Address by Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi at the Riyadh International Book Fair, Saudi Arabia
Your Excellency the Deputy Minister of Culture and Information in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dr Nassir Al-Hujailan;
Your Excellency the South African Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Saddick Jaffar;
The South African Consulate General, Mr. Ebrahim Eddries;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Writers and Publishers present here today;
Ladies and gentlemen;
I bring you fraternal greetings from the people and the government of the Republic of South Africa, under the leadership of His Excellency President Jacob Zuma. It is indeed a great honour and a privilege for South Africa to be chosen as the Guest of Honour at the Riyadh International Book Fair.
We meet here in this month of March which has been declared Human Rights Month in South Africa wherein we subsequently commemorate March 21 as Human Rights Day to honour those who fought for our liberation and the rights that we enjoy today.
Still in this month from 14 to 21 March we commemorate the National Library Week wherein all types of libraries across the country use it as an opportunity to market their services in an effort to contribute to the understanding of the important role that libraries play in a democratic society, advancing literacy, making the basic human right of freedom of access to information a reality, and to promote tolerance and respect among all South Africans.
Our participation at this book fair holds a special significance to South Africa. This prestigious occasion takes place just a month before we mark the 21st anniversary of the dawn of freedom and democracy in South Africa. The collapse of apartheid and the birth of democracy in 1994 heralded a new consciousness that places the value of arts, culture and heritage sector at the epicentre of our nation building efforts.
This consciousness is fostered through our diplomatic relations with our esteemed partners across the world. It is against this backdrop that today, as South Africa celebrates two decades of freedom and democracy, we also celebrate twenty years of the establishment of our two diplomatic missions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
We are indebted to the visionary leadership of the late President Nelson Mandela, whose quest for peace and nation building was at the core of his agenda as the first democratically elected President in South Africa.
In his inaugural speech, President Mandela said: “The time for healing of the wounds has come. The moment to build the chasm that divides us has come. The time to build has come.”
In upholding President Mandela’s vision, we employ arts and culture as a catalyst in fostering diplomatic relations with our partners. Arts, culture and heritage are an integral part of our humanity and permeate all aspects of our society.
Our mandate as the Department of Arts and Culture is to develop, preserve and promote South African culture to ensure social cohesion and nation building. We are duty-bound and committed to effective mainstreaming of the arts, culture, heritage sector and maintaining strong cultural links with our counterparts around the world.
It is through arts and culture that we can create new channels for international dialogue and create opportunities for exchange of cultural products with our international partners.
Our participation at the Riyadh International Book Fair lays a solid foundation for future cooperation between the peoples of the two countries and will help us strengthen and deepen joint cooperation in a variety of sectors.
As the Department of Arts and Culture, our strategic objective in the book sector is to create an enabling environment for a flourishing book sector and implement strategies to engender wider audiences for South African literature. We are inspired by the conviction that a widespread culture of reading would create a more knowledgeable society, contribute to the acquisition of skills and advance the contribution of the book industry in our economy.
Books are integral in fostering understanding of each other’s histories, cultures and languages. It is through reading books that you can visit a place, understand its people and their way of life, without being there physically. It is therefore paramount that our cultural exchange is established on a firm foundation laid by the books.
The Riyadh International Book Fair offers the South African writers and other practitioners in the book sector an opportunity to facilitate and promote the exchange of ideas with participants from other countries across the world. We believe that literature among people is friendship among people.
South Africa boasts some of the most revered writers across the world. We are the only country on the African continent that had two writers receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sadly, one of those writers, the internationally acclaimed novelist and human rights activist, Nadine Gordimer, passed away last year.
This is also an exciting moment in South African literature. We are witnessing the mushrooming of a galaxy of dynamic writers who are taking the South African story to the world. These writers have put South Africa on the global map as they continue to win some of the most prestigious literary prizes on the continent and the world over.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have here today a selection of writers from this dynamic generation of South African wordsmiths to demonstrate the wealth and dynamism of our literature. Our delegation today includes the likes of Fred Khumalo, an award-winning writer and journalist, and one of the most celebrated writers from South Africa at the moment. Khumalo is the author of four books, including two novels, an autobiography and a non-fiction book.
Bathandwa Mcuba is a new addition in our literary landscape. She has penned a seminal book on South African cultures. Her book is a vital ingredient in giving insight about South African heritage. As you would understand, South Africa prides itself in the diversity of its cultures.
These are some of the best commentators and chroniclers of our contemporary society. We trust that you will get an opportunity to read their books and explore possibilities of an exchange by means of trade, translation and distribution rights.
As we are discussing our Bilateral Relations, literature should be one of the primary areas of cooperation. Our participation at this book fair reinforces our interest in establishing book trade with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. Although South Africa is still a developing country, it makes a highly significant contribution to the book markets in the English speaking world.
The diversity of our languages should not be considered as a barrier, instead, it offers us an opportunity for trade agreements. As South Africans, we know of Saudi authors such as Abdulrahman Munif, Abdo Khal, Leila Al-Johani, and other contemporary writers whose works are also available in English.
Appropriately, our former President Nelson Mandela stated, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” We have embarked on the reprint of our Classics in our nine official languages since 2006 and will be working on translations of popular literature into these languages too.
I therefore suggest that one of the fundamental areas in ensuring regular exchange and distribution of each other’s literature is translation. We should promote the translation of each other’s books so that the peoples of the two countries can read about the history, culture and lifestyles of their counterparts.
We should also explore possibilities of twinning our events. South Africa has got a vast array of literary festivals, book fairs, and other events that promote a culture of reading and writing.
One of the biggest annual book events, the South African International Book Fair, records a staggering 49 000 visitors from all over the world. The participation of Saudi writers, publishers and other book practitioners will be most welcome at this book fair and other related events.
We have a wealth of literature and it is in our interest to increase our markets to Arabic communities and other language groups across the world. I therefore invite all Riyadh International Book Fair patrons to come and view for themselves some of the best literature that South Africa has to offer.
We invite all visitors to view our exhibitions and explore possibilities of signing trade agreements, international distribution, translation and any other agreements that can be reached to promote cultural exchange.
On the same breath I would like to extend an invitation to you, Your Excellency and the Riyadh International Book Fair patrons to join us during the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) congress and assembly IFLA 2015 to be hosted in Cape Town, South Africa, from 15 to 21 August 2015.
I thank you.