I am delighted to attend the opening performance of Ushakazulu, the Gaping Wound. It is appropriate that this performance takes place here, in the Durban Playhouse, both because the themes expressed are relevant to our own cultural setting in KwaZulu Natal, and due to the recognised reputation of this theatre as a stage from which performances may leap into the global arena. I understand it is the intention of Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company to take the musical dance drama, which we have come here tonight to enjoy, to international audiences as well. I wish to take this opportunity to express my support for that endeavour. I believe our Province and our country has a great deal to offer in the form of talented artistic expression. A cross pollination between our own creative arts and those from foreign soils will surely open the way for the African Renaissance our nation seeks.

I am an avid supporter of the South African arts. Our rich cultural diversity has bestowed on us a multiplicity of experiences out of which art may grow. The various cultures of South Africa each find their expression in the music, dance and creative products of our people. But more than an expression of our unique cultural identity, the arts in our country have become a crucible in which the worst of our society and the darkest of our experiences, can be cathartically brought into the open. Out of this same crucible, the most noble features of South Africa have been portrayed on stage, canvass and paper. Our anguished quest for human dignity birthed a creative genre of its own. Our triumph in April 1994 poured a new spirit into our art. The years since that time, filled with the shifting tensions of reconciliation, truth and transformation, have brought us exceptional raw material on which to base our creative expressions.

The Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company has taken the unique experiences of South Africa and committed itself to operating as a tool for conflict resolution within our communities, fostering tolerance and peace where the threat of conflicts previously loomed. This is difficult, but invaluable work towards building unity among the various segments of our nation. In the effort of reconciliation, I have often noted that the example must come from our leaders and filter down into communities, who see their leaders working together and find the inspiration likewise to reach out and heal generations-old wounds and divisions. It is important that ordinary people are able to gain the perspective of reconciliation working and seemingly entrenched realities being changed.

By using the stage to portray a microcosm of life, the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company holds the potential not only to expose where we are along the path towards reconciliation, but how we may take the next step, and the next, into healing and unity.

Education is a pioneer of liberation. Through the creative arts we are able to reveal truths which may not yet form part of the general debate, and teach people about our present reality. While ignorance still keeps many of our people under the burden of divisions, cultivating distrust and distance, education opens the possibility that we might recognise our commonalities and our shared aspirations. The themes played out on the theatre stage are the themes of man since time immemorial. The content has not changed, but through the ages this content has found different historical contexts. Just as the ancient Greeks played out the realities of human interaction, in a constant synthesis of discord and reconciliation, on the public stage, our own actors in this present day play out the same everyday experience of our communities. Through the play, they reveal the same insecurities, the same nobility and the same intense impulse to reach out for something higher which has been the mark of man for as long as man has walked the earth. For us, the context has become very personal and very real.

I deeply admire what the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company is achieving within our communities. Reconciliation, stability and peace are principles to which I have committed my entire life’s journey. I know that the healing of our people’s historical wounds can only come through constructive engagement between those who have been divided. Time will perhaps not be the healer in our case. Africa bears a long memory, and there is much in our past which requires being brought out into the open before it may be finally closed and left behind. As we walk into our collective future, the task of redressing the legacy of our past cannot be avoided. This legacy plays out in the complexity of our social discourse and is expressed in the difficulties we still experience in relating to one another. Through the creative arts, many South Africans have come closer to experiencing the different cultures of people who share this very same country, than they have in many years of living here. I believe that if we can challenge ignorance and misconceptions in a secure environment such as a theatre, we can begin to influence change outside, in our broader society.

For this reason, I offer my support to the performance of Ushakazulu, the Gaping Wound. May tonight’s performance herald a good run for the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company, here at the Durban Playhouse and perhaps in many other venues beyond our own borders. I trust that as you take the message of reconciliation and conflict resolution ever further among ordinary people, a change will become evident in attitude, interaction and cohesion which may spread to the benefit of us all. I wish to emphasise my support and enthusiasm for the exposure of marginalised talent which this performance will allow. I believe that within our own hostels and townships there is a vast untapped source of talent, creativity and passion. I am thrilled that tonight ordinary people will bring to the stage the everyday experience of ordinary South Africans. May this prove to be an outstanding success.