Van­dal­is­ing our her­itage

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

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.

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