Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at the Africa Song and Dance Festival, Five Roses, Mofolo, Soweto

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07 Sep 2008

Programme Director

“And so, this is the inheritance-
This is the wavelength that connects us
With the dead men and the dawn
Of new beings not yet come to light”
Pablo Neruda (The Word)

I address you after your intense, successful workshops and interaction in which many African countries participated. We have reached the end of the second Africa Song and Dance Festival, with the theme, “Africa Unite in Cultural Diversity”.

This is a theme most appropriate to South Africa, a country that played an important role in promoting the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression. On August 9, 2007, the International Day for the World's Indigenous People, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, stated that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “acknowledges the significant place that indigenous cultures occupy in the world and their vital contribution to our rich cultural diversity, which constitutes, in the words of its preamble, ‘the common heritage of humankind’.”

Certainly we, the countries of this continent, as these workshops would have re-confirmed, have much that is similar despite our diversity. Dance, that celebrates the grace of the human body, the celebrates the human body’s energy and its inexhaustible capacities for total body articulation, the celebrates it through every kind of inherited or learned movement, is one of the greatest gifts Africa and her people have offered the world.

Dance is an ancient form of self-expression. As the continent and its people moved from one epoch to another, from one era to another, through dance we explored and interpreted our experience, gave expression to the new indentities we adopted and assumed, while at the same time, underscoring our cultural identity as the children of one continent.

Dance – especially the communal dance which is typical of every part of the continent – often gave form to the search for unity and united action. In the political context of colonial domination, slavery and racial oppression, where collective action by Africans was actively suppressed or discouraged, the dance often acted as a palliative which also entailed collective, coordinated action and movement. African slaves in Brazil even invented the Capoeira dance, a martial art disguised as dance, in order to train for a rebellion.

In all its diverse forms – dance was used by mine workers and other urban dwellers, as a means of celebrating group indentities while emphasising untity among African peoples from different parts of the continent. Through collective movement, the dance could express and strengthen bonds of solidarity found in history and cultural practice.

Most importantly, dance has been employed as the cultural weapon for opposing
disunity and dispelling the threat of division and lack of commonality among people. Given the African peoples’ shared background of colonial economic and social plunder, their common history of domination and racial oppression, and with a culture often assailled as « inferior », « savage » or, worse yet, « naive », dance was always available as a means of affirming association.

Borrowing freely from each other and from others, the modern African has brought into the world a host of dances and dance styles. Some (like the Charleston) derived from ancient African rituals ; others freshly minted ; yet others the outcome of syncretic adaptations. The « gumboot dance, » which expresses the urban African experience, the coming together of Africans from differing cultura ; backgrounds at the southern tip of the continent, is typical of the symbioses that have evolved over the last century.

Let us remind ourselves that the coming together of all these dancers from various parts of the African continent is, ironically, a continuation of something that has been happening on this soil since men were attracted to Johannesburg by the discovery of gold towards the end of the 19th century.

An artist, whether he is a singer, dancer or poet, was held in high esteem in pre-colonial African communities. The love of music, matched by the deep respect for a master musician, who was regarded as the vehicle through whom the ancestors speak to the living, gave dance, as one of its mediums a special place. Because African dance is based on the spoken language, there are probably as many dance styles as there are languages on the continent

In the broadest sense of the word, dance is a cultural genre that has long been employed by Africans to mobilise groupward emotions and to affirm collective affiliation and identity. It is what links us not only to that which stirs in our souls, but gives outward expression to our aspirations and hopes for « one Africa under one heaven. » The telling of the African story would be incomplete without it.

One important purpose of Gcwala Ngamasiko is to keep alive the notion of our unity in diversity. 

Our theme for Heritage Month 2008 is “Celebrate our dance, Celebrate our heritage.” Throughout this past week, we have seen African dancers from different parts of the continent united in dance, in movement and in spirit. They have come together to fight the demons of disunity and disruption. They have used their energy and spirit to resist everything that threatens to disrupt African Unity as we have come to know and understand it.
This is why I join other Ministers of our government in the unequivocal condemnation of the scape-goating of fellow Africans from across our borders for the problems faced in many of our poor communities. Hopefully, through cultural programmes such as this one – where dance is central and pivotal – native South African and recent immigrant can interact and confirm our common African heritage and repudiate the intolerant minority who were responsible for the violence.

It is these dancers who have given us hope that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. .
Since our new dispensation in 1994, the Government of South Africa has continually impressed on all sectors the necessity and importance of being one with the continent. We are part of Africa. We are therefore committed to engaging with the challenges that face Africa. We are striving for peace and democracy on the continent.

South Africa proudly hosted the birth of the African Union in Durban. on the 9 July 2002. Amongst the many objectives of this august body are the unity and solidarity of the countries of Africa, the promotion of peace, security and stability; the promotion of sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels, as well as the integration of African economies. A strategic framework for Africa’s renewal was drawn up: the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD, one of whose principal aims is to end the marginalization of Africa in the global affairs. This can be achieved by the countries of Africa building closer cultural and economic ties. NEPAD was conceived in a rapidly changing world. Globalization is a highly complex phenomenon with many layers and currents working in different directions and at different strengths. How each country in the continent relates to the world impacts on how we relate to each other on the continent? Collective African action on the global stage can only improve our chances and enhance our performance.

The initiative of “Gcwala NgaMasiko” is precisely to build closer relations among the many sister countries of Africa.
So today we “Celebrate Our Dance, Celebrate Our Heritage” .Our African dance, our African heritage.

Thank you.