Remarks by Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, during the Official Opening of the South African Cultural Centre in New York, USA, on 23rd September 2021

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you all for finding time to be with us on this special evening in these new premises of both the South African Consulate in New York as well as the South African Permanent Mission to the United Nations. This is a special evening to us as South Africans because we are gathered here this evening on the eve of our annual Heritage Day, our national holiday that we are celebrating this year under the theme: “The year of Charlotte Maxeke: Celebrating South Africa’s Intangible Cultural Heritage”. As a country, we have a taken a conscious decision this year to celebrate the life and legacy of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke who was a trailblaser and a torchbearer in various sectors of our society.

She would have turned 150 years this year, and in ensuring that her legacy lives on, last month, I launched a legacy initiative around the life of this iconic South African, which seeks to popularise her values and leadership qualities. In launching the initiative I said, the initiative will be “anchored on South Africa’s foreign policy which is primarily Pan Africanist in form and internationalist in content” and we have entitled this initiative: The Charlotte Maxeke African Women's Economic Justice and Rights (AWERJ) Initiative. We therefore plan to gradually implement the six concrete flagship programmes of this initiative in the coming three to five years.

Distinguished Guests,

We are also here this evening to officially launch the first-ever South African Cultural Centre, which we hope will not only serve as a window to South Africa, but will also provide South Africa-based artists and those in the Diaspora with a platform to share with the State of New York and the Continental US the artistic vibrancy of our culture. In order to ensure that you truly have the real sense of the colourful South African culture, in tonight’s opening we are also showcasing the artistic works by one of our renowned artists, Professor Zakes Mda entitled, “WASHBOARDS AND MIRRORS: The Collages of Zakes Mda”. While we shall allow Prof. Mda to say a few words about his beautiful art exhibition that he has put together, I also wish to underscore the importance of culture in crafting a unique identity for us as a nation and people.

In South Africa we have such a colourful artistic identity, which we have been so keen to share with the world, but we have had not had the opportunity to articulate our objectives around these intentions. That is why when I delivered my Budget Vote Speech in our Parliament on 20th May this year I directed all our Embassies to pay a particular attention to the promotion of our cultural diplomacy. We all know very well the importance of how culture can lead to other important areas of our international relations work. We are aware that in understanding the other peoples’ cultures allows societies around the world to have an interest in visiting each other as well as trading among each other, which further leads to the overall objective of international relations, which is maintaining a peaceful and prosperous world.

Distinguished Guests,

In understanding the importance of preserving culture and our heritage and how these can play a pivotal role in contributing to the prosperity of our Continent, the African Union has declared the Year 2021 as “The AU Year of the Arts, Culture And Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want”. This theme calls on all AU member states to invest more on resources that promote our national, regional and continental identities, in particular our Cultural and Creative Industries. This theme is also premised on Aspiration number 5 of our Agenda 2063, which envisions ‘An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics’. In launching today’s Cultural Centre it is therefore our small contribution towards this Aspiration because we understand how creative arts can serve as engine for the promotion and preservation of our identity and heritage.

Distinguished Guests,

In conclusion, I wish to congratulate both the South African Consulate General in New York, as well as our Permanent Mission to the United Nations for having found an opportunity to optimally utilise the new space that we have in this prime building through establishing the Cultural Centre we are launching this evening. I urge all South African artists around New York and the United States of America to use this space to maximum effect and we hope this will also provide further impetus in sharing our diverse culture with our various partners thereby creating new opportunities that can benefit our youth as well as men and women back home.

As we launch this Cultural Centre, let me, in closing share with you one of the most poignant quotes by our iconic founding father, Former President Nelson Mandela who once said the following about the importance of culture in building our national identity: “Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our nation”.

May this Cultural Centre continue to be the living testimony to these words and further aim to contribute to our nation building as we continue to strengthen our democracy, while also contributing to the betterment of the lives of our people. The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed to us the importance of preserving our cultures and heritage. This has also provided us with an opportunity to inject technology in the manner we interact with our own cultures and those around the world. I am confident that this Cultural Centre will also tap into these new opportunities that are provided to us by the use of technology, such as the use of virtual artistic channels.

I therefore declare this first-ever South African Cultural Centre officially open.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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