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Since the advent of democracy, ground breaking work of a renewal nature has been occurring in many areas of life in South Africa. In education, for example, enabling legislation was passed, such as the 1997 South African Schools Act, and a new framework for education introduced. The new curriculum framework defines various learning areas that include science and technology; arts, culture and heritage; etc.

Reclamation scholarship is taking place, alongside other nation building measures, to reintegrate all South Africans to their culture, history and heritage. In many learning fields, reference materials are being developed all the time. In a period of national regeneration and restoration, however, it is disconcerting that one of the fields that is lagging behind is arts, culture and heritage studies. There is a serious dearth of reference material, similar to historical material being developed under the auspices of the South African Democracy Education Trust, in arts, culture and heritage studies.

A major need in cultural studies, to reflect the importance accorded it by the national departments of Arts and Culture as well as Education, is a work of ‘encyclopaedic’ scope on arts, culture and heritage in South Africa to provide reference material otherwise lacking on the subject, which could also be of use in schools. In addition to its value in education, cultural industry and cultural diplomacy will benefit from the availability of user-friendly information the Encyclopaedia will supply, in its electronic and print forms.

The Encyclopaedia of South African Arts and Culture herein proposed thus aims to provide South Africans and others interested in the field comprehensive reference material to understanding (a) aspects of South African arts and culture from antiquity to the present and (b) the rich cultural diversity characteristic of South African society.

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is the lead organisation that will encourage cognate departments (Education, Tourism, Trade and Industry, etc.) to come on board. Other partners envisaged include academic institutions, National Heritage Council, Freedom Park, National Arts Council, National Film and Video Foundation, PANSALB, SABC, BASA, parastatals, music/book industry, and the private sector.

- Professor Mbulelo Mzamane

A historical context ...

The Encyclopaedia of South African Literature (SALIT) was a product of the early 1990s and strongly influenced in design and intention by two more or less contemporaneous events: the advent of democracy in South Africa and the launch of the World Wide Web. The content of the Encyclopaedia grew from 4009 to 35000 entries over a frenetic four year period, and was ready for publication at the end of 2002, as one of several projects generated by the Centre for the Study of Southern African Literature and Languages (CSSALL) at the then University of Durban-Westville, projects that were loosely gathered under the rubric “literary history”. The purpose of the Centre, and by association the Encyclopaedia, was to “explore literatures in the different South African languages as one system, as a multilingual intertextual and comparative discourse” (Van Wyk, 1996c). While various aspects of this intention were pursued by way of colloquia, cross-disciplinary research and numerous publications, most notably Rethinking South African Literary History (1996) and Constructing South African Literary History (2000), it fell to the SALIT Encyclopaedia project to provide an archive and ready-reference tool for the research agenda of the participants.

The burgeoning collaborative writing atmosphere of Web 2.0 now offers a natural environment for the Encyclopaedia. By transferring SALIT into a Wiki, the existing resource would become available to all users, while allowing the content to grow and become more comprehensive (and correct) over time. If, as planned, SALIT finds a place within the context of the new Encyclopaedia of South African Arts and Culture - initiated by Mbulelo Mzamane, Director of the Centre for African Literary Studies (CALS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal - then it will have become the compendium or hybrid reference, research and learning resource it was originally intended to be. Seven years ago, I had expected that the SALIT resources would be available within a few months:

" ... the conventional divisions between bibliograp[ies], books themselves and learning environments are dissolving … during the course of the development of the SALit Web, the electronic medium has transformed our original intentions by crossing the boundaries of reference work, library and classroom. As a student-centred resource, the SALit Web offers three entry points, the Encyclopaedia, Timeline, and the Virtual Library." (Stewart 2000: 7).

Although it has turned out to be years rather than months, the prospect of publishing this important reference source is now much more likely.

- Professor Graham Stewart

Rationale and Principles


The goals of the project accord with the “operational principles” articulated in the White Paper “to promote the creation, teaching and dissemination of literature, oral history and story telling, music, dance, theatre, musical theatre, opera, photography, design, visual art and craft which fully reflect our diversity”. Further, the project is premised on the understanding that “education in arts, culture and heritage should embrace opportunities for making, performing and presenting as well as appreciating the many expressions of South African cultural heritage to realise the right of all South Africans to participate fully in, contribute to, and benefit from an all-inclusive South African culture”.

