Speech by Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Hon Mafu, on the occasion of the opening of The 16th Annual National Oral History Conference held at The Steve Tshwete Banqueting Hall, Nkangala District, Mpumalanga

Programme Director

Executive Mayor

Amakhosi in Attendance

Deputy Ministers


Ladies and Gentlemen


This year's conference marks the Sixteenth Annual National Conference of the Oral History in South Africa. We are gathered here to take stock of the gains of our freedom and democracy since 1994. We are called upon to reflect on the beacons and hallmarks of our freedom. We accepted a Constitution that the world considered a watershed moment in our lives. For the first time, previously marginalised people felt their dignities are protected and respected. The Constitution became our shrine to continue to define our lives and how we live with others, as a non-racial and non-sexist nation.

Our gains include our efforts of building a new nation from a very difficult atrocious and divided past which was perpetuated by apartheid. We have used our heritage to develop a new collective memory that shapes our being South Africans. We had contested memories of the past, some of which were difficult to deal with, however, we have kept some in order to build a new nation anchored on peace, nation building, and reconciliation. The Oral History Programme is one of the instruments this Department wishes to use to correct the mistakes of the past. History, like Science, was used to project and create a myth that certain members of our population do not have a history, or cannot make history. The oral history project intends to challenge these misconceptions and stereotypes by ensuring that memories of previously marginalised communities are properly recorded and archived.

The National Archives of South Africa together with the Provincial Archives should play a catalytic role in mainstreaming oral histories of marginalised people and communities. We have in our plans a state of the art archives which will capture and store these memories. National Treasury has allocated R160 million to make sure that this state of the art National Archives is achieved within the MTEF period. This institution will reposition the role of archives in a developmental state. It should reclaim memories of people who were previously marginalised, and develop new oral archives.

OHASA and other organisations dealing with orality and oral documentation should assist the National Archives with the development, preservation and promotion of these oral archives. This will be done within the prescripts of intellectual property legislations in force. These efforts should recognise the existence of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and should explore how we can draw oral histories and collective memories from these indigenous repositories. To this end, President Ramaphosa has signed the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Act legally known as the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act . The aim of this piece of legislation is to provide legal protection for indigenous knowledge, i.e. knowledge generated and owned by communities. Such knowledge includes medical practices, the production of food products and cultural expressions, songs and designs. The new act aims to prevent the unauthorised use and misappropriation of knowledge developed over time by the country's indigenous communities. It will also place these communities at the centre of the commercialisation process and encourages the use of indigenous knowledge in the development of novel, socially and economically applicable products and services. This legislation is a very welcome relief for indigenous communities and the whole of South Africa. We are all aware that our indigenous knowledge systems were exploited with no commercial benefit to the holders of such knowledge. Now, this legislation will make sure that beneficiation favours the rightful owners!

Provincial Archives and Oral History

I implore provincial departments through the provincial archives to support the promotion of oral history in the districts and public institutions within the provinces. We are encouraged that some of the Provinces like Mpumalanga have taken the lead in organising and supporting Provincial conferences. These conferences should be platforms to tell community stories and to intellectually engage the stories collected. Funds should be made available to support these initiatives. No one is better placed than provinces to document neglected memories in the districts. Other provinces should follow the lead, and ensure that proper recordings are made, and interpretations follow. Academic institutions in these provinces should assist in developing the necessary human resource and training to help us realise these dreams.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Memory Preservation

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, better known as 4IR, should challenge us to embrace new technologies in the collection, protection, preservation and archiving of oral memories. There is a need to train young cadres to document oral histories taking advantage of these current developments in our country and the world. Opportunities for training and development should be prioritised to enable young practitioners to take care of our vanishing cultures. Oral archives and documentation centres should be supported to expand interests in oral history.

The Learners' training programme on family tree, clan names, family histories and Oral History Methodology is a very important initiative from my Department. This programme affords learners an opportunity to engage in research in their community, thus bringing the study of history closer to home. This allows learners to be active participants in the creation and interpretation of historical memory. I was fascinated to learn from the learners' interpretation that oral history is about a search of primary evidence; that this evidence is obtained from Gogo (elders) not Google. This is fascinating to see our children recreate and engage with the past in a meaningful manner. Exposure to Time Travel and other methodologies to study and interpret history will widen the scope of our learners on how to engage with evidence, written or oral. In this pursuit to train the learners, remember these are the citizens of the 21st century. Technology is the way to go. Introduce them to advanced technological tools of collecting, transcription and analysis of oral evidence.

African Languages and Memory

As a Department, we are committed to the use of South Africa's official languages and the promotion of heritage languages as enshrined in the Constitution. A policy on multilingualism has been enforced by making it not only feasible, but practically implemented in all public events and fora. The continued use of English at the expense of other official languages will lead to language loss, and eventually the loss of tangible and intangible heritage that we pride ourselves with.

