Celebrating our Human Treasures by Asserting our African Identity
Address by Deputy Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo, 28 September 2016.
Honourable Members of Parliament
Koi San Kingdom and Traditional Leaders Present
The Diplomatic Community
Leadership of the Iziko Museum
Congolese Civil Society in South Africa
Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa
Fellow South Africans
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
This occasion is at once a moment of celebration but also a moment of reflection – marking 20 years since Heritage Day was enshrined on the South African calendar. It is fitting that we commemorate it under the theme “Celebrating our Human Treasures by Asserting our African Identity”.
Since 1994, the dawn of democracy brought along a new determination by the democratic government. Ours was to restore human dignity from a long history of brutal oppression. One of the ways we restored dignity was to recognize the expression of different cultures and traditions of our people. As such, Heritage Month is a formal recognition of the colourful tapestry that is the social and cultural fabric of South Africa’s people.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The rich, remarkable and extremely diverse Cultural Heritage of South Africa has its advantages and challenges. As living knowledge vessels, the need for an intergenerational dialogue which provides a platform of exchange between the older and younger generation. The time is now to cement social cohesion to further strengthen us as a people to weather these recent waves of racist torrents. We are yet to truly see our unity in our diversity, first as a country and also as a continent, a continent that humanity in its entirety, calls home.
It is also encouraging to see that these incidents no longer pass us without a tidal response. The so-called born-frees are standing up, saying not in our name, not a minute longer. As, the older generation, indeed have a lot to learn from this generation. They accept nothing without questioning its relevance to their African identity. They refuse to be taught in institutions of higher learning that remain Eurocentric, their call for decolonization has deeply shaken the academic establishment. This generation assert their African identities and are actualizing our clarion call of a united Africa, at peace with itself. As leaders of society, we can draw many lessons from the younger generation to pursue radically different futures for Africa than its current state of dependency on the dominant economies.
As Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, I celebrate Heritage Month with a sense of vigour. Africa truly is Rising and the one of fastest economically growing regions are in this continent. We have a strong ambition called Agenda 2063 and it is a continental vision to realize Kwame Nkruma’s dream. As a Department, we employ a strategy of Cultural Diplomacy as part of our bilateral and multilateral engagements. By Cultural Diplomacy, I mean the social exchange of values, customs, traditions, culture, etc. that connect us as Africans and across our national interests. This fosters genuine People-to-People relations which goes beyond just economic diplomacy. We must see more exchange of students within the continent to study together in class first before they co-govern at the African Union later. This is my vision, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I think this is the vision that our leaders from Nkrumah and since share for this continent.
As Deputy Minister, I work specifically in the Middle East and Asia to boost trade between us and that region. Our biggest cultural export to the world of diplomacy is Ubuntu. We are often humbled when we are called to share transition lessons with other countries in conflict. Even at the level of the UN, we have been consistent at pushing for Africa’s representation in the UN Security Council. The majority of the conflicts the UN Security Council deals with, are in this continent. How then, do we allow a situation where our problems are solved without us? This guides our engagement as a continent through the Ezulwini Consensus.
Through the African Union, we have worked tirelessly to see that dominant economies do not dictate to us on how to solve our problems. This led to the now well-known phrase of “African Solutions to African Problems.” In this regard, South Africa and other countries often get called within the continent to facilitate national dialogue for countries in conflict.
We continue to do this work and as I speak here, I am engaged in efforts to secure training opportunities for conflict resolution and mediation specialists. Some of them that have undergone that training sit amongst you in the audience today. My specific efforts, Ladies and Gentlemen, has been to see that in these conflict resolution mechanisms, we have more women represented. We all know that where conflicts burst, the attack on women and children remains one of the most potent weapons. The war on our bodies as women must take first priority in this continent. The progress of women is the best measure of societal progress. I must put it clearly and squarely, lest there be any ambiguities, Ubuntu as a guiding principle of our cultural and economic diplomacy, echoing Agenda 2063’s Principle 6, will best be achieved with women at the centre as champions of Africa’s development. Peace, security and stability can never be fostered in this world without the position of women being significantly improved first through economic empowerment and safety in our bodies.
It is useful to pause here, and to look back on the phenomenal progress that has been made by the deliberate effort to put Ubuntu as a central focus in our foreign policy. The spirit of Ubuntu allows us to recommit ourselves to work with other Africans in our region and the rest of our Continent to promote the achievement of the goal of African unity. That unity also means that in our own country, South Africa, we must continue to live together in unity for the sake of our children and grandchildren who will inherit the type of society we create today.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The defining idea of the new South Africa has been identity and national consciousness as we are engaged in the continuous task of national reconstruction and development.
It then becomes appropriate for us to use Heritage Month to discuss and talk about a common national identity which will take South Africa forward. We must strive for a common national identity that is supported and cherished by all.
As I conclude Program Director
I would like us to remember to work tirelessly for justice so that when we are honoured - we are also celebrated as national heritage. This takes different forms at different levels, in community mobilization, health development workers, police forums, school governing bodies, etc. who are champions of community development with our governments supporting those efforts.
We have a rich history as a continent with great leaders in our resistance movements throughout the continent. We are in a good position to work out solutions that befit postcolonial societies. We need to revive the agency of the people to be masters of their destiny, working side by side with us in government for the attainment of our goals in Agenda 2063. South Africa has lessons to offer, by no means perfect, and we have so many lessons to learn from other countries in the continent may we learn from the mistakes of others in reconstructing our countries towards the future we desire.
We stand on the shoulders of cultural icons who fought for the liberation of the most oppressed people in the world in Africa. That Africa is still here and while it is progressing, severe challenges remain and the duty is on all of us to serve Africa loyally with our respective skills sets and talents. We also cannot do this alone hence the importance of the intergenerational dialogue so that we systematically mentor future leaders.
When we speak about heritage, we speak about legacy. When we speak about legacy, we speak about what we leave behind. In the work we do in this world, we need to constantly reflect on our actions in light of their service to the improvement of our people’s lives. We will not always be right, we must be open to criticism, even when it seems harsh, there are lessons to be drawn always. My wish is that we do not resign our people only to raise grievances but to also use their agency to collecitvely work towards a common future and truly give a sense of place, security and dignity to redress the human wrongs of our past to human rights of the future.
I Thank You