Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha at the National Imbizo on the Transformation of the South African Heritage Sector: Gallagher Estate, Midrand

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03 Dec 2007

Programme Director, Ms Nkosi (CEO: Pansalb)
IiKumkani, neeNkosi namaphakathi akhoyo
Nkosi Holomisa
CEO: NHC Adv Mancotywa
COO: NHC Dr Fikeni
Representatives of the various Arts, Culture and Heritage Institutions
Practitioners in the Arts, Culture & Heritage Sector
Officials of Government & Government Institutions
Members of the Academia
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning!

Topic: “Arts, Culture and Heritage as strategic resources in the transformation of the South African society”

Firstly I would like to congratulate the National Heritage Council (NHC) as well as members of civil society, heritage institutions, heritage practitioners and other stakeholders, who participated so passionately in the process of crafting the draft Heritage Transformation Charter.

I understand from the CEO, Advocate Mancotywa, that your contributions in conceptualizing the Charter are invaluable. Well done!

South Africa emerged triumphantly from a very painful past. However, our society is still faced with many social problems and economic challenges. The White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage paints a very gloomy picture of our situation and argues that “It is a national tragedy that we speak of a culture of violence, in the community, in the family, against children. If culture is the glue holding the social fabric intact, then it is evident that the centre does not hold”. This is a serious indictment of our society.

Arts, culture and heritage has always played a significant role in social regeneration, unity and reconciliation. Therefore, transforming and building a vibrant arts, culture and heritage sector becomes one of the most important objectives we should be pursuing as a country.

Arts, culture and heritage are important in the lives of our communities. If used altruistically, it can help explore and heal past and current conflicts; it can assist in restoring human dignity and build community self-esteem. The promotion of arts, culture and heritage is integral to the quality of life of every citizen of our country, the healing of divisions in our communities and the regeneration of our society.

Since 1994 the government and the entire South African society have been preoccupied with one major project which is reflected in its programmes, policies and inscribed in the Constitution. This preoccupation has been about social transformation in order to wipe out the legacy of colonialism and apartheid and to strive towards social justice.  This has been the main guide of each and every sector of our society, every department of government and it is the defining feature of our nation-building and reconstruction efforts.

The Constitution, the various Green and White Papers, a plethora of new legislation, the RDP programme, the Truth and Reconciliation Policy Programme, are all intended to achieve this ultimate objective.

The arts, culture and heritage sector is, of course, guided by this national agenda and national strategic priorities hence the White Paper’s main focus is the transformation of the arts, culture and heritage landscape. Minister Pallo Jordan has on many occasions remarked that visitors to South Africa would never believe that the majority of the people of this country, who are African, ever lived and contributed anything to this society. Our monuments, museum contents, libraries, archives and geographical place names are but some of the contentious issues.

It is for this reason that the White Paper fore-grounded the issue of transformation and the establishment of agents for transformation and coordination of the sector.

We are also only recently beginning to realise that arts, culture and heritage are strategic resources which are critical in forging a sense of national identity, self-esteem, ubuntu and social cohesion and that our cultural industries do make a significant contribution to our GDP. How we express and celebrate our culture, values, beliefs and diversity is often at the heart of the branding of our local and national identities. How we approach and understand our heritage shapes our image of ourselves and the image we convey to future generations.

The Department of Arts and Culture has recently embarked on a programme of reviewing the policy and legislation pertaining to the arts, culture and heritage sector, after it had done an assessment of the first decade of our democracy.  

The National Heritage Council’s project of developing a Transformation Charter for the heritage sector is highly commendable. I believe it is a serious attempt to provide a blueprint for the transformation of the sector. Most importantly, is the people-centred approach of the research which was conducted, the effort to reach out to all provinces and the participatory nature of this forum with a strong presence of the civil society.

I only hope that throughout this process of developing the Heritage Transformation Charter the role played by women in our society and their role in preserving and promoting our heritage will not be overlooked or underplayed.

I have often been at pains to explain the strategic importance of arts, culture and heritage in our society to the powers that be. Some of our government institutions like the National Lottery have still to be convinced as to why they should consider funding arts, culture and heritage projects and programmes.    Arts, culture and heritage should not be considered as luxuries or entertainment for society only. They should also not be an afterthought or a less important item in the national budget. It should be clearly understood by government as well as society at large that arts, culture and heritage are essential components to the social well-being, emotional health, wealth and prosperity of our people.

In a society that is full of tensions, competing interests, demands and opportunities, such as ours, we need to find a sanctuary for our souls and a deeper meaning of our existence in the arts, culture and heritage of our beloved country.

I wish you all the best in this very commendable endeavour. I hope you will have fruitful deliberations and a very successful Indaba.

I thank you.