Heritage Month Activities: Department briefing

Arts and Culture

24 August 2004
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Meeting report

24 August 2004


Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:

Briefing on Heritage Month
Heritage Month
Briefing for the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture

The Department of Arts and Culture presented its vision about Heritage Month to the Committee. It highlighted the need to decentralise the responsibility of hosting Heritage Day events and other national activities to accommodate the different groups in the country. The heritage celebrations would be stretched over three years to promote the importance of heritage. The Committee was somewhat disappointed that it had not been consulted about this year's Heritage Month activities, but nevertheless agreed that it was important that common heritage should be utilised as building blocks for reconciliation, nation-building and the creation of a common national identity.

Department briefing

The Chairperson said the Committee had to receive a briefing from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) about its Heritage Month activities so that Parliament could plan in advance.

The Department had a two-member delegation - Mr Vusithemba Ndima (Heritage: Chief Director) and Ms Thapi Segoati (Parliamentary Officer).

Mr Ndima said the Department, together with National Minister and MECs responsible for culture adopted the theme "Celebrating Our Heritage in the Tenth Year of Our Democracy" at their MINMEC meeting in March 2004. The theme would stretch for three years. The idea was to have a bigger vision thereby creating a framework to protect and promote the concept of living heritage. DAC also hopes to use the theme for collecting and preserving our heritage.

He noted that Living Heritage - oral traditions, social practices, rituals and festive events - predates the imperial and colonial eras. It was part of the inheritance from our common human ancestry from time immemorial that had been preserved. It had undergone some changes and thus had removed or added new dimensions due to constant interaction among various communities of the world that were originally separated by space and time. This had been further enhanced by global cosmopolitanism by the advent of telecommunications, travelling and tourism. South Africa presents a perfect model of a cosmopolitan society - rich and diverse cultural heritage - hence the concept of a Rainbow Nation. The government had to guarantee that the various cultures of all population groups were expressed and exhibited. It was through the sharing and mutual appreciation of our common and diverse cultural heritage that we shall achieve national reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion. Policies and legislation enacted in the post-1994 period bore testimony to the vision designed to achieve this objective.

Departments, NGOs and other stakeholders had undertaken un-coordinated initiatives to preserve and popularise living heritage. But a government-led synergistic approach and community-driven strategies were required in developing a comprehensive programme that captures the imagination of all South Africans. The pioneers /champions/incubators of living heritage must be identified and given appropriate recognition.

Some of the aims and objectives of the Department was to celebrate our living heritage on the 10th anniversary of democracy and introduce and popularise the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The perception in the country was that National Days had become a preserve for the African section of the population. This militates against nation building, reconciliation and cohesion. Now the marketing strategies would have to be thought out in such a way that National Days and Heritage Days attract the wider South African public. DAC therefore proposed a different approach to the Heritage Month and Heritage Programme for 2004. The idea was to decentralise the programmes to accommodate provinces and municipalities so that the events generate interest among the diverse races in the country. These events would no longer be at the Union Buildings or any other one venue.

In the next five years, DAC also hopes to establish policy and legislation as well as a dynamic national inventory and a database of both Living Heritage and Living Human Treasures (icons of South African cultural heritage) - since the latter was disappearing almost every day.

Most importantly the sub-theme on restitution and the return of cultural property to its original owners had been recommended to be the fourth focus week of the Heritage Month. The idea was strongly influenced by the former Anti-Apartheid Movement of the Netherlands whose plan was to return the Dutch Anti-Apartheid material to South Africa. In a separate gesture, South Africa intended to return to Namibia archival and library material that had been kept in the country since the First World War.

DAC proposed four weeks to focus on the different elements of Living Heritage. Various stakeholders would provide details of how they plan to implement the programmes. The Department plans to forge a partnership with the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to ensure publicity for the programmes throughout the month. The partnership would include a panel discussion on indigenous/traditional knowledge and practices. The emphasis should be how these elements of traditional knowledge and practices could be used to deal with national priorities. Focus areas could include indigenous skills, medicine and healing techniques, oral history and oral tradition.

Week one would be for dance and music. This would be to demonstrate how these two activities had evolved over time in a multicultural society and how various cultures had mutually influenced one another through trans-culturation. The rationale behind this was to emphasise our common heritage that could serve as the building blocks for nation building and social cohesion. It would therefore be important to get elders to achieve this vision. The Department was working with the Universities of Venda, Zululand and Fort Hare in the collection and preservation of indigenous music, dance and oral history.

