Brand­fort blues

‘His­toric sites re­veal how the au­thor­i­ties had aban­doned our her­itage and had failed in their duty of care’

The Witness - - FEATURES - YVONNE SPAIN

GROW­ING up in the apartheid era, I was fed a skewed and in­com­plete his­tory of our coun­try.

Grow­ing old in the demo­cratic era, I can ad­dress this bias by read­ing and seek­ing out sig­nif­i­cant sto­ries and sites that were cen­sored in our news­pa­pers and our ma­tric his­tory text books. This quest has taken me to many places, in­clud­ing the grave sites of Steve Biko, The Cradock Four and Sol Plaatje; the Samora Machel air­craft crash site on the bor­der of Mozam­bique; 32 Bat­tal­ion’s Camp Buf­falo in the Caprivi and Brand­fort.

When Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela’s 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions co­in­cided with Her­itage Day 2016, I thought it a per­fect time to visit her place of ban­ish­ment in Brand­fort, while en route to Bloem­fontein.

Be­sides, ac­cord­ing to the Brand­fort mu­nic­i­pal web­site, her house was now a mu­seum, Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd com­pleted his ma­tric there at Hoërskool Akademia, Pres­i­dent Charles Swart farmed nearby and Brand­fort is the site of a Boer War/sec­ond South African War Con­cen­tra­tion Camp and Ceme­tery.

Un­for­tu­nately what should have been a jour­ney of re­flec­tion be­came a jour­ney of dis­il­lu­sion­ment, be­cause three of the sites I vis­ited re­vealed how the au­thor­i­ties had aban­doned our her­itage and had failed in their duty of care. When I re­turned home I de­cided to alert peo­ple in author­ity, in the hope that some­thing could be done to re­store the sites and that those re­spon­si­ble (or ir­re­spon­si­ble) would be held ac­count­able.

I sent let­ters to the per­sonal e-mail ad­dress of the then min­is­ter of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, Carte Blanche, the Sun­day Times, fol­low­ing a glow­ing re­view of the Win­nie Man­dela movie and Corruption Watch. The only re­ply I re­ceived was from the com­puter at Corruption Watch.

In my let­ter, I de­scribed the “Win­nie Man­dela Mu­seum” as “a scene of com­plete des­o­la­tion and des­e­cra­tion. There are two build­ings on the site and it was not clear to me which was ac­tu­ally her home.

So I con­sulted the In­ter­net and learnt that a dis­af­fected se­cu­rity policeman fire­bombed the house/s in the nineties. Ab­so­lutely noth­ing ap­pears to have been done since then to re­pair or re­spect the site. Ly­ing about was hu­man ex­cre­ment, soiled dis­pos­able nap­pies, shards of bro­ken glass, and mounds of gen­eral lit­ter.

The build­ings are derelict, win­dow­less, and where there are walls, these are cov­ered in graf­fiti; where there aren’t walls there re­mains only a tor­tured steel struc­ture. To make mat­ters worse, there is a con­struc­tion sign on the pave­ment next to the precinct — which pro­claimed “Her­itage Restora­tion” and listed all the con­trac­tors that would be in­volved in the work — which ac­cord­ing to a few lo­cals, was never started, be­cause the R2,5 mil­lion to R3 mil­lion given to the municipality sim­ply haem­or­rhaged away due to corruption.”

I con­tin­ued my let­ter by draw­ing at­ten­tion to the sit­u­a­tion at the nearby con­cen­tra­tion camp on a pri­vate farm: “Dur­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s term, a num­ber of graves be­long­ing to black con­cen­tra­tion camp vic­tims were iden­ti­fied and a ceme­tery/memo­rial was es­tab­lished to hon­our them. This is over­grown, and all sig­nage has been re­moved/van­dalised — in stark con­trast to the Boer ceme­tery about one kilo­me­tre away on the same farm.”

My let­ter ended with a com­ment about my visit to the Waai­hoek Wes­ley Church in Bloem­fontein where the ANC was founded in Jan­uary 1912: “Firstly Google Maps had no re­sults when I searched for Waai­hoek Wes­leyan Church Bloem­fontein.

