Reflecting on Africa's human treasures

Africa’s cultural icons on Monday took part in a webinar aimed at celebrating the continent’s living human treasures.

The webinar, organised by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) created a platform for arts and heritage practitioners in the African Union (AU) member States to exchange best practices in celebrating Africa’s heritage systems, values and attitudes in the digital world.

The CEO of the National Arts Festival and Grahams town Foundation, Monica Newton, said in February this year, they started planning for scenarios impacted by COVID-19.

Newton said her festival team went from building venues to building a website that could host a festival.

Newton said the arts sector imagined a new world, a new medium and a new audience engaged through the eye of a camera.

“Income opportunities for artists and the technical production services sector were created. New audiences were reached locally and abroad.

“Significant goodwill with the arts sector was created through both the process, publicity and income opportunities presented to artists. It generated significant publicity and grew the social media presence of the festival significantly,” Newton said.

The festival’s long-term sponsors and partners have continued to lend their support.

“Our virtual gallery and virtual green spaces will continue to be hosted to build the online audience base and test the viability of online models for the festival.

“We used to talk about a ‘post-COVID’ future but it is now clear that we will be living with the pandemic for some time,” she said.

Newton said to survive COVID-19, they are going to need the help and support of every art lover, artist, government and every possible business partner.

Renowned jazz musician Jimmy Dludlu said the changes brought on by COVID-19 are extremely challenging, especially for musicians.

“These days as artists, we have to come up with new innovative ways to adapt to the new normal.”

Opening up to new experiences

It is Dludlu’s extensive travels around the world that have made him open to being adaptable. One of the things he has learned from is diverse cultures, particularly other African languages.

“Throughout the world, I was exposed to many people and that made more interested in other languages and other people’s heritages,” Dludlu said.

Dludlu said young people must be taught about the country’s heritage and preserve it.

“My dream is to build a digital icon for our young people. We need to find a way to preserve all our continent’s different cultures and heritages. In our continent, we have a rich culture,” he said.     

Director-General of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, Vusumusi Mkhize, said the month of September is a time when South Africans take pride in their rich and diverse cultural heritage and many languages, cultural practices, belief systems and diverse skills and knowledge systems.

“These are our elders who have preserved and excelled in the preservation of our indigenous knowledge that they inherited from elders within their communities.

“Our indigenous knowledge has been systematically denigrated and at times destroyed by colonial and apartheid authorities across the continent,” Mkhize said.

Africa has also produced distinguished women and men, who have contributed to the liberation of the continent.

“We owe a great deal to the dedication of these compatriots,” Mkhize said.

He said there is a need to take lessons from knowledge holders, past and present.

“Our liberation heroes and heroines fought to liberate our continent from colonial subjugation. Our Living Human Treasures are still preserving the indigenous knowledge of our continent.”

GCIS Director-General Phumla Williams said the webinar was a platform for arts and heritage practitioners in the AU member States to exchange best practices in celebrating Africa’s heritage systems.

“These important sessions continue to create a platform for exchanging ideas and information on best practices,” she said.

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