Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha at the Gala Dinner and opening of The Exhibition on ten years of yhe TRC, Red Location Museum, Port Elizabeth

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14 Dec 2006

Thank you Programme Director.
Father Micheal Lapsly
TRC Commissioners
Executive Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Metro,
Honourable Ms Nondumiso Maphazi
The Mtimkulu Family
International Guests from the Continent and Abroad
Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good evening!

Thank you for inviting me to address you this evening and to share my thoughts on the subject I have been requested to speak on, namely,
“The contribution of arts and culture to issues of memory, healing and reconciliation of a nation”.

Firstly, I wish to express my deep-felt sympathy and convey my sincere condolences to the families who lost their loved ones during the struggle for freedom. Also to pay tribute to the cadres of the liberation movements who fell during this very difficult period in our country. I also want to pay tribute to all fellow South Africans who toiled, resisted and fought the yoke of oppression. This evening we are gathered to affirm those noble efforts and the humanity in all of us.

This then implies that we are gathered tonight also to reflect and look back – not in anger but with a sense of triumph, emerging out of our past, struggle for democracy with triumph. And this is where memory emerges as a critical tool not only for reflection but to also assist us in defining ourselves and the character of our nation. Of course, memory is not neutral.

Nations throughout the world define and distinguish themselves through their culture. Zakes Mda says “broadly speaking, culture refers to a people’s way of life. This includes their perceptions and actions that distinguish them as a people, or identify them as distinct from others. A culture derives its qualities from the political and economic conditions that exist in society. At the same time a culture determines the regeneration of these conditions”

Throughout Zakes Mda’s description one cannot escape that memory and history permeate his understanding of culture. When we look at the heritage landscape of our country, taking for example the visible memorialisation in the form of statues and monuments, or for that matt er the names of our villages, dorpies and cities – a specific memory and history emerges. To a large extent it still reflects a distorted picture of our country, and not the multicultural mosaic that we are.—a mosaic that is at peace with itself and the world.

This mosaic is the contemporary legacy which we are building upon and consolidating. These are the seeds of the contemporary and future memory which we are planting for generations to come. And since we are talking memory, I also want to take this moment to remind us of the words of former President Mandela on the occasion of Opening of the Third Session of Parliament in 1996. He said “All of us, all South Africans, are called upon to become builders and healers. But, for all the joy and excitement of creation, to build and to heal are difficult undertakings. We can neither heal nor build, if such healing and building are perceived as one way processes, with the victims of past injustices forgiving and the beneficiaries merely content in gratitude. Together we must set out to correct the defects of the past.”

Such correction will give us a different memory. A memory that will cast a different South African character – a character which portrays a nation that cares for its citizens, a nation with values, rights that cherishes its constitutionality. A nation imbibed with Ubuntu. This is the memory which our heritage institutions are safeguarding and promoting through exhibitions, or collections of historical and contemporary papers and records which continue to shape our history, and therefore the memory of this beautiful land.

First President of a democratic Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama noted that “ a nation without a past is a lost nation. A people without a past is a people without a soul”. Some people narrowly define arts and culture in terms of its one popular and easily accessible actitivity, and that is song and dance. Whereas, the core function of our portfolio is about the custodianship and shaping and the character of the soul of this nation. The moral and ethical tenor of this nation is contained in our languages. Our proverbs and idioms continue to express our humanity, first to ourselves and to others. We console each other with an adage such as “lalani ngenxeba!” to appeal for healing and acknowledging a painful reality which has befallen a family or a nation. There can be no healing without a national conversation which seeks to understand and explain the history of our country as well as the prospects of our collective future as South Africans. We will heal when we confront the pain through talking, writing, filming, painting, singing about our history and its memory. These will be our powerful testimonies to ourselves and lessons to share with the world. We will not heal if we hang on to the pain. The presence of a pain in our hearts has never been good for our health. Let us hold onto memory and relinquish the pain.

Throughout the world we find tragedies which befell nations . In some cases these nations have not successfully reached a resolution on their pain. Their approach to themselves and interaction with the world is still seen through the eyes of pain. We are able to heal as South Africans because we define our liberation as the triumph of human spirit over pettiness and evil.

Therefore we look to the Preamble of our Constitution which states:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,
United in our diversity.”

We will heal and reconcile as a nation when we accept, honour and respect each other’s cultural and linguistic rights. There can be no reconciliation where there is intolerance of diversity. As the Ministry of Arts and Culture we will work tirelessly to ensure that all our voices and identities are not only heard but are respected as well. We will at all times ensure that the values which are embedded in our flag and the national Coat of Arms are understood, cherished and protected, so that this beautiful nation can all stand up together and bellow the historic melody of:

“Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika”

To all the Commissioners of the TRC and especially to the Chairperson, our beloved Arch, and all the people who worked tirelessly in the TRC to give our nation/country hope for reconciliation and healing, thank you for the enormous work and sacrifice you made. Today we can see the fruits of your labour – we are a triumphant nation.

I thank you