Heritage matters

  • Posted on September 18, 2012

Heritage gives us the opportunity to experience a little of others’ lives.  Our shared heritage can help us understand the richness and complexity of our identity as South Africans, as well as that of our own local communities. Yet when the highest leader of our country interprets distorted historical narratives to please some people at the expense of ‘others’, heritage becomes something for only some of us. 

A quote from ProJusticio opinion piece on Media24, ‘South Africa a sick society in massive denial’, sums it up: “As regards jobs and contracts a Black must be favoured; a White must be discriminated against; a ‘Coloured’,  Indian and Chinese must be discriminated against unless defined as Black. Now for the apartheid model, just reverse the colour coding… In this model the black majority has become “us”. The White minority has become “them”. ‘The rest have become “the other”.”

‘Zuma twists facts on history – again’, an article in the City Press by columnist Xolela Mangcu, reveals the deep-rooted flaws within the leadership. Mangcu explains how in 2003 Zuma’s sugar-coated pronunciations excluded certain historically significant facts around former ANC President James Moroka’s leadership in the late 1940s. ‘The Presidents selective memory reflects a blatant betrayal of our country’s record’.

He writes, “Compare President Jacob Zumas description of the ANC as a strong organisation under Moroka with the following description by historian Gail Gerhart, and decide for yourself: “Responsibility for defining the ANC’s ideological position at the opening of the decade [1950’s] lay with its senior leadership, and in particular Dr Moroka, a liberal of the old guard with no flair for philosophy or strategy”.”
Resistance to the Native Representative Council by organisations like the All African Convention and the Unity Movement who argued that participating in these structures would be as good as a betrayal of past struggles, in favour of the Apartheid governments divide-and rule strategy. It seems some histories take precedence over ‘others’.
This cherry-picking of the past is part of a larger problem. Consider this: when the population census took place in 2011, the census questionnaire offered Apartheid-style categories of Black, White, ‘Coloured’, Indian, Asian and Other, thus forcing Khoe-San indigenous peoples to identify as ‘Coloured’ or “Other”. Many, including myself, refused to fill in the census form and called for a re-census with appropriate ‘categorisations’ that would truthfully reflect the country’s heritage and history. However, there has been no re-census and this has led to disappointment with the current political parties. Khoe-San peoples are therefore rallying for their own political parties to stand at the next national elections in 2014. There are already four nationally-registered Khoe-San parties: the Khoisan Party, the First Nation Liberation Alliance, the Khoisan United Front and the Khoisan Kingdom and All People. The issue of non-recognition of Khoe-San peoples’ socio-political heritage seems blatant.

It scares me to say this, after 18 years we do not have a nation. What we have is difference and a notion that ‘black is good, white is bad, ‘coloured’ not too good not too bad. More like Apartheid in reverse gear.  Instead of making “subsisting disadvantage” the criterion, in a drive towards social justice, we made the colour “black” the criterion. It does become divisive when you have to choose who is poorer between the White, the Black, the ‘Coloured’ and the Indian. Poverty and inequality do not ask for colour. Instead what we should say, as ProJusticio suggests, is that “a person who is still disadvantaged [due to socio-economic challenges] will be affirmed or empowered”. And say even if a white person fits the ‘subsisting criterion’ true social justice does not need an explanation.

The problem of difference persists. In 2011, the National Heritage Council of South Africa (NHC) engaged in a series of public consultations concerning the National Liberation Struggle Heritage Route.  They did not, however, include Khoe-San groups and claimed that the Khoe-San were not relevant to this project as they never took part in the struggle against oppression. Khoe-San activists, on the other hand, argue that their Khoe-San forebears laid the foundations for the struggle at the onset of European settlement, as evidenced during wars dating back to the 14th and through to the 19th century. Many previously so-called ‘Coloured’ people are now exercising their right to self-identification and embracing their African heritage and identity as San and Khoekhoe or Khoe-San (the terms are used interchangeably depending on the context). Amidst all the deliberations more and more sites are being included in the ANC’s National Liberation Struggle Heritage Route with little or no attention given to ‘other’ less significant stakeholder communities.

First Nations indigenous San and Khoekhoe peoples are not recognized in the 1996 Constitution, but they are being accommodated in the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003, as amended in 2009. South Africa is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Constitution of South Africa and the DAC White Paper set out the framework and policies in place for the preservation of the culture and heritage of all South Africans. The government of South Africa has initiated national legacy projects to create commemorative symbols of South Africa’s history and celebrate its heritage. Its line functionary departments and institutions, such as the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), embarked on a Khoe-San legacy project in 2000. In 2011, the DAC continued its engagement with the National Khoe-San Conference Facilitating Agency (Khoe-San Agency) regarding assistance to Khoe-San projects, and sought to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Khoe-San Agency. By September, the Khoe-San Agency had submitted all necessary documentation for the finalisation of the MOU. As of December 2011, however, it was unable to obtain any information regarding the status of the MoU.

