Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at the launch of Heritage month at the Kwalanga Indoor Sports Stadium, Langa,Cape Town

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08 Sep 2007

Programme Director
Mr. Ahmed Kathrada
Members of Parliament
Members of the Portfolio Committee
The National Poet Laureat, Prof. Kgositsile,
Poets and Writers present,
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here tonight to celebrate one of the oldest and most enduring of the art disciplines practiced on the African soil, poetry. Because it is so evocative, poetry has been used in every known human setting as one of many means of artistic expression, employing on of the faculties that distinguishes us from other animal species, the faculty of speech.

The spoken word – which we use to instruct, to inform, to comfort, to mourn, to order, to woo, to repel, to invite – is probably the most flexible and adaptable of the human faculties. Not surprisingly it has been employed by human beings since time immemorial to convey ideas, emotions and meanings which ordinary speech cannot do justice to.

The poet is more than a mere wordsmith. The poet employs language and words in ways that are not ordinary, because he/she discerns meanings in them that go beyond what is readily evident. Because the spoken word has these numerous hidden properties, it can be used in a multitude of ways that can touch the heart and awaken the soul. It is no coincidence that some of the major political revolutions around the world, especially in Africa, have been accompanied by interesting poetic movements – some good, some bad, some indifferent. Poetry proved particularly attractive in the African context because our continent has a rich orature, much of it still alive in the villages and hamlets of rural Africa, to which the modern poet could turn for a means of highly emotive expression.

The art of the bard was about memory. It was by honing and developing his/her skill to compose and perform highly memorable poetrythat a poet established a reputation. Orature – the systems of oral transmission of information – was probably humanity’s first means of mass communication. Once the art of writing had been mastered, human beings acquired an even more flexible means of transmitting information. Since the first hieroglyphic was inscribed, humanity has evolved amazing ways of recording, storing and transmitting information. Memory thus became not solely a function of the human minds, but could be mechanicall assisted first by producing symbols representing words, until we evolved the means to mechanically reproduce and preserve the actual spoken words themselves! Therefore it could be said that it is through memory that we have been able to make and re-make ourselves as a human race. Memory too will help us to scale the heights of achievement and create a better world.

The pursuit of the African Renaissance is the lodestar of South Africa’s domestic and foreign policy whose immediate goals are pushing back the frontiers of poverty, led by a developmental state pursuing a sustainable economic growth path. We want to create the space for the countries of Africa and other developing countries to assume responsibility for themselves and to offer indigenously evolved agendas in pr3eference to those devised by others.

The ancient wells of African wisdom, past achievements and present aspiration will continue to inspire us as we confidently stride into the future. The people of our continent today thirst for the fresh clean reticulated waters of modernity and progress. Water, that will wash away the encrusted degradations of the past. Clean water that will nourish our hopes and give them the strength to strive for the realization of our dreams.

Africa’s poets have throughout her history been the agents for the recording, preservation, the transmission and the restoration of the hopes of her peoples. We call on our poets to continue in that noble pursuit.

Speaking at the University of Columbia, a century ago, a young African graduate, named Pixley ka la Seme invoked the idea of an African renewal, referring to it as a new civilization:

“The most essential departure of this new civilization is that it shall be thoroughly spiritual and humanistic – indeed a regeneration moral and eternal!

O Africa!
Like some great century plant that shall bloom
In ages hence, we watch thee; in our dream
See in thy swamps the Prospero of our stream;
Thy doors unlocked, where knowledge in her tomb
Hath lain innumerable years in gloom.
Then shalt thou, walking with that morning gleam,
Shine as thy sister lands with equal beam.”

Wherefore then, sing Africa poet, and nurture our souls as we gird our loins for the struggles that still lie ahead.

Thank you.