Nepad Africa Day Symposium “Unifying Africa through Education and Culture”

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25 May 2009

Programme Director:
CEO of the NEPAD Secretariat, Dr Ibrahim Mayaki
Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa
Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Enver Surty
Members of Parliament present
Members of AFU Parliament
Representatives of the African Union
Representatives of COMEDAF (Conference of Ministers of Education in Africa)
Representatives of UNESCO
Your Exellencies
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honour for me to be part of this august gathering. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this rather interesting symposium.

As we have already heard this morning about the origins and significance of Africa Day. It makes me proud of how far we have travelled together as Africans and have been part of a common history.

We have come a long way from that first giant step towards the unification of Africa. We have come an even longer way in the continental struggle against slavery, colonialism, segregation and apartheid.

It is with great regret therefore, that a year ago we had xenophobic attacks. We want to thank South Africans for their contribution in assisting economic and political refugees and re-settlement in communities.

As we celebrate Africa Day today, I believe that we should also pay tribute to those great thinkers and freedom fighters such as Henry Sylvester Williams and W.E.B. Du Bois who at the beginning of the last century, held the first Pan African Congress in London in 1900 to discuss the African condition globally – the situation of Africans in Africa and Africans in the Diaspora.

Let us also not forget the contribution of women in this movement and in the history of the struggle for African unity. For that first Conference in London was also addressed by Anna Jones, a graduate and a school teacher and Anna Julia Cooper, the daughter of a former slave and an activist, in her own right.

Later meetings of the Pan African Congress called for the equality of races, the spread of democracy and the development of political institutions. All of these concerns were also part of discussions when the OAU was formed even though the Diaspora could not then be adequately accommodated.

In the early years, as African leaders and intellectuals set their sights on African unity, from the outset they also understood the movement towards unification as a cultural movement.

It is with this background that African leaders met on the 25 May 1963 to launch the Organization for African Unity (OAU) in Addis Abbaba in Ethopia. Some of the great African leaders that were present at this historic launch included Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Ben Bella of Algeria, Sekou Toure of Guinea; Haille Selassie of Ethopia and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to mention but the few. I here talk of founding fathers, but there were also founding mothers. The PAWO (Pan African Women’s Organisation) was also represented at this august meeting representing the women of Africa.

They came in their numbers as the legendary leader Nkwame Nkrumah put it “for the sake of Africa’s greater glory and infinite well-being. For them Africa could not be free until all of us were free.”

Let us also remember that 1963 was the year Nelson Mandela and his comrades were incarcerated to life imprisonment in Robben Island after the end of the historic Rivonia Treason Trial.

On this day 46 years ago, African leaders came together in Addis and stood united against colonialism, apartheid and all forms of oppression and exploitation of African people. We salute them for their role in the liberation of South Africa and the entire continent. We also pay tribute to the international community for standing in solidarity with our people during the dark years of apartheid.

After we achieved our freedom in South Africa through their support and a long and hard liberation struggle, this helped to pave the way forward. We can be very proud that the first assembly of the African Union happened here on South African native soil in Durban in 2002.

The great Sekou Toure (addressing the second Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome in 1959) argued that:

“To take part in the African revolution, it is not enough to write a revolutionary song; you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves, and of themselves.”

As we meet here today, I think that this is at the heart of our quest. The theme for Africa Day this year is “Unifying Africa through education and culture”. This requires a renewed understanding of the integral relationship between culture and development, between education and education, between the intellectual project and the practical implementation of the African Agenda.

In South Africa today as we enter this new era, it is our task to strengthen the relationship between the development agenda and the needs of our people. It is our task through interaction with ordinary people and through engagements such as this symposium to nurture a more people-centred society and to build a better life for all.

We have inherited a very divided society where many of our people still live in poverty, are unskilled and unemployed, these are some of the challenges we must address with speed. Despite all our considerable efforts in bridging that gap we continue to experience divisions in our society that are not simply based on race, our apartheid legacy, but also between rural and urban areas divides and between men and women within our society.

We must also recognize the strength in our diversity and also the difficulties in building differing and diverse cultural communities. But we also know that our power comes from our many languages and our many cultures and complex heritage.

Thus any continental attempts to strengthen education and culture must begin from the self-realisation that our ideas will only be able to germinate if we recognize the common and also different needs of our people.

In this way, as we discuss the role of education and culture today in this movement towards African unity, let us not forget that we are striving to build a People’s Culture.

We are nurturing the conditions that will enable all our people to have access to arts and culture and also to arts and culture education. Our rallying cry must be: an Arts for All!

