Minister Pallo Jordan’s speech celebrating Heritage Day at Maropeng, The Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng

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24 Sep 2008

Thank You Programme Director

Mr Mbazima Shilowa, Premier of Gauteng Province ,

Ms Barbara Creecy, MEC for Arts, Sport and Recreation in the Gauteng Province ,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Executive Mayor of Mogale City ,

Executive Mayor of the West Rand ,

Our Senior Citizens and Youth,

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I greet you all on behalf of the government this heritage day.

It is a great honour to address you on this Heritage Day. We are all gathered in Maropeng, at a World Heritage Site, the Cradle of Humankind. This site is unique for the extraordinary paleantoligical discoveries made here since 1947. We think they provide some of the answers to the riddle of the origins of humankind.

There could be no more appropriate a place than Maropeng - for this celebration. Maropeng and the Cradle of Humankind is the place to which we can all trace and claim our origins. Here, more than anywhere else in the world, we can boldly assert and affirm that all humans derive from a common human family.

It is at this site that our own South African and other anthro-paeleantologists first uncoverd the “little foot” that marks the evolutionary leap from ape to man; from a four footed to a two-footed mammal.

Our hominid ancestors who first emerged here learnt how to use their feet for more than walking. I would hazard to guess that it was they, using the facility to walk upright, which freed their hands to perform other tasks, who probably figured out how to coordinate the movements of the feet and the hands with rhythms, thus inventing dance. It is, therefore, symbolically significant that our government has chosen Maropeng to hold the main event of our Heritage Month during which we are celebrating dance.

At various venues since the 7th of September 2008, when I launched Heritage Month 2008 at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg, South Africans in their multiplicity of hues, colours and creeds have been observing this important aspect of our heritage.

Heritage Day an important day in our calendar because it is not only the day on which all South Africans are given an opportunity to pause, reflect and look back at all the good things that have been passed onto us by those who came before us; but it is also a day to celebrate and relive the heritage that was bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Today we can literally retrace and walk in the dance footsteps bequeathed to us by our forebears. It is also a day on which we recommit ourselves to nurturing the progress that humanity has made over time.

Heritage Day is a day on which to ask ourselves some pertinent questions. These are :

*Are we doing enough to protect and preserve the heritage bequeathed to us by our forebears?

*Are we ourselves producing the kind of legacy that will be treasured and cherished by future generations?

*Will future generations pay homage to our contributions and look back at us with a smile?

*Or will they blame us for not putting enough effort not only into preserving and protecting it, but also in disseminating and popularizing it?

Although I do not have all answers to all these questions, we should bear in mind that these are the questions which all of us must endeavor to answer because we are all responsible for protecting and disseminating this heritage.

The last question which we need to respond to today is:

*Should we transmit all elements of our Intangible Cultural Heritage to our future generations?

All cultures, including those in this country, are not fixed. We change over time. And, as we change, so too do the ways we do things and conduct ourselves. Culture is extremely dynamic and is in constant motion. It is driven not only by internally generated change but also by the impact of inter-action with other cultures, peoples and technologies. Therefore, while training and educating our communities to respect and to preserve our intangible cultural heritage, we must also embrace change as one of the essential qualities of all cultures.

South Africa is a culturally diverse country, but one that comes from an extremely fractured and conflict ridden past. The traumas of that past are still fresh in most people’s minds. We had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as one response to that past, but South Africans can ill-afford to sweep the pain of our past under a carpet for fear of opening up old emotional wounds that might trigger conflict. That aspect of our heritage must also be conserved and presented to a wide range of young South Africans so that we learn from that bitter experience so that it will not be repeated.

Confronting the past is imperative. It is a responsibility we have to future generations.

The South African government continuously strives to promote reconciliation, tolerance and democracy. Promoting these values needs to be kept in mind as we commit our heritage and educational structues to recording, conserving, teaching and presenting the rich stories of our diverse peoples.

Conservation, dissemination and education will change how people remember, think and talk about these aspects of our heritage. By so doing we shall be empowering our communities to face the future with greater confidence, secure in the knowledge that the ghosts of the past are being excorcised.

