Speech by the Minister in The Presidency, the Honourable Collins Chabane, on the occasion of the transfer of the new library and archives building for the Ahmed Baba Institute (IHERI-AB), Timbuktu
29 May 2010
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Siby Ginette Bellegarde
Governor of Region six
Mayor of Timbuktu
His Excellency the South African Ambassador to Mali
Scholars, traditional and religious leaders
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me begin by expressing our deepest condolences from the government and people of South Africa at the tragic loss of life which occurred in February this year.
More than twenty people lost their lives in a stampede caused by a structural collapse. The government and people of South Africa share the sense of loss of the people of Timbuktu and wish to express our sense of solidarity to the bereaved families who have lost their loved ones.
Timbuktu has experienced many triumphs and tragedies in its long and illustrious history and today, following the recent tragedy, we are gathered to celebrate a triumph. We celebrate the completion and transfer of responsibility to the government of Mali of the new library and archives building for the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research.
It is also befitting that we celebrate this gigantic milestone in the same week that the continent celebrates Africa Day. I am also pleased to acknowledge that 2010 is the 15th anniversary of Mali's independence and wish to congratulate the government and people of Mali on this great achievement and furthermore it is well known that the South African liberation struggle was inspired by that of Mali and other countries.
Today's event therefore marks a significant milestone in the excellent relations between South Africa and Mali as we formally transfer responsibility for this magnificent new building which is the culmination of a long cooperative journey that began in 2001.
The journey began when former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was brought to Timbuktu during his State Visit to Mali by former President Alpha Kunaré.
The vision of these two leaders led to the establishment of the South African and Mali project to restore and preserve the Timbuktu manuscripts. This project soon captured the imaginations of not only the citizens of South Africa and Mali, but that of Africa and beyond. Nine years later both countries and the other parties remain committed to the project.
The project has three major objectives:
* The physical conservation of the manuscripts and training of the Malian conservators
* The construction of the library and archives building to house the manuscripts and all services relating to the preservation, collection and accession of the manuscripts
* The creation of public awareness on the need to preserve the manuscripts and their importance as sources of information that tells the true story of Mali and the surrounding regions.
Colonial literature and discourse has always characterised Timbuktu as the world's most remote and imaginary place, a place of exiles and a place beyond the worth of human attention.
The reality is that Timbuktu was the crossroad that linked Sub-Saharan Africa to the cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East for millennia. Timbuktu flourished as a place of scholarship with a university when Europe had only two universities.
Above all, the manuscripts of Timbuktu demonstrate conclusively that the myth propagated by colonisers that Africans were ignorant and illiterate was totally false. While the script used in the manuscripts is Arabic, the languages contained therein include local languages such as Songhai, Fulfulde and others.
Africans proclaim these manuscripts as integral to their own culture, their own literary culture that records matters of faith, law, social arrangements, environment, sciences and medicine.
It was for these reasons that former President Thabo Mbeki; felt that all Africans should rally to save this treasure. It was also for these reasons that South Africans of all races and colours rallied to raise funds to build the new library. While the contents of the manuscripts reflect an Islamic worldview of the Middle Ages, their message resonates for all of Africa and for all humanity.
The significance of Timbuktu and the potential of the project were recognised by the African Union when it adopted the project as New Partnership for Arica's Development (NEPAD's) first cultural project.
When the Heads of State of South Africa and Mali came together in January 2009 to inaugurate the building their ceremony united not just South Africa and Mali, but all of Africa.
Today, it is our duty to complete the task; the finishing touches to the new building have been completed, the initial conservation training has been completed and public knowledge has grown.
Our project has also grown beyond its bilateral beginnings: Other states within the African Union are also interested in supporting the project, especially Tunisia with whose help we hope to lift training and capacity building, both in Mali and in South Africa to new heights.
Although the trust has fulfilled its mandate, this is not the end, but a continuation of our relations to ensure that the original objectives of the project continue to be met with the involvement of new partners.
It therefore gives me great pleasure to formally transfer responsibility for the building to Minister Siby Ginette Bellegarde with this major responsibility for the continued accessibility to the community and to scholars so that future generations can also marvel at these treasures.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
29 May 2010
Source: The Presidency (http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/)
Issued by: The Presidency
29 May 2010
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