On 25 May 1963, Africa made history with the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. To commemorate this historical event, the month of May is celebrated as Africa Month and 25 May as Africa Day. This year, the Department of Arts and Culture’s calendar was packed full of exciting celebrations under the theme ‘Celebrating 25 years of Democracy: Building a Better Africa and a Better World’.
Africa Day is intended to celebrate and acknowledge the successes of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU now the AU) in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, as well as the progress that Africa has made, while reflecting upon the common challenges that the continent face in a global environment, since its creation on 25 May 1963. Representatives of 30 African nations met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hosted by Emperor Haile Selassie, to form the OAU. By then, more than two-thirds of the continent had achieved independence, mostly from imperial European states. A charter was set out which sought to improve the living standards across member states.
Africa Day is celebrated as a means to create, maintain and increase awareness for the public at large, as well as create African Unity through activities to showcase African cultural diversity in various aspects. Each year, the day has a different theme to commemorate the founding of the OAU/AU to highlight African solidarity, unity in diversity, creativity, challenges and successes, and the cultural and economic potential of our continent.
The AU has shifted focus from supporting liberation movements in the erstwhile African territories under colonialism and apartheid, as envisaged by the OAU in 1963, to an organisation spearheading Africa’s development and integration. A vision of a new, forward-looking, dynamic and integrated Africa is being fully realised and South Africa is set for a big 2020 on the international stage after it was announced that its president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will be chairing the AU next year.
The Chairperson of the AU is selected by the Assembly following consultations by the Member States. The office of the Chair of the AU is held for a period of one year by a Head of State or Government and the last South African to hold this honour was Thabo Mbeki in 2002/3. The current Chairperson of the AU is H.E. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.
Today, Africa Day is celebrated in most African countries on the continent and in countries around the world. This year, the Department of Arts and Culture’s calendar of activities during Africa Month reflects this vision of a new, forward-looking, dynamic and integrated Africa.
Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa opened the Celebrate Africa Carnival and Festival in Durban as part of the 2019 South African Africa Month celebrations to celebrate unique African identity and cultural expressions.
‘The month of May marks Africa Month – a moment for the continent to pause, reflect, commemorate and celebrate our Africanness, and to promote the African agenda that embraces peace and stability, democracy, non-racial, non-sexist, unity and prosperity,’ says Minister Mthethwa.
The 2019 edition of the Celebrate Africa Carnival and Festival commenced with a parade of dance troops from nine African countries that brightened the streets of Durban, showcasing Africa’s creativeness through floats, large 3D costumes, acrobats, dancers and an eclectic mix of music.
The parade featured various troops like Amabutho, Nigerian dance troops, Amajaha from Eswatini, drum majorettes, bikers, Omama bendlamu, drummers from Burundi, stilt walkers, floats, brass bands, various dancers and more.
Njabulo Sokhela, project manager of the event, welcomed all representatives from the different countries on the continent. He noted that the ten countries participating (South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Burundi, Eswatini, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia) all agreed to a ‘No to xenophobia, afro phobia’ policy and zero tolerance for fellow African brother hate.
Also in Durban, the fifth Zakifo Music Festival landed on its shores with a series of intimate pop-up concerts in venues in and around the city and hosted more than 25 acts from ten countries in a myriad of genres and styles. Artists participated in a series of concerts, workshops, industry talks and artists collaborations.
This year, the Zakifo Music Festival occupied some of Durban’s most happening venues: Durban Botanic Gardens; The Werehouse; the historic Winston Hotel and adjoining Origin Nightclub and Rainbow Restaurant.
Other activities hosted by the Department of Arts and Culture included the fifth annual Live Event Technical Production Conference (LETPC), initiated by the South African Roadies Association (SARA). It’s the only conference of its kind on the African continent and occurred at a critical time in the development and growth of sector skill demand in a market place set upon by the fourth industrial revolution and the digital economy.
We Are Africa Film Festival (WAFF) took place during Africa Month in different provinces to promote African cinema. The film festival aimed to strengthen political, economic and social integration among African countries and is a way to foster social cohesion and African ethics and values.
A Youth Forum took place in Ekhuruleni to bring together African youth to deliberate and find solutions to challenges facing the Continent today. The Forum also focused on the role of culture in responding to global warming and the fourth industrial revolution, while Bassline hosted a two-day programme at the Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg with a programme that focused on dialogues celebrating 25 years of democracy.