I was glad when some­one at the B&B found a ref­er­ence to it for me on a DA web­site de­scrib­ing Mmusi Maimane’s visit there in April 2016. De­spite this in­for­ma­tion, and even zon­ing in on the iconic huge cool­ing tow­ers nearby, it still proved dif­fi­cult to find the site. Even­tu­ally a Ghana­ian passer-by es­corted me to the church — the precinct was locked and barred, and the ban­ners on the cool­ing tower were in tat­ters. There was also sim­ply no sig­nage any­where in­di­cat­ing what the build­ing was, and when or if there was pub­lic ac­cess to it.” Dis­cour­aged by the lack of re­sponse to my let­ters, but un­daunted, I con­tacted the Of­fice of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor early in De­cem­ber 2016. As you can see by my com­ments in this un­ac­knowl­edged e-mail, I shouldn’t have both­ered: “Good morn­ing. I wish to alert the pub­lic pro­tec­tor to an is­sue. So I phoned the toll-free num­ber (given on your web­site)

this morn­ing at 08h10 only to re­ceive a recorded mes­sage, ad­vis­ing me that the of­fice was closed, and op­er­at­ing hours are 08h00 (!) to 16h30.

I then called the cus­tomer ser­vice line at 08h15. Twice the num­ber rang, and then dis­con­nected be­fore I could speak to any­one. It is now 08h20 and be­fore send­ing this e-mail off, I tried the toll-free and cus­tomer

ser­vice num­bers again, with the same frus­trat­ing re­sults. I do hope that some­one will con­tact me, and re­store my wan­ing faith in your of­fice.”

There was still one av­enue left for me to try — Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela her­self.

Af­ter many hours of lob­by­ing in mid-De­cem­ber 2016, I even­tu­ally man­aged to get hold of Zodwa Zwane who is Madik­ize­laMan­dela’s per­sonal as­sis­tant.

In talk­ing with her, she ex­pressed in­ter­est and con­cern about the mu­seum and asked me to send her all the cor­re­spon­dence so that she could in turn for­ward this to her boss.

There fol­lowed nu­mer­ous friendly phone calls, but these ended abruptly in Jan­uary 2017 when I was less than en­thu­si­as­tic about the sug­ges­tion that they send the cor­re­spon­dence to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and pre­mier of the Free State, Ace Ma­gushule.

Dur­ing 2017, I con­ceded de­feat when I re­alised that com­pared to the mag­ni­tude of state cap­ture, the Brand­fort “Mu­seum” was re­ally in­signif­i­cant.

But then on April 2, Madik­izela Man­dela died. At last the me­dia went to Brand­fort and Trevor Manuel tore into Ma­gashule at her memo­rial ser­vice in St Ge­orge’s Cathe­dral in Cape Town on April 5, ask­ing: “Where is the money that was bud­geted for? And even the num­bers he talks about for the restora­tion of that very ba­sic house‚ for the R3 mil­lion he talks about‚ what does he want to do? Does he want to gold plate the win­dow frames? Does he want to put in a jacuzzi? Does he also want to air con­di­tion the house? No‚ that must re­main that place of pain.”

It re­mains for me to thank Trevor Man­ual and ask him to visit Waai­hoek and the Brand­fort Con­cen­tra­tion Camp Ceme­tery for black vic­tims of the South African War.

• Yvonne Spain was ac­tive in lo­cal gov­ern­ment in the nineties, and was a chil­dren’s rights and HIV/Aids ac­tivist un­til she re­tired in 2009.

In­stead of be­ing a mu­seum, Win­nie Man­dela’s house in Brand­fort is ‘a scene of com­plete des­o­la­tion and des­e­cra­tion’.

PHO­TOS: YVONNE SPAIN

There is a con­struc­tion sign on the pave­ment next to the precinct, ‘which pro­claimed “Her­itage Restora­tion” and listed all the con­trac­tors that would be in­volved in the work’.

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