Opening of the Looking Backwards, Moving Forward Exhibition
Speech for Dr Anna Mokgokong at the Opening of the Looking Backwards, Moving Forward Exhibition
23 NOVEMBER 2017
18h00 for 18h30.

Our Artists, Our Founding Donor, Ms. Diane Johnstone, The Honorable Australian High Commissioner, Mr. Adam McCarthy, our Keynote speaker and CEO of Tyme Digital Bank, Mr. Sandile Shabalala, the CEO of Constitution Hill, Ms. Dawn Roberts, Our partners The Pretoria Art Museum and the University of Pretoria, The Staff and Learners of the Mbuyisa Makhubu School, Members of the Media and Honored Guests. Good Evening. It is my distinct honour, on behalf of our South African and Global Boards, to welcome you to the opening of this very important exhibition, Looking Backwards, Moving Forward.

I would like to begin by thanking Dawn Roberts and Constitution Hill for partnering with Ifa Lethu on this exhibition. This partnership is significant, has taken various forms and stands as a good model of the types of collaborations that are so necessary amongst development , heritage and academic institutions of South Africa. What you will see in our exhibition today is a body of work that is now a significant part of South Africa’s heritage and a proud national treasure. It is also tells a remarkable story, of how the international community - Australians and others from around the world – have contributed to that heritage by returning art produced by and on behalf of the people of South Africa to the people of South Africa.

The exhibition is being held to commemorate the 21st year of the Signing of the South African Constitution. Hence is falls within the ambit of the many activities being planned for this commemoration and being a Human rights Collection, there is no other suitable partner and site than Constitution Hill. Also the exhibition commemorates the centenary of our very own Cde.Oliver Rinald Tambo, one of the key drivers of South African liberation and one of the founding fathers of our Constitutional democracy. After a perilous journey out of South Africa in 1960, Oliver Tambo took on his new role as the ‘roving ambassador’ of the African national Congress and it was given this role, that he began setting up the ANC’s foreign missions globally. The function of these missions was to garner help and resources externally to assist the internal struggle in defeating apartheid. One of these missions was set up in Australia and played a key role in building the Australian Anti-Apartheid movement. And Australia, ladies and gentleman has continued to play an important role in a post apartheid South Africa as is evident among others, in the birth of the Ifa Lethu Foundation. You will hear further about this in the course of the evening.

As part of its core mandate, over the last 12 years, the Ifa Lethu Foundation has repatriated from 16 countries almost 650 works of art lost to the country during the struggle era of the 1960s to 1980s. In those 12 years, we acted as detectives, lawyers, diplomats and hard negotiators in order to track down these precious pieces of our lost heritage and convince owners to donate them to their rightful home. This was done so that we could show the people of South Africa how their own struggle artists persevered to use their creative spirit to report to the world the inequities of an oppressive regime. The Ifa Lethu Collection of struggle era art is about the only almost complete collection that documents not only life in the townships in those dark years, but also the human rights violations imposed by the apartheid state on its oppressed majority.

The artists who produced these works did not find commercial outlets in South Africa. Their work was seen as politically unacceptable. Subsequently, some of them such as Dumile Feni, Fikile Magadlela and Eric Mbatha became famous. Fikile Magadlela was an adherent of the Black Consciousness ideology. As well as being an artist he was well known as a poet and cultural activist and had a strong following, particularly for his poetry. He was arrested for his involvement in cultural affairs and was denied permission to leave South Africa during the apartheid period . He died in 2003. His large drawing in this exhibition, Melodious journey through the cosmos, depicts a person who is caught between two worlds. In what appears to be an aquatic environment, the figure, possibly the artist himself, struggles to keep his head held high despite the weight of the piano keyboard that runs the length of his body. He refuses to be drowned by another culture, of which the piano is a symbol. A piano is made up of a series of keys. Significantly, most of them are white. However, to create good music, both the white and the black keys must be inextricably played together.

