By Nathi Mthethwa
Today we come together to outline our programme for Africa Month, as we celebrate our Africanness, work towards African integration and reflect on where we have come from in order to map the road ahead.
Today at this launch of Africa Month, we meet at a site that is important to us as it houses the National Heritage Monument and the Heroes Acre. The individual statues in this beautiful landscape pay tribute to our long history of resistance and to those who have played a pivotal role in the struggle for freedom. This is part and parcel of the quest for Africa’s liberation and therefore also part of our African resistance and liberation heritage route.
It is important that we continue to celebrate and honour the contributions of the founders of African unity when they gathered in Addis Ababa in May 1963 to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). It is mportant that this legacy which we have inherited from them is continuously developed, renewed and strengthened through inspired continental leadership and through people to people contact.
The great poet, Prof Mazisi Kunene, has written a poem which is relevant on this occasion entitled “The book of generations where he speaks about the inheritance of one generation to the next as a “thick book” with “huge treasures” and he describes the calling forth of a generation that is higher than the mountains and deeper than the lakes. It is from this rich political, cultural and economic heritage that we ourselves derive our knowledge and armed with this wisdom we discover our mission as Frantz Fanon calls it or the calling of our generation, as Mazisi Kunene frames it.
The African Agenda
For at the heart of our African agenda is a quest for unity, economic and political co-operation and integration and the promotion of African stories and African content which should guide and shape our actions. Africa Month is conceptualised within the context of several policies and legislative instruments that guide us. Our international relations policy makes provision for participation and hosting of international activities with a view to promoting the African Agenda.
We are driven by the vision to achieve an African continent that is peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous and that embraces the spirit of ubuntu. Our engagement on the continent continues to be anchored on strengthening bilateral and multilateral relations, promoting peace, security and stability, economic co-operation and integration.
Africa Month further responds to ‘Aspiration 5’ of African Union Agenda 2063 “The Africa We Want) – an Africa with a strong cultural identity, values and ethics and is also part of the implementation strategy of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance. Africa Month is therefore viewed as a dynamic instrument to contribute to the call for unity.
Africa Month responds to a number of strategic goals and therefore will enable South Africa to further fulfil the following key strategic objectives:
- Promoting the African Agenda and strengthen the African Union institutions and policies.
- Strengthening the culture and creative industries and their value-add in socio-economic development.
- Increasing appreciation and demand for arts and culture goods and services to stimulate competitive markets for inter and intra-Africa Trade.
- Promoting African identity and entrench African values and ethics.
- Establishing new relations and strengthen existing collaborations in the continent.
- Creating cultural-dialogues and interaction amongst arts practioners in the continent.
- Promoting business interactions, dialogues and foster entrepreneurship amongst Africans.
On a continent where we seek permanent peace and stability, enhanced intra-Africa trade relations, social integration with other countries, the development of cross border languages, cultural cross-pollination, the entrenchment of democracy, Africa Month becomes a sounding board and a way of establishing mental frameworks and doing some of the groundwork for carrying out of all these mammoth tasks. At the centre is our acknowledgement that our journey towards freedom is akin to an unfinished victory song and that we continue to strengthen our contribution for the complete freedom of Africa’s people.
In the last 11 years, we have seen the strengthening of the systems to protect and develop our cultural heritage through the important work of the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF). The AWHF is the first regional funding initiative within the framework of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and South Africa as hosted the Fund from the outset.
In 2015, the 38th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO adopted a resolution proclaiming May 5th as African World Heritage Day. This Resolution, in line with UNESCO’s Priority Africa programme, seeks to enhance awareness of African heritage and foster cooperation to allow for stronger involvement from many stakeholders in the conservation and promotion of African heritage.
More platforms for Africans
It is important that we continue to preserve this heritage as it tells the African story in many different ways and through many epochs of time, as Africa is also the cradle of humankind. Africa Month creates more platforms to deepen the African worldview of our people. It is our African narratives after all that tell us about our place in the world and the truths of our realities. They give us the freedom to extend the definitions of who we are and what we can do to make our vantage point a richer and freer space.
Every discussion, every event where African music is performed, every art work, every garment worn tells a story and every story transmits the power of narrative in shaping and changing our lives. The story of a continent that is transforming itself is one that we need to embrace, project and work together to transmit. Thus, for us, this month long Africa programme during the period in which we pay homage to the founders of African unity is another step towards extending our freedom.
But this story also includes the development of local skills, infrastructure and technology and the journey to African unity and for economic integration.It must incorporate the storyteller and the story, the filmmaker and the film, the editor and reader or consumer of media, the marketer and distributor.
It is important that we nurture cultural expression, encourage cross border local languages and idioms. We need to improve cultural understanding and dialogue and strengthen local information systems. African content empowers individuals to sustain their livelihoods and enhance their contribution to the social and economic development of their society.
