Opening session of the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture

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23 Sep 2009

Programme Director
Chairperson of IFACCA, Mr Risto Ruohonen
Chairperson of the National Arts Council of SA, Adv Brenda Madumise
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to begin by warmly welcoming delegates to South Africa. We are pleased that so many people could travel such great distances across oceans and rivers to be at this 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture.

But I am sure that during the course of the deliberations, you will find that it was worth your while to attend this event which promises to be an intellectually challenging experience and also point the way to the further strengthening of the global arts agenda.

We are proud to be hosts of this event and pleased that the theme of this summit: “Meeting of Cultures: Creating Meaning through the Arts” speaks to our situation and to the context of African development as well as to the current problems besetting the world community as a whole.

South Africa is a melting pot of different colours and cultures. And this is not simply a recent development of the last few hundred years. It is a way of being part of the world that dates back to the earliest of times.

As many of you may know, South Africa is one of the fewest places on earth that has been continuously inhabited by humans for more than 2 million years. Archaeologists also tell us that between 200 000 and 100 000 years ago, modern humans, the hunter gatherers, also resided in South Africa.

Only last week, I also visited the Mapungubwe National Park, which is one the important Iron Age heritage sites in South Africa and also a World Heritage Site. In Mapungubwe, where the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers meet, where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet, we admired the cultural and economic wealth that came from the Mapungubwe people who were part of a thriving Indian Ocean trade system.

This Iron Age community built tools and artworks, including a golden rhinoceros out of iron and gold foil. Clay pottery, glass beads and jewellery were also found here. This was more than 700 years ago, but it showed a people whose very way of life thrived because of how they made contact with others. Mapungubwe itself was a rich meeting place of cultures, a pan-African civilization yet one that also flourished through engagement with the East.

As South Africa we have also been blessed with a country whose very location ensures that we bathe in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In more recent times and for more than three hundred years, our rich and fertile South African soil received visitors to its shores who came and settled here. Some came in peace but many during this period came through war. Some were backed by companies and colonial governments who plundered the cultural wealth of an entire continent.

Some were sent against their will to work here as slaves. Later indentured labourers were sent to work in this country. But every one who came, left his or her mark and added new meaning to what it means to be South African.

But these journeys made and the milestones we reached as each added a cultural contribution were completely undermined and skewed in our history and reality when colonial and segregationist policies and apartheid turned the reality of how different people can coalesce into the horror of ‘separate development’ and of condemning people through the colour of their skin into a life of privilege or a life of poverty and underdevelopment.

The pockets of intercultural spaces that remained such as District Six in Cape Town, Cato Manor in Durban and Sophiatown in Johannesburg, among others, were destroyed and people forcibly removed to break up their unity-in-diversity and dispatched to places where ethnic difference became the basis for settling people in places and all forms of division became the order of the day.

It was only in 1994 through our first peaceful and democratic elections, that it became possible for South Africans as a nation to determine our own fate and to work towards our own cultural, social and economic development.

It was dialogue that made our transition possible. It was the dream of freedom that came from the pens of artists, the songs of freedom fighters and the words of political thinkers that we began to believe in collectively. It was the desire once more to end the deep divisions that had torn our society asunder that brought us together..

It was the knowledge and experience of injustice and the search for a greater humanism that brought the vast majority of people together to stand up against apartheid. It was the realization that apartheid is indeed a crime against humanity that made countless numbers of people on the African continent and in the wider world stand up against apartheid. In pursuit of national liberation and a more inclusive world, we chose to embrace ‘our unity in diversity’ as a fundamental part of our national identity and as a way of contributing to a more inclusive world.

Today we still build on this foundation to ensure that all our people have dignity and are fully free. We see non-racialism and non-sexism as work in progress towards the cause of freedom. We see nation-building as part of the journey we have to travel to get there, but we also recognize that we are part of a wider world and an international consciousness. We see the realization of Africa’s development and cultural renewal as an extension of our identity of what it means to be African in the world.

It is these lessons learnt in struggle and in fifteen years of freedom that we wish to convey to the world community of artists gathered here today.

• For us dialogue has been part of the saving grace that enabled us to evolve into a democracy.

• But even the path of dialogue produces further complexities along the way that challenge our thinking and ask us to look deep into ourselves for answers. .

• We have had to grapple with the truth of our realities and work hard to look at ways in which we can build social cohesion in a country that has been divided for so long and in which any form of difference was exploited - such as that between men and women, between rural and urban and between black and white.

• We have had to look at ways of building unity in a country in which widespread poverty and pockets of wealth still reside as a national reality.

• We have to work continually on creating a united nation and on our own citizens seeing their fellow brothers and sisters from neighbouring countries as part of an African family.

• We have had to contribute through the African Union and the NEPAD initiative to African cultural development. We shall continue to spearhead initiatives and projects that build arts and culture on the African continent and that contribute to a better world.

We are all here today as champions of the arts who recognize that there can be no sustainable development without cultural development being an integral component of the sustainable development agenda.

Let us not leave this Summit without having shared ideas on how to harness more funding for the arts and how to share with the world the benefits of the arts in creating a more humane world.

We believe that a critical creative consciousness is what should guide us and the world in achieving a global reality where arts and culture can flourish and where every child has the right to a wonderful cultural life.

This is the only road we can take in building a creative nation and a creative world.

I wish you well in your further deliberations.

I thank you.