Vandalising our heritage
ROBERT Sobukwe should need no introduction – nor should Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Indeed, their legacies should be celebrated and cherished, the places where they once lived protected for posterity like any other important heritage site.
Yet, as The Sunday Independent reported this weekend, that is certainly not the case for Sobukwe’s law practice in Kimberley, nor the house in which Mam’ Winnie spent her lonely and bitter exile in Brandfort, in the Free State.
Sobukwe was jailed for his role as leader of the Pan Africanist Congress and architect of the Pass Laws Defiance Campaign that would culminate in the Sharpeville Massacre in Vereeniging.
Sent to Robben Island, the apartheid regime was so terrified of his influence that they enacted a special law – the Sobukwe law – to keep him exiled on the island even though he was a free man.
When they could no longer defend this monstrous injustice, they exiled him to Kimberley, where Sobukwe qualified as a lawyer and practised as such before his untimely death in 1978.
Mam’ Winnie was exiled to Brandfort, far from the people she knew.
It was supposed to break her spirit in a way that her detentions without trial never could. Instead, she emerged stronger, more vocal than ever, before returning to her home in Soweto.
Both these buildings should be shrines to the power of the spirit, much like the restored Chancellor House directly opposite the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practised law, or Madiba and Winnie’s house in Vilakazi Street, Soweto.
Instead, both buildings have been vandalised, unrecognisable even from their very humble origins and – in the harshest possible indictment – turned into shelters for vagrants, a place of fear in the case of the Brandfort home, where women have allegedly been taken and raped, and an impromptu public toilet in the case of the Galeshewe law office.
Madikizela-Mandela’s former home is classified as a museum, but it seems the money earmarked for its upkeep and development has been squandered. In Kimberley, it simply appears that there is no will at all to remember Sobukwe or honour his legacy.
This is deeply concerning for all concerned South Africans. We should not need reminding that the price for ignoring history is to see it repeated.