Speech by Minister Lulu Xingwana at the opening of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

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19 Jun 2010

Programme Director,
Mr. Ismail Mohamed, National Arts Festival Director,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great honour to address you at this august event, the biggest and most vibrant celebration of South Africa’s rich and multifaceted arts and culture annual National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown. A Festival which has over 600 events on the Main and Fringe programmes, which spans from theatre to dance, opera to cabaret, fine art to craft art, classical music to jazz, poetry readings to lectures including every art form imaginable, is one of the most diverse festivals in the world. There is something for every taste. Grahamstown becomes the most exciting cultural destination during the Festival.

This Festival happens as the world gathers on South African soil for one of its largest sporting events, the National Arts Festival offers both South Africans and our international visitors, a valuable opportunity to share in the humanity that defines South Africa as a vibrant nation. The 36th edition of the National Arts Festival is a celebration of our finest artists, musicians, dancers, crafters, writers and creative intellectuals. Over the past 26 years, the National Arts Festival, through its Standard Bank Young Artist programme has unearthed outstanding talent and it has catapulted these individuals onto the stages of the world. Amongst the former winners of the Standard Bank Young Artists are internationally celebrated South African creative intellectuals such William Kentridge, Johnny Clegg, Sibongile Khumalo, Concorde Nkabinde, Maishe Maponya, Mbongeni Ngema, Mmakgabo Helen Sebedi, Robyn Orlin, Peter Ngwenya, Tommy Motswai, Jerry Mofokeng , Aubrey Sekhabe and at least another ninety illustrious names that are listed in this roll of honour. By catapulting these artists into international careers, the National Arts Festival has played a significant role by giving to the world the kind of artist whose leadership and humanity is as deeply rooted as their artistic expressions. On behalf of the Department of Arts & Culture, I take this opportunity of thanking Standard Bank for having the vision to partner with the National Arts Festival to endow a treasure chest of cultural giants who will continue to inspire the next generation of South Africans artists. I also want to congratulate this year’s Standard Bank Young Artists who are Mlu Zondi (Dance), Claire Angelique (Film), Samson Diamond (Music), Melanie Scholtz (Jazz), Michael MacGarry (Visual Art) and Janni Younge (Theatre).

As much as 2010 is about the world coming to South Africa, it is also about South Africans coming back to their motherland. As a nation that defines its humanity through the spirit of Ubuntu, we welcome our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who are returning to South Africa. We know that many left initially because of fear and uncertainty but we have proved over and over, that the South Africa spirit is resilient and that we are committed to making every returning individual call this country home. The National Arts Festival celebrates the spirit of home-coming by each year identifying a South Africa artist for whom performing at the Festival is a moving homecoming experience. This year Hugh Masekela will officially close the Festival celebrations when he performs his Songs of Migration at the Festival on the last day. Last year, the festival was the homecoming celebration for the late maskande queen Busi Mhlongo who passed away this week. By creating this platform to celebrate South African artists whose music has warmed the hearts of millions overseas, the National Arts Festival is true to the South African spirit which says Ke Nako --- Now is the time! Now is the time to let our voices be heard. Ke Nako --- now is the time to bring back the lost voices of our people as it still wanders in distant shores! Ke Nako! Now is the time to let South African voices be heard forever!

As the thousands of international visitors leave our shores at the end of the World Cup, they will take home souvenirs made by some of our craftsmen and craftswomen for whom the humble work which they shape with their hands is their only income. These include bead-workers, wood sculptors and stone masons. Over the last two years the Transnet Village Green Craft Fair at the National Arts Festival has been growing in both stature and size. As part of a programme of responsible growth, the Transnet Foundation has initiated a “Greening the Green” programme this year which heightens awareness of environmental issues and which should become a template for all other Markets in the country to follow. In fact, the work of crafts people is put on such high premium at the National Arts Festival that craft is part of the Main programme of the Festival. The work of rural women from the Keiskamma Arts Project whose embroidery now adorns the boardrooms of so many corporate organisations is one of the most important exhibitions at the Festival this year. By giving the Keiskamma Arts Project a prominent place on the Festival’s Main programme, the Festival is giving visibility to these faceless women who tirelessly work to educate the world about the ravages of HIV / AIDS through their crafted designs. To the women of the Keiskamma Arts Project whose exhibition this year focuses on HIV / AIDS, I want to say, “that even your humble beads and cloth and needles and cotton gives us all the hope that someday we will combat the scourge of HIV / AIDS.” Singayoyisa e-AIDS!

