Keynote address by Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi during Ubuntu Music and Arts Festival, Carnegie Hall, New York

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10 Oct 2014

Your Excellency the South African Ambassador to the United States, Mr Ebrahim Rasool;

Consul General of South Africa to the United States,  

Mr George Monyemangene;

Sir Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director at Carnegie Hall;

Team South Africa;

Musicians and other Arts practitioners present here

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to extend our arts, culture and heritage fraternal greetings on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa. The people of South Africa convey their greetings in the spirit of Ubuntu – which means that “We are, because you are”.

It is fitting that I begin this address by conveying Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s profuse apologies for not being able to honour this occasion. He could not be here this evening as he had to attend to other pressing matters of the state.

The Ubuntu Music and Arts festival enable us to further cement the relations between our two beautiful countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to stand before you this evening. This event holds a special significance to South Africa. This year marks twenty years since the jettisoning of apartheid system and unleashing of the democratic order in South Africa. The collapse of apartheid and the birth of democracy in South Africa heralded a new consciousness that places value in the arts, culture and heritage sector.

Arts, culture and heritage are part of our humanity and permeate all aspects of our society. They are integral to our social and economic lives. Our mandate as the Department of Arts and Culture is to develop, preserve and promote South African culture to ensure nation building and social cohesion.

Through the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy, we strive to optimize opportunities for practitioners in the arts sector and advance the economic potential of the arts to contribute to job creation, poverty eradication and economic development.

Culture embraces various socially transmitted behavior including language, religion, traditions, the arts and all other products of human work, imagination and thought. The South African constitution encourages the practice of different cultures in a manner that respects other peoples’ cultures. Our cultural diversity is also expressed through our arts, which in many ways transmits our dynamic culture to different communities beyond the shores of South Africa.

As the Department of arts and culture, we are duty-bound and committed to effective mainstreaming of the arts, culture, heritage sector and maintaining strong cultural links with our counterparts around the world.

The United States of America (USA) is a natural destination for all those who aspire to establish themselves in the arts at world stage. It is also quite fitting that this occasion, is held at the prestigious Carnegie Hall, one of the most revered performance venues worldwide.

The UBUNTU Music and Arts festival provides us with an opportunity to showcase our artistic talent to international audiences. The Sounds of Freedom will present a musical journey and highlight the role of music in social activism. New York is set to feel South Africa’s rich cultural Heritage through a cultural manifestation of music, theatre, film, literature and visual arts over the next couple of weeks. The long lineup of artists featured here are a microcosm of the South African society.

Ladies and Gentlemen, arts festivals are more than just entertainment.

They create new channels for international dialogue and nurture cultural diversity while at the same time creating opportunities and distribution channels for cultural products. A platform such as this one is a manifestation for us to showcase our creative industries.

The legendary South African musicians, Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela, will be performing for us this evening. These are some of our artistic icons who continue to serve as great ambassadors of South African music.

I notice that as part of the festival, there will be performances by the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of our globally acclaimed proponents of what we call Isicathamiya music. This group has been one of South Africa’s premier cultural exports for several decades and they continue to make us proud.

They have recorded over forty albums in their long career in the music industry and have amassed three Grammy awards so far. They have collaborated with world renowned artists such as Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, Desree and many others.

In August this year, Minister Mthethwa visited New York for the exhumation of Nat Nakasa’s mortal remains. Nakasa was a South African writer and journalist who died tragically in 1965, and was buried at the Ferncliff cemetery in New York. His remains were brought back to his ancestral land and reburied in the Heroes’ Acre on 13 September.

Nakasa holds a special place in American history as much as he remains an integral part of South African heritage. He spent almost five decades buried in the American soil, a few feet from Malcolm X. I am proud to say that “A Distant Drum,” a play based on his life, will be performed here on 28 October.

I am also proud that these internationally acclaimed South African performers, who will be featured in the Ubuntu festival, will share the stage with some of the prominent artists who emerged over the past twenty years of our democracy. Our outstanding classical vocalists, Pretty Yende and Elza van den Heever, will be making their debut on New York stages. They are part of the new generation of South African artists who continue to fly the South African flag at world stage.

The performances that will be showcased here over the next couple of weeks are but a sample of the South African cultural landscape. These are only tidbits to whet your appetite so that you can begin to appreciate our diverse cultural output even more.

Our objective is to create more platforms like these, and I am confident that the relationship that we have established with Carnegie Hall will be nurtured over the years. The South African arts and culture sector continues to make significant progress towards scaling the heights of the world in the various arts disciplines.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this moment also provides us with an opportunity to thank all those who supported the South African liberation struggle. As you may be aware, many exiled South African settled here in New York, especially in Harlem.

As we celebrate twenty years of freedom, we also acknowledge the role played by international communities, especially the civil rights movements in the US, for supporting our struggle for liberation.

Let us build on the solid foundations that were laid by these selfless visionaries and solidify the camaraderie amongst our people. After all, the arts and culture sector is the glue that brings nations together.

When ushering the democratic dispensation in South Africa, the father of our nation and world icon, Nelson Mandela said,

“We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."

I thank you.