Recalling a painful past New plans for Egazini heritage site
In the hope of winning over the surrounding community, a township drama group has proposed conducting an edutainment programme for residents living near the Egazini Memorial Park in Fingo Village.
This comes as most of a new R300K fence to protect monuments commemorating the historic Battle of Egazini has disappeared, less than a year after it was erected. That after a previous fence, along with trees planted on the site, disappeared even more quickly. A signboard installed in March this year, intended to signal the site’s significance, has already disappeared.
The municipality has opened a case with the police about the vandalism and a guard for the site will be part of the remit for a new security company to be appointed, according to documents presented at the Council’s Tourism And Cultural Industries Portfolio meeting on Wednesday.
The proposal for community awareness interactive exercises was also part of that meeting’s agenda. The programme is to be run by the cast of the Battles! Limfazwe tour which was staged during the National Arts Festival.
The pared-down team of director Masixole Heshu, Nox Donyeli, Azele Cibi and Likhaya Jack say in their proposal that they aim to “educate people of all ages who live, study or work” in the vicinity of the Park about its history and meaning.
“Performance material from the tour will be adapted to the needs of the local community.” The tour was run under the auspices of Rhodes University’s Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit.
The team proposes to use the interactive sessions to build up to an event at the site on Heritage Day, 24 September.
Winning over hearts, though, will be a tough task, for many reasons.
The area formerly known as Silvertown was demolished in 2005, and its occupants were relocated to RDP houses in Vukani. The National Heritage Site was erected to commemorate the battle between the Xhosa and the British, during which many Xhosa lives were lost and their bodies buried at the site now known as Egazini.
Former Silvertown residents are frustrated and disappointed that the site they were forced to leave, far from being a dignified memorial, has been wracked by theft and vandalism.
Mr Kalipa, who lived in Silvertown, said, “We want something that can create jobs for the community. The people who should guard the place must come from the community. I think that can stop the vandalism. We feel like we are not respected.”
Another former Silvertown inhabitant, Mrs Mata, said, “It’s more than 10 years since we have left the site, but there is nothing progressive for the people, because the place does not function for the community.” She also pointed out that their relocation had moved the community further away from the CBD and the Raglan Road clinic.
Asked to comment on the rationale for the site, Makana Municipality spokesperson Yoliswa Ramokolo said it had been established for the benefit of the community.
The intention was for it to attract tourists, who would bring money into the community.
There had up to now been no official opening or handover of the facility to the community.
Asked about the suggestion of employing locals to guard the site, she said while the municipality would not directly employ community members at the site, they could apply for work at the security company providing that service to Makana Municipality.
The palisade fencing that has all but disappeared is the second fence erected there in three years: the first was also stolen, bit by bit.
According to municipal documents, R200 000 was spent on preparing the garden and R300 000 was spent on palisade fencing.
History researcher at the Albany Museum Lindinxiwa Mahlasela praised the efforts of local government as well as historian Julie Wells, who is head of the IIsikhumbuzo Applied History Unit, to raise awareness of local history.
“They were trying to respect the history of the indigenous people,” Mahlasela said. “Our history is not written in books, there are no public places that have our story.
“The Municipality was told to focus on service delivery, houses and the water crisis. Heritage must be left to the arts and culture department. Egazini was built by the municipality but led by historians. Even now there should be people asking for donations so the place can be done properly. Unfortunately, there is no money.”
Asked how people could be persuaded not to destroy the site, Mahlasela said, “It is not about understanding, in my view.
“It’s about priorities: hunger in our communities makes us not to care for other things, because we are preoccupied with stomach politics. Food is the basic need, if there is no food you don’t care for anything. The things that are higher value are sold for nothing because people are hungry.
“What is needed is for the Department of Arts and Culture to finish the project of Egazini. But to finish it is not enough: there should be people who will work there and get salaries, and those people should come from the community.”
A sense of place
Zandisile Sakata of Cacadu District Museums and Heritage in the Department of Arts and Culture said, “It is important that the people associate them selves with the place, but it is important to communicate with the people in the community first.
“We cannot run away from the fact that Egazini is a Heritage Site. It is part of the fifth Frontier War. As the department, we should protect the site. People need to identify and know about history.
“You ask a person, what is heritage? Why does it has to be conserved? Why does it need to be protected and promoted?
“If you read history books, we have less visible heritage than white people, because our history was not regarded as worth recording. So our mandate is to teach people about heritage.”
Sakata said there needed to be educational programmes. For example, if a ward councillor held a meeting, there should be an item about the site.
“Heritage it’s not just about arts and culture, it’s about everyone.”
• Additional reporting by Sue Maclennan