Address by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms L Xingwana MP at the Islam Expo South Africa, Cape Town.
10 June 2009
Programme director, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen
As Salamu Alaykum
I am honoured to attend the official opening of the International Islam Expo, and humbled also, to have been personally invited to make a few comments on this occasion.
As we strive here in South Africa to build a people's culture, let us acknowledge our history and that the people of this country and our great continent as a whole have struggled for citizenship out of colonially imposed overlords, slavery, segregation and apartheid.
Within the context of this painful history of colonialism and slavery, the people of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Java came to the Cape of Good Hope and with them, brought cultural manifestations that would influence the social, cultural, and economic life of generations of South Africans.
It has been recorded in academic texts how slaves at the Cape were subjected to untold cruelty by their slave masters. These include unthinkable crimes such as brutal beatings and the pouring of hot liquid over an individual, which many times ended in death. Even though the slaves built houses, made clothing and furniture, built wagons, cooked food and cared for the children of their masters, they were excluded from enfranchisement. Today let us also pay tribute to them.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) in working with different global partners, has identified slave sites of significance and slave documentation, and is in the process of developing the slave route and the slave trade archives project.
The aim of the project is to break the silence around the transatlantic slave trade, the places of incarceration, the middle passage, the auctions, the slave bells and burial sites.
This was a time which is blight on the history of the global community.
Goree Island in Senegal, the narrow corridor leading to the slave vessels is a vision of hardships and silent agony of the slaves leaving their homeland into forced labour and more hardships.
So too Robben Island as a place of imprisonment across the sea for slaves and rebels, in the history of slavery was a symbol of violence, incarceration and deprivation for Muslim activists such as Taun Guru.
According to the New History of South Africa by Hermann Giliomee and Bernard Mbenga, Muslims arrived in the Cape also as exiles whom the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had dethroned in their Eastern colonial plunder.
Among the early political exiles was Sheik Yussuf, widely regarded as an Islamic saint, who arrived in Cape Town in 1694 with 49 followers. His home near Macassar Downs became a gathering place for Muslims and runaway slaves until his death in May 1699.
We pay tribute to the legacy of Sheik Yussuf and all those brave warriors who in the early years of colonial settlement offered resistance and fought for our freedom.
The history of the Muslim community therefore stretches from the colonial period to the advent of democracy in South Africa.
We cannot speak about the triumph of the human spirit, talk about our national identity, the development of our Rainbow Nation and our struggle for liberation without referring to all our South African communities. Liberation has a path stretching back to our ancestors, and this heritage of the Muslim community, is part of that path.
Yet we have succeeded in turning places of resistance and hardship into free spaces showing the triumph of the human spirit over suffering and imprisonment. Robben Island now represents a symbol of hope, a celebration of our heritage and a landmark of our freedom from oppression.
Along the western and eastern coasts of our country lie the shipwrecks of vessels which brought our ancestors as slaves to this country. These shipwrecks beneath the sea confirm the routes that were sailed, trampled, forged and the roots anchored in this country.
These shipwrecks speak of the spice trade and of long journeys from faraway places in the East. This is my history and this is your history, your home, your future.
The history of Islam is also inter-joined with the histories of places such as modern-day Iraq, or what is known as the historical Persia where the development of the paper mills in Baghdad and Samarkand had a direct impact on the establishment of public libraries.
Many works from antiquity were translated into Arabic and would otherwise have been lost to humanity had they not been preserved and made accessible in this manner.
The great historian, Ali Mazrui, in his documentary and book, The
Africans: A Triple Heritage, states that: "to know who you are is the beginning of wisdom."
He then proceeds to write about the African condition as the result of three main cultural influences and legacies these are traditional African culture, Islamic culture and Western culture. In a recent interview he speaks about the three civilisations in convergence and divergence. Mazrui believes that the knowledge of who we are and all the various influences upon us should empower Africans to be influential in the world.
On our continent, the South African government has worked with the Government of Mali to restore what is now known as the Timbuktu manuscripts, which are on display at this Expo. These manuscripts written in Arabic or Fulani are important writings about astronomy, music, botany, law, sciences and history.
We have also assisted in the building of the new Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu. This has been a successful cultural project of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
South Africa, as a secular state, upholds both freedom of religion as well as freedom of association within its constitution. What we want to build is a creative and critical nation. In this regard I want to emphasise the important role of the Department of Arts and Culture's implementing agencies, the museums in not only providing a platform for full cultural expression but also in fostering tolerance and social cohesion through the provision of accurate, unbiased depictions of the contributions made by South Africa's diverse communities and their leaders, towards democracy and freedom.
Here I would like to pay tribute to some of these leaders and the role they played in the democratization of South Africa. Let us acknowledge the contributions of great leaders such as former Minister, the late.
Dullah Omar, who provided legal advice to Robben Islanders and who dedicated many years of his life to work against the apartheid government.
I think too about Mr Ahmad Kathrada, a Rivonia Trialist who endured the hardships of Robben Island, who as a stalwart of the anti-Apartheid struggle embodies hope, courage and enduring humility and Mr Achmad Cassiem imprisoned on Robben Island for six years. Let us also acknowledge that there is a great deal more that we can do to preserve the memory and contribution of our citizens to our national heritage and culture.
We have to look at the role of our cultural agreements with Malaysia, Indonesia, and how these countries stood with the South African people in the struggle against apartheid. The current relations with these countries are built on these foundations.
As a country and as a people who take social cohesion and nation building seriously, we have to pay tribute to and learn from the humanism at the heart of Muslim community.
This humanism is expressed in the support, both financial and physical, that the Muslim community shows in times of distress to other non-Muslim communities, such as in times of floods and the recent cholera outbreak.
As well as the manner in which South African Muslims support Palestinians on the West bank by providing food parcels and in other areas of needs. These ethics must be strengthened within all our communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us pause on the influences and traditions of the Malaysian, Indonesian and Javanese people on the cuisine of South Africa. Who can forget the tantalising smells and aromas and the taste of a mix of spices. However, it is not always known how the spices brought from Malaysia and Java to the Cape, influenced the bredies, the bobotie and the rice dishes cooked by slaves in the households of the Boer and English masters. Spices such as nutmeg, cumin, ginger, chilli and allspice, have become essential in the South African cuisine.
There are also skills and trades, such as sewing, woodwork and leather-making, which were introduced in the Cape, the Islamic belief, the influences on our architecture with the development of the mosques, such as the Auwal Mosque here in Cape Town. The Auwal Mosque was established in the late 18th century and Tuan Guru, or Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam was the first Imam at the mosque. Tuan Guru's Kramat is located in the BoKaap.
Afrikaans owes a debt to Arabic, not only for the words which have been brought into the Afrikaans language, but also through the efforts of Abubakr Effendi who translated Arabic scripts in the languages of the slaves, such as Afrikaans, in order to teach them about Islam.
These are the traditions embedded in our souls and which we take forward as part of what it means to be South African and part of our national identity. As we strive to enrich the soul of this nation through ensuring that arts are for all, I wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Within a climate of ever more pressing economic hardship we should look to each other to augment our efforts to overcome this global phenomenon, which affects each one of us, no matter our creed or beliefs.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Arts and Culture 10 June 2009