IN MARCH last year, a multifaceted, bilateral collaboration between France and South Africa was concluded by the heads of states of the two countries.
The goal of this wide-ranging collaboration, known as France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013, was to improve mutual understanding, and contribute to the diversification of SA’s image in France, and France’s image in SA, by emphasising the modernity and values the two countries shared.
These reciprocal seasons are led, on the SA side, by the national Department of Arts and Culture, with the support of a variety of government departments including science and technology, trade and industry, tourism, and higher and basic education.
“By all accounts, this season has been hailed as a huge success both here and in France, and has far exceeded the organisers’ expectations in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg,” says Bongani Tembe, SA commissioner-general for the seasons.
Now he is promising the season will go out with a bang – with a grand and spectacular entertainment event which, open to the public, will be held in the Durban city centre on Saturday, November 17.
The closing ceremony will feature an outdoor show called Place Des Anges (Angels’ Place), which will use a half-dozen or more buildings in the city centre around the city hall, including the Playhouse and city hall itself.
“We are expecting thousands of people of all races and ages to stream into Durban, to the Durban Arts and Culture Precinct, the creative heart of the city, to enjoy performances at no cost,” says Tembe.
“Durban was chosen as the perfect destination to hold the official closing ceremony as it has a large diversity of cultures and a mixed artistic profile,” he says.
“It also has some of the most beautiful architecture in the city centre and, for this reason, we wish to encourage Durbanites, across the cultures, young and old, back into the heart of the city to rediscover their heritage, architecture and art.
“In doing so, we can share an unconditional cohesive time with others in a moment of playfulness which has been celebrated the world over.”
Tembe says: “France and SA are in two different hemispheres and yet there is a distinct commonality between the two when it comes to areas of innovative economy, strong sporting traditions, scientific and technological expertise and excellent universities, for a start.
“The French Season in South Africa 2012 provided a unique and varied platform from where we could both explore these common interests, which resulted in the strengthening of ties between our two countries, without a doubt.”
Tembe points out that more than 100 projects, exhibitions, concerts, performances, colloquiums and interactive sessions were presented across SA during the six months of the French Season.
Within the programme was something for everyone, and from the field of arts and culture alone, the season catered for lovers of dance, music, film, theatre, literature, visual arts and a variety of music genres.
The rich and varied programme appealed to young and old, as well as to traditionalists and supporters of cultural innovation.
The French Season allowed South Africans to experience French exhibitions and performances which might otherwise never have made their way to this country.
Tembe says the high levels of activity on social media platforms provided a good indication of the tremendous support by South Africans of French Season projects.
Tembe highlighted some of the French Season in SA 2012, reporting fantastic attendance figures, for example:
“I am stunned by the way in which South Africans have embraced the French Season,” says Tembe.
“The French Season in South Africa opened in June this year and closes officially with the November 17 event, and will be followed by the South African Season in France between May and December.
“This follows the request of the highest authorities in the two countries, who wish to promote and reinforce strong, deep bonds that unite each in the field of culture; to establish long-term relationships, and to improve mutual understanding while contributing to the diversification of France’s image in SA and SA’s image in France.”
For years, France has been engaged in reciprocal seasons with its key international partners – China, Japan, India, Turkey, Russia and Brazil, among others. South Africa’s involvement makes it the first sub-Saharan country to have seasons with France.