Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of the Africa Month Cultural Programme at Freedom Park, Pretoria

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01 Apr 2015

The Deputy Minister of Arts & Culture, Ms Joyce Mabudafhasi

Representatives of the African Union Commission,

Distinguished Delegates present,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Senior Government Officials

Members of the media

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We gather here tonight to launch the Africa Month Cultural Festival Program.

We gather here at this special and sacred Freedom Park heritage and memorial site. It is one of those rare cultural sites in this country and continent. It stands as a testament to African history, heritage and struggle.

Considering who we are and where we come from, one cannot help but remember a great African composer, Enoch Sontonga who, in 1897 composed the African Renaissance Anthem, “Nkosi sikelel ’ iAfrika.”

This is a special song and prayer that has through its lyrics and spirit spread African consciousness.  

It was translated into many different languages and also sung in solidarity throughout the world in the fight against colonialism.

I mention this song because it has been pivotal to defining us as Africans. It is a song that has expressed our identity and articulated our wishes, hopes and aspirations.

The centrality of this lyrical anthem and poem becomes relevant as the country, especially the youth at our campuses, grapple with the issue of colonial symbols that are part of our heritage landscape.

We are still confronted by challenges of prejudice and stereotypes, including racism, Afrophobia and sexism.

Above all, this hymn is also a stepping stone, a platform for embracing that larger identity of being African in the world!

Indeed embodied in that song, in the spirit of that great work of art, is the role of the African artist.

It is our creative intellectuals who must lead the regeneration of the continent. And Sontonga was a pioneering African Cultural Renaissance Man!

In this journey towards African renewal, I also wish to remind us of the brilliant thoughts and speeches of a pioneer, Pixley ka Seme who already in 1906, called for the “regeneration of Africa”.

The Africa Month Cultural Program means that his dream is being fulfilled. Yes, to paraphrase his words, “a new and unique civilization has been added to the world.”

The time has come for Africa’s renewal to be taken to a higher level by the continent’s highly gifted creatives: poets, writers, intellectuals, musicians, chefs and artists.

Here at home we can think of some of the foremost and leading exponents of Pan-Africanist thought like poets Mazisi Kunene and Pitika Ntuli, writers like Wally Mongane Serote, Mandla Langa and Eskia Mphahlele, to cite a few. All have espoused the spirit of a new Africa.

What we cannot ignore is that in the last 20 years all the presidents of the democratic South Africa have pointed in the direction of Africa’s renaissance.

Tata Nelson Mandela, in his seminal speech in Tunis in 1994 at a meeting of the OAU, thanked the continent for its role in liberating South Africa and declared:

“Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let it be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African renaissance.”

Also, former President Thabo Mbeki and the current President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma have embraced this African vision.

For me, the launch of the Africa Month Cultural Festival Programme contributes to increasing our self-knowledge and understanding.

We must embrace, appreciate and promote our African identity, history and culture. This will make us to be true to ourselves.

This inaugural festival will draw from the strength of existing Pan African festivals throughout the continent. It will be a celebratory and educational platform that also creates markets for African cultural products.

The adopted theme is “We are Africa – Opening the doors of learning and culture from Cape to Cairo.”

This is to reposition the role of the arts, culture and heritage sector in redefining African Identity. It is to celebrate and mainstream the contribution of the sector to the economy of the continent.

We are Africa.  Our artists must and will share home-made but a global platform to assert our identity and contribution to society.

The platform will display the creativity and originality of African artists.

The platform will promote the unity of all our people, from Cape to Cairo, united in our diversity.

Above all, the platform will highlight African cultural products and initiate a program of trade interaction and cultural exchange.

Among our special guests here we have celebrated and world renowned poets, novelists, intellectuals, dancers, singers, musicians and designers.

Thus the Cultural Festival Programme will ensure that Africa Month reflects adequately our African identity in its totality and diversity.

We salute all the artists who will be part of this programme. 

In what has increasingly become known as the African Century, arts, culture and heritage must be elevated to a central leadership role.

Artists must be at the forefront of continuously developing our self-knowledge, redefining our vision and promoting Ubuntu and unity among all the African countries and their people.

Thus we see Africa Month as part of the programme to raise African consciousness in the post-colonial age. We are returning to the Source.

This festival will show how the sector helps us to transcend the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. The festival is to reflect who we are to ourselves and the world.

We need our cultural practitioners to remind us that none but ourselves can heal our wounds.

Artists must move the continent towards a new sense of self-responsibility and determination.  

As the poet June Jordan said: we are the ones we have been waiting for!

There is a wind of change and self-determination blowing through the African continent. It carries us with it.

It is in this context that South Africa ratified the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance last October.

We wish to urge all other countries to come with us in this journey of African Cultural Renaissance. Let us all be part of the regeneration of Africa. 

The African Month Cultural Festival Program is an artistic and creative expression of the African Agenda 2063.

In fact, it is a platform to promote the African Union programme towards the attainment of its vision: to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.

This will be driven by artists. It will be a platform to claim our rightful place and mission in the global arena.

Through this festival we have, at least, 31 countries that will participate. This is to promote Pan–Africanism, cultural renewal and solidarity.

Also, the cultural festival stands to strengthen bilaterals and cultural agreements among African countries.

The purpose is to use the sector as an instrument towards the continents’ socio-economic development, political solidarity and cultural integration.

This platform will champion the African Agenda.

It is part of the efforts to create a better South Africa in a better Africa and thus ‘give the world a human face.

Our artists are custodians of the continent’s soul.

As we gather here, as a country we celebrate 60 Years of the Freedom Charter.

Also, we preparing for the 21st anniversary of Freedom Day in South Africa.

We will not forget the important role that was played by the African Union and African states in the struggle for democracy and liberation in South Africa.

We are thankful of the support that was provided by the continent and world.

In fact, we are proud that the African Union first met on South African soil.

This inspiration has made us decide to dedicate the entire month of May in 2015 to Africa Month henceforward.

We are committed to providing the springboard for African arts, culture and heritage to take its rightful place in the world.

This will be a month long festival and conference that will feature various arts and culture disciplines.

These include Music, Literature, Dance, Film, Fashion, Crafts, Theatre, Visual Arts, Panel Discussions and Food Culture amongst others. 

Some of the highlights of the cultural festival program will include the following events:

·       The Light of Africa ceremony

·       Hoisting of the African Union Flag

·       African Union Pan African Cultural Congress

·       African Gospel Artists Against Ebola

·       African World Heritage Fund Breakfast

·       !KAURA Visual Arts Exhibition

·       Vibrant Africa Carnival

·       African Expo

·       Gcwala Ngamasiko (Love Your Culture) Festival

·       The SARA Technical Services Conference

·       SAANA African Festival

·       African Fashion Extravaganza

·       African Music Pot Festival

·       Africa Friday

Tonight is about initiating a programme of awareness about this very exciting program. We all have to play our part to forge African unity and cultural exchange through the arts.

We are very happy to have some of the country and the continent’s leading thinkers, scholars and intellectuals among us as the Reference Group. Their role was to provide guidance and leadership.

We extend a special invitation to the world, especially the continent and Diaspora, to gather in South Africa during next May.

Our vision is to take the celebration of Africa Day to greater heights.

We invite and appeal to everyone who has an exciting idea to partner with us to be part of the cultural festival. We invite Big Business, the media and civil society organizations to play their part.

This is about Africa and all her people.

In this way we shall remain true to the vision embodied in our National Anthem and in the visionary articulations from Pixley ka Seme to contemporary African artists, among others.

God bless Africa!

I thank you.