Minister of Arts &Culture, Science &Technology;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Few occasions could awaken such a mixture of emotions as today's, or illuminate so sharply the changes of recent years. Fewer still could bring to such sharp focus the challenges ahead.

It is a great joy for me that we can all come as free South Africans - with our friends - to Robben Island;and even more that we are gathered to celebrate our joint heritage as a nation, to acknowledge this heritage in the context of our commitment to Democracy, Tolerance and Human Rights.

In affirming a joint heritage, in this place, we are reminded that our noble ideals were spurred on even more by their long denial, that today's unity is a triumph over yesterday's division and conflict.

The memory of the political prisoners confined on this island and in other prisons, reminds us that these ideals must have concrete content if they are to have real meaning. They must bring secure protection under the law, access to justice, clean water, adequate health-care and shelter. They must entrench the conditions in which one can participate in building our collective democratic future;speak one's own language, have pride in one's culture and one's heritage.

In seeking to ground our heritage in these ideals we are striking out in a new direction.

During colonial and apartheid times, our museums and monuments reflected the experiences and political ideals of a minority to the exclusion of others.

Most people had little or no say in the depiction of their history in textbooks, libraries, or research institutions. The demeaning portrayal of black people in particular - that is African, Indian and Coloured people - is painful to recall.

Of our museums, all but a handful - three per cent - represented the kind of heritage which glorified mainly white and colonial history. And even the small glimpse of black history in the others was largely fixed in the grip of racist and other stereotypes.

Unfortunately we have to acknowledge that the redressing of this situation has barely begun.

Having excluded and marginalised most of our people, is it surprising that our museums and national monuments are often seen as alien spaces? How many have gone to see one of our monuments? In other countries such places throng with citizens.

Our cultural institutions cannot stand apart from our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Within the context of our fight for a democratic South Africa and the entrenchment of Human Rights, can we afford exhibitions in our museums depicting any of our people as lesser human beings, sometimes in natural history museums usually reserved for the depiction of animals? Can we continue to tolerate our ancestors being shown as people locked in time?

Such degrading forms of representation inhibit our children's appreciation of the value and strength of our democracy, of tolerance and of human rights. They demean the victims and warp the minds of the perpetrators.

Through the Apartheid years, people responded to the denial and distortion of their heritage with their own affirmation - as indeed Afrikaners had done in an earlier period. They celebrated their heritage outside of the country's museums and monuments: in song and in ceremony;in festivals and carnivals;in the selling of their own wares and in buying items associated with their heritage;by working the history of their communities into everyday artifacts, as the women of Hlabisa weave their stories into beer baskets.

With democracy, we have the opportunity to ensure that our institutions reflect history in a way that respects the heritage of all our citizens.

Government has taken up the challenge. Our museums and the heritage sector as a whole are being restructured. Community consultation, effective use of limited resources, and accessibility are our guiding principles as we seek to redress the imbalances.

The recently established Legacy Project will promote a fuller representation of our nation's heritage, through new monuments and heritage sites. This will ensure that we have national monuments that live in our people's hearts.

When our museums and monuments preserve the whole of our diverse heritage, when they are inviting to the public and interact with the changes all around them, then they will strengthen our attachment to human rights, mutual respect and democracy, and help prevent these ever again being violated.

Friends;Ladies and gentlemen;

Robben Island is a vital part of South Africa's collective heritage.

Siqithini - the Island - a place of pain and banishment for centuries and now of triumph - presents us with the rich challenge of heritage, Its future has been the subject of intense and wide-ranging debate.

How do we look at the histories of different people who lived here, through various ages: lepers, prisoners, jailers all together;leaders of resistance not only from South Africa but from as far afield as Namibia and the Indonesian Archipelago? How do we give expression to these diverse histories as a collective heritage?

How do we reflect the fact that the people of South Africa as a whole, together with the international community, turned one of the world's most notorious symbols of racist oppression into a world-wide icon of the universality of human rights;of hope, peace and reconciliation.

How do we represent the tradition of intense political and academic education that the Island has come to symbolise?

These and many other important issues are canvassed in the 200 or more submissions received on the future of the Island, and they will be given full consideration.

I am confident that we will together find a way to combine the many dimensions of the Island, and that we will do so in a manner that recognises above all its pre-eminent character as a symbol of the victory of the human spirit over political oppression;and of reconciliation over enforced division. In this way we will help strengthen the ethos of heritage as a binding force, rather than a divisive one;as a force for truth rather than an artificial construct to satisfy all and sundry.

When Cabinet decided that Robben Island should be developed as a National monument and National Museum, it set in motion its redevelopment as a cultural and conservation showcase for South Africa's democracy which will also maximise its educational potential.

In the short time since January this year, when the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology took over responsibility for the Island, great progress has been made in this direction. We thank Professor Andre Odendaal and the interim administration for their sterling work, and we are certain that their experience and expertise will continue to stand us in good stead.

Today, a second phase of the Island's redevelopment begins. We wish the new Council well in the challenging task with which they have been entrusted.

This ceremony confirms for us that the struggle for human dignity and freedom - throughout the world, and in particular in South Africa - is an ongoing one.

It challenges us to ensure that future generations of South Africans can claim the heritage of a nation that has eradicated the legacy of grinding poverty that our generation inherited for most of its people;the heritage of a nation that has deracialised all spheres of social life and secured the dignity of all its diverse communities.

Let us recommit ourselves to the ideals in our Constitution, ideals which were shaped in the struggles here on Robben Island and in the greater prison that was Apartheid South Africa.

May this monument and the museum strengthen our resolve that never again shall this land see the oppression of one by another;nor the suppression of any community's heritage.

In conclusion, it now gives me great pleasure to formally open the new Robben island Museum, the first major new heritage institutions of democratic South Africa.

I thank you!

Issued by: The Office of the President