Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of the South African Season in Libreville, Gabon

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09 Mar 2017

Programme Director:

Honourable Bilie By Nze, Minister of Arts and Culture:

Ms Petrus Barry, Representative of the UNDP

Deputy Minister, Hon T Xasa.

Ambassador Magaqa

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Artists from both countries present

Ladies and Gentlemen

Members of the media

Tonight before I start my talk, I want to deliver a message of appreciation from the President of Republic of South Africa, President JG Zuma to the Esteemed President Ali Bongo of the Republic of Gabon and to the Gabonese.

Further express my gratitude for the warm and hearty welcome Gabonese have extended to myself and to the entire delegation.

Our point of departure.

Since the democratic breakthrough of 1994, our government has moved from the point that creative industries have a powerful role to play in Nation building and Social Cohesion. It has a great potential to contribute into our national economy.

This belief is rooted in the understanding that culture bears the imprint of humanity.

As the digital revolution continues to change everything about how we live, feel and think, the value of culture and the arts cannot be underestimated as we struggle to maintain our individual and collective identities and build our respective nations.

Arts, Culture and Heritage grants us an opportunity to learn about each other’s world view, belief systems and way of life of others which is a critical part of creating a better world for all, and, as the Seasons have demonstrated, this approach can have a number of other benefits as well - social, cultural and economic.

Today the world faces unprecedented challenges, high and rising levels of youth unemployment and disenfranchisement, a deep economic recession, growing evidence of the impact of climate change and a wave of migration across Europe not seen since World War II as people flee terrible conflict.

Now more than ever before we must invest in and support arts, culture and heritage as a way for people to retain a sense of self, as a way to build prosperous and innovative nations and most of all, as means to be themselves, express their views and feelings in constructive ways.

From an economic perspective arts and culture are incredibly important for the developing world. They are an untapped and constantly renewable resource that can catalyse growth, unleash skill and creativity and compete globally as they are expressed in unique and innovative ways.

For South Africa, the adoption of the Seasons programme has created a powerful platform for diplomacy, cultural exchange and market access for the artists.

The Seasons are a vehicle to promote and build on existing relations and also to create new partnerships. Central to the notion of the Seasons is people to people relations.

Gabon in the modern world acts not only as a country of great culture, but as a State that absorbs consistently constructive values: preserves cultural heritage and diversity, mutual respect and dialogue.

Culture as a heritage of humanity, this initiative of Seasons is aimed at developing and implementing national, inter-State and global programmes intended at maintaining and augmenting the preservation of cultural heritage.

The Season served as a reminder of the unifying power of culture and the universal language of the arts, and of course, strengthened the bonds between South Africans and the Gabonese.

Consistent with this understanding, our government developed a programme three years ago to celebrate Africa. This is called Africa Month being celebrated every month of May since 2015. Amongst others the programme is the festival of ideas, scholars from across the continent and diaspora present lectures on various topics that affect the continent.

The idea is to perpetuate the memory, history of our continent and to pay homage to those who suffered and died for the African cause.

It also has become an important Heritage moment that urges all Africans to carry out their legacy and principles of selflessness determination and devotion that are necessary for success and growth for any nation.

As we strive to realise the goals that we set ourselves, challenges do crop up from time to time, in those dark moments the true character that will define who we are will come up. In recent weeks, our country experience what the media termed “Xenophobia” because the majority of the victims of that violence happen to be foreign nationals. These criminal incidents are indeed a blight in our national effort to effectively make a contribution in this African drive to deal with the historical injustice suffered by South Africans and Africans across the continent.  

I am proud to report to you Minister that South Africans of all walks of life rose to the challenge and declared that those criminal elements must be dealt with harshly by law and came in defence of the foreign nationals.

Through humanitarian and activist actions, people expressed their opposition to xenophobia, made their voices heard and presented a strong counterpoint to the picture projected about our country.

South Africa’s human right obligations are supported by ratifications that the country adheres to at the international and national level.

At the international level, the country has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the ILO’s Convention 111 concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation.

At the regional level, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa confirm the country’s commitment to human rights. Although the SADC framework does not specifically detail human rights issues, reference is made to rights and freedoms in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the national level, the Constitution of South Africa and the Refugees Act are among the most important sources of the state’s obligations.

In discharging our obligations as South African government we are guided by our policy lodestar, the Freedom Charter which states amongst others the following:

“South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of international disputes by negotiation - not war. Peace and friendship amongst all people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all”.

Thank you.