Cultural Heritage a Human Right

On 14 March, Cultural, Heritage and Traditional activists gathered at the President Hotel in Bloemfontein for a dialogue hosted by the NHC in collaboration with the Free State Department of Sport, Arts, Recreation and Culture to assess the status of the preservation and promotion of our Cultural Heritage since the dawn of democracy in 1994 to commemorate Human Rights month.


The dialogue was hosted under the theme: Reflecting on the successes and the challenges of heritage preservation and promotion in South Africa.

It took place in two-folds; collectively took stock of the progress made and unpacked the successes and the challenges faced within the Heritage landscape varying from name changes, the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages.  Secondly, the dialogue sought to embrace the cultural heritage practices as a human right as enshrined in our constitution by exhibiting forms of dances, practices and performances on the day.

The discussants included Mr Irwin Langeveld, Chief Director at the National Department of Sport, Arts and Culture; Mr Mohlomi Masooa from the Department of Basic Education (DBE); Ms Elodie Tlhoaele Chairperson of Free State Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (FSPHRA); Ms Queen Magalakangqa, Provincial Geographical Names Committee (PGNC) Council Member and Mr Julius Ka Dantile from Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).

In his welcome address, Mr Vincent Tshabalala Head of Department at the Free State DSRAC said that these days things are changing, change itself is changing. The biggest question we need to ask ourselves, is what are we doing and what have we done during these changes which have been taking place since the advent of a democratic dispensation of 1994 in order ensure that we encourage determination, respect for humanity; respect for our previously marginalised indigenous languages; respect for our culture and cultural heritage?

He further added that the first democratic elections birthed our constitutional democracy for majority of South Africans who have never voted before. Their dignity was restored and their country was transformed into a non-racial non-sexist and united society.

Chief Executive Officer of the NHC said “This year marks 30 years since the dawn of democracy where the NHC is also commemorating 20 years of preservation and promotion of our country’s heritage. It is a year where we look for gains and losses since the liberation of our country. Hence the NHC is committed to host engagements such as these, to ascertain the strides made in redressing this anomaly when it comes to heritage management”.

Dr Lukhwareni urged the audience to take pride in their heritage by documenting it and not allow for it to be written and told by foreign nationals –“let us be a nation proud of its African heritage!”.

Ms Queen Majalakangqa from PGNC, touched on the state of the heritage landscape in South Africa: 30 years l

ater and beyond – through the standardization of placenames. “We have a rich history and we are a diverse nation. That on its own, it should be evident. we shouldn’t be seating here, asking ourselves who are we and where we come from. I am from a committee that is responsible for naming placenames. We standardise names of places that are actually in our country – we shape the history of where we come from, apartheid, struggle for freedom and democracy. In the 30 years since the end of apartheid, there has been an effort to standardise the names of the places in order to reflect the country’s a diverse heritage and promote national unity.”

“Geographical names are part of the historical, cultural and of the linguistic nation, which is more desirable to preserve than to destroy!” added Ms Majakangqa.

Ms Majalakangqa stressed that the repetitional use of names, names that are indecent, vulgar, embarrassing, derogatory i

Ms Elodie Thloaele Chairperson of the Free State PHRA assessed the access to heritage by South Africans during the democratic dispensation. She urged the elderly in the room to talk about their heritage to young people in their community, story-tell about their history and boast about who they are through totems.


n nature should be avoided and those are the names the PGNC looks into.

Mr Masooa from DBE spoke about foregrounding heritage in the school curriculum and said “we cannot have heritage as a subject on its own, instead a subject where heritage can find expression. Our constitutional mandate is that we must use the variety of languages and cultures once used to divide us a source of strength and richness guided by the Constitution”.

He further said that the DBE policy document called CAPS forces educators to find expression of heritage in educating the learners.

Mr Masooa highlighted NHC’s programme, the Heritage Education School Outreach Programme (HESOP), as one of the programmes that the DBE has partnered with to enable access to heritage for learners.

“There are museums, state entities like the National Heritage Council where you can know more about your heritage. Visit libraries and museums, where you can have access to books about our heritage, history and artefacts so that we can enhance our heritage knowledge.”

“On the other hand, we don’t have access to our heritage due to the refusal of access to sacred sites by farm or landowners. The deprivation or refusal of access to these sites, amounts to constitutional betrayal or injustices,” Ms Thloaele added.

Mr Julius Ka Dantile from PANSALB introduced himself by citing his totem which traced his lineage of AbaNguni.

“When we talk about heritage as a right, our concept should be Living Heritage. Once we think it existed in the past, how do we preserve it for the future? As long as we have seboko “totems” to trace our lineage without it written down, that’s what language is about and that is Living Heritage.  Our constitution recognises official languages and by recognising these languages, we recognise the diversity in our country,” said Dantile.

Dantile asked “What is the difference between a person and a language? And rephrased the question to “Is there a difference between a person and a language?”. He further asked if whether a language can be found walking somewhere? “A language is a person and a person is a language. You can’t have a language without a culture or culture without a language.”

“In platforms like these we need to empower each other. He posed a question to the traditional healers in the room by conscientizing them about the cloths they wear on why are we not monetising our cultures and bring value to them? Have you asked yourselves where does it come from and why can’t you make your own?”

When we talk about protecting heritage and cultural heritage, we have to think about linguistic heritage which informs cultural heritage, you cannot have a song without words, concluded Julius.

The attendees were urged to continue to preserve their heritage and that the NHC’s doors are open for support in conserving, preserving and promoting their heritage.