Address by Nelson Mandela at the opening of the Cultural Development Congress at the Civic Theatre, Johannesburg

25 April 1993

Compatriots and comrades in the struggle for democracy,
Friends of the people of South Africa,
Arts and cultural practitioners from all over the world,
Distinguished guests,

Before the messages of condolence have even stopped pouring in, to console us on the assassination of our beloved Comrade Chris Hani, we have now been dealt another blow with the loss of our beloved National Chairman, my brother and friend, Oliver Tambo. Please stand for a moment of silence as we salute him.

At this time I can only say that I am bereft because I have lost my dearest brother and lifelong friend. We grieve deeply for his family and for the terrible loss to this country. Our strategist has left us as we approach the goals he set for us, but his spirit is embodied in all our work.

Oliver Tambo believed in the efficacy of culture to make us whole and to give us a richer quality of life. The ANC's policies on the arts and culture stemmed to a large extent, from his vision, understanding and initiative, ANC choirs internationally, the Amandla cultural ensemble, the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, and even the ANC logo emerged from his inspiration.

During this coming week you will be involved in deliberations to examine and explore the cultural possibilities in a democratic South Africa, which is yet in embryo. Your task will be to look at ways in which this torn country can be reconstructed in part through the rich threads of culture.

Through the destructive and violent legacy of apartheid, where the sanctity of life has no meaning, we have inherited the culture of death and destruction. To the White minority regime, torture, detention, carnage, and massacre were the principal weapons used to keep it in power. Dispossession and displacement, grief and anger have become the accepted hallmarks of our existence.

It is our hope and fervent belief that the universal language of culture will show us ways in which to transform and heal the consciousness of all our people. Let it be said here that throughout these long years of bitter struggle our compatriots have sustained an amazing degree of humanity. Their courage and tolerance, and their resilience have been, in themselves, attributes derived from the culture of liberation.

During the worst years of repression, when all avenues of legitimate protest were closed by emergency legislation, it was the arts that articulated the plight and the democratic aspirations of our people. This affirmation was demonstrated through drama, dance, literature, song, film, paintings and sculpture that defined the silence that apartheid sought to impose. The secret of apartheid was revealed universally, and severely condemned by the world at large. It was the Cultural Boycott that became one of the most effective weapons in isolating racist South Africa.

We thank the international cultural community for their solidarity, and for the pressures that they exercised, sometimes at great personal loss. It is also a fact that during those long years many of our own artists were trained and nurtured abroad through the offices of some of you here.

We believe that the links that were forged during the period of enforced exile and imprisonment will continue to serve as a source of mutual inspiration for all of us in the future.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing any nation in transition is to move from protest, defiance and resistance to building and reconstruction. Similarly, in our own case, we have to move from slogans and rhetoric to constructive and concrete programmes that will actually engage our beleaguered people, black and white.

We are fortunate in the diversity of our nation, and it is through cultural cross fertilization that we can transcend the differences that apartheid has sought to exploit. We must empower our people through programmes of education and literacy through the vehicle of culture, so that we can all begin to share and understand our richness and diversity. We must also encourage the return to centre stage of all those powerful indigenous arts that were usurped by metropolitan cultures.

The ANC's Department of Arts and Culture, during its many years in exile, has institutionalised a mode of cultural consultation in its broadest sense... beginning with CASA in Amsterdam, followed by Gaberone Culture & Resistance Conference to Zabalaza in London. We were building stepping stones to today's Conference.

The ANC does not own or territorialise culture: creativity has no fences or boundaries and expression is free. All of South Africa is part of this building process, as are you, our foreign representatives of the world at large. Use this conference to help us and encourage us.

We too will die, but that which we collectively contribute to our national cultural identity will live for ever, beyond us. We say to this Conference, begin today! Bridge the chasm, use tolerance and compassion, be inclusive not exclusive, build dignity and pride, encourage freedom of expression to create a civil society for unity and peace. We remain confident that a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist State will be established in South Africa sooner rather than later. Our demand is for an election date now, for the establishment of the TEC to ensure joint control of the security forces.

We are already on the road to free and independent broadcasting, and all our other institutions, including cultural institutions, must follow suit.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation