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The Na­tional Her­itage Coun­cil says it’s time to lib­er­ate our her­itage

It is a known fact that South Africa bris­tled it­self out of a past that is still un­com­fort­able to talk about. The strug­gle for free­dom took nearly 400 years, start­ing with the re­sis­tance bat­tles be­tween tra­di­tional lead­ers and set­tlers and evolv­ing into sev­eral epochs that left our his­tory criss­crossed with painful mem­o­ries.

The most re­cent free­dom fight, against the op­pres­sive apartheid govern­ment evoked world­wide sym­pa­thy and left gen­er­a­tions of South Africans trau­ma­tised.

It gave rise to an army of ac­tivists and un­leashed emo­tions so deep that they re­main an in­deli­ble part of our na­tion.

It is lit­tle won­der the peo­ple who were left bat­tered and bloody by their hard-won free­dom wanted every shred of ev­i­dence of those dark, op­pres­sive times ex­punged.

Peo­ple re­jected any­thing that de­graded the indige­nous peo­ple of this coun­try and the de­lib­er­ate ap­a­thy slowly eroded the in­ter­est in that era of our his­tory.

To­day, how­ever, re­al­ity poses a to­tally dif­fer­ent sce­nario and I be­lieve we have to pre­serve our his­tory as part of our her­itage, de­spite the bad mem­o­ries that it may evoke.

The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UNESCO), at its 33rd Gen­eral Con­fer­ence in Oc­to­ber 2005, recog­nised lib­er­a­tion strug­gle her­itage as be­ing of uni­ver­sal value and sig­nif­i­cance. This year marks the 12th an­niver­sary of this res­o­lu­tion and South Africans are able to re­flect on a num­ber of mile­stones that have been recorded by the Na­tional Her­itage Coun­cil (NHC), an agency of the De­part­ment of Arts and Cul­ture, as the im­ple­ment­ing agency of the pro­gramme on be­half of South Africa.

Strug­gle her­itage

Before, it was recog­nised by UNESCO, lib­er­a­tion strug­gle her­itage was un­charted ter­ri­tory in the her­itage sec­tor. The jour­ney of record­ing one of the long­est re­sis­tance and lib­er­a­tion strug­gles ever waged by a na­tion that emerged peace­fully to adopt a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion was punc­tu­ated with valu­able les­sons.

In many ways, the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle his­tory of South Africa had a global im­pact.The eyes of the world were on South Africa be­cause our po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments would have a di­rect im­pact on other coun­tries. This and other fac­tors made the lib­er­a­tion jour­ney of this coun­try par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant.

We may have been de­spon­dent about the his­tory as it was dur­ing the strug­gle but its value to the na­tion has mul­ti­plied.The sig­nif­i­cance and value of this his­tory will con­tinue to in­crease for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It will be re­gret­table if the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion does not fully em­brace the re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­serve this his­tory as one of the most defin­ing fea­tures of the na­tion.

The de­struc­tion of prop­erty as valu­able as the apartheid stat­ues and the City Hall in Bloem­fontein was a sad awak­en­ing.

One of the means to en­sure that the lib­er­a­tion his­tory re­mains a dis­tinct pub­lic mem­ory is to con­sciously em­bed sym­bols that sig­nify crit­i­cal turn­ing points and prop­erly doc­u­ment the in­for­ma­tion in all forms pos­si­ble.

The need for pub­lic in­volve­ment in this process can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. As a na­tion, we need to come to a re­al­i­sa­tion that this is im­por­tant in defin­ing who we are and where we come from. This self-dis­cov­ery will lead us to ap­pre­ci­ate the undis­cov­ered trea­sures that lie dor­mant in our lib­er­a­tion her­itage.

The NHC and its stake­hold­ers across the coun­try, which in­clude na­tional govern­ment de­part­ments; provin­cial sport, arts and cul­ture de­part­ments; as well as se­lect mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, have con­ducted re­search of more than 400 po­ten­tial her­itage sites that are land­marks of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. Se­lected sites have now been in­cluded in a world her­itage list­ing that could lead to recog­ni­tion by UNESCO.

In ac­knowl­edg­ing and pre­serv­ing our re­sis­tance and lib­er­a­tion her­itage, we will make fu­ture gen­er­a­tions think twice before lead­ing the na­tion into another con­flict which would un­der­mine the blood and sweat of those who fought for free­dom.

Lib­er­a­tion Her­itage Route

The NHC's Lib­er­a­tion Her­itage Route (LHR) project seeks to iden­tify and de­velop precincts on the sites of his­tor­i­cal and her­itage sig­nif­i­cance.The LHR re­flects the supreme sac­ri­fice for free­dom by South Africans. It is about the recog­ni­tion of peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties, events, places, icons and the record­ing of epoch-mak­ing sto­ries which had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the South African strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion.

The project is a post-lib­er­a­tion agenda to sym­bol­ise the na­tional lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and fight against for­get­ting the crit­i­cal mile­stones that mapped the way to the free­dom of the coun­try. Through the LHR, govern­ment seeks to doc­u­ment and pre­serve the mem­ory of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle through re­search and iden­tify and pro­tect her­itage sites.

The LHR is about telling a co­her­ent story of the road to free­dom and to sym­bol­ise the em­i­nence of the lib­er­a­tory sto­ries.

The chal­lenge that was dis­cov­ered along this jour­ney of pre­serv­ing the re­sis­tance and lib­er­a­tion her­itage is the lack of a con­sol­i­dated and co­her­ent na­tional plan that would guide all the role play­ers on the strate­gic vi­sion of this agenda.

For­tu­nately, the Min­is­ter of Arts and Cul­ture, Nathi Mthethwa, has taken the lead to en­sure that not only South Africa, but south­ern African coun­tries, come to­gether to de­velop a strat­egy that will en­sure we work as a col­lec­tive and co­op­er­ate in cross-bound­ary preser­va­tion ini­tia­tives, while pri­ori­tis­ing re­source al­lo­ca­tion for these as­sets.

Cel­e­brat­ing icons

Min­is­ter Mthethwa's in­ter­ven­tion comes at an ap­pro­pri­ate time as the coun­try is cel­e­brat­ing the cen­te­nary of Oliver Regi­nald Tambo this year and that of for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Rolih­lahla Man­dela next year.The cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions of these two lead­ers of the strug­gle, who worked fear­lessly with other po­lit­i­cal stal­warts, have granted us an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on what value we can de­rive from the lib­er­a­tion

strug­gle his­tory for the ad­vance­ment of so­ci­ety.

The NHC has deemed it ap­pro­pri­ate to re­flect on the record of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and ways in which this and other ar­chives may be used to ad­vance, deepen or con­sol­i­date democ­racy and the ideals on which our Con­sti­tu­tion is founded: equal­ity, hu­man dig­nity and free­dom. While this is in it­self very im­por­tant, it is also crit­i­cal that we look at how it can be of eco­nomic value to so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially the com­mu­ni­ties in which these her­itage sites are lo­cated. Un­lock­ing eco­nomic po­ten­tial is there­fore the next big­gest task fac­ing us.

Ac­cess to orig­i­nal and au­then­tic doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lat­ing to the strug­gle for democ­racy in South Africa is crit­i­cal to the writ­ing and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of this his­tory and en­sur­ing that the con­tri­bu­tions of all the or­gan­i­sa­tions or par­ties who played a part are ac­knowl­edged.

In ad­di­tion, fac­tors such as state re­pres­sion, cen­sor­ship, ex­ile and re­stric­tions on aca­demic free­dom mean that much of this his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial re­mains dis­persed across in­sti­tu­tional, pub­lic and pri­vate collections, in South Africa and in­ter­na­tion­ally, and pub­lic ac­cess has been limited.

The price of ac­cess to our own ma­te­rial is so high that it begs the ques­tion: Should we not con­sider resti­tu­tion to re­cover the ma­te­rial that was taken from us with­out our con­sent?

There are also on­go­ing chal­lenges and de­bates on how to max­imise ac­cess to these valu­able collections, how these collections could be utilised to broaden our un­der­stand­ing of our his­tory and how this un­der­stand­ing could pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and deepen democ­racy in South Africa. A sim­ple ques­tion to test this as­sump­tion is: How will we teach fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and so­ci­ety about the in­ten­sity and value of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle if we do not have ac­cess to the ma­te­rial to tell the story?

Pre­serv­ing our her­itage

The LHR is a mouth­piece for South Africa to tell the world about how com­mu­ni­ties sur­vived the tough times. It will never be told suf­fi­ciently in our life­time be­cause there is al­ways a new story of an or­di­nary per­son.These are the trea­sures that will give writers new ma­te­rial and film­mak­ers fresh an­gles. How­ever, if we don't work col­lec­tively, as a na­tion, to pre­serve this nar­ra­tive, it will dis­ap­pear like the ev­i­dence of African civil­i­sa­tion at Ma­pun­gubwe, the ru­ins of many tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing the KhoiSan, the an­cient tech­nol­ogy of land and wa­ter trans­port, medicine, law and the sci­ence of lead­er­ship.

A cen­tury after the birth of the lib­er­a­tion move­ment and 23 years into our democ­racy, there are signs that the work of ap­pre­ci­at­ing our lib­er­a­tion his­tory as a new ty­pol­ogy of her­itage in South Africa has only just started.

Mon­u­ments, land­marks, com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties, street and build­ing names in the re­cent years of our democ­racy re­flect nos­tal­gic com­mem­o­ra­tion of the his­toric lib­er­a­tion strug­gle.This grow­ing pub­lic in­ter­est is a sym­bol of ac­cept­ing the past as im­por­tant to so­ci­ety.

The LHR will go a long way in ce­ment­ing this progress and in­still­ing greater pride in South Africa's tran­si­tion from a strug­gle-be­lea­guered coun­try to a re­spected global player.This is the trea­sure that we need to dis­cover.

The NHC is a govern­ment in­sti­tu­tion that is re­spon­si­ble for the preser­va­tion and pro­mo­tion of the coun­try's her­itage. Fo­cus ar­eas of the NHC in­clude pol­icy de­vel­op­ment for the sec­tor to meet its trans­for­ma­tion goals, pub­lic aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion, knowl­edge pro­duc­tion in her­itage sub­jects that were pre­vi­ously ne­glected, as well as mak­ing fund­ing avail­able to projects that place her­itage as a so­cio-eco­nomic re­source.

CEO of the Na­tional Her­itage Coun­cil of South Africa Adv Son­wa­bile Man­co­tywa.

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