Dancing to Express Cultural Heritage In South Africa, music and rhythm flow through the veins of the people and are passed down from generation to generation


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Eduarda Sahlit

It is very clear that music, dance and rhythm play an important role in the lives of South-African people. When they are born, they are “pushed” into the world by music, and as they grow older music seems to guide them dancing until they’ve reached the end.

What happens is that, in the South African context, the act of dancing is alive mainly because of its cultural heritage aspect. Is there the “dancing just because” type of corporal expression? Thinking about it: maybe not. Most likely, any act of dancing in South Africa will always carry in it the bagage that has been passing from generation to generation. Because once it´s been introduced, it only gains strength and cannot be “hacked” anymore. South Africa, then, has preserved the original purpose of dancing, and – sorry if you don’t get it yet – that in the universe of file keepers for the history of humanity is a lot!

But anyhting written here will have the ability to communicate with the proficiency, the strategy or the elegance of someone born and grown in the original context.

Reading through the speeches and messages of HE Nathi Mthethwa, South African Minister of Arts & Culture, on Facebook, one text standed out. One that transmits the purpose of dancing exactly like it should be, in the proper way. This clarifying speech is transcribed below. Since the Honorable Minister was speaking to a specific public during a ceremony, he refers directly to the people who were there. Please just ignore the mentions and dive into the magic of cultural heritage!


The text below was reproduced under previous consent and exactly as posted on the Facebook Page of HE Nathi Mthethwa, South African Minister of Arts & Culturehttps://www.facebook.com/pg/NathiMthethwaSA.



Speech by Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa


“African dance has traditionally played an important role in the culture of all of the continent’s indigenous nations and cultural groupings. South Africans are known for having rhythm in their blood, and it is this innate quality that makes them so expressive.

Far from being merely entertaining, South African dance is about communicating emotions and celebrating community life. Indeed dance in South Africa is an expression of cultural heritage. It is a means of imbibing social values and patterns; it is in every sense the mirror reflection of the life in the community.

This is South African dance in particular and it is nothing short of being a celebration of life itself.

Program Director, allow me to pause on this point of “celebration of life itself”, as it is my duty to remind you all, that 2018 is the year that the Government I serve has designated as “The Year of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela” and “The Year of Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu”, in recognition that had they been alive, this year would mark the Centenary, that is, 100 years of age, had they been alive.

Both these forebears and gallant fighters in the struggle for the total liberation of South Africa and her people are renowned for their love of music. Who can ever forget the vivid image of the smiling Nelson Mandela, doing his famous “Madiba jive”? It is also former President Mandela who said and I quote… “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world… And at peace with myself.

It is here, in South Africa, where music and rhythm is not just skin deep but it flows through the veins and is passed down from generation to generation.

The Radzambo Cultural Dancing competition includes various cultural groups from diverse ethnic communities within the Vhembe District and Limpopo Province including VhaVenda, VaTsonga, Bapedi, Balobedo and others who have competed in the knock-out series of various categories.

Cultural Dance is of utmost importance in the expression of group cultural heritage. Through it, we tell other people, on what are the things that they need to know about our individual cultural identities.

It is also the way that other people could have respect, knowledge and give importance to our traditions and norms.

It is through the expression through practical forms of culture that we tell others what our stories are as a people.

Program Director, allow me to put it to you, that

when you show me how you dance, you show me who you are.

You tell me your story, because indeed it is true that when Africans dance, there is a story behind the way in which they dance.

At times, I find myself embroiled in debates where the sector of Arts, Culture and Heritage, are subject to comparison with other sectors, and it is often suggested that these are perhaps lesser knowledge and skills than other disciplines in life.

Dance, as an expression of culture is of equal with the other arts, languages, mathematics, sciences and the humanities in the general education of every child.

I make the point, and very passionately so… That

Culture and Heritage is compulsory for equity in educating the whole child. Culture and Heritage are compulsory in maintaining a strong sense of self in every individual: young and old.

Here we are today, witnessing age old traditional dance which has been passed down from generation to generation, and it is precisely because of this annual celebration in the form of, that the cultures represented here today, including the VhaVenda, VaTsonga, BaPedi, Balobedo are not dying, but are being preserved and will continue to be preserved in order that subsequent generation that will be born in this place, this district, and this province, will forever know who they are as a people, despite the world that is evolving around them, together with culture – which I’m sad to note -, results in the dying of culture in its purest form.

Yet, it is through magnificent celebrations and displays of our culture; through ceremonies such as this Radzambo Traditional Dancing Competition, that I cannot confidently state, that the cultures I have already mentioned will never die.

It is through traditional dancing that people get acquainted with one or another’s culture, because as I said earlier Program Director,

“When you show me how you dance, you show me who you are.”

As I prepare to conclude my remarks allow me to state that the Government of South Africa and numerous governments internationally and on this continent have signed agreements on co-operation in the fields of Arts and Culture since 2009.

Areas of focus include heritage, film, music, theatre, exhibitions, festivals, song and dance, cuisine, cultural economy, institutional collaboration and other multidisciplinary activities.

Through the Department of Arts and Culture’s “Cultural Seasons Program” emphasis has been placed on arts, culture and heritage and made these the centre of efforts to create sustainable livelihoods, skills development and economic growth amongst others.

The “Cultural Seasons Program” which cyclically sees me taking the best practitioners in the creative sectors across the world in order to showcase the best that South Africa has to offer, and by so doing, strengthen people to people relations between the government of South Africa and the countries we host the “Cultural Season” in harmonize policies, share skills and expertise;

develop new paths and partnerships for SA cultural goods and promote cultural diplomacy as part of Government’s broader socio-economic agenda.

Your Majesty, allow me to make this commitment here today, that if the Department of Arts and Culture is be genuine in ensuring that the best of our creative sectors deserve to represent South Africa in the “Cultural Seasons Program”, then it is only befitting that the winning dance troupe of this competition accompany me on one of the upcoming “Cultural Seasons”.

I conclude with the words of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize… “Culture is coded wisdom… Wisdom that has been accumulated for a thousand years and generations. Some of that wisdom is coded in our ceremonies, it is coded in our values, it is coded in our songs, in our plays, in our dances…”

Program Director, the culture of the VhaVenda, VaTsonga, BaPedi, Balobedo and all the peoples who have competed in the various categories of this competition, is culture coded wisdom in the form of this Radzambo Traditional Dancing Competition.

Long may it continue.

I thank you.”