Future Africa at UP hosts culture and development seminar

Posted on April 03, 2019

Scholars of art, culture and heritage met at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus, next to its Experimental Farm, in Hillcrest, Pretoria, recently to discuss the role and relevance of culture to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the African Union 2063 Agenda and the National Development Plan. They also discussed how this relationship should practically inform development strategies and cultural policy.

From the discussions, which were chaired by Professor Bernard Slippers,  Director of Future Africa, it emerged that the Sustainable Development Goals and South Africa’s National Development Plan were relatively silent on culture, while the Africa Union’s long-term development plan Agenda 2063, affirmed the importance of culture as one of its seven aspirations.

Aspiration five envisages “An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. By 2063, it is envisaged that Pan Africanism will be fully entrenched, the African renaissance would have reached its peak and Africa’s diversity in culture, heritage, languages and religion would be a cause of strength, including the tangible and intangible heritage of Africa’s island.”

Annabell Lebethe, CEO of Ditsong Museums of South Africa, said: “Development in South Africa has excluded culture from development conversations, although culture allows for communities to have mutual respect for others. It allows for a sense of purpose and contributes towards social cohesion. All communities should have multifunctional arts and culture centres, particularly in less-resourced areas.”  

Presenter of the discussion paper and artist-in-residence at UP, playwright and President of the African Cultural Policy Network, Mike van Graan, said that structural inequalities in economic, political and military power persist at global, regional and national levels. These instruments of ’hard power’ are employed to pursue and secure national or group interests, through means such as development aid, military intervention and political sanctions. Culture is the domain of ‘soft power’, but no less important in perusing and securing interests, for it is through culture that citizens internalise values, ideas and perspectives that support or perpetuate particular interests. It is through culture that individuals and communities become meaningful and establish their identities.”  

He said decision-makers and politicians were reluctant to embrace culture in their decision-making and strategies for a number of reasons. “Culture is such a nebulous, contested and vague concept for many that it is difficult to define metrics in relation to whether progress has been made in cultural terms.”  Another reason could be that culture is often used to defend or justify what progressives would consider to be backward or reactionary practices.  “And yet, development may only be sustainable if it respects and takes cognisance of the values, worldviews, traditions and belief systems – in short, the culture – of the intended beneficiaries.”

This was the first of a series of monthly seminars that interrogate culture and the arts in relation to social, human and economic development.

For live stream go to: https://youtu.be/W3MSzI-NhX4

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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