Through the initiatives and intervention of former Australian diplomats, Di Johnstone and Bruce Haigh, and the Australian High Commission in South Africa, the Ifa Lethu Foundation was launched in November 2005 by the then National Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Pallo Z. Jordan. At that time its major objective was to respond to challenges in the heritage sector in South Africa. These challenges included the location of the country’s heritage such as art and art objects outside the country, the lack of available skills in this sector, and the failure to use heritage to empower communities. To date (2015), the Foundation has repatriated over 500 artistic works from across the globe, which form “The Ifa Lethu Heritage Collection”. This has travelled the world in exhibitions showing how human endeavour can overcome even the severest struggles of a nation and assist in efforts such as social cohesion.
Lessons learned in the Foundation’s early years have led to development programmes aimed primarily at youth, which develop creative skills, provide business knowledge, and encourage creative entrepreneurship-with the ultimate aim of creating able youth leadership. During the period 2010 – 2015, these programmes spread to rural areas to upskill creative practitioners to export level and to create business ventures in poverty-stricken areas in KZN, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. To date more than 2400 youth, women crafters and girls, have benefitted from these development programmes, gone on to start their own business ventures, and/or have been employed, particularly in our unique fossil casting programme by heritage institutions, the private sector and institutions of higher learning.