Address by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the occasion of Heritage Day, Cape Town

Programme Director, MEC Whitey Jacobs (TBC),
Minister of Arts and Culture, Pallo Jordan,
Premier of the Western Cape Province, Ebrahim Rasool,
Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Your Worship, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille,
Lord Mayor Provost of Edinburgh, The Right Honourable Leslie Hinds,
Members of our National and Provincial Parliaments,
Municipal Councillors,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished guests,
Fellow South Africans:

It gives me great pleasure to be with you here today when the nation celebrates Heritage Day. On behalf of the government I send our warmest greetings to all the people of South Africa.

I am also delighted to welcome the Lord Mayor Provost of the City of Edinburgh, Leslie Hinds, who is in South Africa for the Homeless World Cup. We are very happy that Cape Town is hosting this important sporting event which, I am certain, will further popularise participation in soccer and other sports in our country. The 2010 FIFA World Cup holds much promise and we hope this Homeless World Cup will inspire everyone to do everything we need to do make the 2010 tournament very successful indeed.

We wish all the participants, South Africa's own Bafowethu and all the teams, the very best in the competition. May this Heritage Day herald new beginnings for the homeless not only to succeed in the beautiful game but also that, working together with government through our housing programmes, we ensure that we end homelessness in our country.

Not only is this day exciting because it is Heritage Day, but also because of the power and the richness of the sub theme that we are celebrating, which says, "Celebrating Our Music, Our Heritage" under the rubric of the theme, "Celebrating Our Living Heritage (What We Live)", which the Department of Arts and Culture has been running for the last three years.

At these Heritage Day celebrations, especially because we meet here in Cape Town, I thought we should pay some attention to the history of our people, many of whom lived in this part of our country and were the first to encounter the Europeans travellers and settlers. These are the Khoi and the San people - the indigenous South Africans wrongly called for many centuries Hottentots and Bushmen.

Many of us, South Africans, know little about the history of these valued sections of our population. I am certain that we should so everything to address this deficit. I believe that we made a good beginning when we decided to use the now extinct Cham language on our national Coat of Arms and succeeded to bring back from France and bury with all due dignity the remains of our Khoi heroine, Saartjie Baartman.

As we know, or should know, when Bartholomew Dias and later Vasco da Gama sailed past the Cape to the East, the first people they encountered in this part of Africa were the Khoi and the San. Although initially suspicious of the strangers that had docked on their shores, these Africans, imbued with the spirit of Ubuntu welcomed those Europeans and gave them the best African hospitality that still characterise our people today. Jan van Riebeeck and his Dutch companions were received with the same hospitality when they arrived here in 1652.

But of course, as happened elsewhere in our country the Khoi and the San were soon to be involved in the protracted conflict in our country that ended with our accession to democracy in 1994.

The historian Noel Mostert says of the Cape when Europeans arrived that:

"The Cape was as bountifully pleasing and idyllically hospitable as anything the sailors could crave for their suffering bodies. It fulfilled every immediate dream of succour from the shipboard afflictions of scurvy, fevers, foul water and salt food. It is hard to suppose that a lovelier place then existed on the face of the earth, or that there was anything more bountifully provisioned by nature." (p 95, The Frontiers, Noel Mostert)

It was among other things, this beauty at the corner of a great continent that made Europeans to plan, as they said, a refreshment station, which began the painful birth of the new South Africa. During the course of that long history, which included the death of many Khoi and San, death also visited their languages, their cultures and tradition, their names and identity, their communities, their songs and their spirit.

That is why it is important that as we strive to build the new South Africa, we must, together, pay homage to the Khoi and the San who set an example for all of us to fight for our freedom so as to create the space for us, together, to celebrate our music and heritage as we do today.

Accordingly, as we compose and sing songs of praise let us also sing about these and the other peoples that constitute the rich tapestry of races, languages and cultures that constitutes the South African nation.

At the same time, the early encounters of which I have spoken, as well as the importation of slaves from the Malaysian archipelago and other African lands ensured that the Western Cape in particular became, for many centuries, the confluence and meeting point of occidental, oriental and African cultures.

The intercultural meeting later gave birth to a new culture which ceased to resemble the original cultures in their "purest" forms. Such a culture has developed, mutated and evolved to give our nation its identity, which is both South African and African. The music we hear here, attests to our common human origin as well as this intercultural coalescence that I am talking about.

Indeed, music permeates all walks of life and has been a powerful instrument and a tool commonly invoked in various occasions and circumstances, good and bad, joyful and sorrowful.