A major need in arts, culture and heritage studies, to reflect the importance accorded it by the national Departments of Education and of Arts and Culture, is work of encyclopaedic scope on arts and culture in South Africa to provide reference material otherwise lacking on the subject, which can also be of use in schools.

In summation, the project aims to
(i) Challenge the construction of otherness that exponents of the dominant culture habitually indulge in;
(ii) Debunk suppositions about the “deficit model” other cultures bring about and stress their contribution and creativity;
(iii) Encourage celebration of difference and affirmation of diversity;
(iv) Facilitate the emergence of aesthetic pluralism within a multicultural context and “a shared cultural identity constituted by diversity”; and
(v) Promote integration of arts and culture into all aspects of socio-economic development.

The project also aims to
(a) recover, document and celebrate our unfolding culture of liberation;
(b) define our collective, complex identity as a nation-in-the making; and thus
(c) “contribute to … an all- inclusive South African culture”

The project thus seeks to implant a fundamental and liberating paradigm shift such that the new South African man, woman and child brought about by the great historical transformation ushered by the democratic government after 1994 feels sufficiently empowered to stand cultural and racial stereotypes on their heads.

The project seeks, ultimately, to contribute to the process of decolonising the minds of all South Africans and reintegrating them to their collective and cumulative culture, history and heritage.


The following constitute some of the under-girding principles of the project:
support, development and promotion of activities aligned to national development priorities;
promotion of democracy;
promotion of development and sustainability;
promotion of institutional development;
promotion of accessibility to culture for all; and
promotion of processes that lead to artistic renewal and development

The White Paper earlier cited further stipulates: "A fundamental prerequisite for democracy is the principle of freedom of expression. Rooted in freedom of expression and creative thought, the arts, culture and heritage have a vital role to play in development, nation building and sustaining our emerging democracy. They must be empowered to do so."

The production of a critical mass of arts practitioners and educators is a key element in the promotion and development of sustainability. Crucial to the growth and sustainability of the arts, the White Paper affirms, is the development of skilled human resources. This includes educating and training:
Arts and culture practitioners to create and produce works of art in the various disciplines;
Educators to educate and train children, youth and adults in the arts and culture; and
Administrators, curators and managers to organise and manage cultural institutions and projects.

Lack of appropriate education and training limits beneficiaries of new arts, culture and heritage policies to the previously advantaged and thus militates against the attainment of government objectives "to develop policy which ensures the survival and development of all art forms and genres, cultural diversity with mutual respect and tolerance, heritage recognition and advancement, education in arts and culture, universal access to funding, equitable human resource development policies, [and] the promotion of literature and cultural industries".

To turn round the legacy of colonialism, segregation and apartheid requires mounting capacity building programmes in schools and communities to impart the requisite skills among aspiring arts practitioners and educators particularly from under-represented groups: women, youth and blacks.

Education in arts, culture and heritage promotes processes that invariably lead to artistic renewal and development. Such an education should embrace “opportunities for making, performing and presenting as well as appreciating the many expressions of South African cultural heritage to realise the right of all South Africans to participate fully in, contribute to, and benefit from an all- inclusive South African culture“.

The White Paper elucidates further: “Education is part of culture, and culture is itself transmitted through education. Indeed, the curriculum has been described as ‘a selection from culture’. Previously education was used to deny the value of other cultures. This must not happen again.”

Arts, culture and heritage education must entail an integrated developmental approach, leading to innovative, creative and critical thinking. The whole learning experience creates, within a safe learning environment, the means for shaping, challenging, affirming and exploring personal and social relationships and community identity.

Experiencing the creative expression of different communities in a nation provides insights into the aspirations and values of the nation. This experience develops not only tolerance but also acceptance, provides a foundation for national reconciliation, and builds a sense of pride in a people's diverse cultural heritage.


The Arts, Culture and Heritage project encompasses:
The verbal arts (orature, poetry, drama, prose fiction, biography, children’s literature etc.)
The performing arts (music, dance, theatre, film, video etc.)
The visual arts (painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography, drawing, mural painting, paper works, tapestry, fibre art, installation works, computer graphics, fashion design, crafts, etc.)
Heritage (including rites of passage, indigenous knowledge systems, belief systems, value systems such as ubuntu, customs and traditions, various other cultural practices)

The above characterisation is more organisational than generic and is based on the categorisation provided in the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage.

