SA in danger of not recording Struggle history
TWENTY-FIVE years into our democracy, our country finds itself in danger of losing valuable parts of colonial and apartheid-era histories.
Important archival documentation together with the recognition of politically-significant spaces has yet to be given the necessary attention.
Important sites of conscience of the freedom Struggle, like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s Brandfort home, the Old Synagogue High Court at Pretoria and the Durban Prison complex were in danger of being lost forever.
While focussing on the goal of defeating apartheid oppression, very little attention was paid to recording the narrative, physical structures and imagery that paralleled this time.
To avert this we must draw inspiration from countries like Mauritius, China, India and the European continent. Europe, for instance, does not go without marking commemorations ranging from wars to the holocaust. Preserving memory and imagery serves as a continual reminder of the struggles in shaping societies and leaving legacies for coming generations.
As the “Sites of Conscience Collective” we are determined that the memorialisation of historically and politically significant spaces enters the annals of history. We are more especially concerned with the lesser known spaces and the people associated with them. In the 1980s, the movement around gathering “a people’s history” of Struggle was a powerful counter narrative to the racially-defined apartheid view. Our programme was launched last week on a roadside in Chatsworth which holds a piece of political graffiti from the campaign against the 1984 apartheid Tricameral elections proudly proclaiming “Don’t vote”.
Significantly that political slogan is on Lenny Naidu Drive. He was an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier kidnapped and murdered by apartheid security forces in 1988. The launch date also coincided with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s tribute in Parliament on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Natal Indian Congress.
We were delighted that a number of local political activists who worked to conscientise their communities through slogans and house meetings were present to give gravity to the launch of the project.
Looking ahead, we are keen to consult with the women in the Thokoza Women’s Hostel, which forms an integral part of the working-class history of the city. Sites associated with assassinated stalwarts like Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge ought to enjoy far greater prominence.
Other sites of interests are the homes and meetings places of activists in the forgotten anti-apartheid resistance in Wentworth. Diakonia, the heart of the city, was also a central point for gatherings of activists. The slate of potential sites of conscience to document and preserve is growing, as word gets around about this initiative.
In the course of rolling out our project, we hope that these sites are claimed and memorialised with an official stamp of heritage endorsement from municipalities and the Department of Arts and Culture.
Better still will be to grow these into liberation history routes to enhance the tourist appeal of the province.
Overall, we anticipate that projects like this will serve to heal the divisions of our fractured past, so that we can remember, reflect and restore a collective South African identity.
A great deal of urgent work lies ahead lest these sites be destroyed by the ravages of time or those who do not appreciate their value in the making of our democratic state.
Memorialisation of political spaces must enter annals of history