Question: In the January 8 statement of the National Executive Committee this year, prominent mention is given to the cultural field. How would you briefly define culture and the task of the artist in the struggle?
TAMBO: Culture could be said to be the cumulative responses of a people to their political, economic and social environment which, in historical perspective, have resulted in stabilised behavioural patterns or "a way of life". In the domain of the arts, artists interpret these responses in a creative and dynamic process which in turn influences the outlook and behaviour of society. The dominant class in any given society actively seeks to perpetuate itself and largely uses the medium of culture for this purpose.
The task of our artists is therefore to articulate our struggle, our hopes and aspirations using the varied forms created by their skills and talents. They can then grow into a powerful, recognisable force within the ranks of our broad liberatory movement throughout our country and beyond.
Question: Culture is often seen within our ranks as something mainly ornamental, recreational and entertaining. It is also sometimes seen as mainly for "cultured comrades", rather than for everybody. Is this a correct view for cadres of the liberation movement to hold?
TAMBO: On the one hand there is the elitist Eurocentric approach which associates culture with formal education and exposure to certain exclusivist cultural artifacts. In South Africa this view has been deliberately promoted and used for bolstering white supremacy since the whites have always had the monopoly of access to these cultural "prerequisites."
But for the majority of the people on the exploited end of the scale, culture is depicted as neutral entertainment in order to blind the oppressed to its revolutionary potential. In fact all people are involved in culture, both the performer and the spectator who reacts to what he or she sees or hears.
The ANC cadre should always be aware of this involvement and consciously accept the responsibility to engage in some form of cultural activity which in one way or another brings out the content and direction of the struggle.
Question: We have this situation where South African artists who are by no means apologists for the regime, go abroad to present their works and talents. In view of the cultural boycott, what is our attitude to this?
TAMBO: Our position on this is clear. There should be no cultural links with fascist South Africa. As part of our struggle, we give all the encouragement to those South African artists who, in their works, are fighting against the apartheid system with all its injustices. Foreign artists who support our cause should actively engage in anti-apartheid activities, either as artists or on a broader plane, within their respective countries.
Question: Despite everything, the cultural scene inside South Africa is vibrant. There are impressive inventive advances as well as technical progress in theatre, writing, dance, music, fine arts, even films. On the other hand, culture in the ANC is primarily on the agit-prop model. How can we ensure that we, as ANC cultural workers, do not become irrelevant in a liberated South Africa?
TAMBO: The ANC promotes the cultural development of our people and there are no cultural barriers, either geographic or aesthetic, between the ANC cultural workers inside and outside South Africa and the vibrant culture of the people. There is therefore no question of ANC cultural workers being irrelevant.
It is a matter of fact that cultural workers inside the country operate under the constraints of limited training facilities, but they are the ones who determine (within the confines of the apartheid system) what is South African culture. The few who are outside operate under relatively free conditions and can acquire unlimited skills and benefits from exposure to world culture.
There are cultural institutions in South Africa, but these serve a small elitist minority and are geared towards promoting certain values, most of which are inimical to our goal of a democratic, unitary and nonracial South Africa. By training cultural technicians, administrators, teachers and artists in various disciplines, we would ensure that the existing institutions can be reorganised to serve the type of society we envisage.
Question: The Department of Arts and Culture is planning a Community Cultural Centre for Dakawa. What do you think are the minimum cultural facilities, which should be made available in a given community, Dakawa for example?
TAMBO: I would say that minimal cultural facilities for any community would be a cinema, a library, a theatre for performing arts, sports facilities, centres for arts and crafts, etc., which would cater for children, youth and the adult population.
The Dakawa Cultural Centre should therefore be a live active centre for creating and training cultural activists and, more importantly, producing artistic works as well as traditional and modern crafts. The range is unlimited: woodwork, bead-work, pottery and ceramics, jewellery, silk-screening, leather-work, batik etc.
Question: There is an ongoing campaign by the racist regime to cultivate a black middle class that will find itself defending the regime. The media plays a big part in this process. How should cultural workers combat this?
TAMBO: Our people are continuously bombarded with various forms of cultural influences meant to give them a false, escapist and anti-liberation orientation. We must congratulate the musicians, poets, writers and other artists who have successfully withstood this cultural onslaught and have been able to engage in more meaningful community-oriented cultural activities.
We exhort our people, in their various formations - as youth, women, workers, professionals, the converted and the animists, to counter this intellectual and moral attack and help to create viable, constructive and nation-building values among our people.
Question: How can we preserve our traditional African culture(s) - language, oral literature, dance - and simultaneously avoid the pitfalls of tribalism and chauvinism?
TAMBO: The apartheid enemy tries to separate us into ancient "tribal" entities and pretends to be concerned with the preservation of our cultural heritage. We are one people with a rich cultural heritage which manifests itself in many variations. Our task is not to preserve our culture in its antique forms but to build on it and let it grow to assume a national character, the better to become a component of all evolving world culture.
In this context language, oral literature, dance, etc., become elemental parts of the national culture - a people's possession rather than a means of tribal identification. In any case the notion of "tribe" has colonial origins, is promoted by colonial regimes and serves the purposes of "divide and rule". Culture does not divide. It unites because it is a universal possession.
Question: Comrade President, are you optimistic about the role cultural work will play in the building of our future, nonracial, democratic and liberated South Africa?
TAMBO: I am more than optimistic; I am confident. For, cultural work is already playing an increasing role in the struggle for a liberated South Africa. Through struggle we are cultivating a sense of common nationhood, embracing the entire people, wherein various cultural strains are seen as components of a united people's national culture rather than works of separate identity; where diversity lends variety and richness to the experience of life in society.
A future nonracial and democratic South Africa will be a product, not least of our conscious cultural work.