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Speech by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the National Dance and Theatre Conference

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01 Feb 2015

Our country is turning twenty one in three months time. We have spent more than 350 years under conditions of colonialism and apartheid. 

Therefore, what the country needs fundamentally is radical transformation of our society that will give a meaning to be a South African. A society that will be proud of itself and be assertive without being arrogant.

This we believe can be achieved through many means including the performing arts.

None will dare challenge me when I say the role that dance and theatre can play in the second phase of our democratic transition is by communicating the success of our country and the day to day challenges which we continue to encounter, locally and abroad.

Over the years dance and theatre have not been adequately employed to make meaningful impact on our society. We will change that by working with you to implement development initiatives that move the sector forward and most of all, move the country towards its goals of inclusive growth, a cohesive society and sustainable livelihoods.

We recognise that for dance and theatre to have any meaningful impact and influence on the society, it must enjoy a considerable support from members of such society. That will come through relevant production and performances that speak to the contemporary circumstances.

Productions bring members of society across class, religious, gender and race lines together, they sit together to watch these performances and share experiences that educate, entertain and challenge. We must utilise these avenues to their fullest to promote nation building and social cohesion.

The history of our country tells us that dance and theatre are not just entertainment. Under Apartheid, these were forces of change, telling our story, mobilising people and contributing to a democratic transition. These are art forms capable of treating serious themes and presenting them in words or movements that are expressive even without depending on the support of music, costume or scenery. We only need to think of the work of Gibson Kente to see how important theatre is as an agent of change.

Even in the traditional African society, dance is not performed for mere entertainment. According to Kwakwa (1998:285), traditional African dances do not occur in isolation. They often have a specific role within an event or a complex of events organised for a specific occasion.

Many have value as entertainment, but entertainment is not their most important functions: dance and theatre is performed for socio-cultural, historical, political, and religious purposes. Over time dance has been used extensively in the traditional African society to create peace and maintain order. It plays a vital role in reaching out to the various classes of society for any communal activity or ceremony.

Frances Rust confirms that dance in the life of people is not mere pastime, but a very serious activity. It is not a sin but a sacred act. It is not mere art or 'display' divorced from the other institutions of society; on the contrary, it is the very basis of survival of the social system in that it contributes significantly to the fulfilment of all society's needs (cited in Akinsipe, 1997:2). The dancers are able to express themselves personally and see other people's expression and understand themselves better and relate together to sustain any society especially a democratic one.

Dance is done willingly and when two or more people dance, they share the grace and bliss of the physical activity they are engaged in.

Dance and theatre are humanity’s most powerful means of expression. The art forms cannot be divorced form society and people cannot do without theatre and dance.

Dance and theatre can be used to deal meaningfully with modern challenges, to help move audiences to a stage of concern and readiness for action. (Kraus 1969:165)

Productions document events, history and culture of past/present and also present our current realities in new and interesting ways.

Apart from being a powerful form of entertainment, the dance and theatre can also be didactic and used to educate the audience. A lot of social changes can be made through a dance performance. In Germany, Kurt Jooss' dances were full of strong social commentaries and he became famous for: refinement in the 'complete telling of a complex story through movement alone. His ballet, The Green Table (1932) broke new ground in presenting a topical subject —- the inevitable outbreak of war and its consequences — as a work of art (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1977 4551)

Artists should seize all opportunities available to educate the South African audience and make dance and theatre relevant to the country's need especially at this crucial stage of our new democratic dispensations.

This conference has made a series of recommendations and identified Task Team members who, in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture and others, will assist in the development of a master plan that will co-ordinate effort, maximise resources and create concrete and measurable results. We look forward to working with the Task Team in the months to come as take the outcomes of the conference further.

From the government perspective to help the sector to discover its mission and fulfilling it, we commit to the following, amongst others;

  • Creating a new policy agenda that will review the current institutional landscape and improve its functioning, include provisions for the improved governance and regulation of the sector and improving the enabling environment for the creation, production, development and dissemination of content.
  • Facilitating the creation of credible structures for unity in the sector such as the Culture and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa.
  • Fostering artist development through education and training, and also creating mechanisms for business and content development such as incubators.
  • Recognising the importance of community arts; and the creating new resources for programming, maximising the utilisation of existing infrastructure and in some cases, developing new infrastructure.
  • Working with the education sector to ensure that the importance of arts in schools is recognised and ensuring quality education at all levels.


I thank you.