The use of African languages in collecting and documenting memories is very important. The continued use of English in telling stories produced and transmitted in African languages will not only stifle the narratives, but will eventually perpetuate wrong interpretations, and eventually maim these languages. Our Constitution compels us to use these languages, and promote those that were marginalised. They should be used in public fora, including this conference. We encourage communities to tell their stories and document them in their languages. This is the only way we will guarantee that these languages as repositories of culture, heritage and values are preserved. It is also a human right matter to consider and recognise the use of people's languages. This year has been declared the Year of Indigenous Languages by UNESCO. The South African government also declared this year as such and a number of programmes have been developed in celebrating Indigenous Languages of South Africa. The International Year of Indigenous Languages aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation. As our young ones always talk in codes, The Year of Indigenous Languages in codes will be IY2019. For more information on IY2019 activities internationally, you can go to https://en.iyil2019.org

OHASA and Promotion of Oral Histories

The Department is committed to continue to support the collection, preservation and promotion of Oral histories and oral archives in the country. OHASA should take leadership in this task. We will explore other means in addition to the annual conference to better equip South Africans with the knowledge of how to better retrieve these memories. In collaboration with the National Archives, OHASA should expand its mandate to ensure all areas of memory are catered for. Collaboration with the schools will be improved. At provincial level, some memoranda of understanding have been reached with the Department of Education to allow for a better co-operation in respect of school sports, and arts in the schools. These initiatives are necessary because Oral History is a major component of the school curriculum. OHASA should support school programs that promote the teaching of Oral History. We want to see all provinces participating in the Annual Chief Albert Luthuli Oral History Competition. OHASA should create a platform to nurture these talents, and to support educators in this endeavour.

Your organisation, OHASA has a big challenge to ensure that as you promote the oral histories of the people, you should encourage the use of people's home languages. Interviews should be done in the languages of the people, and later interpretation should be done in the other languages, African languages in particular. As you continue to hold a conference and publish in English only, you are sending a silent protest against the other languages of the country. In addition, you send signals that suggest that it is not possible to engage intellectually in African languages. We should not be seen perpetuating colonisation even when the coloniser has left the helm, and we are in control of the ship.

Continental Building and Pan Africanism

Social cohesion is a key programme led by my Department to ensure that there is peace, unity and understanding of differences among the common people. These differences do not make us less or more important in relation to one another, but strengths to add value to one another. That we are different makes us special in the world, to be able to offer more to each other, and to the world. Our social cohesion program endeavours to facilitate a common consciousness as a people, a country and the continent. We are different but one; each is a part of the whole, no one is complete in isolation. We are united in our diversity.

The department defines social cohesion as the degree of social integration and inclusion in communities and society at large, and the extent to which mutual solidarity finds expression among individuals and communities. In terms of this definition, a community or society is cohesive to the extent that the inequalities, exclusions and disparities based on ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, age, disability or any other distinctions which engender divisions distrust and conflict are reduced and/or eliminated in a planned and sustained manner. We should strive for achieving this cohesive tread in order to consolidate our identity as a nation amongst other nations of the world.

Something that worries me is the spate of xenophophic attacks in South Africa. Our programs in social cohesion and oral history should help us eradicate this scourge. We pride ourselves with the foundations of our freedoms laid by esteemed African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Nelson Mandela, and their contemporaries. These leaders preached African unity and laid the foundations of a common consciousness as Africans. Some such as Gadhafi even went to the extent of advocating for a single Africa with a single President. These leaders have always seen Africa as one. During the fight against colonialism, they stood as one and supported each other's struggle against colonial rule until, and beyond independence. South Africa's independence was not achieved by our freedom fighters alone, international solidarity in various forms put pressure on the apartheid regime until it collapsed. Now we have the freedom we aspired for. It is unthinkable that we can show gratitude for our support by driving foreign nationals away. It is not botho, it is unethical and morally objectionable to bite the hand that feeds you. These people are our fellow brothers and sisters who face tremendous pressure in their countries and have come to our country for safety, and some for greener pastures as we South Africans do all over the world.

We need to keep in mind aspirations 2, 4 and 7 of the Africa we want enshrined in the AU's Agenda 2063 to which we are signatories.

Aspiration 2: An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and vision of Africa's Renaissance

Aspiration 4: A peaceful and secure Africa

Aspiration 5: Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics

Aspiration 7: Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global partner and player

We implore on OHASA and all delegates in this conference to help us make these visionary objectives a reality. South Africa should be seen working towards these grand pronouncements as part of the African continent. It all begins with education and training. Learners of the 21st century should be prepared to achieve the Africa we want.

I think, our school curriculum should teach more of our African history and cosmologies so that our children will pride themselves as Africans. OHASA should help us to address this big challenge of nation building and continent building. This will perhaps help our children to appreciate their Africanness, and how they relate to each other in the continent. We will support all initiatives to promote peace, nation building and continent building.

I wish you a fruitful conference over the next four days and am looking forward to getting your conference resolutions addressing all the challenges I left you with. With that, I hereby officially declare the 16th Annual National Oral History opened!

Thank You!

Source: Department of Arts and Culture