Heritage Day Parliamentary Debate: “Celebrating Our Craft”

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17 Sep 2009

Honourable Speaker
Honourable Members
Comrades
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Ministry of Arts and Culture welcomes this opportunity to participate in this debate to look at the meaning of Heritage Month to the people of South Africa.

September marks the annual heritage month celebrations in our country.

It is in recognition of the value created by the craft segment of our economy, that Department of Arts and Culture has decided to adopt the theme: Celebrating South African Craft, Our Heritage as the focus for the 2009 Heritage Month celebrations.

The theme is an opportunity to highlight the socio-economic value of the crafts industry, especially in rural areas, and encourage its further development. It also enables us to encourage further investment in the crafts sector of our economy.

The main Heritage Day celebrations will take place in Moroke, in the Greater Tubatse Municipality in Limpopo Province and this event will be addressed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The importance of heritage and culture

In this month we recognize the importance of our heritage and our diverse cultural expressions that together shape and build our national culture.

In this month, we also pay attention to the artifacts made by our ancestors, the generations that have preceded us. We celebrate those practical men and women of wisdom, whose accomplishments are a testimony that great works of art can come from a culture rooted in the realities of our people.

Mapungubwe

It is in this context that yesterday we launched Heritage month at one of our World Heritage Sites, the Mapungubwe National Park, which is found at the meeting place between ourselves, Botswana and Zimbabwe, where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers meet.

This offered us an opportunity to admire the cultural and economic wealth that came from the Mapungubwe people whose architects built a royal residence and whose blacksmiths built tools and artworks out of iron and gold foil. They were part of a thriving Indian Ocean trade system.

This is where the golden rhinoceros, bowls, tools as well as pottery, glass beads and jewellery were found.

Through our knowledge of Mapungubwe and of Thulamela and of the finds at Klasies River and Blombos Cave, through archaeological studies and through rock art, we can say that South Africa has a rich heritage and it is unique in the evidence it provides of our earliest human beings.

We should be proud that South Africa possesses such vast natural beauty and heritage of outstanding universal value through our 8 World Heritage sites namely, Mapungubwe, Robben Island, Vrede Fort Dome, Cradle of Human Kind, Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, Richtersveld, Isimangaliso Wetlands and Ukhahlamba Drakensburg.

We also know that in our part of the world humans have lived for about 2 million years and history books tell us that between 200 000 and 100 000 years ago, modern humans, the hunter gatherers also resided in South Africa.

Heritage is universal. It tells the story not only of our nation but a story of the world.

Through our liberation struggle, our cultural workers also showed us the path to building a People’s culture.

As the liberation movement grew in strength, these artists created social awareness and asserted our right to have our own history and to develop our own culture. Against all odds, they triumphed against apartheid.

They asserted, what Amilcar Cabral has pointed out, and that is that “National liberation is necessarily an act of culture”.

They contributed in giving us an identity not rooted in oppression, but in liberation. Learning from these lessons of our struggle, through telling and re-telling our stories and working with our cultural workers, we can do more to strengthen and promote our culture and heritage.

This is why we say today that culture must be rooted in the realities of our people, in our daily lives, struggles and victories. In building our nation and taking forward the National Democratic Revolution, our people must continue to be inspired by a culture that addresses their needs and that helps them to build on the freedom won in 1994.

The National Heritage Council is initiating a National liberation Heritage Route project, as a network of estates depicting the journey to liberation through struggles against colonialism and apartheid.

During Heritage month, we reaffirm the right for each and every one of us to lead a rich and productive cultural life.

The importance of craft

It is in this context of contributing to the world but also building our country and our continent that the creative industries are critical for us and for nation-building.

They create critical opportunities to uplift and empower our people, especially the youth. This year we focus on the role that craft plays in building our nation.

Craft as an art form

Our people through their creativity are constantly developing traditional cultural expressions such as the design and production of crafts, basket weaving and songs. These expressions make meaning and establish identity.

The works of art are made from clay, paper, cardboard, wires, plastic bags, among others. This collective creativity provides a basis for social cohesion and sustainable development.

Craft and its economic contribution

Studies indicate that 1.2 million people earn their living through crafts and related trade areas. The key is to strengthen the sector and to create enabling conditions for it to flourish.

The Department of Trade and Industry estimates that South Africa’s craft sector alone contributes about 2 billion rands to South Africa’s GDP annually.

Yet despite an abundance of individual and community artistic and entrepreneurial skills, there is still exploitation - with primary producers selling their goods through middle people which limit their earnings as well as preventing their full and active participation in the industry.

The problems are compounded in that there is no recognised representative body that promotes the rights of crafters and most raw materials have been imported and thus unaffordable for many people.

Through our Investing in Culture programme, we are addressing these and other concerns. Since 2005 we have spent over R300 million to support craft projects so that they can become self-sustaining small businesses.
We are equipping crafters with business skills to enable them to compete and market their products.

Working together with all stakeholders we shall improve on these initiatives.

Focusing on women in the crafts

Sustainable crafts development also requires sustaining the participation of women in the crafts industry. We are proud that the majority of projects funded since 2005 are projects led and carried out by women.

We acknowledge that more needs to be done in this regard.

Crafts contribute to government’s rural development objective

The focus on crafts is part of our commitment to the development and revitalisation of rural economies. It is our belief that tangible programmes and strong marketing campaigns in the crafts sector will contribute to rural development.

National craft awards

This year for the first time we held the National Craft Awards to showcase and encourage craft enterprises throughout the country and to raise the profile of the craft industry by rewarding selected works that demonstrated great skill and innovation.

South Africa and the world

We need to acknowledge that South Africa is a recognised global player in the arts, culture and heritage sector. This year’s heritage month celebrations come at a time when South Africa is gaining ground in the world’s arts, culture and heritage landscape.

Let us consolidate the work we are doing to showcase our arts and crafts and heritage for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

From the 21st to 23 September 2009, we will host an Afrikaans-Dutch festival and conference – Roots – with the Minister of European Affairs from the Netherlands and with Flemish co-operation. This will look at strengthening our cultural relations with the Dutch people and to build on the solidarity that started during the apartheid years.

Next week we also host the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture for the first time on African soil from 22-25 September in Newtown Johannesburg.

All these platforms offer us the opportunity to demonstrate the centrality of arts to development and to provide opportunities for our artists to exchange ideas with others and forge common projects across the globe.

Our task is to further strengthen our sense of belonging to South Africa and through our crafts to nurture a common value system that strengthens our unity as a nation.

As we transform our country, we need to ensure that through heritage, arts and culture we build cohesive, sustainable and caring communities.

Only in this way do we play our part in the common effort to expedite our national development.

Only in this way do we remain true to the Freedom Charter which directs us to “discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life.”

I take this opportunity to invite all of you to participate in our National Heritage Day celebrations in Limpopo and also in celebrations that take place in all our provinces on the 24th September 2009.

Happy Heritage Month!

I thank you.