SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport: briefing and ratification;Open Source Software: briefing

Arts and Culture

25 August 2003
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

25 August 2003


Ms M Njobe

Documents handed out:

SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport (offsite link)
Briefing notes on the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport (awaited)
Parliamentary Research Unit:
Briefing document on open-source code and software (25/08/03)
Document on the Linux operating system (21/02/01)

The Department concisely briefed the Committee on the basic principles and objectives of the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport so that they could make an informed decision on its ratification.
The Parliamentary Research Unit, in conjunction with the Department, described the Open Source Software and possible beneficial applications in South Africa.

SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport
The Chairperson congratulated Mr Victor Julius on his appointment as Deputy-Director General.

The Deputy-Director General (DDG) conducted the briefing and was assisted by Ms Sylvia Matebula and Mr Rufus Matibe.

The DDG stressed the need for ratification. President Thabo Mbeki found it increasingly embarrassing to attend SADC meetings because South Africa had yet to ratify it. He gave a brief background that of the process leading up to the Protocol and highlighted some key issues. The Department had been the driving force behind its completion but a major reason for the delay had the extent of co-operation among various departments and stakeholders. Two-thirds of SADC member states needed to ratify the Protocol in order for it to become operational. Although NEPAD was not mentioned in the Protocol, its spirit was captured in it.
Language policy formulation and the preservation of cultural heritage had posed great challenges to the Department, given the need to promote eleven official languages and broad cultural diversity.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) was concerned about elitism and asked what was being done to encourage the mass social participation at arts and cultural festivals.

Mr Julius said the issue related to donor funding. Funders tended to support policy and infrastructure development rather than making arts and cultural festivals accessible to the broader public.

Ms A Van Wyk (NNP) was concerned about the preferential treatment that sports were receiving over heritage, arts, and culture. A paradigm shift in thinking was needed as far as heritage was concerned.

Mr Julius conceded that heritage had not been dealt with as it had been internationally.

Ms Van Wyk recommended that the Department make a joint briefing on the Protocol to the relevant Parliamentary Committees.

Mr Julius said that the Department would consider the recommendation.

Ms Van Wyk emphasized that arts and culture should be a service rendered by the state, notwithstanding private sector participation. Both artists and the public were entitled to it. In Russia, crowds of up to 10 000 people attended public poetry-reading sessions.

Mr Julius said that public performances by street artists were increasing. The Department was engaged in programmes to encourage cultural storytelling. There was much more work that needed to be done to encourage arts and culture.

Ms N Mbombo (ANC) asked who was responsible for the SADC Hall of Fame.

Mr Julius expressed concern over the commercial value of the SADC Hall of Fame and said the Department was discussing it. The Hall of Fame would most probably be located at the SADC headquarters in Botswana.

The Chair asked why the drafters had not included the word, "arts" in its title.

Mr Julius said that "arts and heritage" were included within culture. The Department had reached consensus on this after discussions.

The Chair commented that Southern Africa comprises of countries with diverse languages and South Africans needed to learn to communicate with their SADC neighbours.

Mr Dithebe agreed, especially regarding South Africa hosting the Pan African Parliament.

The committee unanimously accepted the Protocol and referred it to the National Assembly for ratification.

Open Source Software
Professor N van Zyl from the Parliamentary Research Unit provided an explanatory brief on open source software (OSS), its cost implications and benefits.

Prof van Zyl explained that open source software was essentially proprietary software that has been adapted and modified to suit a particular user's needs. The difference between OSS and proprietary software was that the codes to modify and change OSS were readily available. However, with proprietary software only the registered owners had access to the codes. Proprietary software had to be bought and had a licensing period attached. Any upgrades on proprietary software have additional cost implications to the user. OSS on the other hand, had no cost other than distribution. Usage is increasing and evolving. Linux software is foremost in OSS and Microsoft in proprietary software. He was unsure whether OSS was as robust as proprietary software. OSS could mean a saving of up to R30 billion annually so these funds could be better utilised in capacity-building projects. An additional benefit could be the stimulation of the development of SA's own programmers. OSS could even be used on older personal computers which is especially relevant for least-developed and developing countries.

Mr Imraan Saloogee from the Department presented his input and agreed Prof van Zyl. However, he confidently felt that OSS applications were more robust than proprietary applications. OSS had been around as long as proprietary software but awareness around this was minimal because early developments were mostly academic. Both the Internet and the software developed by Mark Shuttleworth were examples of OSS. The city of Munich in Germany and countries like Argentina had turned towards OSS as alternatives to proprietary software. Examples in SA included use by the CSIR and Medical Research Council

Ms van Wyk was concerned about the pollution and waste that was being generated by computer hardware and software. She asked what effect OSS would have on this problem.

Mr Saloogee said that problems with pollution were mainly due to upgrades. With OSS, the lives of older machines are extended.

Ms Mbuyasi (IFP) was concerned that companies often dump outdated computers onto disadvantaged schools. This created false expectations and in the end, the computers were useless.

Prof I Mohamed (ANC) also expressed concern about the rate at which computer equipment became outdated.

Mr Saloogee pointed out that computers at school level do not have to be hi-tech.

Ms Mbuyasi asked Prof Van Zyl to comment on the usage of OSS in the rest of Africa.

Prof Van Zyl reacted that SA was not the only country in Africa involved with e-governance.

The meeting was adjourned.



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