The Power of Culture South Africa Special
Culture as a guardian of freedom

For decades, the arts in South Africa played an important role in the fight for freedom and bringing about democratic change. Social issues were captured in paintings, music and all other art forms. "It was a culture located in the experience of the majority of people, and focused on creating awareness", says Andries Oliphant. "Once the apartheid system disappeared, there was no need for this kind of art anymore. Art suddenly discovered its freedom as society became free, and South Africa was no longer notoriously known in the world for apartheid only. "The arts became more introspective, dealing with intimate issues such as family and personal histories. Questions of memory were asked: what did we actually experience during these years of colonialism?"

At the time, Andries Oliphant headed the project group that was appointed by the new government to redesign the cultural policy landscape. Today, he is the chairman of the Arts and Culture Trust, South Africa's first funding body for the arts since apartheid ended. The trust is an ingenious partnership with the corporate world. As public funding was limited, the Ministry of Culture donated just one million Rand, and two companies, NedBank and Sun International, each did the same. Later on, cellular phone provider Vodafone and the Dutch Embassy followed. It is only the capital's interest that is spent on the approximately twenty projects the trust funds each year.

The Arts and Culture Trust has the difficult task to bridge over the many worlds multicultural South Africa consists of. For Andries Oliphant only one question is truly important: is there really a financial need for people in this community? "Although we would never exclude a wonderful project, the situation in South Africa requires that people who have been ignored for centuries and have no resources, should come first. We are celebrating ten years of democracy in South Africa, but there are still many problems we need to deal with such as unemployment and AIDS. People were kept separate for centuries. We still need to listen to each other's music, and read each other's literature."

"Artists are somehow slow in realising that the end of apartheid is not necessarily the end of all problems. Only now, the arts are beginning to rediscover their social role. They realise again that they can express and articulate new problems, that art can communicate an awareness and level criticism to state officials about corruption. The role of the arts is now to defend our freedom, to expand our freedom and to safeguard it from abuse."

Inge Ruigrok


Andries Oliphant
Chairperson of the Arts
& Culture Trust


Ten years of democracy in South Africa

Arts and Culture Trust
Dutch Embassy Pretoria
The Dance Factory
Market Theatre Laboratory
The Bag Factory
Film Resource Unit


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