SAHRA’s Developments on Heritage and Museums: briefing

Arts and Culture

20 August 2003
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Meeting report

20 August 2003
SAHRA’s Developments on Heritage and Museums: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Ms M Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out:


Mrs P Madiba, CEO of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), gave a comprehensive presentation about SAHRA’s mandate and challenges faced in legislation and implementation. She highlighted a lack of resources and poor corporate governance at the core of their problems. Lack of knowledge regarding policy and procedures was also highlighted. The Committee acknowledged their concerns and recommended further interaction with SAHRA.


Ms Madiba said SAHRA was just one of the institutions within the heritage sector and it was governed by the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) 25 of 1999. Confusion often occurred because the Act referred to heritage objects found in museums. SAHRA dealt only with heritage resources and museums fell under the Cultural Institutions Act. The relation between heritage institutions was challenging because the Act protected books of heritage value but libraries fell outside the Act, and archives, which stored heritage material, were ruled by their own Act.

Corporate governance seemed lacking within the heritage sector. SAHRA was a national institution and governed the Provincial Heritage Resource Authority (PHRA) and Local Authority (LA). SAHRA co-ordinated and managed Grade One heritage resources of national significance. PHRP managed Grade Two heritage resources of provincial significance. Local authorities managed heritage of local significance. Specifying the grade could be a daunting task, such as classifying the Sharpeville and Soweto massacre sites that had strong local significance but were of national import.

SAHRA felt their mandate was made difficult because they impacted various government departments, civil society and communities that were often not aware of their policies and procedures. For example, Public Works was the keeper of all government buildings including heritage sites like Parliament and the Union Buildings - but when it came to the management of the sites, SAHRA was responsible.

Heritage sites were located within communities that SAHRA could not just invade. Community participation was very important and there were civil society formations with specialised groups interested in heritage.

When the Act was promulgated, there was an assumption that these institutions (PHRA, LA, Departments) were in place and, this not being the case, they did not fulfill their exclusive functions. The establishment of the PHRA has been urgent for a long time. Others lacked necessary capacity in terms of infrastructure and resources as they were not funded by the National Treasury. Local Authorities were meant to account to the PHRAS which sometimes did not exist. The responsibility vacuum was affecting local authorities and SAHRA and the whole system was ineffective.

Departments were not aware of their relationship with SAHRA or the legislative framework. They had the resources but limited mandate. Communities generally were not organised and did not have capacity.

She asked whether the provinces should get finances from SAHRA. Provinces needed a bigger budgetary slice to take care of varied functions. If SAHRA was expected to cut its very limited R12 million budget into portions for provinces, it would not be left with enough to fulfill the Act’s mandate.

Prestwitch Place case study
The Act says when human remains are discovered, SAHRA needs to be contacted. Excavations at a development site revealed 300 skeletons and more bodies informally buried. There are speculations of a natural disaster, 1755 small pox outbreak, or it being the burial ground of slaves. A policy position is needed on how South Africa should deal with burial grounds; whether the dead should be reburied on the same site or moved for reburial.

Bust of Kruger case study
A group wanted to remove a bust of President Kruger and there was an immediate outcry. Nobody had applied to SAHRA for the removal of the bust that was protected under Section 37. SAHRA is formulating a policy on monuments and memorials based on location, symbolism, interpretation and artistic and material design. There are public and private memorials and monuments. Private ones are not allowed to occupy public space if the public objects. The South African system for managing its five UNESCO World Heritage Sites is also not clear.

In closure, she emphasised that monuments could contribute immensely to nation building in terms of unity in diversity and representivity, and that heritage was a way of celebrating life and achievements.


Ms Tshivase (ANC) commended the presentation and pointed out that history needed to be rewritten. With reference to the human skeletons found “informally” buried, she related that in Venda, chiefs were buried in their “palaces” and additional bodies were buried inside the chief’s grave. She commented that in Holland, there was a small statue of Jan van Riebeeck because he was considered of minimal importance there.

Mr Opperman (DP) said that there was an urgent need to address the vacuum of the Provincial Heritage Resource Authorities (PHRA). Concerning the remains discovered, he wanted to know what kind of consensus SAHRA sought.

Ms Madiba said that in terns of Section 36, SAHRA was responsible for these bodies but they would be influenced by the public. She explained that consensus would not mean total agreement and that conflicting views would go on record. No direct descendents could possibly be traced. She said the co-operative developer who owned the land had given them until the 29 August 2003 to take a decision. There could be graves in the whole area including underneath the roads.

Ms Luthuli (ANC) said she was pleased that the present government was moving away from building memorials up in the air, but rather bringing them down to an accessible level. She did not understand why the existing PHRA’s could not go back to National Treasury to sort out the funding crisis. In relation to the discovered remains, she felt DNA testing would be very expensive and difficult.

Ms Madiba said the DNA route divides more than it unites. She explained that these remains would be treated as those of unidentified South Africans. In relation to the PHRA’s approaching National Treasury, she described a chicken and egg situation with the Constitution, the Public Management Framework Act (PMFA)  and the Act. The PMFA stipulated that before a government institution was created, approval had to be obtained from National Treasury which had not been done. National Treasury would have to find additional resources in order to allocate resources to PHRAs.

Rev L Tolo said that another briefing with more time would benefit the Committee. He was concerned that young rural people were not concerned with the commemoration of Heritage Day. He felt the significance of the return of Sarah Baartman was a start and he appreciated the efforts being made.

Ms Madiba expressed concern that the SAHRA annual budget was less than that of the Robben Island Museum and also the Iziko Museum. They had received some cushioning from the National Lotto but this would not provide continuous funding.

Ms Mdlalose (IFP) applauded the lowering of memorials but was concerned about misinterpretation if these were placed next to higher level memorials.

Ms Madiba suggested the relocation of misplaced sculptures to, for instance, a garden of statues. She explained the need for policy direction and requested the opportunity to present their Draft Bill to the Committee.

The Chairperson cautioned against the destruction of statues that were part of South African history and  said there was a need to consult the public more broadly. The Portfolio Committee would have to look at SAHRA’s main challenges, namely resources and legislative problems. She highlighted that Dr Ngubane had started the first DAC in South Africa and therefore had to create structures. Changes would be made through experience. She added that the legislation was never costed.

The meeting was adjourned.


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