Our duty to restore history
One thing the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela mourning period confirmed is our poor record for preserving and telling our history. We have learnt that the memorials that tell the story of her life are either derelict or have not got off the ground. Her birthplace, wedding church and place of banishment are all in a state of neglect. This is despite millions having been set aside by the government for these projects.
What is worse is that it is not just the MadikizelaMandela memorials that are in this state. Many others that mark historical events or celebrate major figures are in disrepair. It is tragic that a country with such rich history and which fought the most romantic revolution of the past 200 years places such little value in its courage and triumphs.
It is not only in physical memorials that we are lacking. We are appalling in recording our history and in chronicling the incredible lives of the people who led the liberation of our country and laid the foundations of our new republic. Besides the plethora of books about Nelson Mandela, there is little material on or by other stalwarts of the liberation struggle.
This week two other great stalwarts died. Their lives were not recorded and celebrated while they lived. Former Cabinet minister Zola Skweyiya and veteran diplomat George Nene dedicated their lives to serving the nation.
From youth activism to exile and government service, their lives were stories waiting to be written. Their stories would have added valuable pieces to the intricate jigsaw puzzle of our history. But our scribes and scholars did not take down their memories, reflections and thoughts. Many of the ageing generation of liberators are dying, taking with them the treasures of their inspirational lives.
The deaths of these stalwarts should teach us the importance of keeping records and restoring our heritage. The records in the hands of foundations for well-known struggle icons are not telling the whole story of how South Africa became a democracy in 1994. There are events that happened across the country and places where arrests and killings of struggle heroes happened. Those should be documented, archived and shared for future generations. For that to happen it requires extensive funding. But it also requires others to dedicate their time to the restoration of history to ensure that it stays alive – all the time.