Minister Nathi Mthethwa: Launch of 2019 Heritage Month

2 Sep 2019

Speech by the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Hon. Nathi Mthethwa, at the launch of the Heritage Month at the National Library of South Arica, Tshwane Campus, Gauteng Province

Programme Director:
Deputy Minister; Hon. Nocawe Mafu    
Director General, Mr V Mkhize
DDG’s present
Members of staff of the Department
Members of the Media
Ladies and gentlemen

Fellow South Africans, I extend my warmest greetings to all of you. I stand before you today to launch heritage month.

The 2019 National Heritage Day celebration will take place in the Northern Cape, in the Siyanda District Municipality, in Upington. The choice of the District has a historical and heritage significance since this year has been declared “the International Year of Indigenous Languages” by the United Nations. The Siyanada District is home to a sizable number of the Khoi, San and Nama people, whose languages and dialects almost faced extinction as a result of colonial genocide our native land has ever seen.  

It is also to convey a message to these communities disadvantaged by successive colonial and apartheid administrations that in this new dispensation, they have a place and therefore their languages, culture, heritage matters.

The theme for the Heritage Month is:

“Celebrating South Africa’s literary classics in the year of indigenous languages”.

South Africa has a long and painful history of deep divisions, owing to the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. One of the manifestations of apartheid racism was to discriminate against people, not only on grounds of race, but also on such grounds as language and culture. African languages in particular were precipitously degraded and denigrated.

It is for this reason that during the negotiations, no effort was spared in guaranteeing language rights. This is reflected in the Constitutional injunction in Section 6 which states amongst others:

“Recognising the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous languages of our people, the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages…

Further in Section 6(3)(a) and 6(3)(b) that:  

“The national government and provincial governments may use any particular official languages for the purposes of government, taking into     account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of needs and preferences of the population as a whole or in the province concerned; but the national government and each provincial government must use at least two official languages. Municipalities must take into account the language usage and preferences of their residents”    

Consistent with this Constitutional injunction quoted above as the Department we have embarked on a number of initiatives to address these challenges. These are the following amongst others:  

Centre for the book

For the past few years we have had a collaboration with the centre for the book on the reproduction of African classics. These African classics are from across all the languages that are official in our country.  Attached as annexure is the list of the Classics reprinted so far.

Promote a Reading Culture

Reading, writing and critical thinking are fundamental to our functioning and well-being in today's society. The promotion of local content serves to tell the South African story, heighten self-understanding and deepen consciousness, forge a national culture, and assert South Africa’s pride of place in the world. 

Our work also focuses on the strengthening of book clubs. In partnership with the National Library we have the Funda Mzantsi reading initiative and competitions that bring members of 1 000 reading clubs together annually to encourage a reading culture especially in indigenous languages.

We continue to publicize reading through readathons at key literary events and specific literary programmes such as Book Fairs and Festivals. Notable among these are the SA Book Fair, the Abantu Book Fair, Children’s Book Festival and Open Book Fair. Through expanding National Book Week held in September and National Library Week held in March of each year we shall continue to publicize the importance of reading and instilling a love for books.

Institutional arrangements in the development of new lexicon for African languages

Since 2014, government has collaborated closely with institutions of higher learning in working towards further development and preservation of African languages. In this regard, at least a dozen lexicography and terminology development units were established and the fruits of that investment are also quite apparent, while also recognising that there still lies a mammoth task ahead. As part of the accomplishments so far, there has been publication of several dictionaries in African languages. In the last financial year alone we have produced dictionaries in all nine African Languages.

Bursary for language studies for undergraduate and postgraduate study

As part of developing a new cadre of language practitioners, the department has taken a proactive step and made an investment in terms of its bursary scheme to students majoring in African languages at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. At the moment we have 97 students who are studying towards their masters, these are not the first. Funding of the postgraduates is to ensure that there is a productive pipeline of researchers and scholars of African languages.

We have arrangements with a number of universities across the country who are training beneficiaries of this bursary scheme. Amongst them are the following:

  • University of Venda in Limpopo
  • University of Wits in Gauteng
  • Nelson Mandela University in Eastern Cape
  • University of North West
  • University of Western Cape in Western Cape Province

At the continental level the African Union has agreed to recognise Ki Swahilli as one of the official languages in their gatherings.

Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) at Basic Education

The Department’s commitment to language bursaries at tertiary level remains strong. The new policy within Basic Education of ensuring that all public schools will progressively introduce African languages as compulsory, to ensure that there is a guaranteed pipeline of students to take up African languages at tertiary level.

Creative Workers

Conscious of the role of language in the Nation Building and Social Cohesion project, the Department has always sought to maintain a close working relationship with writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals and many others in the creative stratosphere. Collectively, this creative breed articulate the nation’s collective desires, histories, heritage, culture, and its ways of being. In fact, they reflect in their works the nation’s collective conscience i.e. who we are as a people.

They are what Kenyan literary luminary and critic Ngugi wa Thiongo calls “the keepers of memory”.

“We have languages but keepers of our memory feel that they cannot store knowledge, emotions, intellect, in African languages. It is like at harvest you store your produce in somebody else’s granary. The result is that 99% of intellectual production in Africa is stored in European languages, a continuation of the colonial project”…

The positive and practical measures as indicated are meant to close this socio-historical gap wherein African languages were not seen as repositories of scholarship, research and thought.

To close the heritage month, the Department is planning a conference aligned to the International Literacy Day, International Translation Day and Indigenous Languages.

Thank you.