Transformation of South Africa’s Heritage Landscape

SPEECH BY HON. B. W. DHLAMINI
IFP GAUTENG MPL
DEBATE ON MINISTER MTHETHWA’S SPEECH
TRANSFORMATION OF THE SOUTH AFRICA’S HERITAGE LANDSCAPE

 

Honourable Speaker
Honourable Premier Makhura
Honourable Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Hon. Nathi Mthethwa
Honourable Members of the Gauteng Executive Council
Honourable Members
Members of the Media
The Gauteng Citizenry

Honourable Speaker, an excerpt from the Preamble of the National Heritage Resources Act (NRHA) 1999, which is the legislation governing the promotion and protection of our national heritage, states that our heritage: “has the potential to affirm our diverse cultures, and in so doing shape our national character.”

The IFP respects and gives recognition to the central significance of arts, culture and heritage in the cultural, social, economic and intellectual life of the country. The IFP is of the view that the fixation with dismantling statues will not serve us well in defining the character of our diverse nation. As the Honourable Prince Buthelezi, MP, has put to the Minister in Parliament: “…if we must have a record of our saints, I think we must have a record of our villains as well”. Because those who do not remember their past are doomed to repeat it.

Most importantly, this must be an inclusive process and not biased towards the celebration of the ruling party’s struggle icons only. We must have a balanced and diverse reflection of our history. By doing so, we stand a better chance at shaping the democratic character of our nation, where all historical artefacts that stand as elements of heritage are treated equally – despite our political differences and not in spite of them.

The Minister must take these considerations into account when implementing his proposed plans to relocate the statues and monuments, which iconify colonialism and apartheid, to regional cultural nation-building parks – that are yet to be built – throughout the country. The latter should not be a strategy to erase the remembrance of our country’s past. Instead, it should affirm the diversity of our cultures and be an educational experience for future generations to learn holistically about our past.

Honourable Speaker, the prominence of colonial and apartheid statues and monuments, as well as city names, is an uncomfortable reminder of our segregated past.

While some people might view the transformation of the heritage landscape as an ideological project, the IFP views it as a historical project that might build a cohesive and balanced heritage that reflects our national history as a democratic South Africa.

Should it be executed well and efficiently, this heritage transformation project can have a positive social and economic impact, which is what we are currently lacking as a nation. Our heritage has a more nuanced meaning.  We should treat it as more than just a popular slogan, or a celebration of braai day or partaking in #Jerusalema challenges.

The project to transform our heritage can be the bridge we use to cross over the polemic gaps that are present in our heritage space. The heritage space is very contested, over who deserves to be remembered more. In my view, such polemics do not make any progress nor material difference in the lives of many of our fellow citizens who still live haunted by the shadows of apartheid poverty and inequality today.

With that said, some widely-noted criticisms of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s (DSAC) post-apartheid heritage conservation project have been that it suffers from a lack of funding and human resource capacity, and is also undermined by poor integration across different administrative departments and government.

I sincerely hope that the issues raised in this debate will not just be another talk shop about plans that will not be implemented. This should be part of the steps towards a progressive realisation of the transformation of heritage. In particular, that of creating the cultural nation-building parks, which must be seen through to completion and resourced accordingly. I thank you.