Liberating the African voice

2011-05-10 00:00

“THE Liberation Heritage Route is about rewriting our history through the African eye,” according to Durban’s mayor Obed Mlaba, who was welcoming delegates to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial Liberation Heritage Route (LHR) summit held in Durban last week.

The LHR is an initiative of the National Heritage Council (NHC), which has hosted a series of provincial summits to announce the project and to make contact with individuals and organisations who can contribute towards making the LHR a reality. The Durban summit attracted about 1 000 delegates, ranging from members and representatives of political parties, to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) veterans, museums, historians, churches and government departments.

According to the NHC, the LHR will be a network of heritage sites telling the story of South Africa’s liberation struggle and the road to democracy. The route will be proposed for listing as a World Heritage Property by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Committee.

At the Durban summit it was recommended that an interim working committee be established comprising the Office of the Premier, the Department of Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation, and other provincial heritage bodies such as Amafa and the Department of Corporative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This interim committee will work towards a Provincial Liberation Heritage Chapter to develop a programme for the province.

In his keynote address, NHC CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa said that the LHR is about the decolonisation of African heritage “thereby liberating the African voice. It’s about the reconstruction of social memory.”

Mancotywa complimented Durban on its change of street names and, although he didn’t name the song, he indicated that he is sympathetic to the singing of Kill the Boer, saying that such songs are part of the journey of liberation history.

“People cannot be told when and how they must remember theirhistory.”

Mancotywa said that the LHR project will record the stories of unsung heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle. “We’ve discovered so many important stories,” he said, but cautioned against distorting the past, citing perceptions around Robben Island. “Not all prisoners became presidents or ministers, some of them are unemployed. We have inherited a distorted heritage but we must not distort it further.”

Mancotywa also differentiated between history and heritage. “History is what happened, what is recorded. Heritage is something the whole country can celebrate.”

Mancotywa said the LHR is not just a South African venture, but part of a trans-national African initiative on the part of African Union (AU) member countries and Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states represented on the Unesco world heritage committee.

The NHC’s world heritage specialist, Pascal Taruvinga, outlined the processes involved in nominating the LHR for World Heritage Site status. He said that there are a number of Unesco conventions that could be used. According to the 1972 convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Taruvinga said sites must have “outstanding universal value ... they must be exceptional, transcend national boundaries and have importance for both past and future generations of all humanity.”

Clearly not all sites identified as part of the LHR will have such “outstanding universal value”, he said, and these will not be put forward as part of the nomination.

Taruvinga said Unesco also demands such sites be adequately protected and have management systems in place. This is a concern, as out of the 10 World Heritage sites in South Africa at present, four are undergoing “reactive monitoring” by Unesco because of bad management.

Another cautionary note was sounded by Taruvinga, who pointed out that the LHR will be starting from the ground up as it is still necessary to identify sites which will then have to be developed, along with the implementation of codes of practice and a grading system.

Taruvinga said the creation of a liberation heritage route should be a healing process, one that involves confronting and accepting the past. “We are saying: ‘this is history, this is what happened and now we can talk about it’.”

Tarvinga also raised the question of whose liberation heritage are you talking about? And he cautioned against management by neglect “where we pretend we don’t see other people’s heritage and forget about it. Heritage is inclusive, it’s the totality whether you like it or not.”

“The LHR is not about opening old wounds, but is to remind us about the things that happened on the route to independence.”

• For more on the Liberation Heritage Route, see the website

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