2011 leading into 2012 saw 20 service delivery protests a day and it’s getting busier. The ruling party, the ANC, witnessed countless internal battles, causing the political agenda to shift continuously. These shifts have affected negotiation processes with First Indigenous Khoe-San Peoples’ organisations.

Another matter to consider this Heritage Month is that of traditional courts. These courts are a mechanism to provide justice at a local level as they are cheap, fast, use local language and aim for harmony and reconciliation between claimants. Traditional leaders claim that traditional courts are a type of “African democracy at community level”. But according to the Law, Race and Gender Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, many traditional courts are oppressive, not regulated by law, overwhelmingly male dominated, and discriminate against women. Also, many traditional leaders use these courts to promote their power positions, as fines can be in the form of free labour or forfeiting of communal rights such as the use of communal land. The singular role of senior traditional leaders as presidents of the court has been extended to include headmen, but the role of local municipal councillors in the traditional courts has been ignored. Representation of women has been opened up, but in practice will remain closed as long as women are not sufficiently included in the traditional court council.

Imagine being subject to a separate law because of your ethnic group. Imagine having no choice over who your leaders are. Imagine not being allowed to have a lawyer at a legal hearing. Imagine being told that your case can’t be heard because you’re a woman and your victory would “make women disrespectful” to their husbands. Imagine being sentenced to forced labor. And imagine that you can’t opt out of this system.

If we refuse to learn from history then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, not just us - or them - but all of us. We’re now walking in an economic, and social, minefield where the wrong step, or word, can cause the whole country to blow up. Let the recent massacre at Lonmin Mine bear testimony to this. 

Lucy Campbell is an Archival Platform correspondent based in Cape Town



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  • As long as there is a “Boesmanland” and a “Hotnotsholland”, there cannot, I repeat, cannot, be any person dignified enough to refer to him or herself as either “San”, “Khoi” or “Khoisan”. These pejorative place names undermine any effort to restore the dignity of the First People.

    By Jacobus Faasen on 21/09/2012
  • 1. Чрезвычайно здорово, что политехнический музей будет меняться и, надеюсь, в лучшую сторону. Я был в Политехническом музее 4 раза - в 81, 83, 96 году и два месяца назад. Никаких принципиальных отличий ситуации сейчас от ситуации тогда в экспозиции, увы, нет. Да, появился зал по истории кинотехники, да, стало больше экспонатов в зале техники вычислительной. Входные билеты печатает компьютер. Но в целом зрелище сейчас печально. Даже по сравнению с Лондонским и Манчестерским музеем науки.2. Корреспондент Вас спросил про окупаемость музея. В Лондоне, например, вход в многие музеи бесплатен (а если нет - касса дает не более 10% доходов). Гораздо важнее другая функция музея в составе территории - он работает как магнит, притягивая внимание, которое выражается во вполне себе цифрах, если музей интересный, если их достаточно и если развита инфраструктура гостеприимства. По Лондону этот эффект - 10 миллиардов фунтов в год (8,4 миллиарда оставляют иностранные туристы и 1,6 - англичане, данные сайта visitlondon.com)3. И  в чем лично я убежден твердо - хороший технический музей - это фабрика, где закладываются в мальчишек и девчонок мечты создавать. К сожалению, этот эффект срабатывает только после двух-четырех созывов думы и президентских сроков. Власти на такую перспективу у нас думать, как правило, не способны, бизнес - тем более. Или что-то объективное сильно мешает.Тем ценнее этот проект.

    By Individuelles on 03/01/2013
  • For the other non-Russian-speaking researchers, here is a Bing translation of the above:
    1. it’s great that the Polytechnic Museum will change and hopefully for the better. I was in the Polytechnical Museum 4 times-at 81, 83, 96, and two months ago. No principal differences situation now from then on display, alas, no. Yes, there was a Hall on the history, image technicians, Yes, more exhibits in the technology area. Tickets prints computer. But now the sad spectacle. Even compared with London and by the Manchester Science Museum. 2. You asked a reporter about payback. In London, for example, the entrance to most museums is free (and if not-cash desk gives no more than 10% of revenues). Much more important is another function of the Museum in the territory-it works as a magnet, attracting attention is expressed in quite a numbers, if the Museum an interesting, if enough of them and if the infrastructure of hospitality. This effect London-10 billion pounds a year (8.4 billion leave foreign visitors and 1.6-British, site data visitlondon.com) 3. And what I personally believe is a good technical Museum is the factory where laid in boys and girls dreams create. Unfortunately, this effect works only after two or four convocations of the Duma and presidential terms. Authorities at that prospect, we think, is generally not capable of business-even more so. Or something objective strongly interferes. the more valuable this project.

    By Jacobus Faasen on 03/01/2013
  • Thanks Jacobus!

    By Jo-Anne Duggan on 03/01/2013