Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan on the launch of ESAACH, University of KwaZulu Natal, PMB
Thank You Programme Director,
The Vice Chancellor, Dr Makgoba,
Members of Faculty of the UNKZN.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are here this morning to participate in the delivery of a very important off-spring of our democratic transformation. As the midwives, I think we all deserve to know a little bit about how this child was conceived and also why we have such high hopes about its future.
Shortly after I was appointed Minister of Arts and Culture in 2004, I convened a consultative meeting with all the key shakers and movers of the South African arts and culture community with a view to arriving at a shared vision of the future of this sector. One of the “unsolicited” documents I received at that meeting contained a prospectus for an Encyclopaedia of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ESAACH). There were numerous other proposals of a similar nature but none seemed to address the subject as comprehensively as the mandate of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) demands.
The ESAACH prospectus broke the subject down to its component elements – namely, the verbal arts, the performing arts, the visual arts and other aspects of South African heritage from antiquity to the present. I could not imagine a more effective instrument to educate our youth in schools and the universities that would at the same time foster social cohesion and mutual understanding in our
sometimes sharply divided society.
The project gave practical expression to the many sentiments articulated in the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, in which the DAC set itself the following objectives, among others:
Human Rights: To ensure that all persons, groups and communities have the right to equal opportunities to participate in the arts and culture, to conserve and develop their cultural heritage.
Access: To ensure unhindered access to the means of artistic and cultural activity, information and enjoyment in both financial and geographical terms.
Redress: To ensure the correction of historical and existing imbalances through development, education, training and affirmative action with regard to race, class, gender, rural and urban considerations.
Nation building: To foster a sense of pride in and knowledge of all aspects of South African culture, heritage and the arts [and to] encourage mutual respect and tolerance and inter-cultural exchange between the various cultures and forms of art to facilitate the emergence of a shared cultural identity constituted by diversity.
Diversity: To ensure the recognition of aesthetic pluralism and a diversity of artistic forms, within a multicultural context.
Conservation: To conserve the full diversity of South African heritage and traditions.
Achievement: To recognise achievement and foster the development of shared standards of excellence.
Innovation: To encourage artistic creativity, experimentation and artistic renewal.
Sustainability: To encourage self-sufficiency, sustainability and viability in the arts and culture.
The goals of the Encyclopaedia project also accord with the “operational principles” enunciated in the White Paper on Arts and Culture, “to promote the creation, teaching and dissemination of literature, oral history and storytelling, music, dance, theatre, musical theatre, opera, photography, design, visual art and craft which fully reflect our diversity”. Further, the project rests on the premise that “education in arts, culture and heritage should embrace opportunities for making, performing and presenting as well as appreciating the many expressions of South African cultural heritage to realise the right of all South Africans to participate fully in, contribute to, and benefit from an all-inclusive South African culture”.
Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer once observed that a nation’s collective memory and identity lie in its arts and culture. A national culture is like a jigsaw puzzle. It is by discovering how the different pieces of various cultural configurations connect up that wholeness is achieved. ESAACH seeks to assemble the pieces into a composite whole, in the reconfiguration of the new parameters of our nationhood.
According to its progenitors, ESAACH also aims, among other things, to
(i) Challenge the construction of otherness that exponents of the dominant culture habitually indulge in;
(ii) Debunk suppositions about the “deficit model” that other cultures bring about and stress their contribution and creativity;
(iii) Encourage the celebration of difference and the affirmation of diversity; and
(iv) Promote integration of arts and culture into all aspects of socio-economic development.
These are laudable goals “to implant a fundamental and liberating paradigm shift such that the new South African brought about by the great historical transformation ushered in by the democratic government after 1994 feels sufficiently empowered to stand cultural and racial stereotypes on their heads”.
The ESAACH project seeks, ultimately, to contribute to the process of decolonising the minds of all South Africans and to reintegrate them into their collective and cumulative culture, languages, history and heritage.
The following constitute the under-girding principles of the project, some of which I have already alluded to and which my Ministry subscribes to :
Support, development and promotion of activities aligned to national development priorities;
Promotion of democracy;
Promotion of development and sustainability;
Promotion of institutional development;
Promotion of accessibility to culture for all; and
Promotion of processes that lead to artistic renewal and development .