Once these pieces came back to our shores it became evident they had a much more important role to play than merely hanging in public for all to see what was in our past. While we hold them in custody as a national treasure, we wish to emphasise that the collection belongs to the people of South Africa, and not to our Foundation. It was Ifa Lethu’s view then, and still now, that these works were an expression of the creative human spirit and how it could, and did, rise above repressive laws and still, 40, 50 years on be as important today as they were then-as a tool for education, social healing and social cohesion.

The Ifa Lethu Repatriated collection has been exhibited in Australia under request from the Prime Minister, in London for the 2012 Olympic Games, at Bonhams in London, in Nantes for the SA/French Seasons programme and as South Africa’s premier exhibition for the 2010 Soccer World Cup where it was viewed by visitors from 24 countries. And we are proud to announce tonight that Ifa Lethu will mount a major national and global exhibition in 2018 to mark the centenary of the birth of our beloved late President, Nelson Rolihlala Mandela.

While the first decade of our democracy correctly focused on redressing imbalances in the material welfare of its citizens, it has become clear now that the neglect of what was known as the RDP of the soul, has resulted in fractures in our society as evidenced by levels of crime and violence. Therefore by harnessing our lessons over the early years and in order to respond to challenges in the heritage sector, Ifa Lethu took the decision to incorporate the developmental element into our work by leveraging this sector for the economic development of the country. Since then we have aligned our work to the National Development Plan, Mzanzis Golden Economy, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Green Economy. This has been successfully accomplished through the implementation of a critical part of Ifa Lethu’s work-the introduction of the Creative Entrepreneurial Development plan.

This was rolled out for the first time in 2008 and since then we have not looked back. Through its five phased entrepreneurial and Creative Hands Business Incubator programme, Ifa Lethu has successfully trained 2300 youth creative practitioners to develop sustainable business solutions resulting in successful enterprises and trade being developed, tourism being generated and employment being created for youth in the rural nodes of the country. Further, 800 successful youth businesses have been incubated. These programmes have been successfully implemented in seven provinces and globally as a model of best practice development of youth. Since founded we now manage South Africa’s largest repatriation and creative entrepreneurial developments programmes in the country with impressive track records.

What you see today is the result of our work of entrepreneurial development programme for visual artists. We have consistently exhibited our heritage collection across the world so the apartheid years will never be forgotten or repeated. And today, at this premiere exhibition you can witness how our emerging young artists are taking up the baton of the past and opening the doors globally for South African future heritage works of art. Many of these young artists have been involved in our Global programmes such as that with the Lord Mayor of London at his residence and FTSE 100 CEO’s in 2014 in London. This event brought together CEO’s and Chairmen from 54 FTSE 100 companies who were keen to learn about Ifa Lethu’s work and to hear from its beneficiaries. The event will be replicated in Windsor Castle in 2018 and Canberra, Santiago and New York in 2019.

This exhibition clearly shows creative differences between pre and post apartheid and the effects on our human psyche and perceptions. 23 years have gone by and much still has to be done to provide more equality and basic rights for all our peoples. But it is our youth that show us the way as we see their world through their eyes. It is the Youth who have the power to shape the globe and our country in this century. After all, one has only to remember 1976.

Ifa Lethu has recognized this and thus invests heavily in this constituency which will comprise the next generation of leadership for our country. Here their experiences are evident in their creativity and freedom of expression. As our beloved Madiba said: “A bright future beckons. The onus is on us, through hard work, honesty and integrity, to reach for the stars.”

This is the legacy he left us with – one of hope, Ubuntu and a firm belief that our youth “…. are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.”

As Ifa Lethu continues to play a role in this development and tonight launches our few of our talented youth onto the global stage, we are proud to continue his legacy

As I conclude I would like to thank the Ifa Lethu Curator, Carol Brown for her vision and commitment to our collections. Her national and global work for the Ifa Lethu exhibitions has only secured one result for us-success. Thank you Carol.
Ladies and gentlemen-thank you and enjoy