Opening of the National Arts Festival

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01 Jun 2009

Programme Director
MEC of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Mrs X Tom
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I am here today in my home province of the Eastern Cape and in the vibrant town of Grahamstown at the official opening of the National Arts Festival.

We are here this evening to raise the curtain on the 35th National Festival of the Arts.

This 35th birthday is truly another important milestone in the cultural history of our country.

For so many years a platform has been developed on which we express the truths of our reality through art and share the power of our dreams as a nation.

It is this power of dreams that over many decades of apartheid and more than 300 years of colonialism has enabled South Africans to come together and strive towards a society free of racism and sexism.

Here in the Eastern Cape our history is filled with glorious battles of brave warriors fighting those who came to colonise these lands.

It is a history of frontiers, of bloodshed, of loss of land and livelihood and of suffering.

It is also the history of settlements that changed the face of the landscape.

In his book called Frontiers, the historian Noel Mostert, tells us that in his view (and I quote:

"The frontier between white and black that arose at the eastern limits of the Cape Colony was … the product of two of the greatest human odysseys and endeavours, the terrestrial one of Africa and the maritime one of Europe. It was an encounter moulded by the many interwoven frontiers which affected Europeans and Africans as they came to that historical rendezvous."

As we meet here today - more than a 150 years after the frontier wars, let us pay tribute to those who fought for our freedom.

Let us pay tribute to those who retained their languages and their cultures and their knowledge of their sacred places so that these would be a legacy for us.

Let us also recognise that these “interwoven frontiers”, as Mostert names them, have helped to shape who we are and have brought us to this moment in our history where together we celebrate our national culture and heritage and we recognise the contribution that each diverse community has made to our unity.

It is the power of dreams that during the dark days of struggle enabled our people to be part of a national liberation struggle and to work towards a truly non-racial, non-sexist and united South Africa.

Above all, it is art that enables us to reconcile with each other and to acknowledge that indeed: I am my brother’s keeper. In this way, the values of ubuntu have been passed down from one generation to the next.

It is the understanding that art brings and the new consciousness that art gives all of us that enable us in a new age to work together as a people and to build sustainable and cohesive communities.

And it is the power of creativity that enables us every day to work towards a better life for all – not only for South Africa, for the African continent and in pursuit of a more people centred and inclusive world.

This is why the National Festival of the Arts has indeed become a historical meeting place of ideas where people from all walks of life can engage in dialogue and discussion through art.

In this way, we as a nation move closer towards unity because it is only through expressing our differences through freedom of speech and movement and creativity that we can arrive at the point of unity and cultural integration.

We have learnt that culture must always be rooted in the realities of our people, in our daily lives, in struggle and in victories. This is why we say that there must be arts for all.

We strive for arts for all because we believe that every child in our country should have access to the arts:

through being able to borrow books in a community library and join a book or reading club

through being able to explore their talents in singing or dancing

through being encouraged to draw and paint

through being able to visit a museum or monument and learning about our heritage

and through being given the opportunities to debate and discuss all things that affect our lives and in all our languages.

It is only in this way that we can build a People’s Culture – a way of life that mobilises us into becoming a more caring society and a more productive people – because at the heart of productivity is also innovation and creativity.

It is my view that the National Festival of the Arts is one stepping stone whereby we can reach our developmental and creative goals because - more than any other event in our country - this Festival demonstrates the possibilities that art can bring the nation.

As the national government, we are also focusing on investing in culture so that our artists can earn a decent living out of the arts. In the next five years we shall also be focusing on the role that the arts sector can play in fostering rural development.

We are looking into strategies and have initiated discussions with stakeholders on the important matter of social security for artists.

Based on an extensive policy review that took place involving the Department of Arts and Culture and all its stakeholders, we are also focusing our attention on what needs to be done to amend legislation as well as modify policies to create a more enabling environment for the arts.

In our efforts to develop sustainable cultural industries, the Department of Arts and Culture has also bought the Downtown Musical Hub to enable our artists to have places to produce, create and record local content without having to rely on the involvement of multinational companies.

In our promotion of local content, we continue to support the National Arts Council and the National Film and Video Foundation. But we shall also do more work to promote the People’s arts without communities through supporting programmes at our Community arts Centres, but also through encouraging local theatre groups, music groups and local forms of cultural expressions – including oral literature, traditional music and dance and indigenous crafts.

I am pleased that this year the organisers of this Festival are also focusing on celebrating our legacy and heritage through paying special tribute to the work of the illustrious musical composer. Mike Moerane. The Department of Arts and Culture is interesting in working with this Legacy project in the years to come that focus on our national cultural icons.

A great deal of necessary work has also been done in supporting emerging independent companies through capacity building programmes that enable artists to empower themselves and have the skills to market their work. I think that this approach will reap many benefits for us in the future.

The Residency programme that brings artists from around the country into Grahamstown for the duration of the festival is also a promising initiative that also offers possibilities of mentorship and increased productivity.

This year the Festival also celebrates the 25th year of the Young Artists awards and I think we must also pay tribute to the success of the public private partnership that has enabled this initiative to grow and bear such wonderful fruit. This project has identified young artists who have become great artists and good role models for South Africa.

It is also important that we recognise the role of artists with disabilities and the role that art can play in healing our people. This year the National library for the Blind here in Grahamstown celebrate 50 years of its existence – 50 years of bringing Braille to our people. This is another milestone for us as a people in bringing everyone access to knowledge and culture and a meaningful life.

This year’s festival also features artists groups from every country in the Southern African region and this allows us to grow our African footprint so that we work together in building arts in Africa and an African identity that can show the power of our place and location in the world.

Within a few days I am heading a South African delegation that include about 100 artists who are travelling to Algeria for the Second Pan African Festival. In this way we shall also be taking South African artists to meet their counterparts and to showcase our talents to the world.

In conclusion the theme of this year’s festival is “Celebrating South African culture as a gateway to 2010”.

Therefore, as I declare this 35th National Arts Festival open, we are also opening the gate to next year’s FIFA World Cup and showing a preview of who we are as a nation and what we can do as a people.

Let the shows begin!

I thank you.