France/South Africa/cultural and scientific cooperation
Honourable Executive Mayor,
Cher Johnny Clegg,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Sixteen years ago, one year after I met Nelson Mandela – an unforgettable encounter – on the eve of the elections which were to bring him to power and definitively put an end to the dark years of apartheid, the Institut français of South Africa was founded to enable France to offer support in the construction of the new South Africa.
Sixteen years ago, true to her values of liberty, equality and fraternity, convinced of the necessity of cultural dialogue, the French nation was proud to respond to the call of this extraordinary man to help him build “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”. In doing so, France was marking her friendship for this country, her respect for the magnificent lesson in humanity Mr Mandela had given to the world, and her desire to stand by him, to accompany him on the road he had courageously chosen to follow: the road to reconciliation, justice and hope.
Today, in addition to the 14 Alliances françaises contributing to French linguistic and cultural influence in South Africa, the Institut français of South Africa supports cultural and scientific relations between our two countries. It is a bridge.
It is a bridge when, from literary cafés to concerts, from stage performances to exhibitions, and from film projections to book reading sessions, the Institut invites French and Francophone culture to South Africa.
It is a bridge when it contributes to the promotion of South African artistic and literary output on the international stage. I would like to welcome among us today Mr Johnny Clegg, who conquered French people’s hearts many years ago. I would also like to welcome Mr Nelson Lubumba Makeba Lee and Mrs Zenzi Makeba Lee, the grandchildren of another international music star, Miriam Makeba, an honorary citizen of France: they embody the strength of the friendship uniting our two countries, our two cultures and our two peoples.
It is a bridge when it takes part in the reinforcement of cultural exchanges between our two countries, through artist residencies.
Finally, it is a bridge when it favours relations between African and European researchers to pursue research on the reconstruction of space and identity – a major issue in a country where social cohesion is being built on a daily basis, and where living together is a daily challenge.
We want to give new impetus to this substantive and fruitful cultural cooperation.
Testimony to this is the Institut’s new site here in Braamfontein, in a changing suburb in a newly thriving city centre, and near the important University of the Witwatersrand, whose representatives I welcome here today. French culture wants to be present wherever the vibrant South Africa is transforming and modernizing.
Another testimony to this is the Institut’s decision to formally acquire its new premises after years of renting, and to adopt the modern architectural project we are inaugurating today. It results from a fruitful collaboration between Christophe Hutin’s talented team from Bordeaux, represented here by Nicolas Hubrecht, and Cape Town-based firm Carin Smuts – CS Studio Architects. At this stage, I would like to pay tribute to this exemplary renovation: it shows off the simplicity of the raw materials in a spirit of economic and environmental responsibility, as well as openness, as testified by the magnificent view over the city centre and the Nelson Mandela Bridge which, by the way, is lit by French light sculptor Patrick Rimoux.
The main testimony to this is our desire to make cultural and scientific cooperation part of a long term vision.
This is what the France-South Africa saison croisée [cultural exchange programme], instigated by President Jacob Zuma and President Nicolas Sarkozy, is all about. The France saison croisée in South Africa will be held in 2012, and the South Africa season in France will be held in 2013. They will give rise to many cultural, commercial, scientific, tourist and sporting events, in and outside major cities.
Here in South Africa, the France season will rely on major high-visibility events, such as the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, the Johannesburg Art Fair, the Durban International Film Festival and the Food Wine Design Fair in Johannesburg. It will also rely on the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg, the State Theatre in Pretoria and the Soweto Theatre in Jabulani. On the French side, our new cultural operator, the Institut français, has been fully mobilized, under the supervision of Xavier Darcos, and with the assistance of Areva chairman Luc Oursel, who agreed to chair the Sponsors’ Committee.
The saison croisée will not aim to simply garner prestige. They are the result of a political will, a strategy for the future.
For South Africa, this will be an opportunity to demonstrate that the traditional image we have of this country is a thing of the past, an opportunity to show that, despite the violence and difficulties, today it is a modern and dynamic democratic state, which plays a role in world stability.
For France, it will be an opportunity to show the South African public the modernity, creativity and diversity of French language and culture, as well as an opportunity to show decision-makers and students that our country is an attractive, reliable and committed partner. Thanks to these new premises and to this beautiful conference room in particular, which can accommodate diverse cultural and scientific events, you have an opportunity to take up this challenge, here in Johannesburg.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On 10 May 1994, during his inaugural speech, former President Mandela addressed international community representatives who had come to witness the birth of the new South Africa: “We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, […] and democracy.”
Today, more than ever, South Africa’s Institut français conveys the loyalty and friendship of the French nation to the South African people. I know I can count on all of you to keep these relations going and contribute to the history of relations between our two countries.