The annual Collins Chabane Heritage Festival is the champion of culture and traditional music, dance and arts in the Vhembe region and Limpopo as a whole, while the African Legendary Queens project, which took place in Nelson Mandela Bay, aimed to honour the women of Africa for the exceptional work they do to unite our continent. This year, the legends Charlotte Maxeke, Cecilia Makiwanan, Letta Mbulu, Dorothy Masuku and Winnie Madikizela Mandela were honoured for their hand in getting South Africa where it is today.
For the Africa Month Colloquia in Durban, leading Jamaican/British writer and intellectual, Linton Kwesi Johnson gave a talk and reading and ran a poetry workshop at the Luthuli Museum in KwaDukuza. In Gauteng, the lecture focused on ‘African solidarity: strengthening the African agenda between Africa and its diaspora in the arts, culture, language and the environment’. Johnson spoke on the theme ‘Celebrating African Literary Legends’. This session also featured the work and life contribution of living literary legend Don Mattera (born in 1935), who was part of a reading panel that included James Matthews and Diana Ferrus. Mattera is renowned for his involvement in the Black Consciousness movement, for helping form the Union of Black Journalists, and is known for his poetry and his autobiography, Memory is a Weapon. Literary legends were invited to pay tribute to him and to celebrate the lives of other authors.
This is also the year of the 90th birthday of James Matthews, one of our illustrious literary legends, whose writing wove black consciousness into South African poetry. SA History Online indicates that ‘Matthews became, through his poetry, a leading articulator of the Black Consciousness philosophy, which propagated the notion of self-reliance to counter the insidious dehumanisation of black people.’ His first published collection, Cry Rage, co-authored with Gladys Thomas, became the first poetry collection to be banned by the apartheid regime. He established the first black-owned art gallery in Cape Town and set up his own publishing house, BLAC. He received a national order in 2004.
!Kauru Contemporary African Art’s contemporary visual art exhibition and counting opened at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) on 23 May and will run until 14 July 2019. It is curated by Tšhegofatso Mabaso (South Africa) and Julia Taonga Kaseka (Zambia). A workshop entitled Creative Conversations: Youth and the Future of Art will take place on 18 June 2019 from 10:00 to 14:00.
Currently in its eighth year, !Kauru Contemporary African Art continues to be a leader in unique and innovative arts content to activate the cultural and creative industries and stimulate local and continental cultural exchange.
Through and counting, !Kauru Contemporary Art reflects on South Africa’s 25 years of democracy, on the internal construction of the nation that is South Africa and takes stock of this important moment in time. The exhibition features the works of Aaron Mulenga (Zambia), Daut Makala (Zambia), David Koloane (SA), Ernest Cole (SA), Gladys Kalichini (Zambia), Henry Tayali (Zambia), Nicholas Hlobo (SA), Nyaniso Dzedze (SA), Ranjith Kally (SA), Sam Nhlengethwa (SA), Stary Mwaba (Zambia), Turiya Magadlela (SA) and Wesley Hlongwane (SA).
and counting initiates a conversation between South Africa and Zambia and engages with contemporary conditions, taking into consideration how advancement and progress are often measured through accumulation and the passing of time.
and counting seeks to engage archives as a means through which to confront the issue of collective history/ies while also looking at works that exist outside institutional archives and collections. The title of the exhibition also seeks to question the very nature of archives as ongoing sites of accumulation and history, while also questioning these ideas around collective and shared history in two very different contexts, when it comes to the notion of institutional archives. What does it mean to draw from a public collection such as that of JAG, and to place works in conversation with those from private collections in Lusaka, due to the absence of institutional collections? How is national identity fostered, considering the danger of nationalism, and its perpetuation of unity through sameness as one of the root causes of several issues that mar the daily existence of various groups of people? When do we make room to engage spirituality and the ancestral voice in the space of collective memory and archives?
During Africa Month there were also fashion and craft shows, the Love and Hope Africa Festival, the Kwadabeka Africa Day Celebration, the Golden Rhino Cultural Heritage Show, and the Annual Celebration of African Indigenous Cusine – all in all, a wonderful showcase of the colours, flavours, and cultures of the African continent.
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