Celebratory message to Bongani Tembe by Minister Nathi Mthethwa

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As we mark the 20th anniversary of our democracy and freedom, we must take a moment to reflect on the road travelled by some of the most outstanding cultural leaders to have come out of the townships.

The life and times of Bongani Tembe are a classical example that it does not matter where you come from but it is where you are going that matters. He is widely acknowledged and recognised as the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Over the last two decades few will deny that he has played a pivotal role as an instrument of using classical music and opera to open up opportunities for the disadvantaged through the National Cadetship Programme, for instance. Thus he has contributed to skills development and empowerment of the youth of this beautiful land.

Through venturing into classical and opera music that was once considered uncharted terrains for young urban Africans, Tembe has opened up a whole wide new world that has, increasingly, seen our talented youth take their rightful place in the world of opera.

Since his positive response to late President Nelson Mandela’s call for expatriates to come back to the country in the early 1990s, classical and opera music in KwaZulu-Natal has become an instrument of reconciliation, skills development, empowerment and bringing people together.

One of the biggest challenges we face in this country is, obviously, building an inclusive South African society.

Tembe’s life and work is testament that an individual has the power to transform human relations and change mind-sets to overcome the gaps that have divided us for centuries.

The celebration of the life and times of such a living treasure also helps to highlight the role of the arts in society.

There is perhaps nothing easy nor predictable about how Tembe’s life has turned out. But there is no doubt  that what he epitomizes is a triumph of the human spirit.

The work that Tembe and the orchestra have done collectively together provides us with a blue print on the urgent need for creative incubators to give young people skills and inspire confidence to pursue meaningful work through the arts. As a cultural leader who doubles up as an instrument of nation-building, we expect him to continue to initiate, lead and support initiatives and campaigns that seek to bring South Africans together and open up opportunities for talented people.

His life example should encourage all of us to tell our own personal stories to move South Africa forward. The power is in our hands to confront and overcome the obstacles in our way. We believe that Tembe did not do what he has achieved for personal gain or glory. Let us continue to use our lives to change the psychological and material condition of our people to move South Africa forward.

Halala Ngwanase!!!

Mr Nathi Mthethwa

Minister of Arts and Culture