Spreading the Word in the Name of Nelson Mandela Minister of Arts & Culture heads delegation in Brasilia this week

Minister of Arts & Culture visits Brazil for Cultural Exhanges

Text by Eduarda Sahlit

Photos by GovernmentZA

License (CC BY-ND 4.0)


Interview with

South African Minister of Arts and Culture

Minister Nathi Mthethwa


This is a very special year for South Africa and for the world. Nelson Mandela’s Centenary, the year in which the whole planet gathers around the ideals of social justice, true democracy and freedom of information, is being celebrated by people from different backgrounds, races and religions, because it transcends all labels created by men.

Nelson Mandela is about human beings, and in that matter we are all the same.

Because of his vision and the courage of speaking out to the world what he believed was the truth, today we can experiment innovative ideas such as “creative economy”, “knowledge societies” and “sustainable development”.

Today, Mandela has representatives whose main mission is to spread his legacy. Sout African Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr. Nathi Mthethwa, is one of his spokesmen. This week he is visiting Brasilia, capital city of Brazil, where the South African government is holding many cultural activities and discussing opportunities for further cooperation with its BRICS partner.


Brasilia in English (BE) – Africa is such a happy continent. Recently, I had the opportunity of reading an interview by Bill Gates, who has been traveling a lot to Africa lately, and he is amazed at the positivity of African young people. With all reasons to be pessimistic and to complain, to what do you credit this?

Minister Nathi Mthethwa – An interesting one. It comes from the very foundation of Africans. Africans believe a lot in a principle named Ubunto, which means “I am because you are”.  It is about caring for each other, sharing, even when people are not well off.  The next person needs what you have. People find within their hearts what they need to forgive and to connect with others.

Nelson Mandela and his colleagues spent about three decades in prison for nothing: for talking truth to power, basically. But it wasn’t difficult when they came back, because they preached forgiveness, they preached reconciliation. Mandela always said that if you don’t forgive you are left with the burden of hate. Take away this burden and look at humanity as a species that has a future on those who are alive.

So, in the modern South African context, President Nelson Mandela played a key role, in ensuring that people reached out to each other and tried to mend fences together, because he always preached that this world belonged to all of us. We must do everything to make sure it is a better place to live in.

South Africans are excited about this all. The United Nations decided to dedicate his birthday as an International Day – the day to do good to society. That alone is great.

But this year, we are the happiest, because it’s his centenary – had he lived to his 100th birthday, on 18 July, he would have seen the year of 2018.

On September 24th, the UN General Assembly President, the Secretary General and the President of the Republic of South Africa will unveil a Mandela statue at the reception of UN, in New York. It will be the face of UN from 24 of September to eternity.

The importance is even more significant because, immediately after of unveiling it, at 9:30 in the morning, heads of State of the 193 countries of the UN will be participating in the Nelson Mandela World Peace Summit.

It is a great honor to have Nelson Mandela recognized as the Human Rights representative by the entire world.


BE – It is amazing because, if you understand that the United Nations is focusing on Human Rights, and the figure that is going to represent the concept of Human Rights is Nelson Mandela’s… 

Mthethwa –  Absolutely. In fact, I may say that it’s humbling us because we know that it has never been a policy of the United Nations to allow a statue. They will allow a bust here and there, but this is a full statue of Nelson Mandela, with his exact height, standing there as a reminder to humanity that “here is a man who worked tirelessly in his life for human rights culture in the world; a man who worked for social progress for all of humankind, regardless of their background, race, gender, and so on”.

But we don’t take it as a property of South Africa. Nelson Mandela is an a-citizen, a child of the world.


BE – He is an example to be followed by humanity. He is like a figure of Jesus, in his mission – is that so?

Mthethwa –  Talking about Jesus, what is interest about Mandela is that he always emphasized that he was no saint. As a human being, he had his weaknesses; he had his own misfortunes in life.

But he committed himself to humanity, and that he would never rest, he would do whatever he could for humanity. That’s why he worked 67 years for the public, for the good of human beings, until his time of retiring and eventually passing on.

In South Africa, this month, September, is Heritage Month. The theme is Nelson Mandela’s hundred years transforming the heritage landscape in South Africa. The 24th of September, when the unveiling of the statue will be happening in the United Nations Headquarters, is exactly Heritage Day in South Africa.


BE – UNESCO has said that Africa is a priority, and we have seen a huge artistic production going on – design, painting, music, etc. How do you define art and culture in South Africa?

Mthethwa – First, it is important to understand the past, where South Africa came from, a divided past. We are working to close that chapter, and in closing that chapter, we have a potent weapon in our hands, which is Culture. We can use culture to mend the divisions of the past in SA. If we use culture properly, we will have a harmonious society. But we are also sharing culture with the world.

We have a program, called the Seasons Program, where we take South Africa’s culture with its artists and all, and send them to a particular country, where they stay for a particular period of time, to showcase our culture, to showcase our artistic capabilities, and heritage. The next time, we get people from that country coming to South Africa to do the same.

We have done this with many countries: France, the United Kingdom, and the BRICS members like Russia, China, Brazil now and the next one is India.

We are here for the Co-production Treaty Agreement on Audiovisual, which I will sign with my Brazilian counterpart.

For SA, the film industry is such a huge potential. For us and for the whole world, actually. Look at what Hollywood is doing for America, look at what Bollywood is doing for India’s GDP. In Africa, this industry is growing phenomenally in Nigeria, where it is called Nollywood. We know that developing nations like Brazil are also growing big in that area.

In July, we had a BRICS Summit in SA, and we had a film competition called Hi5. Each country produced 5 films, one of them being about Mandela; so that each country showed their relation with Mandela. The Brazilian movie won, for one reason alone: the movie showed Mandela touching the lives of ordinary people.

In the film, there was a big State banquet in Brazil, and Mandela, in his own Mandela style, asked who was cooking that meal. He decided to go the kitchen. Everything about the movie was perfect.

So, the moral of the story is that:

Our arts and our culture are the best ambassadors for our countries.

Because now people of SA know Brazil – all because of that perfect movie. So, if we have those exchanges we´ll go far. But that is at the level of film industry. But there is also the level of music. So we are starting to think of exchange programs to have people from both countries come together to exchange its music, its dance, its cuisine, etc.


BE – How are talks and cultural exchanges developing with other countries?

Mthethwa – Our offices all over the world have monthly themes for the Mandela year. This month is Heritage Month. So there are activities which are happening in different parts of the world. As a result, some people take initiatives. Brazil, for instance, organized the exhibition.

What happened was that, as soon as the statue unveiling was known by the world, many countries decided to take their own initiatives.

The statue of Nelson Mandela has ignited the interest of the whole world.

We are happy about that, and really humble, but

It places an obligation on our shoulders, to really follow his footsteps.

We, the five ministers of Culture of the BRICS, started to talk these last days about activities of exchange. What sort of events to promote. Exhibitions are part of that.

We have to strengthen our relations in the arts field. Mandela emphasized a lot the South-South relations. Let’s use his legacy as a reason to strengthen our relations.

What I believe is more important, is the exchange that happens beyond the agreements. The trick lies in going beyond what we agree on, getting into practice.