Statement by Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa at the International Conference for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas, Abu Dhabi

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03 Dec 2016

Program Director

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As we gather here as leaders and heritage practitioners from all over the world, I am reminded of the importance and necessity of inspired and committed leadership, in addressing the problems of the world as well as the protection and promotion of the cultural heritage of the world.

It has been nearly three years to the day that our esteemed leader and statesman, President Nelson Mandela, departed from our midst on December 5th, at the age of 95.  

Only just over a week ago his friend and our comrade, the great revolutionary leader, President Fidel Castro, sadly left us; he, at age 90. 

Part of the legacy of these great leaders is encapsulated in the words of President Mandela’s as he reflected on his own life’s work. He observed, and I quote:

“Men and women, all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go…We pass through this world but once and opportunities you miss will never be available to you again…Some leave nothing behind, not even their names. It would seem that they never existed at all.”

In a world in which increasingly people and places are in danger of wanton destruction, we dare not fail in our mission of protection and preservation of cultural heritage and therefore we welcome this conference and the resultant protection initiatives. We believe that these measures should seek to enhance the role of communities and cement partnerships. 

South Africa, as a State Party and in the implementation of this 1970 UNESCO Convention, has established the National Forum for the Law Enforcement of Heritage Related Matters.

We are also a State Party to the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict as well as the 1999 Second Protocol to this Convention.

We consider this Convention and the Protocol as laying important foundations in assisting states in the protection of their cultural heritage during times of armed conflict. 

South Africa therefore does not condone the defacement and destruction of cultural heritage, as demonstrated in the various interventions we have supported, throughout the African continent to protect World Heritage in areas of armed conflict as well as in post-conflict regions.

In 2006 the New Partnership for Africa’s Development cultural intervention commenced with its first cultural project, the now world-renowned project of the restoration of Timbuktu.  This work, initiated before the conflict arose, included the restoration of the Mausoleums at Timbuktu in Mali, which were later destroyed. 

Together with our Malian counterparts, we commenced the processes of preservation and restoration of the manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Centre. South Africa has played an important role in preserving this important legacy.

Timbuktu is an example of how community involvement proved critical to the protection and preservation of the manuscripts that were rescued before parts of the Ahmed Baba Centre was burnt. 

South Africa actively participates in the UNESCO Memory of the World (MOW) programme, which encourages members to list their collections at national; regional and international levels. Five South African collections have been listed since 1992.

Currently, the National Archives and Records Services of South Africa together with our fellow SADC counterparts are working on the submission of a dossier on the Liberation Struggle Archives for the region incorporating South Africa; Mozambique; Zimbabwe; Namibia; Zambia; Tanzania; Kenya; and Angola.

Since its establishment in May 2006, South Africa has hosted the African World Heritage Fund.  We shall continue to support this important intervention. Ours is a common endeavour to ensure that conservation of heritage contributes to the lives of Africa’s people. 

It must be noted that since the establishment of the Fund, the African continent as a whole has benefitted immensely from activities initiated by the Fund to promote the conservation and management of African World Heritage sites; the listing of heritage sites on the World Heritage List; and involvement of communities in the preservation of cultural and natural heritage while simultaneously promoting sustainable community development.

In the past 10 years alone the African World Heritage Fund has given support to more than 40 conservation projects on the continent.   

Our approach is to look at our cultural heritage not only within the confines of the nation state, but also to create heritage routes with other countries with which we share histories and liberation struggles. 

In this context, the establishment of the Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route is a significant step towards linking sites of immense cultural and historical significance, across borders. 

This initiative also demonstrates the inextricable connections and commonalities that bind people who have been part of shared struggles and which have led to progressive political changes on our continent and in the world.

We believe that ultimately the preservation of cultural heritage depends on people themselves and resides with local communities to safeguard and develop cultural heritage. 

Let us also emphasize sustained peace building and the need to heighten consciousness of our invaluable heritage landscape as critical and fundamental to all our efforts in the preservation and management of world heritage and culture.

I thank you.