MORIJA ARTS & CULTURAL FESTIVAL
Opening Ceremony, Friday 27 September 2013
First of all, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to Her Majesty and the Royal Family, the Government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Tourism, Environment & Culture and the Ministry of Education, the Principal Chief of Matsieng and the Chief of Morija, Baruti ba Moshoeshoe as well as the institutions and people of Morija, the many sponsors and partners of the Museum and the Festival, large and small, the many schools participating today, as well as the broader arts and cultural community for making all of this possible. Thank you for your support.
Ultimately, let us also give thanks to Almighty God who gives us life and sustenance, who made us in his image, one of intelligence, love and creativity, who places within each of us various gifts and talents to be used for the common good, and who moves in us and inspires us towards a better life.
Where we come from
Museums are said to be about the past, about preserving, researching and recording, as well as presenting and interpreting our history and traditions so that we have a better understanding of where we come from. And this information and understanding is not meant for us alone as museum staff, rather it is for the nation, especially the youth. In a very meaningful way, therefore, museums are also about the present and the future, and not just the past. As such Morija Museum has dedicated itself not only to study the past but also to be deeply involved in education programmes and in supporting the development of living culture.
It is understandable then that the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival is an outgrowth of the work of Morija Museum & Archives and the larger traditions of Morija, Selibeng sa Thuto, where cultural icons such as Thomas Mofolo and JP Mohapeloa created beautiful novels and musical compositions which both preserve the past as well as move us forward as a people, shaping our identity and understanding of ourselves. The Morija Festival is dedicated to celebrating and enhancing our living culture and our heritage as Basotho, our sense of shared values and a positive forward-looking national identity. The Festival seeks to showcase our diversity, our creativity, and our entrepreneurship. We invite others to share together with us from their traditions and cultures, thus building ties with many other peoples and promoting tourism.
Where we are moving
Over the past ten years, the programmes of the Museum devoted to living cultural and heritage have developed in new ways, and I would like to outline a few of these initiatives for you:
1. Nation-wide School Cultural Competitions: these started in a small way in 2001, but have grown steadily over the years so that today, hundreds of primary and high schools from all districts of Lesotho compete at centre and district level before the final competitions which take place here at Morija as part of the Festival. These competitions involve traditional dance, as well as games and instruments. Poetry, drama and art have been added over the years, and if funding were available, we would begin promoting dramatized dance in various high schools as well. These competitions help to promote competency and pride in a range of cultural activities, while also nurturing creativity and newer forms of cultural expression.
2. Morija Arts Centre: this was formally opened in June 2011 by His Majesty. It is an outgrowth of efforts since 2007 to establish a centre for skills development and entrepreneurship at Morija, a centre that will help nurture talent while developing programmes and products throughout the year. The Centre currently trains apprentices and students in art, ceramics, and wood carving. With greater support, it will add other programmes, including a Media Centre for photography, graphics, film and new media, a factory for Seshoeshoe branded items, a music programme, and more.
3. Annual calendar of activities. In order to move beyond a situation where we only come once-a-year to Morija for one very large and expensive Festival, we have been working with the Friends of Morija Museum and other stakeholders over the last few years to develop a regular calendar of smaller events and activities, both at Morija and elsewhere. This initiative has been gaining greater traction during 2013, and we hope to make Morija a centre for regular activities in the arts, culture, food, fashion, history and heritage, something educational and entertaining which can attract a regular flow of visitors from Lesotho as well as tourists. In this regard, the Museum Tea Room is being upgraded as well as other products and services in the area.
4. Larger Cultural Precinct: in 2011 the Museum was given additional land by the church in the lower lying areas below the museum, here where we are today near the historic graveyard. This area is called ‘Heritage Park’. It is being developed to accommodate various events and will serve as the new Main Arena for the Morija Festival this year. As such, it will link the Arts Centre and Maeder House Gallery with the Amphitheatre and Museum, as well as with adjacent institutions like the English Medium School, Morija Printing Works and the historic Morija Church. The hope is that a new synergy of activities and businesses will grow up in this area, providing a unique destination in Lesotho for visitors from near and far.
5. Seriti sa Morija: In order to properly develop the required infrastructure for the various Museum programmes, including the Arts Centre and the larger Cultural Precinct, a project will soon be launched so that people and businesses can contribute to its realization. The project is called Seriti sa Morija, which we might roughly translate as “The beautiful ambiance of Morija”. Once completed, the project will help to transform Morija and make it a truly vibrant and unique centre for heritage, the arts, culture, entrepreneurship, and tourism in Lesotho.
The future of the Morija Festival
Before closing my remarks, let me return to where we started, the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival. This annual event is actually a year-long process that involves serious investments in time, human resources, infrastructure and finance from a range of partners and stakeholders in order to succeed. Over the years, although resources have never really been adequate, we have persevered with the Festival in the hope that the on-going developments in the School Cultural Competitions, the Arts Centre and other programmes and activities will create the platform for its larger success as well.
In order to help motivate greater resources for the success of the Morija Festival as well as many other activities and programmes in the broader art and cultural sector, we would like to offer a few suggestions to you as business and community leaders, as well as to our parent ministry, the Ministry of Tourism & Culture. These suggestions will strengthen the framework in which the broader arts and cultural sector operates:
a) Tax incentive for sponsors of not-for-profit cultural events & programmes: A tax incentive would be given to businesses which sponsor the arts and cultural sector, the same policy that currently applies to designated sporting activities. In this way, more resources will be made available for the arts and culture by the private sector, and it will reduce the burden to the Ministry of Culture.
b) National Policy on Corporate Social Responsibility: A wide range of businesses that carry out major economic activity in Lesotho give little back to the broader community, leaving the burden to be carried by a limited number of local corporates in Lesotho. If all businesses were to contribute something meaningful on an annual basis to the community concerning education, health, the arts & culture, sports, youth programmes, small business development, or mentoring programmes for young graduates, then a big change would be evident. In the arts sector, most of these funds could be invested in developmental programmes and special projects.
c) National Arts Council: If a viable structure and framework for this body could be established by the Department of Culture in close consultation with the arts & cultural sector, then government resources could be invested more optimally in developmental programmes in the sector. The private sector and other organizations might also contribute to such initiatives.
d) Regional and International Partners: Much as institutions, organizations and the broader cultural sector must put more effort into developing their own partnerships, government as well as large businesses and organizations in Lesotho could assist by working more effectively to help foster meaningful partnerships across borders.
e) Border Situation: Finally, for Morija (and other larger events) to succeed in regional marketing efforts, it is imperative that the long queues at the border be addressed. We would like the Festival to bring in large numbers of visitors who will utilize a broad range of services, enjoy the country and return again with friends, thus increasing Lesotho’s visibility and regional profile as a tourist destination. But the queues at Maseru bridge are not conducive to tourism. Something must be done.
Recently, at the Media Launch of the Morija Festival on 28 August, the MP for Matsieng the Honourable ‘Mats’epo Ramakoae called for a meeting of stakeholders to look carefully at how the Festival can be enhanced and permanent investments can be directed towards achieving the larger potential of Morija. We look forward to such a meeting in October and invite each of you to consider how you might contribute to this process. Kea leboha.