An essentially multi-media format will be employed in the design of the encyclopaedia. All entries will be posted in the first instance on the web, interrogated by readers and updated periodically. Print editions will also be made available in separate volumes and new editions issued periodically. Photographs and other illustrations will elaborate the text, where appropriate. Audio inserts will also be used, where appropriate, in the style of the Iowa International Writers Programme.

The model of the verbal arts, which in order to be methodical, systematic and comprehensive will be undertaken first, will be replicated in our approach to the study and documentation of the performing and visual arts – although overlaps will occur and much cross-referencing.

The focus on the verbal arts will be literary and cultural history -- ancient, modern and contemporary.

Not since the Human Science Research Council subsidised the publication of Guide to South African English Literature (1984), edited by Michael Chapman, Ernest Pereira, Colin Gardner and Es’kia Mphahlele, has there been work of national scope in the verbal arts. The performing and visual arts have not fared better and scholarship that provides both a panoramic view and in-depth analysis of these art forms remains in short supply, inaccessible to the majority of learners, educators, researchers and general readers.

The focus of the project on the verbal arts will not be English but Comparative Literature, in the context of exploring and defining the national contours of our culture. This will focus on written South African literatures and also encompass oral culture or orature, in all the indigenous languages – some of which such as the San languages, isiBhaca, and Selobedu have not been accorded official status but possess a rich and unique store of orature. Writing in other languages such as Hindi and Tamil will also be sourced out.

We will adopt the same research method and study approach for the performing and visual arts and heritage section. The visual arts volume will have a similar format to the others but requires the inclusion of illustrations, just as some audio-visual sound effects may have to be employed in documenting the performing arts.


The project will employ principally the “commissioning” method Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele devised for the 2nd Carnegie study published as Uprooting Poverty (1989), complemented by an indaba approach.

To produce sophisticated and comprehensive studies, the project will farm out research on major movements, themes, genres, periods to specialists on each subject, on a commissioned basis. The project will also assemble these arts practitioners and scholars in successive years, artistic category by artistic category. These annual gatherings of eminent scholars and arts practitioners will serve as brainstorming barns.

The first gathering will be indaba of orature scholars, literary historians and other literary figures; the second will feature the performing arts; the third the visual arts; and the fourth heritage studies.

The idea is to produce authoritative reference works in cultural studies from the commissioned research, invited papers and conference deliberations. After each gathering, a volume will be assembled as reference material for learners, educators, researchers and general readers.

The process of creating reference works of this comprehensive magnitude has to be as inclusive as possible, hence the “indaba” and “commissioning” approaches to assemble the collective expertise the nation and the international community command.

Besides in-depth studies that will focus on period, movement, genre or theme/s, other studies will consist of biographies – single author entries. Each presentation will weave together threads of
self-narrative (autobiography) with third-person narrative (biography);
survey of the artist’s work;
social context and significance; and
appreciation and evaluation

In some instances there will be no need to re-invent the wheel, where existing articles adequately cover a given area and arrangements can be made to include the articles in the Encyclopaedia. Research will thus aim to identify books and articles written on various aspects of South African arts, culture and heritage. In other instances where individuals and institutions are conducting work of similar scope the project will enter into some arrangements for collaboration.

Single author/artist entries will be provided in the main by a team of researchers trained for the purpose. The training will emphasise elaboration of adopted method and harmonisation and aim to produce ultimately a critical mass of experts in arts, culture and heritage studies reflecting South Africa‘s diverse communities. The project will thus engage researchers (with training in cultural studies or history or in some other cognate field) and translators and will be based on
(i) Library, internet and other “archival” sources; and
(ii) Interviews with the artists, their peers, other knowledgeable figures and pertinent sources.

The researchers and translators will be commissioned on a part-time, subject-specific basis from other organisations (media houses, educational institutions, government etc.) to enhance their research skills. The project should see the emergence, therefore, of a critical and representative mass of experts on arts, culture and heritage studies across the country.

Many of the artists also make excellent subjects for a video/television series that could prove just as cutting edge in its impact. Interviews carried out with contemporary artists and other informants will bear such an eventuality in mind.


