Heritage Commemoration in South Africa
We can neither heal nor build, if such healing and building are perceived as one-way processes, with the victims of past injustices forgiving and the beneficiaries merely content in gratitude - Heritage Commemoration in South Africa introduction. Together we must set out to correct the defects of the past.1
These are the words of Nelson Mandela, just two years after our country emerged into democracy. He understood that before we could begin to build and grow together as a nation, we had to heal. In order for us to begin the healing process, we needed to create a balance between all forms of heritage. Transformation is crucial to empower voices in our country which had previously been silenced.
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After the apartheid era, it became quite evident that the only way forward was to give equal recognition to all those who made South Africa what it is today. The San, Khoikhoi and the Strandlopers, the Portuguese, the Dutch and British colonialists, the French Hugenotts, all Africans, and the people of eastern origin who came to South Africa as slaves and migrant labourers- all of these people deserve representation. But how can we begin to decide who’s and which heritage gets commemorated? How can anyone possibly begin to justify choosing to forget certain parts of our history when everything that has happened in the past has brought us to our current situation?
Before the hand over of power, the heritage that was widely commemorated was largely colonial, and is still evident all over Cape Town. Looking at examples all over the city, it seems clear that history is written by the victorious. There is very little tribute to anyone other than the British and Dutch colonialists. In the Company Gardens there are a number of statues, such as the sculptures of Sir George Grey, Cecil John Rhodes, Major/General Sir Henry Timson Lukin, as well as Queen Victoria1, to name a few.
Many citizens of South Africa may not have even heard of some of these people, who are considered heroes of the past, which highlights how outdated and obsolete some of the heritage we choose to commemorate has become.
Previously, all sculptures and monuments in Cape Town were entirely biased in that they only represented a small minority of the South African population, and usually only highlighted particular individuals, rather than the people as a whole.
The majority of museums today are also housed in strong examples of European architecture, such as The Iziko Museums of Cape Town, including the Slave Lodge Museum, which is housed in the original V.O.C slave lodge. By choosing to house museums in buildings with so much history attached to them, aren’t we reflecting one past over another?
The symbolic heritage our country has previously chosen to reflect is also a problem. One only has to drive through the city centre to see the large number of streets named after prominent figures of apartheid and many colonialists. By looking at these names, we can see how much of our heritage has been omitted.
However, the commemoration of our country’s heritage is fast changing. With our new government come new heroes, new belief systems and new ideas. The process of name changing has already been put into action. Many are intent with changing street names and buildings named under the previous government, to names that they believe are now more relevant and meaningful. The problem is that when we choose to commemorate one particular thing over another, something or someone is forgotten.
The key is to find the balance . Without balance, we cannot move forward. Without balance, people of our ‘rainbow’ nation get omitted, which can only lead to sensitivities. When our government changed, it gave many hope that their needs would be met, and their views considered. Disadvantaged communities need recognition to be given to their heritage in order for their sense of dignity to be restored. The first indigenous people of South Africa- the San, the Khoikhoi and the Strandlopers- have very little representation. There are no museums specifically dedicated to their memory. The Natural History Museum has the biggest displays of them, which in itself raises more issues, as they are housed in the same museum as stuffed animals and birds. The most important question is- how do you actually find balance? How can you represent everyone in the best way possible?
Not only do we have the issue of trying to decide how we wish to commemorate our history, we also have the issues of money and time. The financial implications of new buildings, sculptures and name changes is not to be taken frivolously, especially with the low budget associated with the promotion of heritage. How can one justify changing a name of a street, which comes with money and time, or having a costly sculpture commissioned, when there are thousands upon thousands of people living in poverty and squalid conditions? The time it takes to put such things into place could possibly be spent in more constructive ways too.
Living in the 21st century, it is also very important that we avoid any gender bias, as in the past it has always typically been men who have been celebrated, whilst women have had little or no recognition.
Bringing together all these controversial topics is not an easy job. We need to forgive the wrong doings of the past and move forward. It is the only way. Our country cannot grow in separate communities. If we want to prevent difficulties in the future, we need to grow together to build our national unity. Attention needs to be drawn away from the vast presence of Cape Town’s colonial past and refocused on the entire community that make up our new South Africa. The effects that apartheid had on the South African people should be a focal point to learn from. A large majority of South Africans need acknowledgement of a painful past. Consideration seriously needs to be made over what kind of country we are representing by the heritage that we currently celebrate, and the social bias it exudes. It is also fundamental that we realise that changing our celebrated heritage doesn’t happen over night, and that it is very costly. There are so many problems related to heritage in the Cape, but at the same time- there are also so many opportunities for change.
HERITAGE COMMEMORATION PROJECT
Part 2 Kayleigh Didcott
Solutions for Problems Connected to Heritage in the Cape
After more than ten years of democracy, there are still many issues that need to be addressed over the controversial topic of heritage, although our current government has already put many new projects into place to begin to balance out the heritage that had been biased for so long. This has encouraged South Africans to feel more positive about democracy.
Immediately after the 1994 elections, the National Monuments Council presented a paper on their views of the future of heritage conservation in South Africa. Three main aims were identified. Firstly, the celebration of our heritage to help create a national identity. Secondly, the recognition that there are many different heritages in South Africa, and the contributions of individual communities can be used to promote reconciliation. Thirdly, and of most importance, disadvantaged communities need to have recognition given to their heritage so that their sense of human dignity may be restored.1
Balance really is the key to success. Perhaps the best way to approach this would be to represent events or the people as a whole, rather than picking out individuals to celebrate our heritage. This will promote the common unity that our government is striving to achieve.
A large number of Capetonians feel that although many of our current sculptures are still valid, they could perhaps have much more meaning if they were to be relocated. It is important that our heritage is spread everywhere, including townships, to make everyone feel involved and enthusiastic.
Many of our museums are housed in biased buildings, and would promote more spirit of the nation if they were housed in newer buildings that better reflect our democracy. However, because of budgetary constraints, this is often not possible. To overcome this problem, museums are in the process of altering displays to include indigenous and minority populations, which had previously been ignored. An example of this is the display of traditional African instruments in the Iziko South African National Gallery.
Museums could also take on a broader outreach approach. If more museums were to be made accessible closer to townships and other disadvantaged communities, then knowledge of our countries history and heritage could be promoted amongst all.
Another potential idea is to have that have small museums on public transport, with information included in the schools curriculum on the inside walls or on screens inside buses and trains, as many disadvantaged people use public transport and would be forced to absorb crucial information in this way.
Interaction between all schools should be encouraged, as the children are the future. By including this kind of interaction into the Life Orientation program, children would have an opportunity to bond with other students of different backgrounds and cultures.
By uniting together as a common people, we can create a cross-pollination of our rich and diverse culture, languages, art and religious practices2, which will unite us into a common body. In the words of Ms. B. Mabandla: “Now is our time to sing, to dance, to paint, and to create. This is our right as citizens of South Africa. There is so much to look forward to, and so much work to be done. I trust we can do this as a united community with a common goal in mind.”3