Birth­place of the ANC ‘lies in tat­ters’

CityPress - - Voices - Sihle Khu­malo voices@city­

While thou­sands are ex­pected in Gaut­eng to­day when Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma de­liv­ers the Jan­uary 8 state­ment on be­half of the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, the Waai­hoek Wes­leyan Church – the his­toric birth­place of the ANC in Bloem­fontein, where it all be­gan in 1912 – is a colos­sal em­bar­rass­ment, not only to the old­est lib­er­a­tion move­ment in Africa, but to all peo­ple who love and cher­ish free­dom.

Al­though the ac­tual struc­ture – at least from the out­side – looks solid and in­tact, the in­side of the build­ing re­veals an empty shell. It re­sem­bles an aban­doned build­ing. There is noth­ing in­side the struc­ture ex­cept for chairs and old pic­tures of sport­ing teams from a by­gone era.

Among the black-and-white pic­tures, strewn on the floor with oth­ers stuck on the wall, are 1944 Winners of the In­ter­school [bas­ket­ball] Floating Tro­phy, Tatane Cup Hold­ers 1925-1927, as well as an un­dated photo of the Bloem­fontein Dis­trict Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion – formed 1894.

This place of his­toric im­por­tance lies un­oc­cu­pied, re­dun­dant and al­most aban­doned.

Such is the im­por­tance of this build­ing that in 2012, in recog­ni­tion of the ANC’s cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions, the party lead­er­ship – in­clud­ing then deputy pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe, chair­per­son Baleka Mbete, sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe, then chief whip Mathole Mot­shekga, US civil rights ac­tivist Jesse Jack­son, for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s grand­son Mandla, as well as some tra­di­tional and com­mu­nity lead­ers – at­tended a spe­cial church ser­vice at these premises.

The cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions cost more than R100 mil­lion, which was con­firmed by Mbete when she told re­porters in Jo­han­nes­burg weeks be­fore the cel­e­bra­tions that “it is not cheap, but we be­lieve ... it is worth it. Future and younger gen­er­a­tions need to know where we come from.”

More than R12 mil­lion of that was spent on ac­com­mo­da­tion and “pro­to­col sup­port” for heads of state and oth­ers who at­tended the cel­e­bra­tions in Man­gaung, as was con­firmed by In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co­op­er­a­tion Min­is­ter Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane.

It was a po­lit­i­cal extravaganza that saw for­mer African heads of state such as Sam Nu­joma, Ken­neth Kaunda and Joaquim Chissano at­tend the fes­tiv­i­ties. Dig­ni­taries from all over the world and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lib­er­a­tion move­ments and anti-apartheid move­ments, as well as celebri­ties, also in­vaded the City of Roses.

The Wes­leyan Church is where it all be­gan 105 years ago, where peo­ple from all over the coun­try met for a con­fer­ence that re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the South African Na­tive Na­tional Congress, the fore­run­ner to the ANC.

The area Waai­hoek, where the church is lo­cated, seems to have gone through a slump and ur­gently needs re­ju­ve­na­tion. Be­sides a taxi rank in an open, dusty area, there are a few panel beat­ers and me­chan­ics’ work­shops.

Also, the nearby tow­ers that were branded with ANC colours and ANC lead­ers’ pic­tures stand with faded and torn pho­tos.

In 2011, the Mail & Guardian re­ported that a Free State busi­ness­man, Kevin Ja­cobs, who owns the prop­erty, de­manded R15 mil­lion when the Free State gov­ern­ment of­fered to buy it. At one stage it was al­leged that he wanted a whop­ping R100 mil­lion, de­spite it hav­ing been val­ued by in­de­pen­dent prop­erty eval­u­a­tors at only R3.4 mil­lion. He de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, stat­ing that he was will­ing to sell the prop­erty if of­fered fair value.

Ac­cord­ing to a Free State pro­vin­cial plan, the main ob­jec­tive was to turn the church and im­me­di­ate build­ings into a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural precinct, which would in­clude a mu­seum and an au­di­to­rium.

Dur­ing a visit to the church last month – five years af­ter the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions – there has been no ef­fort to­wards turn­ing the church into a mu­seum.

The po­ten­tial for such an iconic and his­toric precinct lies in ruin. The po­ten­tial tourism spin-offs are mas­sive, not only for the city, but for the prov­ince.

Given that the ANC is Africa’s old­est lib­er­a­tion move­ment, a mean­ing­ful per­cent­age of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourists would love to visit the iconic church where it all be­gan.

While thou­sands of ANC sup­port­ers in their black, green and gold re­galia will sing and dance in cel­e­bra­tion at the birth­day bash to­day, the base and foun­da­tion where it all started lies in tat­ters. Khu­malo is the au­thor of Al­most Sleep­ing My Way to Tim­buktu, Heart of Africa and Dark Con­ti­nent,

My Black Arse


FOUN­DA­TION The Waai­hoek Wes­leyan Church in Bloem­fontein, where the ANC was founded in 1912

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