UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Foreign Cultural Exchange Agreements: Minister’s briefing

Arts and Culture

06 April 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

6 April 2005


Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Department budget
Committee Programme, 1st term 2005
Draft Committee Programme, 2nd term 2005

The Minister explained that United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites in South Africa were in danger of being delisted and that steps were being taken to prevent this. He further discussed cultural exchange agreements with other countries. Members inquired why these sites were in such danger, and what was being done to encourage the use of indigenous languages. The Committee was not satisfied in general that the Minister had refused to discuss the Department budget with them prior to its introduction in the National Assembly.


Minister’s briefing
The Minister explained that South Africa had participated in the UNESCO World Heritage Conference in Shanghai, China, in 2004. It had been agreed that South Africa would host the next conference in July 2005 in Durban. An issue discussed in Shanghai was the inequity in the number of heritage sites in Nothern hemisphere countries compared to those in the Southern hemisphere.

Another issue was that many of the listed World Heritage Sites in Africa were in danger of being delisted for failing to meet UNESCO maintenance standards. Poor countries had been unable to maintain the sites and it has been a problem throughout Africa. Robben Island was among the sites in danger of being delisted. The Ministry had convened a meeting of African experts in Somerset West on March 18-19 to address this problem. That meeting had agreed on the need to establish a fund for the maintenance of Africa’s World Heritage Sites.

South Africa’s heritage sites were of natural, scientific, or historical significance. Ministers agreed that the primary responsibility for World Heritage Sites would fall to the Ministry of Arts and Culture. The Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism would focus on nature sites while the Ministry of Science and Technology would take a special interest in sites of scientific importance. Proposed new World Heritage Sites were the Kimberley Mines, Pilgrim’s Rest, the Pleistocene Occupation, the Alexandria coastal dunes, and others. Delegates to the July 2005 UNESCO meeting would likely be impressed by Africa’s ability to address these issues and preserve its sites. The Ministry invited the involvement and presence of Members.

The Ministry had agreed to cultural exchanges with Sweden, Ghana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Gabon, Tunisia, Canada and Mexico in the last year. The Ministry had sent 120 artistic performers to Mexico’s largest cultural festival in October, and their performances had been well received. Mexico would send a delegation to South Africa this year. The Ministry has been discussing terms of the agreement with Tunisia and the Minister planned to visit Ghana to discuss terms this year. Such agreements had not only leveraged resources, but encouraged further cultural exchanges.

There has been a decline in the study of indigenous languages in South Africa. The Ministry has considered publishing an arts journal. A publisher in Cape Town planned to publish three books in Xhosa this year. Hopefully this would encourage other publishers to do the same.

Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) asked if the Ministry had spoken to established English and Afrikaans publishers about publishing books in indigenous languages. Surely they could help?

Mr R Sonto (ANC) asked what cultures had been showcased by South Africa in its exchange agreements.

Mr C Gololo (ANC) questioned why Robben Island was in danger of being delisted as a World Heritage Site.

The Minister answered that the established English and Afrikaans publishers would probably be able to promote the use of indigenous languages. South Africa had not historically been a ‘reading nation’ and publishers were wary of taking risks. Established publishers had the resources, experience and economies of scale to take those risks but had been conservative thus far. Paper was expensive due to the industry being monopolised my three companies. The Minister had told the Minister of Finance that high duties on imported books were discouraging South Africans from reading. Distribution of books had been monopolised by Central News Agencies (CAN) and Exclusive Books. The Ministry had considered matching funds with publishers to share the risk of printing books in indigenous languages.

Ms D Van Der Walt asked if the Ministry had considered subsidising th eprinting of books in indigenous languages.

The Minister answered that subsidies had been considered. The Ministry had showcased South Africa’s diversity in its cultural exchange agreements. The delegation to Mexico consisted of performers of various races who had exhibited various art forms. UNESCO had high standards for maintenance of World Heritage Sites. The problems at Robben Island regarded management of the site, but not with the merit of the site itself.

The Chairperson said that solutions should be found for the lack of interest in reading. The historical stigma associated with the use of indigenous languages needed to be overcome.

Mr L Zita (ANC) said that South Africans had been ‘deculturing’ their children since 1994. Teaching indigenous languages should be a priority.

Mr M Khumalo (ANC) asserted that Robben Island had become a commercial enterprise. Travelling to the island by ferry cost R150 and the site was thus not accessible to the general public. Crafts needed to be regulated.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) asked when the Minister would brief Members on his budget.

The Minister answered that it was not customary for a Minister to brief Committees on the budget before the budget vote has been taken in Parliament. The problem with the lack of interest in reading has been compounded by high rates of illiteracy. Members should take an active interest in libraries and schools in their constituencies. The government managed the Robben Island museum but was not concerned with transport to the island. It was only the government’s duty to manage the museum. There is no way to regulate the craft market.

Mr M Ngema said that the Minister’s refusal to brief Members on his budget had disempowered them to support him when it would be voted on in Parliament. The Minister reiterated his feeling that it would be unusual for a Minister to brief the Committee on the budget prior to the budget vote.

The meeting was adjourned.



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