Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at BASA Awards Dinner, Johannesburg

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04 Jun 2007

Mrs. Mary Slack,
Ms Nicola Danby,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Business Arts South Africa, is a body that was initiated to bring together government, business and the arts community to promote and preserve the arts in South Africa.

John Kani once advised me, in jest, never to give sufficient money to the artists.” then they will have nothing to talk about,” he jibed.

Whether one takes John Kani seriously or not, the appeal for funds can be heard in rural villages and hamlets in the Eastern Cape, the towns of Limpopo, in the Northwest Province, in Gauteng. The up and coming performers in out urban townships complain that their parents do not have access to their work because there are no theatres in their neighbourhoods. A print shop project in the Eastern Cape is uncertain of its future because though they have trained a number of young people, its management do not know how to make the project sustainable. Writers in East London and Queenstown complained about access to publishers. The absence of performance venues in many provinces constrained the capacity of young actors to test and demonstrate their skills and talent. Women crafters from the rural areas of the Northwest complained about access to markets.

During my Ministry’s regular public and private interactions with artists and the arts community there is a consistent refrain: The need for more resources! 

One heard these complaints patiently in one imbizo after another, which convinced me that South Africa is not lacking in talent. Our weakness lies in uncoordinated efforts that can translate this creativity into products with aesthetic value.

Hence the importance of a partnership like BASA which brings together a growing body of corporate members and the Department of Arts and Culture. Business Day continues to partner us in sponsoring tonight’s awards ceremony.

“SA Artists are hot property in UK”, read a recent headline in one of our Sunday newspapers. The story was about the first ever auction devoted entirely to South African Art at Bonhams of London. It raised approximately R20 million, with paintings by Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, Alexis Preller and Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. All the paintings were sold well above their reserve price. “South Africa’s greatest artworks were superior to a lot of the much more expensive British art on the market”, Mr. Peppiat commented.

At an earlier auction held at Bonhams, a number of works by Gerard Sekoto fetched record prices. I am pleased to announce that the “Recollections of Sharpville”, a set of 9 watercolours and “The Round Up” another watercolour were acquired for the nation by the Department of Arts and Culture and are on permanent loan to the South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

South Africa’s visual arts are making their mark in overseas markets. Unless we, as a nation, have the resources to compete with collectors with very deep pockets, “…our cultural patrimony in this area may well end up on auction blocks abroad”, as Hayden Proud, the Curator of paintings and sculpture at the South African National Gallery, warned.

The largest exhibition of contemporary African Art, “Africa Remix” is coming to our shores and will open at the Johannesburg Art Gallery on 24th June. Fifteen of the artists whose work forms part of this exhibition are South African, yet another testimony to the talent among our people.

As government we are committed to advancing the arts. We have made available public funds to assist artists. Our support for the arts community takes many forms and our policies have helped to stimulate cultural activity in all parts of the country. All this is extremely good, but, not good enough.

Government cannot shoulder this burden alone.

The inspiration for an organization such as this is the desire to extend and expand the partnerships that government has encouraged with various components of civil society in pursuance of the priority items on our national agenda - combating and overcoming the poverty that blights the lives of so many South Africans.

During 2006 South Africa hosted the African Film Summit, bringing together the pioneers of African cinema and the numerous younger film-makers. Our country will be hosting the Pan African Federation of Film Producers (FEPACI) for the next four years. The emergence of a shared vision about the role and future of film on the continent will makes its own unique contribution to the striving for continental unity.

Films produced in African languages have also broken the intangible barrier that once persuaded film-makers not to pursue this path. The appearance of more such movies will be critical for growing the cinema audience on the continent and here in South Africa itself.

The DAC is collaborating with the Newtown Film and TV School on the Indigenous Language Screen writing project “Script to screen in your mother tongue” to fast track skills development in this area of work. We are also collaborating with Department of Communications to develop animation.

The institutions the democratic government has put in place have helped unlock the vast reserves of untapped cultural resources that reside in the creative hearts and minds of our citizens. We have also begun to instill an appreciation of the value that all our languages add to the texture of our daily lives. The first publishing house that responded to my call to unearth the rich vein of literature written in our indigenous languages was a small publishing house from Cape Town. The DAC has subsidized the publication of six original works by new authors produced by this publisher. But for it to be sustainable it must find a market among readers of the Xhosa language.

The demand for access to publishers in the African languages has grown exponentially since 1994. We have to respond creatively to that demand. Each day reveals to me that we are sitting on a wealth of cultural resources, knowledge and probably undiscovered talent amongst the people of this country. BASA has to be part of the answer.

The artist explores and interrogates life, the human condition and experience through the instrument s/he creates with. For the story-teller or writer that instrument is language; for the musician it is sound; for the dancer it is movement; for the visual artist it is the charcoal or paint and brush, for the sculptor it is the chisel, and so forth. 

My department is tasked with the development and promotion of arts and culture in South Africa along with the development and promotion of our official languages to enhance and preserve our linguistic diversity. In his introduction to George Hallett’s YOUTH 2 YOUTH, a collection of photographs by young people, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of 1976, Mandla Langa wrote:

“A new world beckons and on the horizon is the image of a future in which the youth will participate. It is this participation that will give a fillip to the strivings of this country to be a better place for all. As these images by young photographers demonstrate it will be impossible to look at young people without agreeing that the future is both possible and dynamic.”

The possibilities of the future will be realized through what we say and do in the present. The urge to change and constantly transform our environment, and by so doing to make and re-make ourselves, has driven progress since time immemorial. The arts and other cultural activities have always been an important dimension of humanity’s search for meaning and expressive of our desire to create a better world.

There are an encouraging number of entries for the awards this year. An award is an acknowledgement, an act of recognition for excellence, which we hope will spur others to emulate the achievers. Judging by the wealth of talent I have seen across this country, I would say we probably need many more awards to stimulate a striving for excellence and to offer encouragement to those who have begun to pursue careers in the arts.

We shall, in the not too distant future, be entering into dialogue with the rest of society about the desirability of a number of national awards in the arts. We are confident that the business community will join us in making that possible.

We would like to see many more corporations becoming involved with the arts. To all those who already taken the plunge we offer our congratulations. 

Working together, I am certain, we can build a platform for the growth and development of the arts, which enrich our lives and bring joy to so many.

Thank You.