Address by Minister Pallo Jordan Memory of The World Workshop

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
11 Jun 2007

The Honourable, Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Dr. G Ramokgopa,
Prof. Abdel-Kader Asmal,
Mr Abdel-Aziz Abid, Senior Programme Specialist from UNESCO,
Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this wonderful family reunion in Tshwane, South Africa. As the Executive Mayor, Dr. Ramokgopa has indicated, the city has much to offer. Apart from historic sites, the natural environment around this city is quite amazingly beautiful.

We are gathered here from various parts of the world, not far from the site paleoanthropologists believe was the home of our common ancestors, the cradle of human kind [Maropeng].

With the passage of time some among those early hominids migrated. They travelled north, they traveled to other continents, perhaps driven by need or by curiosity, they spread across the globe so that today their descendants are found in every part of our planet. Others remained in the perhaps friendlier diverse habitats on our vast continent.

When I say this is a family reunion, in a very profound sense that is true. It is an extremely important gathering with a very special mission: to honour our heritage, ancient and more recent. We owe it to those ancestors and our children’s children to maintain a special, observable, bond of belonging and connectedness, to our human family, our nations, our cultural groups and communities.

That special bond is cemented by our memory. Memory is the principal tool we employ to store and preserve both our human experience and our knowledge of the world around us. We rely on it to preserve, recycle and to relate that experience to new listeners.

Every human society has relied on the experience of its older members as the foundation on which to build what is new. Since the birth of the human race our unique ability to pass on our knowledge of the world, our experience in life and our achievements to our off-spring has enabled our species not only to survive but to prosper.

A visit to the cradle of humankind will be arranged where you will be able to see, touch and feel some of the oldest milestones of our epic journey to the present. Think of that visit as a pilgrimage! It will allow to cast your minds eye over history – a history that has seen breathtaking triumphs, but also extremely disheartening failures; a history that has witnessed humanity scaling the heights of achievement; but one that has also witnessed the human race plumb the depths of depravity! The human family’s creativity has brought joy and happiness to many; but that same creativity has been applied to enslave, persecute and brutalise fellow human beings.

In South Africa, 13 years ago, on the 27th April 1994, we gained our freedom, delivering this country from brutal oppression. South African freedom was greeted with approbation throughout the world; every nation celebrated with us. We remain deeply grateful for the support, especially to our brothers and sisters in Africa, that the struggle for freedom enjoyed.

2007 promises to be a very exciting year for our government and indeed for the people of South Africa. In July 2005 South Africa hosted a very successful conference on UNESCO’s Heritage Committee, which administers the International Register of world heritage sites.

Today we host the International Conference on the Memory of the World, to participate in discussions about documentary heritage, and the importance preserving this kind of heritage.

Between the 19 – 23rd August 2007. the World library and Information Congress will be meeting in Durban, South Africa. Some of the delegates participating in this workshop will also be attending the I.F.L.A Conference in Durban.

During September 2007 my Department will be holding a National Consultative Conference on intangible heritage with relevant stakeholders – This is another UNESCO Programme. That intangible heritage conference could not have been better timed! September is “Heritage Month” in South Africa, and this year we celebrate one of the most enduring of our intangible legacies - Poetry. 2007 promises to be an exciting year!

UNESCO established the M.O.W Programme in 1992 so as to safeguard and protect the world of documentary heritage from both natural and man-made dangers.

UNESCO has to be commended for this farsighted initiative. The onus is now on member countries to make sure that the programme is implemented and, most importantly, that it is kept active. To date only 8 African Countries, including South Africa, have established a structure National body to deal with the issue of documentary heritage. One of the hoped for outcomes of this workshop will be the establishment of National Committees of the M.O.W where they don’t exist, and the resuscitation of those National Committees whichhave become defunct. I want to urge all the African countries to work closely together to ensure that an African Regional Committee of the M.O.W is established. This Regional Committee may then work through structures such as NEPAD to make sure the issue of documentary heritage gets onto the agenda of the African Union, and other forums.

I am particularly pleased that UNESCO is represented by some leading officials at this workshop.

Programme Director, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of preserving documentary heritage. UNESCO’s publication “Safeguarding the Documentary Heritage of Humanity” – at page 5, one reads: “In 1992 UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme to protect and promote the World’s documentary heritage through preservation and access. The two tasks complement one another, for access incites protection and preservation ensures access”.

Last year, when the South African government mandated my Department to lead the national commemoration of important national events, the entire exercise revealed that without the archival sources, i.e. documentary heritage, we would not have succeeded in implementing these projects. Much research was done in the Archival and library repositories of the country; and I can safely say that at least about 90% of the information we were seeking was found.

At page 3 of the UNESCO publication goes on: “Documentary heritage in Libraries and Archives constitutes a major part of the memory of the peoples of the world and reflects the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures. However, that memory is fragile.”

The fragility of our collective memory is that it is necessarily reliant of records – now stored and maintained in a myriad of ways --
but still liable to abuse, destruction and mutilation.

As the department continues with new Commemorations during 2007, I’m confident that our Library and Archives will again prove one of the most invaluable sources in that regard.

We have appointed a National Committee that advises me, as Minister, about collections for whose listing on the International Register we should motivate. That Committee is made up of the National Archives of South Africa, branches of the Department of Arts and Culture such as International Relations, Freedom Park, the National Library, Iziko Museums, and Northern Flagship Institute. It reviews all proposals and markets South African collections. We have already received nominations for some collections in the Department.

The establishment of a refreshment station at the Cape under the administration of the Dutch East India Company in 1652 had far-reaching impact on the history of the South Africa. The DEIC administration at the Cape lasted for almost a century and a half, developing from a refreshment station into a European settlement that expanded by the dispossession of African common lands and pastures. The Khoikhoi and San on whom the Dutch East India Company had initially depended for trade in of cattle and other livestock, were reduced to servitude and wage labour. That story is recounted in all its tragic detail in the Dutch East India Company records, which makes them unique and irreplaceable for an understanding of South Africa’s historic past.

Within UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme and on the initiative of the Netherlands, a project entitled "Towards a New Age of Partnership (TANAP): a Dutch-Asian-South African Programme of Cooperation" was given initial impetus by the holding of an international TANAP conference that took place in December 1998 in The Hague and at Leiden, in the Netherlands. Prof. Jatti Bredekamp, Chief Executive Officer of Iziko Museums; Ms Mandy Gilder, Deputy National Archivist; and Ms Marian George, Head of the Cape Town Archives Repository attended that conference.

Ladies and Gents, I want to congratulate my colleague, the Minister of Education, Ms Naledi Pandor, for successfully launching an updated South African History Online project .on the 22nd May 2007. The database is designed to promote the study of history in our country - it looks at our country’s diverse cultures and heritage. This on its own will enhance the way our children, the learners, are taught about the past, especially regarding the history of oppression, in particular, the legislated system of apartheid, and how it destroyed the lives of the majority of the people of South Africa.

I wish you well in your deliberations and I look forward to receiving your recommendations re: a way forward.

I thank you.