Speaking notes prepared for the Minister Paul Mashatile, on the occasion of the 6th edition of the international meetings of the forum D’avignon 2013: “culture, how many divisions?”

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22 Nov 2013

Let me once again take this opportunity to thank the organizers of Forum D’Avignon, for inviting us, this year, to take part in this important forum that helps shape global policy on issues related to culture.

Two years back, in 2011, we were here at Forum D’Avignon and we took with us back home some valuable insights on how to enhance the role of culture in the development of our society.

We have no doubt that this year we will, once again, draw further insights from the discussions at this Forum; insights that will help us as we navigate through the process of reconstruction and development in our country.

FOCUS AND APPROACH TO THE DEBATE

Ladies and Gentlemen, in this session we have been asked to address ourselves to the question; Culture, how many divisions?

In responding to this question allow me to begin by giving a definition of culture as we understand it in my country South Africa.

Thereafter I will reflect on the importance we as a country attach to culture as a tool for socio-economic development, transformation, in particular as a tool to drive our agenda of social cohesion, nation building, national healing and economic emancipation for our people.

I will do this as a way of highlighting the main perspective of our cultural policy. I will conclude by outlining the initiatives we are putting in place to measure the impact of culture in the development of our society.

HOW WE DEFINE CULTURE

Moderator yesterday, I was asked to intervene during the debate and tried to define culture. Allow to reiterate the point we made yesterday about the definition of culture.

In our understanding, culture is the very essence of who we are as people.

It is the soul of nations!

It shapes our relationships with one another and the environment.

Culture is also about our beliefs, our value systems, our religion, spirituality, our self-expression, our economic, social and political systems.

It is the medium through which we interact with other people and how other people influences us.

It is our power, albeit our soft power!

In our understanding, culture is also a means through which we can build new and strengthen existing bridges of friendship and solidarity.

It is also a means through which we can improve people to people contact, and open new avenues for interaction among people, including in areas of trade, technology exchange and even aid.

We believe that it is through culture that all the other avenues of human interaction and development are possible.

Culture in our view is therefore at the center of the human development effort!

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE POWER OF CULTURE IN SOUTH AFRICA?

The Freedom Charter; that seminal document adopted in 1955, a document that articulated an alternative vision to Apartheid South Africa, and a document that has since become the basis our democratic constitution declared that; “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened.”

Specifically, the Freedom Charter called for an alternative society where government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life.

It also declared that all cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books and contact with other lands.

This early vision of the kind of society we sought to build, found expression not only in our Constitution but also in our nation’s cultural policy framework.

Our Constitution specifically guarantees South Africans the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice. It also guarantees the right to belong to cultural, linguistic and language communities. Understandably, these rights are to be practiced in a manner consistent with the Bill of Rights.

On the other hand our Cultural Policy Framework reaffirms the important role of arts, culture and heritage in advancing socio-economic transformation in our country.

Our Policy Framework is premised on the belief that while arts, culture and heritage are valued in and of themselves, they have an important role to play in development, nation building and sustaining democracy and in enabling individuals to realize their full potential as responsible and creative citizens.

Ladies and Gentlemen: consistent with this Constitutional and Policy Framework, we have as South Africans since 1994, the year of our freedom and democracy, continued to use culture as an important instrument to unite our people, to build social cohesion and to promote reconciliation, nation building and national healing.

In this regard, one of the first things we did was to place arts, culture and heritage at the center of our reconstruction and development efforts.

We have put legislation and programmes to ensure the preservation of our pre-1994 heritage institutions, historic monuments and museums.

This we are doing to remind ourselves where we come from as a nation and to learn from the mistakes of our past, so that we may not repeat them.

At the same time, we are building new monuments and institutions whose purpose is to tell the stories, and raise awareness of that history of our country which was deliberately suppressed.

This is helping us to rewrite our history; to craft a new and inclusive narrative of who we are, where we come from and where we are headed.

We are also using these monuments as to honour those who sacrificed for us to enjoy freedom and democracy.

We have put legislation in place to promote the widespread use of all our eleven official languages, paying particular attention to indigenous languages that have been historically marginalized.

We have also introduced new national symbols, such as our national flag and the national anthem, all of whom are designed to reflect our new found common nationhood.

We are doing all of this while reaffirming our understanding that our cultural diversity as South Africans is a source of strength, rather than a source of weakness, that we are one people, one nation united in our diversity.

We are also using arts, culture and heritage programmes to promote the agenda of unity and solidarity among Africans, including Africans in the Diaspora.

In addition and in line with the trend globally we are using arts, culture and heritage as an instrument to facilitate the economic emancipation of our people.

This we are doing through our Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy, which identifies arts, culture and heritage as our “new gold”, and seeks to unleash the potential of this sector to contribute meaningfully to the national effort to create jobs, grow the economy and build sustainable livelihoods.

HOW DO WE MEASURE THE IMPACT OF CULTURE?

Ladies and Gentlemen, as part of implementing our Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy we have begun processes towards the establishment of a Cultural Observatory, to develop key indicators, collect cultural statistics and analyze trends within our sector.

This we believe will help us measure the impact of culture, especially in advancing economic transformation and development.

We have also begun initiatives to strengthen our cultural diplomacy efforts. This we believe, in the long run, will help us asses how we use our “soft power” and our cultural values such as the value of Ubuntu, (which teaches us that; I am because you are), to influence others and open up other avenues of interaction including in the area of trade.

To address some of the challenges we are facing in building an inclusive society, we have decided to include social cohesion and nation building as a separate and dedicated key performance area of government.

This means that this area of performance is now one of government’s outcomes which is measured, monitored and evaluated on a continuous basis.

The Minister of Arts and Culture is the lead Minister responsible for this outcome.

This is an indication of the seriousness with which our government takes the issue of building a socially inclusive society.

It is also an acknowledgement of the work that still needs to be done to achieve this goal.

CONCLUSION

As we conclude, we wish to submit to this Forum that culture impacts our lives on many different ways; politically, economically, socially, diplomatically.

Harnessed properly cultural diversity can help heal the wounds of the past and reaffirm that humanity is one and that our destiny is linked.

We welcome developments globally, where culture is increasingly taking center stage in advancing the human development effort; in particular in promoting social inclusion and the economic empowerment of people.

All indications are that as leaders of the world set the global development agenda, post the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, culture will be added as the fourth pillar of development. The other three pillars are economic, socio-political and environment.

For our part in South Africa we are succeeding in placing the arts, culture and heritage at the center of the national effort to promote social inclusion, nation building and economic emancipation of our people.

Our success in this regard is in part as a result of the lessons and insights we draw from Forums such as this one. And for that we are grateful.

Thank you once again for inviting us.

Thank you.