The main theme of Africa Month is about The Year of OR Tambo: Building a Better Africa and a Better World, as we take this opportunity to honour the centenary of statesman and ANC President OR Tambo’s birth, who played a pivotal role not only for the South African freedom struggle but also alongside other leaders who together were striving for Africa’s fight for freedom. The 2016 Africa Month programme achieved its goals and focused on our connection to the continent and our interconnectedness as nations and state. Alot was achieved in raising awareness; but much remains to be done.
Given the lingering legacy of colonialism and apartheid, it is most opportune that in honour of the contribution of ANC President and statesman, OR Tambo, one of the focal points for this year will be on decolonisation, especially given that in recent years there has been an upsurge in thinking about decolonisation especially by younger generations and also in the context of our quest for radical socio-economic and cultural transformation.
The Africa Month Programme, a Festival of Ideas, is therefore framed within efforts towards decolonisation.
A wealth of knowledge has come out of the human journey from Africa to other places and spaces and back again as people of the world criss-cross and migrate or were forced to move due to colonialism, war and imperialism.The colloquia programme for Africa Month thus further recognizes the political cultural environment as one in which calls for decolonization are taking precedence. The decolonization agenda cannot be separated from the radical economic transformation agenda.
The liberation movements on the African continent saw economic emancipation from colonialism as key to the realization of freedom. Hence key intellectuals such as Kwame Nkrumah would write about the basis for African unity being economic yet he would also focus on the African Personality and Consciencism.Later on Frantz Fanon would write about the notion of bringing forth a “new man” – with the understanding that a new society of new men and women and complete decolonization would require radical change agents and a critical mass forging freedom.
Comrade and ANC President OR Tambo would make it a point of speaking up for all the liberation movements seeking their freedom and not only for South Africa – knowing full well that the movement for decolonization was a world movement for change and that internationalism was the key to overcoming colonial and neocolonial rule.
A festival of Ideas
It is thus with these underpinnings that the colloquia and dialogue programme have been developed and that the programmes on dance, music, fine art, film, photography, carnival, cuisine and fashion, among other disciplines have been curated.
For the colloquia programme we are honoured that Prof Horace Campbell from Syracuse University in the USA and also the Kwame Nkrumah Institute in Ghana, a leading scholar of Pan-Africanism, will be joining us.
Illustrious authors Prof Zakes Mda and Dr Wally Serote, alongside Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker, Tsitsi Dangarembga, poet and public intellectual Odia Ofeimun from Nigeria and African American poet and activist, Claudia Rankine, will be among those participating in discussions and readings around the country. Further details with additional speakers will be made available.
This year’s discussion programme also looks at the importance of narratives for a reading nation and the crafting of stories for the African child. Therefore we are pleased that 7 year old author, Michelle Nkamankeng, will also be participating alongside other authors of children’s books.
Resistance and Liberation Heritage
The National Archives Week will also have a Pan-African focus with a travelling exhibition on the Founders of African freedom. A roundtable on the African Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route will also take place as part of our collective efforts in the implementation of the “Roads to independence African Liberation Heritage programme” in the SADC region.
The Africa Month programme also builds on existing government initiatives and leverages on partnerships with other government departments. There will be a cultural programme at the World Economic Forum in Africa tomorrow in Durban and a discussion on African Heritage on Friday morning.
The Department of Communications will raise awareness on Africa Month together with the public broadcaster and other national and community media platforms. Other Departments such as Transport, Telecommunications and Postal Services are also having dedicated programmes.
The Department of Science and Technology will partner with the HSRC and supported by the Department of Public Enterprises in organizing the 7th Africa Unity for Renaissance International Conference and Expo towards the end of May. This brings together researchers and scholars from a number of African countries to explore “Placing Africa firmly in the realm of Sustainable Development Goals”.
The Department of Public Service and Administration brings together speakers from the five African Union regions to look at youth empowerment in their countries and share best practices. The Department of Trade and Industry will host an intra-Africa Business Brunch bringing together businesses and captains of industry from across the continent on the alignment of intra-African trade.
These are only a few of the initiatives.
African Youth Dialogues will also take centre-stage in provinces with participation from SADC countries.
The regeneration and future of the continent rests on the shoulders of the youth. The energy of the youth and their creativity allows them to take the continent to new heights. Many of the Africa month programmes supported by the Department showcase the energy of the youth in dance, in music and also in multidisciplinary festivals such as the Gcwala Ngamasiko International Cultural Festival
In this way we continue to write the African book of generations, which is a growing treasure trove of art and heritage, which must be passed on and transmitted from one generation to the next. Let us celebrate the cultural wealth of this continent during Africa Month. Let us heighten consciousness about African Month at events and during cultural activities but also importantly in our daily conversations.
I wish all of you a happy and productive Africa Month.
Nathi Mthethwa is South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture.
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