The heritage month of September signals a time for hope and growth. Nature awakens from the deep winter hibernation and plants sprout their best colours. If everything natural around us takes September as a month of renewal then we the people should also in some way of connectedness to nature, respond in a similar way.
Well heritage is one way of also joining the symphony of nature. A nation as colourful and divers as South Africans does that every year on Heritage Day, 24 September 2015. This assist in knowing each other better by appreciating the cultures and their associations as the nation creates new memories for future generations.
Significant additions to our landmarks have been added to our heritage this year. The most recent launch of the 56 statues at the National Heritage Monument in Pretoria depicts the struggle heroes and heroines from the colonial era through the apartheid episode of South Africa’s history. The Matola raid monument and interpretive centre in Mozambique near Maputo are reminders of the 12 people who died fighting for our freedom. Earlier in the year, the Cape floral region was extended to include the Table Mountain as a World Heritage Site. The Eastern Cape Province is pursuing its positioning strategy around the ‘Home of Legends’ who are people who have contributed immensely to the liberation of South Africa.
What remain startling, amidst these moments of national pride, is the lack of respect for heritage in general. Whilst the opposite may also be true that the high social value of heritage has made it vulnerable to interest groups and in some cases it is just opportunists hoping to build clandestine wealth.
It has been a challenging year for heritage in the country this year. The students and even community members in some parts of the country expressed their dissatisfaction through destructing statues in public areas. This has taught us more about the desires of the people. Many young people have spoken out on what they wish to see reflected in the public as their history or heritage.
The Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town was removed as demanded by students mainly for the adverse history and ideal of the person it represents. Many other statues preceded this incident while many other also followed. Very few of the statues of the apartheid leaders in South Africa escaped these attacks. In 2015 alone, probably the highest record of defacing statues, twelve public monuments and statues were vandalised. Recently in this September, a statue worth R380,000 was stolen from the new National Heritage Park a week before its official opening on 15 September 2015 in Pretoria.
The response of the heritage sector including the National Heritage Council working with the national Department of Arts and Culture, have condemned these destructive acts while acknowledging the concerns. A public consultations with communities throughout the country were conducted and the report will be publicised soon. This report and its recommendation will be a breath of new life into the future of heritage.
All South Africans are encouraged to respect the heritage that surrounds us and reflect who we are. As we celebrate heritage day on 24 September 2015, let us share the cultural diversity with respect and dignity.
This article was written by Danny Goulkan (Communications Manager at NHC) in his personal capacity.
Some of the recorded vandalism to heritage property
26 March, The statue of King George V located at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Howard Campus is splattered is white paint, covered in black cloth and has written papers stuck on it.
30 March, The statue of King George V is defaced for the second time.
2 April, The Uitenhage War Memorial which is a statue of a soldier mounted on a plinth is defaced as it is set on fire.
3 April, The statue of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyer in Cape Town has its plinth draped with a white cloth written in black. Amongst some the writing was “a black woman raised me”.
6 April, The statue of Paul Kruger in Church Square in Pretoria is defaced with green paint.
7 April, The horse memorial in Port Elizabeth is defaced. The statue of a kneeling soldier for the horse to drink is pulled to the ground.
9 April, The bottom part of the statue of Loius Botha, the first South African Prime Minister is defaced with red paint.
9 April, The statue of Queen Victoria in Port Elizabeth is defaced with green paint being thrown over the statue and its plinth.
11 April, Paul Kruger’s statue is defaced again. One person is arrested.
11 April, The statue of Marthinus Pretorius, the first president of the South African Republic is defaced as red paint is thrown on it.
12 April, The bust of Fernando Pessoa, a poet who lived in South Africa between 1895 and 1905 is defaced as it painted with red paint.
13 April, A man is arrested over the defacing of the Queen Victoria statue.
13 April, The statue of Andrew Murray in Wellington in the Western Cape is defaced. He was the son of a Dutch Reformed Church missionary.
20 April, The bust of Stephanus Schoeman, the former president of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republic in Polokwane is defaced as it is covered in white paint. Subsequently, the Moolman Group removes the busts of Koos Grobler, Hans van Rensburg, Johan Jorrisen including that of Stephunus Schoeman from the Library gardens in Polokwane.
20 April, A statue of the Anglo Boer War (South African War) in front of the East London City was defaced as white paint was poured over it. The statue was erected in 1901 as a tribute to those who died during the war.