Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha, at the Opening of the Exhibition entitled “Separate Is Not Equal” at the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
06 Nov 2007

Programme Director
Your Excellency US Ambassador Eric Bost
Your Excellency Consular General ……………..
Chairperson of the Natal Museum Council
Honourable Members of the Provincial Legislature
Honourable Members of the Council of Msunduzi
            Municipality
The Chairperson of the Natal Museum Board,
            Prof. Nzimande
The Director of the Natal Museum,
Mr Luthando Maphasa and staff
Our Future Leaders, the Students and Young
            people
Members of the community
Distinguished Guests
Members of the Media
Friends

Sanibona!
   
Firstly, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to open the “Separate is not Equal” and sharing the platform with His Excellency United States Ambassador Eric Bost. Thank you for the story you have just shared with us.

Almost a year ago I was at this Museum for the opening of the Towns and Trade Exhibition and the Learners Resource Centre. The exhibition and the Learner Resource Centre highlighted the important role of the museum in teaching about our history as part of our heritage and even going beyond the borders of our country.

Aaron Maluwa in his paper on “The Role of museums in Addressing Community Needs in the 21st Century” presented at a conference on “Connections, Communities and Collections in Florida, USA last year stated that: “There was an urgent need to break away from colonial vestiges to create (the Malawian based) museums that would be responsible to our communities. Topical issues such as health, education, economics, environment, politics, social, socio-cultural, urbanisation among others ought to be regarded as important as the traditional questions of collecting, preserving, presenting, protecting and safe guarding both tangible and intangible heritage and any emerging needs of the community. It was important therefore that new Malawian Museums should use their collections to enrich knowledge and integrate urban cultures and contemporary events into the spheres of daily activities”.

Museums, such as this one, must serve as windows that open into the world beyond our horizon. Knowledge and understanding of the outside world can challenge the insular and parochial thinking that encourages a fear of the unknown. As our first President Nelson Mandela observed “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Today’s exhibition highlights the history of racial discrimination in the United States. Although slavery was abolished in 1865, and although African Americans were granted citizenship and the right to vote, the status quo remained. They continued to be separated from White Americans and continued to be treated with disdain in buses, prisons, churches, schools and other social amenities and relegated to second-class citizenship.

Several attempts were made to legally challenge these discriminatory practices against African Americans in the Supreme Courts but without success. In 1896, a ruling in the Supreme Court case of H A Plessy v. J H Ferguson, even sanctioned the legal racial separation and held that “separate but equal” facilities did not violate the United States Constitution, as amended.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954 in the case of Brown v. Board of Education marked a turning point in the history of race relations in the United States. The Court, in its judgment, outlawed segregation in public schools and ruled that it was unconstitutional. Thanks to the dedication and resilience of community activists, lawyers, parents and students who fought diligently until the matter was brought before the Supreme Court.

The Brown v. Board of Education case had a significant impact on the national consciousness of the United States and gave impetus to the broader struggle for human rights and social justice. As we can see, there are parallels that may be drawn between the struggles for justice and racial equality in the United States and in South Africa.

In 1947 the National Party published their Race Relations Policy which called for a programme of “separate development” or apartheid.  
When they took over political power in 1948 they also introduced significant changes. A number of discriminatory laws were enacted, amongst others, the Immorality Act, The Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act and other legislation which institutionalised a system of White domination.  
The education system also had to be aligned to the policy of “separate development”. “….segregated and inferior schooling was legislated for African (1953), Coloureds (1963) and Indians (1965) providing an ideological cornerstone for the social segregation, economic exploitation and political oppression of these groups”.
White education was accorded a superior status with exclusive privileges and adequate state resources of about five (5) times more than what the state spent on the black child. By 1986 South Africa had 18 departments and 15 ministers of education (1990  Mokubung Nkomo: Pedagogy of Domination – Towards a Democratic Education in South Africa).
Apartheid education, amongst other things, was designed to produce a semi-skilled labour force; to socialize black students to accept the domination by whites; to make blacks believe that segregation along racial and ethnic lines was how things should be; and to ensure there was little or no black intellectual development - simply stated by Dr Verwoerd that blacks should be content with being “drawers of water and hewers of wood”.
The struggle against the imposition of segregated and inferior education for blacks came to a head on 16 June 1976, when the student protest took to the streets of Soweto. This added a new dimension and marked a turning point in the history of the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.
Even today we can clearly see the parallels as shown in this exhibition. Like the blacks in South Africans, African Americans were given inferior resources and denied equal opportunities. Both the South African black majority and the African American waged a long struggle against racial discrimination and segregation, injustice and inequality.
Although we do say that we have attained our freedom, democracy and equality, it is sad to say that these outcomes did not provide us with absolute solutions. We still have many challenges
We still hear and experience incidents of racial violence and discrimination in both our countries, for instance, that the children of Alson Matukane were not accepted at the Potgietersrus Primary School because some people felt that the integration of black children in the school would threaten their Afrikaner cultural tradition. I believe that even today we do come across similar incidents in the United States.
Although we may boast about our progressive constitution and bill of rights and the legislation we have in place, we still have to deal with our antagonistic attitudes and behaviours.
President Thabo Mbeki, in his address opening the National Conference on Racism on 30 August 2000, had this to say: “The apartheid system constituted a latter-day manifestation of the crime against humanity that Nazism and fascism had imposed on the European, Asian and wider world. Accordingly, as a country, bearing in mind the post-war process of de-colonisation and the advances achieved as a result of the civil rights struggle in the United States, we became the epicentre of the state-approved ideas of racism, to which all humanity could legitimately attribute such anti-human phenomena as racism and anti-Semitism, slavery and colonialism. Our own specific history has created a situation that constitutes a common legacy and challenge.”

If we want to overcome these challenges, we must re-commit ourselves to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance and promote the spirit of ubuntu, and as His Excellency Ambassador Bost said earlier, we should “make education our priority”.

The Executive Mayor said that this exhibition is not intended to evoke bitter memories or to revive the pain and the suffering of the past. Instead, it is to bring to light and celebrate the courage and determination of a people who fought bitterly against adversity for the restoration of their respect and dignity. It also serves as a reminder of what should never again be allowed to happen. 

We echo the words of our former President Nelson Mandela who said “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world”. It is for this reason that we declared Robben Island a Museum, a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit and a reminder that “never again shall it be that this beautiful land shall ever again experience oppression of one by another”.

We must, therefore, draw inspiration from our experiences and the fact that we have triumphed over the trials and tribulations of our past.

I wish to thank His Excellency Ambassador Bost and the Consular General and appreciate that they brought this exhibition to us so that our people can also learn from these experiences. Once again, thank you for sharing your story.

We hope that this partnership between our two countries will extend to other areas of cultural co-operation. As a developing country, South Africa still has a lot to learn, especially in the area of the creative economy and looks up to developed countries for support through exchange programmes between our cultural institutions and agencies.

Let me conclude again with the wise words of our President, His Excellency, President Thabo Mbeki. In his address at the launch of the Culture of Learning and Teaching Campaign at the University of Fort Hare in 1997 he said: “Yet even as we engage in this quiet reflection, this silent activity, we must allow our own history and past experiences to inform our decisions as to the correct path that we must follow for us to overcome the inherited legacy of ignorance and the poverty of the spirit; we must begin by understanding our own history, where we come from and where we are going. A people that do not understand their own history are unable to comprehend the present, let alone engage in strategic thinking for the future.”

There are many lessons that the present generation of young people can learn both from our own struggle against colonialism and apartheid for justice and freedom and from the struggles of the African-Americans against slavery and racial segregation.
A luta continua!
I thank you.