Keynote address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of Heritage Month and the Living Legends Legacy Project, at Cedar Woods Hotel, Sandton

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25 Aug 2015

Programme Directors:
Legends in the Arts, Culture, and Heritage sector
Heads of our Associated Institutions
Delegates from the Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CIFSA)
Members of the Media
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and a privilege for me to stand here in front of some of the most distinguished contributors to the South African arts, culture and heritage landscape. It is not every day that we find ourselves in company of such a cross-section of legends who have contributed immensely to the nation’s cultural heritage.

We cannot help but feel overwhelmed with emotions when we see our legends, many of whom have not been in the public eye for a very long time, gathered under one roof and talk about their contribution to the nation’s heritage. Your presence here is the affirmation of our long-held belief that many of our living treasures still have a lot to offer the nation.

To you as legends, this may be an historic reunion, but to us this marks a turning point in our efforts to bridge the gap between the old and the new generation of practitioners in the arts, culture and heritage landscape.

Before I go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to convey our well-wishes to those legends who could not be here with us today due to ill-health. It was a singular honour to hear from legends such as Credo Muthwa, Lauretta Ngcobo and George Hallett, among others, who were unable to travel but all gave this gathering their blessings. We wish them strength and speedy recovery.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here to witness the launch of Heritage Month, which also includes the launch of Living Legends Legacy Project (LLLP). As you all know, the month of September is national heritage month in South Africa, and our programme culminates with the celebration of National Heritage Day on 24 September. In celebrating Heritage Month, we will make a concerted effort to create awareness about the importance of our heritage as a vehicle to foster social cohesion, nation building, economic development and inclusive citizenship.

The Department of Arts and Culture, as the custodians of the nation’s heritage, is charged with the responsibility of implementing heritage programmes that reflect the diversity of our society. As part of the heritage month programme, we will launch the National Heritage Monument projects at the Groenkloof Nature Reserve in Pretoria. It will be in this site that the National Heroes’ Acre will be developed to pay tribute to those who selflessly dedicated their lives to the struggle for our liberation and laid the foundation for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.

There is a plethora of other activities in commemoration of heritage month, including the Matola Memorial Unveiling as well as the unveiling of the Bhambhatha Sculpture. A comprehensive calendar of heritage month activities will be distributed alongside this speech for public consumption.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we launch heritage month, we also pay tribute to our legends who remain an integral part of our living heritage. The legends that we are celebrating today are over 70 years of age and are internationally renowned for their exceptional contribution to the arts, culture and heritage sector over the years. They employed their artistic talents as both a form of creative expression and also as a tool for social change during the most difficult times in our history.

It was through the work of these icons that we were able to get international organisations, civil society movements and different nations across the globe to pledge solidarity and support the world-wide anti-apartheid movement.

Writers used the might of their pens; poets turned to the power of their lyrics; musicians amplified their voices which reverberated across the globe; painters used their brushes to paint the picture of South Africa for the world to see; film makers documented and broadcast our story to the world; and intellectuals engaged in dialectical expositions to present the authentic image of the South African condition and corrected misconceptions about the national liberation movement.

We look back to those days not with bitterness or anger, but with fondness and pride because they epitomise the triumph of human spirit over adversity. When we hear the music of Miriam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, Dorothy Masuka, Caiphus Semenya, and other musical legends, we cannot help but reminisce about the struggle days. The plays of Mthuli kaShezi, John Kani, Athol Fugard, and many other distinguished playwrights, brought the horror of apartheid alive on stages across the globe.

The paintings of Gerard Sekoto, Thami Mnyele, George Pemba, and many other prominent artists, are more valuable today because they are an authentic reflection of the people’s struggle for liberation. These artworks remain reliable reference points for the struggle episode of our history and demonstrate the power of the arts in documenting a people’s collective memory.

After twenty-one years since the dawn of freedom and democracy in South Africa, we have to ask ourselves difficult and uncomfortable questions about the plight of our cultural icons at the end of their careers as active performers.

