Address by Minister Mthethwa at the official opening of National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

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02 Jul 2014

Programme Director,

Honourable MEC for Sports, Recreation, Arts & Culture,

Dr Pemmy Majodina

Honourable Executive Mayor of the Makana Municipality,

Mr Zamuxolo Peter,

National Arts Festival Board Chairperson, Mr Ayanda Mjekula,

National Arts Festival CEO, Mr Tony Lancaster,

Festival artistic director, Mr Ismail Mahomed,

Members of the Arts Community,

Distinguished Guests,

Members of Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased and honoured to be opening this year’s National Arts Festival, as it celebrates its 40th Anniversary. This coincides with the celebration of 20 years of Freedom and Democracy.

In this special year the Festival offers approximately 3,000 performances in 50 venues all over Grahamstown. That is something worth celebrating.

We are also marking a long and fruitful partnership between the arts and business. The last three-decades of public-private partnership with Standard Bank to present the Young Artist Awards has helped incubate the careers of more than 100 of South Africa’s most acclaimed artists and household names  – including Sibongile Khumalo, William Kentridge, and Sam Nhlengethwa, among others. That, too, is worth celebrating for we have, indeed, moved South Africa forward.

Being in a University town, when the Festival began in 1974, it was established as a celebration of English and the colonial arts and culture for the white audiences of the colonialism of a special type.

Gradually during the late 1980s it reflected the mood of the political struggle and the emergency. The artists of the time were communicating through the arts and advocated for social change as the world supported the struggle against apartheid. The principled commitment and dedication of the artists has, as always, made this country the best place to live and work in.

Of course in 1994 with the democratic dispensation, it has grown and flourished over the years making it a destination of annual pilgrimage, an art lover’s paradise! That is worth celebrating!

It never fails to live up to its promise of creative experiences. There are two programmes running concurrently, the Main and the Fringe which celebrates the experimental.

I would like to share recent developments that are worth celebrating, too. Not too long I was part of a ceremony where a theatre legend from the Eastern Cape was honoured.  As part of the transformation of the arts landscape, we announced on 10 June 2014 that the main theatre of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg was renamed the John Kani Theatre. This was in honour of our living theatre legend, actor, director, playwright and global icon for his immense contribution in taking South Africa forward in the world through his art. We believe that Dr Kani is worthy of the acknowledgement, recognition and, of course, celebration!

We are a multicultural society that speaks many languages. That has neither been recognized nor celebrated enough in our country. As a result, we have to do what we can – especially in the arts – to take linguistic diversity forward. Thus the National Language Policy Framework will be updated to reflect landmark developments in legislation. Among these is the implementation of the Use of Official Languages Act that requires that all government departments and public entities adopt language policy and create language units by November 2014. I believe that is worth celebrating!

Going forward, we shall have a campaign to promote multilingualism to ensure that all our languages are spoken and respected by all our people.

Through this festival and beyond, we encourage all South Africans to tell their stories of the last twenty years, to celebrate the lives of unsung heroes and capture and preserve the precious memories of ordinary people who fought for freedom.

This we must do as part of a concerted effort to share and disseminate the South African story, a rich narrative of struggle and tribulations, where many lost their lives, culminating in a victory over the inhumane and unjust apartheid system. All these historical accounts will be preserved and disseminated through books, online media, audio-visual content and documentaries. They are worth celebrating for moving us forward, making this the best country to live and work in.

The Festival offers traditional and historical performances of dance, music and theatre to recent and cutting edge of avant-garde performances. This wide spectrum comprises of art works that challenge mind-sets and that which extends the mind’s eye to encompass a myriad of experiences and emotions.  It certainly inspires confidence and determination and a sense of purpose, conviction and mental strength.  This is our diversity. This is worth celebrating.

In fact, the diversity of our arts brings us closer together, being a force of social cohesion and nation building.  This is the impact of art on society and I would encourage everyone to use the discipline to foster new values based on constitutional principles and ideals and to build an active citizenry. This will ultimately change our perception, experience, behaviour and attitude. It will take us closer to the society we want to be: just and equal!

