South African Cultural Observatory

Speaking notes by Minister EN Mthethwa on the occasion of the South African Cultural Observatory’s third international conference

BY 08.03.18

Speaking notes by Minister EN Mthethwa on the occasion of the South African Cultural Observatory’s third international conference at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.


7 March 2018

Programme directors

International guests and visitors

Academics and practitioners

Living legends present

Senior officials

Esteemed artists

Members of the media

Ladies and Gentlemen

This year marks the centenary birth of two of the finest South Africans, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Ma Nontsikelelo Sisulu.

We also observed the 40th anniversary of the untimely passing of that eminent African Scholar and a leader of our people Professor Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

We shall draw inspiration from the work they did during their life time.

The progressive world community shall join us in celebrating the lives of these giants of our liberation struggle.

As government we recognise the potential of the cultural and creative industries as a socially transformative sector that provides jobs, drives innovation and allows many young people to make a living from their talent. This is what makes these sectors and industries golden.

South Africa owes its great wealth to not only the seams of gold that have driven our country’s economy for over 140 years, but because of our immense cultural diversity.

South African resilience, ingenuity, diversity and creativity have been a pivot for our development for centuries.          

These skills – nurtured and supported by diverse cultural bases, and their expression in music, dance, food, ritual, arts and crafts and more complex creative pursuits – have allowed us to overcome many trials, and to triumph even when the odds are stacked against us.

Our culture is deeply rooted on the principles of Ubuntu that says; you are because I am.

Time and time again, South Africans have proven that we know how to stand together. Our broad and diverse cultures create our fundamental resilience. This is our social and heritage capital. But it also supports the expansion of other forms of capital too – especially economic.

Now is the time to leverage our creative capital to take us into the new dawn alluded to by President Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address. How we conceive of expanding and deepening our golden cultural and creative economy must then emanate from this strong base.

Our dreams for a stronger creative and cultural economy, and indeed a more robust general economy, rest on striving to know and understand our cultural diversity, our heritage, and each other, better. The real nuggets and creative solutions to the myriad of problems we face as a nation and a global community will emerge from this understanding.

The arts in general represent the language of the heart, a kind of universal communication. But to skilfully use the language of the arts to support economic growth, we must know the landscape of that heart.


South African Cultural Observatory

The importance of having a comprehensive cultural information system rests on the acknowledgement that without knowledge and data, we cannot know ourselves and our country better. This is why the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) conceptualised the establishment of the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), in 2011 as part of the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) Strategy.

Three years since its formal launch in 2015, the Cultural Observatory is delivering on its mandate to provide Government with the information needed to assess the nature, scope, composition and potential of the creative economy.

At this conference, the work of SACO will be showcased alongside insights and research from around the world and across South Africa’s Arts, Culture and Heritage (ACH) sectors and the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs).

Early results of SACO’s mapping studies will be presented, but particularly information on employment and transformation in the CCIs and the South Africa’s Trade in Cultural Goods and Services from a BRICS perspective.

For too long the contribution of ACH sectors to the nation’s prosperity, well-being and social inclusion have been under-appreciated. But this is changing – not only because of greater global interconnectivity, but also the profound effects of the digital revolution.

Worldwide, the CCIs are also increasingly attracting attention as drivers of economic growth, innovation, and job creation. A 2017 report by the World Economic Forum on The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa listed the creative industries as one of ‘trending’ professions, which had an average growth rate of 7% between 2011 and 2016.

Similar growth in South Africa at this level would support the National Development Plan’s aim to create 11 million new jobs by 2030.

The critical suite of research and analysis developed by the SACO paints a picture of the creative economy spurning economic growth and supporting employment on a large scale in South Africa. The CCIs alone, at just over 2.5%, are on par with the mining sector in terms of employment.

In 2015, the broader ‘Cultural Economy’, in all its facets, accounted for an estimated 6.72% of all employment in South Africa or just over a million jobs. This figure is indicative of the potential of the golden economy.

But employment in the cultural sector is highly dependent on broader economic growth. Because of this, it is time that we start to look beyond the celebration aspects of arts and culture and shift our focus to a holistic socio-economic perspective.

As Government seeks to ensure the mandates of the NDP are realised, South Africa needs avenues for greater economic growth. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in replying to the 2018 SONA debates, stressed that “the cultural industries have great potential for growth, but require closer attention and backing from government”.

As we revise the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, we are using the information generated by SACO to inform our policy position – and to shape the way government leverages off the CCIs and taps their broad value proposition.

We also recognise that the fourth industrial revolution is fundamentally disrupting the way we think, work and interact with each other and, in it, culture and creativity is one of the major currencies. We need to use this currency to our advantage to grow the sector and to benefit the South African economy.

The more we nurture and make space for a creative and cultural sectors alongside technology, digital growth, and innovation, the more we will be able to use South African ingenuity to its full potential.


SACO Conference 2018

The SACO Conference programme is a solid cross-section of contribution and insights from researchers and creative practitioners. We look forward the intense debates and discussions that will support our expanding knowledge base.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize that while we are not yet beyond the South African creative economy, we are imagining what it will look like and how it will fit into a wider economic picture that supports our goals of transformation, social cohesion, jobs, skills development, prosperity, and opportunity for all.

Imagination is the key, and the source of all creativity.

Albert Einstein says:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”


But imagining is hard work – and the job is far from done. As we embarking on active re-visioning, we keep former President Nelson Mandela’s reminder that “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward” in mind.


Thank you.


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