Opening ceremony of the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture

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22 Sep 2009

Programme Director
Chairperson of IFACCA, Mr Risto Ruohonen
Chairperson of the National Arts Council of SA, Adv Brenda Madumise
Distinguished Delegates
Members of the arts community
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this opening ceremony. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I would like to warmly welcome delegates to our beautiful country and to the city of Johannesburg.

Some say that Johannesburg is the heartbeat of South Africa. Others say that it is the Cradle of Humankind since our earliest human remains were found not far from here in the Sterkfontein Caves. Yet others say Johannesburg is the backbone of our economy – the city of gold.

Yet Johannesburg is truly a meeting place for people from different spaces and localities and different positions in life. Perhaps that is why it is fitting that this summit debates the theme “Meeting of Cultures: Creating meaning through the arts” on South African soil.

We know from our history that in this encounter between one person and another, a new reality can emerge, new works of art and culture can be formed that can reconfigure the landscape and new cultural manifestations can arise.

Of course the nature of the meetings also determines the outcome. For too long in our South African history have people encountered each other as master and servant, as black and white, as men and women, as rural and urban, as insider and outsider – and out of these encounters they have remained set in their ways and protective of their privileges. These divisions have also existed in the wider world in the global economic reality that prevails, in the gaps within the global community between different people, nations and states.

The challenge in the last 15 years has been to bridge the economic gap between black and white, to achieve full equality and to build a truly non-racial and non-sexist democracy. Freedom of expression – of creativity – as enshrined in our Bill of Rights – was a hard won freedom for which many gave their lives in a long and hard struggle against apartheid.

Every day is another opportunity for us to assert our freedom and to build on the foundation we laid in 1994 and through the adoption of our Constitution in 1996. At the same time, through supporting the arts and creating the conditions for cultural development, we are attempting to build a caring society and a more humane world.

We are proud of the National Arts Council tonight. In the decade of its existence as a statutory body, it has achieved centre-stage through offering South Africa as host of the 4th World Summit. May I congratulate the World Summit Steering Committee and officials for helping to make this event possible and convey our special to Mr Ruohonen and the IFACCA team for their hard work.

We are all here tonight because we believe that a thriving world is one that consists of people who invest time, skills, energy and resources in the arts and who believe in the right of each and every one to a productive cultural life. Only good can come from such a gathering.

The debates and discussions over the next three days should take us, our continent and the world forward in matters of arts and culture. Our formulation of arts and culture policies can only benefit from collective exchange of ideas and the sharing of best practices and interventions.

In conclusion, let us also look forward to tonight’s performance of “Three colours” that will help to set the scene and that seeks to show us how different groups of people, each with their own cultural personality, interact and engage – resulting in suffering but also pointing the way to a more human future.

Let this performance arm us with a new awareness and be the spark that helps to prepare us for the deliberations that lie ahead.

I thank you.