Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the Declaration of Mandela Bay Theatre Complex as Cultural Institution for Performing Arts

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31 May 2021

Programme Director: Mr Mafa Bavuma.

Honourable MEC Fezeka Nkomonye.

Honourable Executive Mayor Nqaba Bhanga.

Honourable MMC Helga van Staaden.

HOD Sibongile Mpofu.

Executive Director Noxolo Nqwazi.

Mandela Bay Theatre Complex Board Chairpserson Mr Jack Bhana.

CEO of the Mandela Bay Theatre Complex, Mr Monde Ngonyama.

Creative workers.

Government Officials.

Business Fraternity.

Members of the Media.

Ladies and gentlemen.

We have gathered here today at Mandela Bay Theatre Complex to re-affirm the work that the likes of Athol Fugard, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Dr Winston Ntshona, Dr John Kani, Feya Faku and many others that creativity rests amongst the people not colour.

Consistent with the African Union aspiration five which states amongst others: Africa with a Strong Cultural Identity Common Heritage, Values and Ethics.

The continental body has declared the year 2021 as “the year for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa we want”.

This occasion of declaring Mandela Bay Theatre Complex as a Cultural Institution for Performing Arts is a befitting tribute to the generations that came before us, an investment for the coming generations. It is also a clear demonstration of our resolve to undermine the Colonial and Apartheid spatial development plan, thus creating necessary spaces needed by our creatives.

The South African government has urged all and sundry to celebrate the life and times of Mama Charlotte Maxeke. This move compliments the AU Declaration for this year as the one of Arts, Culture and Heritage. Mama Maxeke was in her own right amongst others an artists of note. We do not remember her as a mere mortal, but as an African woman whom we can comfortably refer to as a groundbreaker, who dared her times and socio-political and cultural limitations to make a mark for herself and her people.

Her character is encapsulated in one of her remarks, that best describes the occasion today, where she says:

“This work is not for yourselves, kill that spirit of self and do not live above your people but live with them, and if you can rise, bring someone with you.”

Today the young people will live as witnesses of what the African philosopher and scholar of note Frantz Fanon once said:

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

We are here to give the baton through resources and framework to the local creatives to go on and create works that will bear the hallmarks of histories, adventures, inspirations and above all memorable moments in real life or imaginatively. Our reference to “local’ goes beyond the borders of Gqeberha and Nelson Mandela Metro, it covers the hopes and the talented of Alfred Nzo, Amathole, Buffalo City, Chris Hani, Joe Gqabi, OR Tambo and Sarah Baartman districts of the Eastern Cape. The Mandela Bay Theatre Complex is located in this city as a feature of bricks and mortar, however its influence, reach and impact should reverberate and confirmed throughout the length and breadth of this province, The Home of Legends.

Histories do not define us by their very nature, it is what we do with histories that define us as a people. Dean McCleland tells us that:

“The (PE) Opera House is built on the site of an old gallows. Public hangings took place on this ground before the theatre was erected” (2017).

In 1892, the colonial government saw it fit to build a monument out of a grim site that could have remained a sore point in the history of our people. Over a period of time this very landmark was not accessible to African people, keeping its doors only to the privileged whites.

The legendary Dr Winston Ntshona, Dr John Kani and Mama Nomhle Nkonyeni could not have dreamt of setting their feet on this stage. Rather they chose to make name for themselves in places far away from home, risking their lives by daring living conditions that could never have been better than being at home. What do we make of that as history? Do we moan and persist on begrudging each other? or do we take our past as valuable lessons that we shall learn from to make us better people who cherish being free as a result of sacrifices those before us had to endure?

Also in 1892 the local municipality sold a theatre that existed, Theatre Royal, for 3,000 [Three Thousand] Pounds and donated the money towards the building of The Opera House. I am mentioning this important part of history because later on in the 1960, The Opera House which was built by the municipality was handed over to the provincial authority as its property, as the Title Deed shows and in terms of records this Erf had remained the property of the provincial government; having been built by the municipality.

Today I am announcing that the national government is claiming responsibility for its ownership. History has paved a way for us in what the amended Cultural Institutions Act prophecies that the three spheres of government have a responsibility to realise that they are three tiers of one country. The success of this institution shall depend on the workmanship, partnership and collaboration between all of us, the three spheres of government.

The Declaration of this institution was paved by a number of interventions that took place over the years. In 2010 as part of the FIFA World Cup Legacy projects the Department of Arts and Culture, predecessor to DSAC, contributed R31million towards the renovations and extensions to this historic building.

In 2017, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality changed the names of the streets surrounding this theatre. The name change of streets was to mark the 45th anniversary of three young thespians who became the first people from Afrika to win the prestigious Tony Award in the USA in 1975. The municipality saw it fit to change Whites Road to John Kani Road, Chapel Street to Winston Ntshona Street and Belmont Terrace to Athol Fugard Terrace. The municipality saw a need for a name change to honour those who have had a positive impact in the histories and lives of our people. We congratulate the municipality on that.

We have to imagine lifting and celebrating the names and achievements of Mama Nomhle Nkonyeni, Thoko Ntshinga, Marlene Pieterse, Zim Ngqawana, Feya Faku, Gibson Kente, Mthuthuzeli Sozwe, the Soul Jazzman, George Pemba, JJR Jolobe, SEK Mqhayi, Nxele uMakhanda, Mervin Williams, Ian von Memerty and many more. There is a chance to ensure that this place is a cauldron for a cohesive, caring and conscientious society.

We are going to commit more resources to this institution. Creatives will earn a living, there will be job creation, the sector shall meaningfully contribute to the economy. There will be extensive touring ventures, artists travelling, artists getting wider recognition.

As I conclude, I would like to thank the Board of this institution, the unsung heroes and heroines who kept the building working over the past years. I want to thank Jack Bhana, Chairperson of the Board, and his fellow Board Members Mrs Marlene Pieterse, Mr Johan Gerryts, Ms Buli Ngomane, Mr Xolani Tshayana and Judge Irma Schoeman.

We may not shout your names all the time but rest assured we appreciate the work that you have done over the years. The selflessness of agreeing that we will submit ourselves to the legal processes which shall kick in through a Gazette that I will publish outlining how the declared institution will operate and governed.

To the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality we thank you to have supported this institution all along. With us coming to take over the institution is not relieving you of your responsibility to continue to support this institution and performing arts, instead it means we are joining you in partnership. We are expecting an institution according to the Revised White Paper that will be aligned and work with the Community Arts Centres in the province, collaborate with other theatres in the province and across the country. And above all ensure that it creates jobs and employment for artists.

The Council that I will set up is going to be group of people who are aware of the frustrations and aspirations of the creative sector. We must at all material times ensure that the creative sector benefits well out of such initiatives as this.

This institution must create jobs, must provide education through its subsidiary Stageworld Performing Arts School, and shall work with the Community Arts Centres in the province and the East London Guild Theatre. Surely with that collaboration we can’t fail our creatives artists. We wish Mandela Bay Theatre Complex all the best as they transform space to afford creative opportunities to thrive.

Thank you for your attention.     

Department of Sport, Arts and Culture