"The oral testimonies of the indigenous people, men and women, community leaders and ordinary people, who give a face to this country, need to be recorded if an all-inclusive history of South Africa is ever to be written"  
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF ARTS AND CULTURE, DR JOE PHAAHLA

AT THE 9TH ORAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH AFRICA CONFERENCE IN THABA NCHU ON 8TH OCTOBER 2012

As we meet here today we do so mindful of the fact that we have recently lost a stalwart of our struggle, a library of the nation, who did considerable work in telling the story of our nation through the print and electronic media and through creative interventions he helped build a culture of reading and writing,  Cde. Zwelakhe Sisulu.  He made a significant contribution to the public broadcaster, SABC.  He was the Editor of the New Nation. He formed the Media Workers Association and professionalised black journalism. This highly respected activist leaves a legacy of selfless service, humility and patriotism and will be sorely missed.  

In this context of preserving our stories and history, it is a great honour and privilege to address you during the 9th Oral History Conference in Thaba Nchu, Free State. We host this year’s conference in a year which the Department of Arts and Culture declared as the Year of Heritage. Indeed it is this year that the oldest liberation movement of Africa, the African National Congress celebrates 100 years of existence. It was formed in this province, in Mangaung. The theme of this year’s Conference is, “Oral history, communities and the liberation struggle: reflective memories in a post-apartheid South Africa”. 

 

Programme Director, this 9th Annual national Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA) conference is important in many ways. Besides having served as a platform for exchange of ideas, for sharing of research findings and an opportunity for skilling new oral history practitioners, the last eight conferences have also interrogated the past of South Africa and proposed new ways of understanding our history.

As the Ministry and the Department of Arts and Culture it is important that our work focuses on preserving our heritage, especially our liberation heritage and that through research and analysis, we continue to keep this history a living reality for new and future generations.

We have garnered support regarding the oral history conference and related projects.  In partnership with OHASA we have brought together in the same space school learners, community activists and academics. In this way we ensure that everyone plays a part. We recognize the value of organic intellectuals, whose links with communities and struggle are real, and whose efforts serve to nurture a new and vibrant consciousness.  

It is in this context that intangible heritage should be preserved, protected and promoted because through its practice we all begin to realize and understand the rare wisdom of our organic intellectuals in articulating traditions and knowledge that is still needed by modern communities that exist in a changing and global world.

This harmonious cooperation of people from diverse sectors epitomizes in practice the social cohesion that the government has been advocating.   Society is cohesive when it recognizes the challenges to nation building and reconciliation and seeks to find solutions together as one. In this instance it is an interest in history and instilling a national and community pride that brings people together.

Many experiences and histories of our liberation struggle have been excluded from the mainstream of the written history of South Africa.  Oral history provides a rich fountain of knowledge to close those historical gaps and to record the experiences of those of our people whose courage and selfless contributions made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms of democratic South Africa. 

In this conference we shall hear about experiences that one would normally not find in a text book.  We shall hear about the stories from those who enriched communities.  When their stories are told and listened to with dignity, the lives of those who have made a contribution on a national stage are affirmed and acknowledged.   And if we succeed to do just that, where all stories are deemed important, we shall have succeeded in our mission.

This year the President announced a number of heritage legacy projects to honour the heroes and heroines of our struggle for national liberation.

We must continue to produce an educated society because of the importance of knowledge in all aspects of human interaction

On the 11th October you will go out on an excursion to visit Dr Moroka’s house and grave. You will also visit the Wesleyan Church which together with the house and grave are part of our Heritage projects in this Province.

Guided by Dr Moroka’s vision of education of the African Child, we must continue to promote education, the study of history, the skill of teaching others.

For the past five years of it’s existence, OHASA has been hosting national oral history conferences in all the provinces of this country the mandate of OHASA is to care for and maintain intangible heritage as it plays a significant role in transmitting the cultural values, norms, beliefs and practices that bind families and communities together.

The National Archives as part of the Department of Arts and Culture, not only collects, protects and preserves our intangible knowledge, but also preserves documents for access to researchers and students. The Archives also provide freedom of information access to those who study our past. It is a valuable memory bank of our nation.

The late great historian, Eric Hobsbawm, says that “The 20th Century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it”.

What is required of all of us is to learn from the past and to share that knowledge and utilize everyone’s energies, enthusiasm, “capabilities” through collective action to transform our reality into a better life for all.   

The Archives prepares relevant historical documents to be registered in UNESCO’s Memory of the World. We wish them continued success in their good work.

History helps to point the way to the future as we act, conscious of past actions and present needs.

With these few words, may I wish you a successful 2012 conference.  May your deliberations bear fruit.  May the oral history activities grow in leaps and bounds in academic institutions and in previously marginalized communities.

I declare this conference officially opened!

 

 
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