The Department of Arts & Culture is committed to ensure that the arts play a meaningful role in building and promoting social cohesion. The arts have the potential to inform, to educate, to inspire and to develop our people. In the days of our liberation struggle, we rallied our people with the call that the “Arts is a Weapon of the Struggle”. Now, as we move forward towards the second decade of our democracy we must increasingly begin to pronounce that the “Arts is the machinery of our creative industries”. The arts are an important part of our economy. Particularly in the Eastern Cape where there is still a severe grip of poverty, arts and culture play an important role in building the economy through cultural tourism. The National Arts Festival is fast earning a reputation as an international festival. This year, there are artists at the Festival from Mexico, Argentina, USA, Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, Bosnia and Australia. I want to extend a warm South African welcome to each of these international artists who will be gracing our country this year. By putting together such a huge international contingent in Grahamstown this year, the National Arts Festival has demonstrated that sports and arts do not have to be on opposite ends of our lives but that a healthy balance between sports and arts together enriches our lives. I want to thank the National Arts Festival for rising up to the challenge of presenting an extended Festival this year so that this positive spirit of our people is captured through sports but also through the way we sing, dance, paint, speak our poetry and celebrate our ancestors. Siyanamkela nonke!

I want to applaud the National Arts Festival, particularly the Festival Director, Mr. Ismail Mahomed, for integrating the atmosphere of soccer in its programme. Visitors to the Festival must go and see the Makaraba Exhibition and see how crafters make the makarabas. Visitors must go and see the international play Football Football which is having its African premiere in Grahamstown. Then there is also the Australian production The Football Diaries and the launch of a book about soccer. On Tuesday when our national team Bafana Bafana plays against France, the National Arts Festival will not be presenting any performances. It will be calling on all artists and audiences to join in the celebrations at the Public Viewing Area and to blow their vuvuzelas in full support of the South African team. The National Arts Festival will fully support Bafana Bafana with the slogan One Nation One Goal!

Guided by the Freedom Charter of the ANC which says that ”The doors of learning & culture shall be opened to all”, the constitution of South Africa preserves the right of our people to celebrate our rich diversity but it also guarantees the right of every individual to have access to learning and to cultural programmes. The “Arts for All” campaign must ensure that the art reaches even the poorest of our people. I applaud the National Arts Festival for having the vision to drive projects such as the Art Factory which takes youth off the streets and which transforms their lives by giving them exposure to the arts, the ArtReach Project which takes performances to clinics, old age homes and to rural villages, the Hands On! Masks Off! programme which builds the entrepreneurial skills of youth artists, the Arkworks Project that teaches creative skills to unemployed people and the Innovation Hub which this year will enable five township women to launch their own sustainable small businesses which will operate at the Festival and beyond. I want to congratulate the National Arts Festival, the Makana Municipality and the Rhodes University who have embarked on a strategic partnership to find new ways of helping Grahamstown’s indigent people to become part of the festival economy. To these five women who will be launching their enterprises at the Festival, I want to say, Forward! Onwards! Upwards!

To the city of Grahamstown and the people of the Eastern Cape, Ke Nako! This is your moment! This is your time to share with the world the richness of our people, the vibrancy of our cultures and the resilient spirit of a nation that is determined to be an important role-player on the world stage. This is the moment in which we say to the world come and celebrate with our writers, poets, dancers, musicians, singers, painters, crafters who echo our humanity through their rhythms, harmonies and visions. Our artists are our voices! They speak the untold histories. Our artists are our conscience! They speak the truths we are afraid to tell. Our artists are our activists! They hold us to accountability! Our artists are our eyes and ears! They are the creative intellectuals through whom we all reflect and react to our world. I salute every artist at this year’s National Arts Festival as I declare the 2010 National Arts Festival officially OPEN.

Thank You.