What happens when a dancer’s legs have grown feeble with age; when a musician’s voice has become hoarse and can no longer produce sweet melodies; when a writer’s memory lapses and can no longer tell nuanced stories; and when a painter’s eyes have become misty and cannot distinguish colours?

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is true that age takes away some vital elements in us. Conversely, the accumulative nature of age imbues us with more knowledge, experience and wisdom. This paradoxical effect of age poses a challenge for us to guard against the neglect of wealth of knowledge and ensure a dynamic cross-generational interaction in the arts, culture and heritage sector.

We can no longer watch helplessly when libraries burn to the ground with all the knowledge and wisdom turning into ashes. This implores us to make a concerted effort to preserve what could be lost and optimise what is gained. The legends that we are celebrating today are the treasure trove of our cultural heritage.

The succeeding generations of artists must take the baton and build on the foundation that has been laid by those who traversed this path before them.Ngesintu sithi, indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili!

It is against this backdrop that today we are also launching the Living Legends Legacy Project (LLLP). The aim of this initiative is to identify living legends across all arts disciplines and engage them actively in programmes that promote arts and culture development.

This is in line with our policy intervention to develop the Living Heritage Policy. Our strategic objective is to ensure that there is transference of skills, knowledge and experience to the younger generation, while at the same time creating opportunities for our legends to continue pursuing viable careers in the arts.

As the Department of Arts and Culture, we have a number of projects that seek to discover new talents, promote skills development and create an enabling environment for the promotion of the arts, culture and heritage sector.

We believe that our living human treasures — the legends, have a fundamental role to play in assisting aspirant artists to hone their skills. We would like to see these legends playing a bigger role in offering master classes and providing mentorship to the youth as part of our incubator programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, many of these legends were long-forgotten even though they possess so much wealth of knowledge and information. We want to ensure that they are a prominent part of our cultural events, featured in our programmes for events such as national days, festivals and other platforms of this nature.

Our ultimate objective is to provide continued support and increase the living legends’ economic beneficiation prospects. This, however, should not be misconstrued as a social security intervention. We are merely balancing the scales of justice to ensure mutual beneficiation and stimulate a dynamic cross-generational interaction among the practitioners in the arts, culture and heritage sector.

We are therefore pledging an amount of R5million as an initial investment for the establishment and implementation of the Living Legends Legacy Project. This special fund will be utilised specifically to facilitate programmes that will have the legends as the primary beneficiaries of the project.

I will appoint a Board of Trustees comprised of representatives from the Living Legends, Government, Business, Civil Society and other relevant stakeholders, to administer the project. The main task of this Board of Trustees will be to make sure that all the commitments that I have made here are fulfilled.

In fact, this Board of Trustees will be charged with the daunting task of making sure that our Living Legends, including those that are not part of this event today, benefit optimally from the programmes of the Living Legends Legacy Project.

This is one of our initial interventions to develop a structured programme for the recognition and support of our human treasures. Our future plans include:

  • The establishment of Ministerial Awards to recognise and honour our living legends for their body of work in the various disciplines
  • Organising Living Legends Benefit Concerts where a series of concerts will be held and proceeds will go towards the Living Legends Trust Fund
  • Publication of the Book of Mzansi Legends and Production of Documentaries to document the entire body of work and trace the artistic journey of the selected legends

I once again thank the legends for making time to be with us today. This is also a platform for you to engage with us, and share your thoughts about this project and other related matters of national interest. There will be further engagements and community dialogues as we celebrate heritage month throughout September. I take this opportunity to make a clarion call to all South Africans to join heritage month celebrations and demonstrate their pride as Africans.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to read the following extract from a poem by legendary poet, James Matthews:

age is a beautiful phase
I am at peace with my journey
age is not an omen of fear
terrifying in its presence
age is a sanctuary that will
transform itself into an oasis
age is a beautiful phase

Thank you.