We sing to welcome a new-born baby. The lullabies are sung to wean and comfort the young ones as they grapple and struggle with the challenges of teething, growth and development. We have sung in sadness as we endeavour to muster strength of dealing with harsh realities of pain and death. In different social contexts and situations, music has served and serves today to sooth the troubled soul, lift the dejected spirit, and celebrate the very joy of being human.

Music talks to our experiences, our troubles and hopes as individuals, families and communities. It talks to our trials and tribulations as a people and expresses visions and ideals that human generations have cherished over the millennia. As life is like a kaleidoscope that is dynamic and ever-changing, music follows suit. Yesteryear's music that was produced at different times and spaces reflected the morals, values and spirit of communities and societies of their time.

The spirit of ubuntu which enshrined the values of group solidarity, compassion, respect, human dignity and collective unity characterised the lifestyles of our forebears. The stories, legends, fairytales, the music and dance of this historical epoch reflect these values and norms.

And then came the time when we heard the songs of resistance and protest in which the oppressed masses of our people called for the restoration of their liberties and freedoms. Such cries and rhythms are evident in the musical performances of the artists of the time as they persistently envisioned a new day of a democratic South Africa that is non-racial, non-sexist, non-tribal and free from all forms of discrimination.

As many of us know, the music of the time helped to sustain the momentum and impetus of the struggle for liberation and freedom. Today, we honour and remember all those artists through whose music, dance and theatre we got inspiration to join hands to promote the vision of liberty and democracy for all.

In a post-colonial and post-apartheid, democratic South Africa, which is confronted by a different set of challenges ranging from matters of morality, criminal abuse of women and children, to the poverty and destitution that continues to afflict many of our people, we must ask ourselves what the role of our music and our artists should be without making any prescriptions about matters of artistic expression, creativity and the productions of our performing artists.

We need to engage our musicians to ask them what their individual or collective role should be in making music one of the critical factors in dealing with our current socio-economic challenges. At the same time, clearly our government must do everything possible to give the necessary support to our musicians and other cultural workers.

Clearly, what musicians sing is easily imprinted in our minds and imagination, especially of young people, at times more than what parents and teachers teach or what religious leaders preach. I think that if the same sermons and moral lessons were to be given by our artists and musicians, these would indeed become etched in the minds of young people.

I therefore would like to make a call to all musicians to do what the musicians of yesteryears did, who in the composition of their songs never forgot to refer to the challenges of the day.

It is through the lyrics and rhythms of musicians and other artists that those values, norms and morals that extol and exalt human dignity and human decency, peace, prosperity and harmony in our land will be venerated. Among other things, it is also through their work that all of us would internalise and live those values that stand for the greatest good for all our people.

I want to re-iterate the call that I made on Heritage Day last in Taung about the need to revitalise and champion the spirit of ubuntu. Because if we revive those values that celebrate our humanity, we will be less prone to perpetrate gross human rights violations. I am aware that the Department of Arts and Culture through one of its associated institutions, the National Heritage Council, has embarked upon a programme on ubuntu that seeks to use heritage as a main driver of the concept and practice of ubuntu.

This is indeed most encouraging but not enough. I challenge all the organs of civil society to participate in such a programme because it is through partnerships and synergies between government and civil society organisations that we will be able to present a united front against all the challenges that we face.

I would also like to make an appeal to the management and leadership of the music industry, which I am certain has been made before. On many occasions, popular musicians and artists whose works have contributed to building and nourishing the soul of the nation have died poor. Others, such as the recently departed Moses Khumalo, a young, budding and a prolific jazz musician, pass away, as he did, under mysterious conditions.

This has devastated many of us who could not understand the reason for his untimely death. We are baffled by the sad reality of our beloved artists who commonly die so poor, such that their families struggle even to give them proper and dignified burials.

I am saying that it is wrong that musicians whose works makes millions of rands, themselves struggle to live a decent life. Further, the music industry is a multimillion-rand industry that adds substantially towards our economy.
Fellow South Africans:

As we celebrate Heritage Day through music, dance and other performances, we invoke and evoke the memories of our common ancestors and forebears who have bequeathed a rich inheritance and heritage to us.

They bring back memories of the values, norms and morals that have shaped humanity from time immemorial.

On this important day on our national calendar, I would like to say - let the nation sing and dance. I wish you all across our magnificent land, a very happy Heritage Day.

Thank you.

Baie dankie.

Issued by: The Presidency
24 September 2006


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