Dr Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane became the first post-apartheid Vice Chancellor at the University of Fort Hare. He is the author of several works of fiction and editor of a number of anthologies. He is co-editor of Global Voices: Contemporary Literature from the Non-Western World. His scholarly publications include Images of the Voiceless: Essays on Popular Culture and the Media (with J. Haynes and A. Bamikunle) and Multicultural Education in Colleges and Universities: A Trans-disciplinary Approach (with H. Ball and S. Berkowitz). He was commissioned by the Southern African Democracy Education Trust to edit Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980 (2006) and a companion volume South Africans Telling their Stories (2008). Mzamane served on the SABC Board and on the Heraldry Council. He was for eight years founder chairman of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism; the founding patron of the Freedom of Expression Institute; and the founding director of the Book Development Council of Africa. He was also chairman of the African Arts Fund (under the auspices of the UN Centre against Apartheid) and serves on the board of the Newtown Film and Television School. He is the Director of the Centre for African Literary Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Mzamane holds an MA in English from UBLS, Roma, and received his PhD in English Literature from the University of Sheffield (UK).

Dr Tankiso Dikibo is an independent businesswoman and entrepreneur who also specialises in project management. She has also been involved in applied research, training and facilitation in relation to economic development, rural planning, land reform, participatory rural appraisal, poverty eradication, and promoting sustainable livelihoods in the Free State, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Lesotho and Botswana. She works in action-learning processes with government, civil society and business, providing advice, facilitation, action research, implementation, leadership training (particularly for women), and sharing of experience primarily with governments (local, provincial, national and international), civil society, corporate managers and donors, and communities themselves. Formerly an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lesotho, she has also taught Biological Sciences at the University of Lagos. She was a co-founder and board member of the African Institute for Community Driven Development (AICDD, formerly Khanya – managing rural change) and is a board member of the Central University of Technology’s Science Park.

She holds a doctorate in agriculture (with specialisation in plant pathology) from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK) and a BSc degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS, Roma).

Dr Graham Stewart is Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design, and Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Languages and Communication at the Durban University of Technology. His research interests encompass both Southern African literature and digital technologies. He has published in the fields of literary criticism and education, while web-based teaching and learning have influenced his work in academic development. He has a long-standing interest in bringing South African literary and cultural heritage into a networked digital domain and by so doing, making these resources widely accessible to readers, researchers and learners. Together with Prof Johan van Wyk, he compiled an electronic encyclopaedia of Southern African literature in the late 1990s and subsequently joined Prof Lindy Stiebel’s KwaZulu-Natal Literary Tourism Project team.

He holds a BA degree and a University Education Diploma from the University of Natal; BA Honours from the University of South Africa; MA from the University of Natal; and D.Litt from the University of Durban-Westville. He also has an Advanced Certificate in Television Arts from Natal Technikon.

Dr Michael Wessels is a researcher attached to the Centre of African Literary Studies and the English Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. He has published a number of articles on the /Xam materials that comprise the Bleek and Lloyd collection. These articles offer analysis of particular /Xam narratives or discuss the different kinds of writing that have been produced in relation to the collection over the years. He is also an educator who is involved in teacher education and in the provision of academic guidance to university students.

Wessels, who serves as Research Coordinator in the Office of the ESAACH Project Leader and General Editor, holds a doctorate in English from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Niall McNulty is a digital heritage consultant with a MA from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Since 2005 he has managed various projects for local government, academic institutions and other organisations. He has been instrumental in setting up the KwaZulu-Natal online literature archive and the eThekwini Municipality’s indigenous knowledge management programme. He has also been involved in developing digital archives of newspapers and journals.

Preggy Reddy has been involved in online learning since 2000 when he first assisted Prof Graham Stewart in piloting the WebCT (Learning Management System) for the National Research Foundation project "Information Literacy for Researchers".

In 2001 he joined the Online Learning Centre of Technikon Natal (now Durban University of Technology - DUT) as an Online Learning Skills Consultant/Information Coordinator for a period of two years, being instrumental in training academics in the realms of technical skills (html) to enable their development of Online Classrooms.

He then worked as an Information Officer in a technical library for a period of three years before returning to DUT in 2006.
Since 2008 he has been Server Administrator of the WebCT servers, and from April this year (2009) he will be seconded into an Educational Technologist post and resume training of academics implementing e-learning at DUT.

He has a BTECH:LIS and is currently enrolled in the MTECH:CALT (Computer-Aided Language Teaching) in the Department of Media, Languages and Communication at DUT.

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