Address by Minister Mthethwa at the launch of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance

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02 Oct 2014

The Deputy Minister of Arts & Culture, Ms. Rejoice Mabudafhasi

Ms. Angela Martins, Head of Culture, African Union Commission,

Distinguished Delegates present,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Senior Government Officials

Members of the media

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We gather here to launch the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance on South African soil this morning. We remember a great African composer, Enoch Sontonga who, in 1897 composed the African Renaissance Anthem, “Nkosi sikelel ’ iAfrika.”

This is a special song and prayer that has through its lyrics and spirit spread African consciousness.  We are aware that it became the national anthem for Zambia and for Tanzania. At some stage it was sung in Zimbabwe and Namibia. It is also an integral part of the South African Anthem. It was translated into many different languages and also sung in solidarity throughout the world in the fight against colonialism.

The Passport for Patriotism that we launched last week on Heritage Day in Northwest highlights the centrality of the anthem. Above all, this hymn is also a stepping stone, a platform for that larger identity of being African in the world!

Indeed embodied in that song, in the spirit of that great work of art, is the beating heart of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance.

In this journey towards African renewal, let us also recognize along the way the brilliant thoughts and speeches of a pioneer, Pixley ka Seme who already in 1906, called for the “regeneration of Africa”.

The regeneration of Africa, he said, “means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world.”

Over the decades, Africa’s renewal was further embraced by poets, novelists, intellectuals, sages and economists.

Here at home we can think of Africa’s first Nobel Peace Laureate, Chief Albert Luthuli, to Pan-Africanist Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Anton Lembede and Steve Biko, to cite a few. All have espoused the spirit of a new Africa.

It is noteworthy that in the last twenty years all the presidents of the democratic South Africa have pointed in the direction of Africa’s renaissance.

Tata Nelson Mandela, in his seminal speech in Tunis in 1994 at a meeting of the OAU, thanked the continent for its role in liberating South Africa and declared:

“Where South Africa appears on the agenda again, let it be because we want to discuss what its contribution shall be to the making of the new African renaissance.”

Also, former President Thabo Mbeki and the current President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma have embraced this vision.

In the last twenty years, there have been concerted efforts by South African intellectuals to increase our understanding and knowledge of African identity, history and culture.

Among these luminaries and scholars, the celebrated poet, novelist and essayist, Wally Mongane Serote, stands out for his work on Indigenous Knowledge Systems. In fact, he has ensured that Freedom Park has captured adequately our African identity in its totality. We salute him for this work.

To quote Serote, “indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) is the process of incessantly developing knowledge to improve the quality of life and to continuously create a liveable environment and world".

Thus we understand IKS as part of the quest for an African consciousness to come out of a legacy of colonialism and apartheid. In fact, this is an African system to utilize and internalize in all aspects of our lives and livelihoods.

Wally Serote has further said that: “We need to face the reality of our past conflicts in order to heal and move towards a new sense of belonging.”

He has initiated and spearheaded research, discussions and debates and contributed in putting IKS on the national agenda through negotiations with institutions of higher learning, government departments and also the indigenous organizations of African people.

For this enlightening work, he was awarded an honorary professorship by UNISA. We salute him for his accomplishments in moving us forward.

In fact, we honour all those scholars who have played pivotal roles in the capturing of this knowledge.

It is in this context that South Africa has ratified the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance. In fact, we are proud to be among the first nine countries to do so, including Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia and Republic of Gambia. We wish to urge all other countries to adopt the Charter as part of the regeneration of Africa. 

This Charter for African Cultural Renaissance was developed by the AU Ministers of Culture in December 2005. It was soon endorsed by the ordinary session of the African Union Assembly that was held in Khartoum, Sudan in January 2006.

It was inspired by the Cultural Charter for Africa that was adopted by heads of States and Government of African Union in the 13th ordinary session held in Port Louis, Mauritius in July 1976.

Through this tool, we shall empower Member States to promote Pan–Africanism, cultural renewal and identity. It stands to strengthen national policies and cultural instruments towards the continents’ socio-economic and cultural integration.

This charter will continue to champion the African Agenda. It is part of the efforts to create a better South Africa in a better Africa and thus ‘give the world a human face.

We shall promote the unity of culture, arts, values, language, heritage and infuse these into our cultural work and creative industries as central thrusts to sustainable development.

In fact, it is no accident that, for us, the Charter is strongly aligned to the National Development Plan, the revisions to the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy. 

As we celebrate 20 years of democracy, we are reminded of the important role that was played by the African Union and African states in the struggle for liberation in South Africa.

We are proud that the African Union first met on South African soil.

To support the implementation of South Africa’s work on the Charter, we have decided to dedicate the entire month of May in 2015 to Africa Month henceforward.

This will be a month long festival and conference that will feature various arts and culture disciplines including Music, Literature, Dance, Film, Fashion, Crafts, Theatre, Visual Arts, Panel Discussions and Food Culture amongst others. 

Already, the next two days will include a series of dialogues and seminars in a festival of ideas to forge African unity and cultural exchange through the arts. We are very happy to have some of the country and the continent’s leading thinkers, scholars and intellectuals among us.

We shall, unavoidably, take this opportunity to popularise African heritage as we continue to support the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) that enables African countries to better identify, preserve and promote their heritage.

We extend a special invitation to the world, especially the continent, to gather in South Africa during next May as we take the celebration of Africa Month to greater heights.

In this way we shall remain true to the vision embodied in our National Anthem and in the visionary articulations from Pixley ka Seme to Mongane Serote, among others.

God bless Africa!

I thank you.