The South African government has played an active role in promoting the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. My predecessor, Dr Pallo Jordan was a champion of this convention, believing that cultural diversity is the living expression of our very humanity.
In the same vein, we also have to reinforce our unity as Africans through cultural co-operation and solidarity aimed at building our African identity and nurturing common concerns, shared efforts to preserve our African heritage and to develop our African art forms.
Cultural diplomacy is also very important for us as fellow Africans to learn about each other and to strengthen our own dialogue and move us towards taking common positions and defending these African positions.
We need to strengthen the organs of the African union, especially ECOSOCC (Economic, Social and Cultural Council) and ensure that we get the full participation of civil society in all initiatives of the AU and NEPAD.
The role of NEPAD becomes crucial in this regard. South Africa has played its role in initiating and supporting projects that have sought to document the shared history of liberation movements in the SADC region and by supporting regional and continental projects.
Earlier this year, we witnessed the great success of the first NEPAD Cultural Project, with the launching of the new Library Building for the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu, Mali, by the then President Kgalema Motlanthe. This building provides administrative offices, accommodation for researchers, a public library, an auditorium, an amphitheatre and exhibition space. Work has also been done in popularizing the history of the manuscripts for school children. Hopefully this will become part of the curriculum. In this way we are already in the process of building the bridge between education and culture.
The South Africa – Mali Project should also pave the way for other cultural projects that seek to preserve ancient heritage for the purpose of new and future generations.
Research and documentation of Africa’s history, culture and heritage must be supported and promoted. For example, the full story of slavery in South Africa has yet to be told, and this must be documented and contextualized with slavery on the continent an in the Diaspora. We need to build relations between Robben Island and Goree, and also to learn about the slave trade in East Africa. We need our scholars to write popular histories of this period for our youth to understand where we come from.
The contribution that Africa has made in the fields of Mathematics, Science, Philosophy, Astronomy, Religion and the Arts must also be documented and promoted by African scholars and intellectuals as well as the cultural and heritage sector. All this must be passed on to our youth and to future generations in Africa through education and cultural programmes.

In traditional society, we were also blessed with having men and women of practical wisdom who would impart their knowledge to others.

Today part of our focus must be to integrate this indigenous knowledge within our schooling system and the way in which we shared knowledge in the past also should find a place within our modern life.

The role of these living legends and teachers ‘in the schoolbook of life’ in our continental culture needs to be looked at in a rigorous manner so that this becomes integrated into how we learn within our broader society and not only in our formal institutions. The inculcation of values requires that we take this more holistic approach to ensure that our youth and our children learn who they are from a very early age. Leaders, scholars and intellectuals can lead us in this regard.

I think that NEPAD should play a key role in coming up with the best possible ways in which we can attain sustainable development through sustaining our education and culture.
Of course, related matters - such has the status of teachers and especially arts teachers and practitioners need to be looked into. While some work has been done, we need to do more to ensure that art practitioners become part of our permanent education staff.
Languages become crucial in shaping our present and future and are also the bearers of culture. In South Africa our National Library has focused on reprinting classics in our African Languages as one way of addressing the problem of publishing in these languages – a task which mainstream publishers have not been willing to do. But in this way, as we build up our collection of books in African languages, this should also impact positively on the school curriculum.
While we also have projects in South Africa funded by the Department of arts and Culture that seek to empower women’s writing and the documentation of oral histories by women and for women, I think that we also need to look at the possibility of a NEPAD cultural project that focuses on women’s contribution continentally.
We need a project or study that places women’s role in culture and education at the forefront and seeks to document women’s history and culture as part of what has sustained us throughout history and what continues to sustain us in our daily lives.
In the current global meltdown, we need to look at our rich endowment of minerals gold, platinum and agricultural products food, fruits that we export for next to nothing and see how we can add value to this. We need to transfer skills to our people so that they can enter the manufacturing sector.

Finally, as South Africa, we shall also continue to pay special attention to South South co-operation and be part of projects that foster relations between Africa and its Diaspora. South Africa is also preparing to send artistic delegations to forthcoming arts festivals, among these, the 2nd Pan African Cultural festival to be held in July in Algeria. Preparations are also underway for South African participation in the Festival of World Black Arts to be held in December in Senegal. We also look forward to the Diaspora Conference later this year.

I believe that these events will serve to strengthen the arts on the African continent as we build a better Africa in a better world. I also think that they will go some way in addressing the very concerns of this symposium – unifying Africa through education and culture.

For only in this way can we do what Sekou Toure requested – and that is to build an African culture which is at one with the people and to sing our songs in the same language and tune of our people.

Let us also give thanks to the joy that we feel today that our nation has celebrated 15 years of freedom.

Let us give thanks to the fact that we have had our fourth democratic national elections in peace and that our people came out to vote in their millions.

Let us be grateful that we have taken a smooth road to a new era and to a new administration under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, the popular leader of our people, who has demonstrated his commitment to Africa Unity.

And let us pledge to work hard together to build our arts and culture for a better South Africa in a better world.

I thank you and wish you well in your deliberations.