The White Paper I cited earlier stipulates that: "A fundamental prerequisite for democracy is the principle of freedom of expression. Rooted in freedom of expression and creative thought, the arts, culture and heritage have a vital role to play in development, nation building and sustaining our emerging democracy. They must be empowered to do so."
The production of a critical mass of arts practitioners and educators is a key element in the promotion and development of sustainability. Crucial to the growth and sustainability of the arts, the White Paper affirms, is the development of skilled human resources. This includes educating and training:
Arts and culture practitioners to create works of art in the various disciplines;
Educators to educate and train children, youth and adults in the arts and culture; and
Administrators, curators and managers to organise and manage cultural institutions and projects
Lack of appropriate education and training limits beneficiaries of new arts, culture and heritage policies to the previously advantaged and thus militates against the attainment of the government’s objectives "to develop policy which ensures the survival and development of all art forms and genres, cultural diversity with mutual respect and tolerance, heritage recognition and advancement, education in arts and culture, universal access to funding, equitable human resource development policies, [and] the promotion of literature and cultural industries".
To turn round the legacy of colonialism, White domination and apartheid requires mounting capacity building programmes in schools and communities to impart the requisite skills among aspiring arts practitioners and educators, particularly from under-represented groups: such as women, youth and Blacks in general – i.e. Africans, Coloureds and Asians – rural dwellers, and the economically marginalised.
Arts, culture and heritage education must entail an integrated developmental approach leading to innovative, creative and critical thinking. The whole learning experience creates, within a safe learning environment, the means for shaping, challenging, affirming and exploring personal and social relationships and community identity. Experiencing the creative expression of different communities in a nation provides insights into the aspirations and values of the nation. This experience develops not merely tolerance but also acceptance, provides a foundation for national reconciliation, and builds a sense of pride in a people's diverse cultural heritage.
One of the founding fathers of democratic South Africa, Oliver Reginald Tambo, a visionary leader and an iconic and unifying figure in the liberation movement, expressed the political, educational and social importance of arts, culture and heritage in reconstruction and reconciliation as follows:
“We are one people with a rich cultural heritage which manifests itself in many variations. Our task is not to preserve our culture in its antique forms but to build on it and let it grow to assume a national character, the better to become a component of all-inclusive evolving world culture. In this context, oral literature, dance, etc., become elemental parts of the national culture – a people’s possession rather than a simple means of tribal identification.”
This encyclopedia project breathes the spirit of some of Africa’s greatest visionaries, such as OR Tambo and Amilcar Cabral, who all saw cultural expression and identity as standing alongside language rights and access to land as some of the most pressing issues of our times.
In conclusion, I wish to express my department’s gratitude to academic, scholar and author Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane, CALS Director at UKZN who conceptualised and initiated the project and whom I appointed Project Leader and General Editor.
Our gratitude also goes to his team: Professor Graham Stewart, Associate Editor-Verbal Arts (and his erstwhile collaborator Professor Johan van Wyk) who contributed a wealth of material from the old SALit Encyclopaedia Project.
Dr Tankiso Tekateka Dikibo, one of the initiators of the project who serves as National Coordinator and Business Manager and (as a plant pathologist) as the project’s advisor on science and IKS.
Niall McNulty, the website manager.
Dr Michael Wessels, research coordinator in the Office of the General Editor who is also responsible for research into Khoisan art, culture and heritage; and to all their colleagues.
We appreciate the role of all participating institutions such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, currently the project’s “institutional home”, and Durban University of Technology, who have taken responsibility for the technological aspects of the project that I would like to see demonstrated.
The project is designed to be truly national in scope. I now expect more of the country’s institutions to be drawn in, to enhance research and scholarship in arts, culture and heritage studies. We also invite other scholars, academics, art practitioners and fundis in this sector, to feel free to contribute towards its success. I must stress, that one of the reasons this will for a long time be a visual encyclopedia, rather than a number of printed volumes, is precisely to harness modern information technology which
will permit us to include, edit, correct and engage in mutual exchanges even as the project proceeds.
This project will be a work in progress for an extended time frame. I am absolutely confident that it will promote the emergent new South African identity, foster social cohesion -the cornerstone of our national policies, and will result in mutual respect and tolerance and inter-cultural exchange in order “to facilitate the emergence of a [truly] shared cultural identity constituted by diversity”.