OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE
MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP
CHAIRMAN, THE HOUSE OF TRADITIONAL LEADERS (KWAZULU NATAL)
MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS AND
PRESIDENT, INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
PHILIPPOLIS : JANUARY 19, 2002
Dominee Haasbroek and Mrs Lucia Creighton, daughter of Sir Laurens van der Post, and other members of the van der Post family; Professor Pieter Fourie; Ms Gillian van Houten; Mr Stef Kruger, Ms Coenie de Villiers; the conductor and members of the choir from Poding Tse Rolo Township; other distinguished guests present; ladies and gentlemen.
I thank Sir Laurens van der Post's daughter, Lucia, for having invited me again to come to Philippolis with her to pay tribute to my beloved friend and sage that he was to me and to many people in the world. My only regret is the fact that Sir Laurens' nephew, Tom Bedford, and his wife Jane, are not here. Each time I visited Sir Laurens during his lifetime, I found him and his beloved spouse Ingaret being looked after by his nephew Tom and Jane, who later became his wife. When we came here the first time I assumed that I would also find them here, and they were conspicuous by their absence. My Public Relations Officer, Mrs Ruth Makiwane, did try to find out from Dominee Haasbroek whether they were attending today's ceremony, and she told me that she was informed that they were not expected to attend. This has been a mystery to me. As I have mentioned, I never visited Sir Laurens without finding them at his side. Even when Sir Laurens visited South Africa, he had his nephew Tom at his side. I wish I could know why this is the case. However, I am saying this only in passing and I am not making it an issue, for it is a matter which only members of the van der Post family can delve into. I am merely a friend, and therefore however close I was to Sir Laurens, I am still an outsider. I also thank the Dominee for his invitation in addition to the one which was extended to me by Lucia.
The creative spirit of my dear and long time friend, Sir Laurens van der Post, continues its dance through South Africa, cajoling talented men and women to take up the pen, the brush and the chisel to express our world as it is seen by few visionaries who truly see the details. His echoing voice, still present for those of us who knew him well, dares composers and musicians to follow the beckoning notes into a realm of undiscovered beauty. His astute and complex intellect still challenges academics to pursue a closer study in search of the revelation of aesthetic values. His colossal body of thought on man, culture, our world and what is pleasing to the eye of the artist, remains an inspiration to many who follow the path of philosophy. I believe there is no better testimony to the quietly giant nature of my friend than that his memory still moves men and women to greatness. To the end of our own days, it will continue to move all of us who were privileged to know him closely.
And to the very end of time, it will still move people of future generations who never had the privilege of knowing him in person like us, except through his monumental works.
It is therefore an honour for me to come to Philippolis today to declare the Laurens van der Post Artist Retreat and Museum officially open. Aptly carrying the name of this lauded son of Africa, the Retreat takes on the character and resounds the call of Sir Laurens towards new thought, fresh considerations and inspired vision. I welcome the culmination of this project, the seed of which, I am told, was sown at the opening of the Memorial Garden in April 1998. I had the pleasure of attending that occasion and was heartened to see the excellent results of those who chose to honour the memory of my friend in Philippolis. As evidenced by the beauty of the Retreat and Museum, I am pleased that this new task has been taken on with the same commitment to quality and artistic talent which characterises the Memorial Garden.
This is a due honour to Sir Laurens van der Post, but also one which is fitting of his transcendent artistic vision. It is good to see South Africa learning to open her arms and embrace international visitors with the confidence that we have something precious to offer. The natural beauty of our land will likely begin to draw more and more people with an eye for art. As I say this, I am reminded of a peculiar little essay written by Oscar Wilde arguing the point that art does not imitate nature, but rather that nature imitates art. His observation suggested that an educated person is more inclined to recognise the transcendental element in nature which we call art, if he has been exposed to artistic representations of nature.
I believe that having read the writings of Sir Laurens van der Post, many foreigners to South Africa will discover a complete picture has been incubated within their imagination of the beauty of this land. Coming here and experiencing South Africa for themselves will necessarily be a romantic undertaking and a very personal exploration. Indeed, through various writers and artists, South Africa has become a romanticised ideal, to which many will now seek to give substance as they travel to this most beautiful destination. In this, we have a natural asset. Both domestically and internationally the potential exists to make South Africa the seat from where inspiration flows, to stimulate the soul and bring forth new ideas that may influence the nature of how we perceive our world.
Through the opening of the Laurens van der Post Artist Retreat and Museum, the assets of this Province are increased. As we create places such as this which draw great thinkers, writers, composers, musicians and artists, we open the way for the renaissance we so expectantly seek. It is only when we have a renewed stream of thought and perspectives flowing in, and a new stream of imaginative visionaries flowing out, that the creative currents and undercurrents so stimulated within our country, will bring refreshing changes and inestimable benefits. I have a deep assurance that the true victory of South Africa is not limited to becoming a place where great men and women are drawn from across the world. I believe that South Africa will cultivate and send its own leaders, thinkers, artists and visionaries into all the civilised countries of the world, and that we too will be among those who affect global changes in thought and action.
In South Africa, we sit on a gold mine of human potential. Our people have experienced the full gambit of human emotion as our history brought us through colonialism, apartheid, oppression, liberation and democracy. We are learning to cross racial divides on the narrow rope bridge of hope. There are thousands who have seen the darkest impenetrable caves of human nature, and thousands more who have witnessed that which is most pure, most heroic, most spiritually beautiful in man. Not only is our natural heritage an invaluable asset, but so too is our historic heritage, as the basis for artistic inspiration founded on extreme experience. South African art may not always overtly express the details of our experience or our setting, yet it is cultivated in the soil of deep emotion and intimate observation. What our talented men and women have to offer is real.
To the mind of the artist, however, even that which is real may be portrayed in terms of wild imaginings and expressive abstracts. Sir Laurens van der Post was indeed the quintessential artist and the quintessential South African. He created artistry which captured the soul, crossing the line which differentiates art from pure description or reportage. Like the work of an impressionist, his artistry allowed details to disappear to enable his art to express the artistic quintessence which is often captured within the hard reality of facts. He was a wonderful man to be around. One always felt that one was seeing more by seeing through his eyes as he pointed out the elusive beauty in people, landscapes, language and circumstances.
I appreciated his eyes as much as his mind, knowing that whatever he saw he would transform into marvellous and complex imagery that embellished those aspects which less careful men take for granted. He extracted the beauty and the mystery, and made these the solid form on to which he etched more apparent but less important details. Men of vision are often misunderstood for seeing things in a manner unlike the general perception. Yet Sir Laurens van der Post will continue to hold his place as a quiet giant among creative souls. His unmistakable and unrepeatable way of thinking remains an inspiration. His words will continue to conjure up images of what is truly worthy of our attention. For those with less of an artistic bent, Sir Laurens has perhaps offered the momentary joy of looking out on to the world through the eyes of the artist.
As we officially open this Retreat and Museum, I welcome the future in which talented, creative and visionary men and women will come to this place seeking renewed inspiration. The peaceful surroundings and natural beauty of Philippolis will surely coax hidden treasures to the surface, facilitating countless births of art in this place. I encourage our own South African writers, artists and thinkers to consider this retreat as just that: a place to recollect and revise one’s thoughts at a distance from the demands of daily life. I believe we all need a place in which to retreat, not to escape reality, but from which to shape reality by a renewed vigour of creative thought.
May this new asset to the Free State and South Africa draw both domestic and international interest as a wellspring of our African Renaissance. There will be many sources to the waters of change. I hope that this will be one of them.