Speech delivered by Ismail Mahomed at the Opening of the 2010 Hilton Arts Festival.
A daily newspaper, a secondary school and an arts festival .... these are three agencies in our society who are central to the way in which we access information, reflect on it, process it, and act on it.
The Natal Witness, Hilton College and the Hilton Arts Festival ... this is a powerful partnership particularly because it exists at a time when our societyis grappling with the possible imposition of a new censorship law that will curbthe way in which we will be able to access information.
Artists are like the media. Through their creative expressions artists disseminate information. They contextualise ideas. They reposition our thoughts, they allow us to reflect on our world. They force us to be critical. They engage our minds in analysis. So, it is inevitable that with any kind of anassault on media freedom, an assault on the artistic freedoms of artists will also be likely to follow.
Given the past history of South Africa, we have been witness to how censorship can be a debilitating cancer which eats into all forms of expression that is artistically and I or politically controversial.
In the old South Africa, Anna Sewell's 1887, novel, Black Beauty, which spoke about animal welfare but also about how to treat people with kindness, sympathy and respect was banned. The Nationalist Party government could ban any material if government bureaucrats deemed the work to be obscene, depraved, immoral or a danger to the State. And we all know just how subjective those morals judgements were!
Post 1994, the pending law-suit against political cartoonist Zapiro is awonderful case in point of the attempts to curb media and artistic expressionthat is politically critical and controversial.
As vocal as we are about the freedom and independence of the media, weneed to be equally adamant that the creative spirit, of our artists must also always remain free.
The freedom of our artists to express themselves through theatre, music, dance, photography, and other art forms is already threatened by a funding climate that makes it incredibly difficult for most of them to work sustainably. We need to ensure that the freedoms of our artists will not be further curbedby pressure from lawmakers, prosecutors and self-appointed guardians ofmorality, taste and political whim.