renowned Howard University academic, Prof Harold McDougall will deliver the Nat Nakasa lecture in Durban. The acclaimed author, Zakes Mda will engage audiences in Kimberly and Mangaung.

But the building of African unity is also one that incorporates the creative arts. Festivals of African music will be held around the country notably in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng: these events focus on intra-African collaboration. There will be a focus on fashion in hubs around the country.

  1. Encourage cultural exchange

Notable activities include the Gcwala Ngamasiko International Cultural Festival, an international multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary festival that brings artists together from around the continent.

The Africa Month programme encompasses a Pan African Culinary Festival in Durban, an indigenous food symposium in Polokwane, an African traditional dance and music festival in Rustenburg and an African carnival in Port Elizabeth.

A reggae festival, an anti-racism music festival and a film festival will be held in Limpopo. The acclaimed Amandla Musical production will be hosted in Soweto and Emalahleni.

The iKauru Contemporary Art From Africa exhibition that showcases African contemporary art will be held in Gauteng and this project aim to expand to other areas and explore fine art through the lens of regional integration and unity.

We also look forward to the 5th International Marimba and Steelpan Festival that brings people together to play these instruments and to learn traditional dance.

This is just a taste of some of the main activities of this Festival. A detailed programme is available on our website and will be disseminated after this launch event.

It remains for me to invite all of you to participate in Africa Month activities that seek to build a better Africa in a better world.

We are on track as we continue a continental journey begun by our ancestors. And like the poet, we do believe that: “Our future is greater than our past.”

I wish all delegates at the seminar today and tomorrow well in your deliberations and wish everyone a fruitful and fulfilling Africa Month.

I thank you.

For enquiries: Lisa Combrinck, 082 821 4886/ LisaC@dac.gov.za

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