The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, refers to heritage as our collective memory. Dance is one of the oldest forms of self-expression integral to our collective memory. As the African continent and its people moved from one epoch to another, from one era to another, we explored and interpreted our experience through dance. Through dance we gave expression to the new identities we adopted and assumed, while at the same time, underscoring our common cultural identity as the people of one continent, the African continent .

In the past, these forms of artistic expression were often looked down upon as backward. While they were used to emphasize differences, in order to separate and divide us, today, in a democratic dispensation, dance and other forms of our cultural expressions celebrate and honour the diversity of our society, not as a burden, but as a virtue. South African women and men have not only preserved and protected these art forms but have developed and taken them to new heights. We think here of South African musicals such as King Kong, Umoja, The Lion King, How Long, Sarafina, Kat and the Kings and others that have taken the stages of the West End, Broadway and other cultural centres by storm. South African legends like Margaret Mcingana, Miriam Makeba, Taliep Petersen, David Kramer, Todd Twala, Gibson Kente, Welcome Msomi, Mbongeni Ngema and other daughters and sons of our soil have taken South African traditional and modern dances to the world. As we celebrate today, we also pay tribute to these legends, both the living and the departed.

This Heritage Month 2008 provided South Africa with an opportunity to showcase our diverse and unique dance heritage. It also gave the opportunity to showcase our unique designs and costumes, our regalia and other artifacts associated with our dance heritages.

Dance, like music, can transcend and bring together people from different walks of life. Because it does not rely on language, it can communicate without words the feelings, attitudes, values, ideals and aspirations of a community.

The dancers use their bodies as instruments through which every conceivable emotion or event portrayed can result in a hypnotising marriage of life, sound and light. Any occasion within the life of the community can be an occasion for dance.

South Africa ’s history is embedded in music and dance. Our music and dance has portrayed our changing socio-political environment. It gave some our solace under oppression, encompassing a dream for a better life. It gave expression to the anger of the oppressed struggling against imperialism, colonialism and apartheid. Through music and dance we expressed our love, our joy, our trials, our tribulations, our tears and our victories.

The roles assigned to these artistic disciplines in all societies testifies to their importance for all societal life. Both music and dance are integral to the rites of passage from birth, puberty, marriage, death and resurrection.

As we celebrate our dance, we pay tribute to men and women, of all population groups who invented and composed these dances. We all acknowledge and appreciate the rich dance heritage that they have produced, developed and passed on from one generation to another. Through these dance performances we are able to relive their experiences. We are able to gain some understanding of what it was like to live in their own times and places. We are able to understand how they dealt with pain and sorrow, their trials and tribulations, joy and happiness. We are able to understand how they celebrated birth, the coming of age, wedding ceremonies and any other success in their lives. We are also able to understand how they dealt with adversity and other difficult moments. By drawing on their experiences, we are able to face challenges and seize the opportunities presented in our own times. Like them, let us create a legacy that our future generations will not only appreciate and cherish, but a legacy that they will, like us, endeavor to protect, preserve and disseminate during their own times.

It is my sincere hope that through the different activities and programmes for Heritage Month, that commenced on the 7th of September 2008 at the Johannesburg Zoo Lake, South Africans from all races, cultures, languages and creeds have found it possible to share in each other’s cultural heritage so that we can develop a society and a nation that is at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbours and at peace with the world.

Our traditional dance performances have changed over time and have given birth to modern and contemporary dances that are popular among our youth. Not only have our dances witnessed these changes, but they also evince a cultural interface that has produced hybrid dances that portray the multicultural nature of our society. These new dance forms demonstrate to us that change and transformation are constant and enriching.

Our government and South African society in general are looking for all the good things to help us build a united and cohesive society. Well structured dance programmes throughout the country can go a long way in creating an enabling environment for such a cultural dialogue among all our people.

So, let the dancing begin.

I want to thank all of you for participating in the Heritage Celebration of 2008.

Thank you.