This Festival has moved forward. It has become a magnet that draws people annually to this great “Happening”, the second largest festival of its kind in the world, after the Edinburgh Festival. It is to be celebrated that it attracts a huge number of international artists and audiences.  More than 200,000 attendees are expected. This has become a much bigger and better festival. It is worth celebrating.

It rejuvenates and refreshes one’s outlook to life providing a unique spirituality.  It allows one to recognise and destroy one’s inner foes, facing unfair prejudices and discrimination.  We are all incomplete and look to each other for further meaning. The arts should give us a sense of our common identity. They should close the gap that has seen us divided for centuries. It is to be celebrated that arts and culture have been on the cutting edge of change in this country.

Last year the Festival contributed R349-million to the GDP of the Eastern Cape, and R90m to the GDP of Grahamstown (Source: Rhodes University Economic Dept. study in 2013).  That is to be celebrated!

Government will continue to strengthen the contribution of arts and culture to the growth of the economy through the implementation of the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) strategy. The rollout of the strategy is expected to create over 25,000 work opportunities for cultural workers in 2014.

Through the Festival's partnership with the World Fringe Alliance, dozens of South African shows travel each year to Festivals in Amsterdam, New York, Perth, Prague, Brighton and Edinburgh. This places our artists on the world stage, gives them the opportunity to reach a global audience, and earn fees in dollars, Euro and Pounds. These performances prove time and time again that South African artists are among the best in the world, as they scoop major awards everywhere they go. That is a great achievement. It is worth celebrating!

It requires intellectual strength to pursue a career in the arts. It requires self-belief and empowerment to know it is alright to be an artist.  South Africa is fortunate to have great artists in all disciplines; artists who have won major international awards in the recent years.  The arts can only thrive in a democratic and enabling environment.  Government recognises this and therefore supports this and other festivals in our country. There is artistic freedom of expression in this country. And that is to be celebrated!

To help organise and strengthen the fraternity, government will support the work of the Interim Committee of the Creative Industries Federation appointed in March 2014 to lay the ground work for a national representative body that will advocate for and work in the interests of all cultural sectors. This will take us forward.

Together with local and international partners, we shall establish a Film Fund that will compliment current film development initiatives and continue to support the growth of the booming local film industry.

The Festival, in partnership with Makana Municipality, has launched a project to establish Grahamstown as "South Africa's Creative Capital". Central to this is the establishment of the Makana Arts Academy which, through a funding partnership with the European Union, will steer 60 young adults to a sustainable career in the arts. Already the project is working to establish Art as a possible Grade 12 learning option in township schools. Qualified teachers and facilities will be provided for learners to follow this path. That is to be celebrated! It will take us forward.

The Creative City project aims to make Creativity Grahamstown's primary export. There is no major industry in Grahamstown, no factories, call centres or other major economic drivers. What we do have is a tradition of creativity and education – and the project aims to merge the two by capitalizing on the region's strengths. And that is worth celebrating!

The advantage of being in a town where the University prides itself in providing one of the best Journalism degrees amongst others is that it puts out a newspaper during the Festival run by students largely, called Cue. This provides an opportunity for students to hone their skills through a critical overview of the offerings available. From visual arts, Word-fest, music, dance, theatre to crafts, delightfully flavourful food, a market of hand-made products and street theatre, a variety of disciplines that awaits our senses and uplifts us.

Let me end by saying that arts, culture and heritage is pivotal to nation building and social cohesion. It is only when artists foster new values based on constitutional principles through their work; when they redefine the soul of the nation to carve a new overarching identity and they promote unity in diversity that democracy and unity will truly have meaning for our society.

Above all, the work of our artists should inspire and encourage active citizenry and leadership among all our people. The songs of celebration should ring from every village and every city of our nation.

Yes, we have come a long way and have further to go. But we still have much to celebrate. We have moved forward.

We are free!!! And the arts and culture sector has been in the forefront of this!

I declare this Festival open.

For enquiries kindly contact Mr Sandile Memela: 0828003750 or email