Week two would deal with the incorrect perception that exclusively associated indigenous/traditional knowledge and practices with the African section of the population. The production of food, medicine and ointments centuries ago were completely different from today and this was a common phenomenon among all the population groups. There was a lot that we could share in terms of how our ancestors engaged in judicious farming methods, how they made fire, how they dug gold and diamonds and how they conserved the environment.

Week three would profile icons of South African cultural heritage and their stories. The focus would be the achievements of individuals that had excelled in various aspects of Living Heritage.

Week four would consist of a national dialogue on the role of living heritage in moral regeneration, social cohesion, poverty alleviation, national building, reconciliation and forging a national identity. The Department would engage the nation in a discussion on how the various aspects of Living Heritage could be harnessed to grapple with these national imperatives.

Mrs D Van der Walt (DA) said there was a lot of talk about multi-lingualism and cultural tradition. It was important to look at the cultural groups that were previously neglected.

Ms SD Motubatse-Hounkpatin (ANC) said most people who knew oral history were ageing and she wanted to know whether there was any process of documenting this history to preserve it better. She commended South Africa for giving back what belongs to Namibia.

The Chairperson emphasised that preservation should be done before it was too late.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) was concerned about the role of the SABC in the National Dialogue. He said he was aware that the corporation would help in promoting the programmes, but he was concerned about the form this would take.

Mr L Greyling (ID) said the Heritage Month should not be an event but a process. He wanted to know whether the Department had taken such initiatives.

Mr Ndima said the programmes were very inclusive. They were designed for all South African citizens. The major concern was to get guidelines and advice because these programmes seemed to attract only certain sections of the population. The Department had met with stakeholders, provinces and universities to chart the way forward in order to embrace the nation.

The Department was looking at Living Heritage in its entirety. The idea was to document it for preservation. DAC would soon be proposing a five-year plan and wanted legislation for the most vulnerable aspects of our heritage.

Another important issue was to identify Living Heritage icons as they were being lost on a daily basis. The nation should not allow this to continue. It should make a plan to document their experiences.

On the role of the SABC, Mr Ndima said he would raise the matter with the Department to prevent undesirable results.

The Chairperson wanted an explanation of what was meant by certain section of the population. He was concerned that Parliament was not mentioned in the list of the role-players. He said he thought it would be the number one role-player.

Mr Ndima pointed out that whenever there was a Heritage Day or Freedom Day these were dominated by Africans. This was deliberated in DAC and with political principals. The idea was for all the cultural committees to give their input so that the events reflected the whole country. The Department needed Parliament for help.

Mrs N Mbombo (ANC) said it was difficult to find places rich with knowledge. There was herbal medicine for children and pregnant mothers. These medicines could now be found at Pick 'n Pay. She wanted to know where the Department could find them. Mr Ndima replied that DAC does not want the programme to be a departmental issue, but there should be an interdepartmental forum where these issues could be discussed.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) wanted to know how the Department intended setting the whole programme especially concerning the identification of living treasures. She also wanted to know whether DAC would welcome an input from Members. Mr Ndima said there was a challenge for DAC because there was no legal or policy instrument for this. For that matter there was no clear criteria to involve such people. The start would be to call experts to develop such criteria. But the initial phase was to work with provinces and municipalities to identify these people. It was important also that the process be transparent. MPs could help in this instance.

The Chairperson felt it was important for DAC to consult the South African Local Government Association about the process of identifying the icons. He said this should be a campaign.

Mr Sonto said there was a tendency to organise cultural events without any cultural activities. Even some cultural seminars were very European and this was anti-culture. The question of the language played a vital role here. People should speak their own languages in cultural activities. Another important thing was the cleansing of Afrikaans of its past. The language was misused to such an extent that it was hated.

Mrs Mbombo wanted to know whether heritage sites were in existence or were being built. Mr Ndima replied that there were sites that were still to be identified and others were being built.

Mr Greyling said it was important that culture be used to close the gap among the various groups in the country.

Mrs Van der Walt made a plea that Afrikaans should not be undermined. People concerned about the language should be brought on board as "we needed each other".

Mr CL Gololo (ANC) noted that there was a tendency to use foreign actors for locally based movies. He mentioned international actors playing the Steve Bikos and the Nelson Mandelas. He found this unacceptable. Mr Greyling said money was behind the whole thing and there was little anybody could do about this. Mrs Mbombo agreed, saying people who have money choose the actors. .

The Chair said it was now up to Members to take the initiative in promoting heritage.

The meeting was adjourned.



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