Freedom Park Annual Report 2008/09

Arts and Culture

03 November 2009
Chairperson: Ms T Tshivhase (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chief Executive Officer of Freedom Park briefed the Committee on Freedom Park Trust’s 2008/2009 Annual Report. Although the Park would not be completed until 2011, it still aimed to host the world in 2010. Freedom Park was reviewing its staff in order to ensure that it attracted and retained the higher skills that it needed, and although there might have to be some retrenchments, it was attempting to retain as many existing staff from within the institution as possible. Freedom Park was aware that an unstable employment environment made staff anxious. Freedom Park covered 3.6 billion years of heritage in seven epochs, and presented the information by means of touch screens, closed circuit television, story tellers and praise poetry. At the same time Freedom Park saw its role as trying to integrate the African continent. It had visited 14 countries to promote issues such as indigenous knowledge systems. Freedom Park recognised that the African diaspora saw itself as part of the continent. The African Union had announced that in 2011 Africa would host the African Diaspora conference, in which Freedom Park would take a strong Pan-African position. Freedom Park also marked the contribution of others to the freedom struggle, such as the Cubans who died fighting for a liberated South Africa. Freedom Park called upon all Members of Parliament to visit the Park en masse to lead the country to get an understanding of the Park’s purpose. Although there was as yet no road link between Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, visitors to each institution were given directions to the other. Contrary to the impression of some journalists, who had describe it as the ANC Freedom Park, it was a Park for the freedom of Africa.

It was reported that Freedom Park was no longer a Trust with effect from 1 April 2009, but was now a Cultural Institution. A new council had been appointed. Freedom Park reported a successful submission to Treasury and to the National Lotteries Board that had enabled completion of the Park thus far. Freedom Park had put more focus on admission charges. It sought the Committee’s advice on how to encourage more South African whites to visit Freedom Park.

Members asked several questions about how best to promote Freedom Park, especially to young children, and to schools, which they felt would assist in nation building and teaching children about their history. The topic of the walls led to further discussion about nation-building and the danger of reinforcing the perception of two South Africas, and it was noted that the item would remain on the agenda for discussion between the Freedom Park and Voortrekker Monument. A Member asked about Freedom Park’s handling of languages, in particular the Khoi-San languages. Members also asked also about indigenous knowledge systems, partnerships with universities, fund raising, and project management. The Committee expressed its commitment to sustaining Freedom Park.

Meeting report

Freedom Park Trust Annual Report 2008/09 briefing
Dr Mongane Wally Serote, Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Park, said that there were heavy demands on the new Council, the management and the staff of Freedom Park to achieve the 2011 target for completing the Park. Although it would not be complete by then, Freedom Park nonetheless wanted to host the world during the 2010 World Cup.

Dr Serote said that Freedom Park wanted to ensure that it had the staff that the Park needed, and it would require higher skills, and might have to retrench some people, although it was taking a constructive approach. It was thought prudent to give priority to retaining as many as possible from within the institution, since Freedom Park appreciated that restructuring and the possibility of retrenchment created an unstable environment in which people felt anxious and feared loss of their livelihood. Dr Serote could not rule out retrenchments. At the same time, Freedom Park sought to attract highly skilled people.

Freedom Park illustrated Southern Africa’s heritage dating back 3.6 billion years, with an exhibition space designated “//hapo”. The word “//hapo” meant ‘dream’ and had been taken from a Khoi proverb. In many ways it was symbolic of Freedom Park’s conceptual framework. Moving away from the traditional museum concept, this interactive and innovative space would bring Africa’s history alive for visitors from home and abroad by means of a story line to assist in the narrative, touch screens, and also praise poetry.

Freedom Park did not forget that it was trying to integrate into the African continent and had consulted widely and internationally. To date the Trust had visited 14 countries to raise issues such as indigenous knowledge systems. It recognised that the African diaspora saw itself as part of the African continent, so it had established an African Diaspora Committee.

The African Union (AU) had announced that in January 2011 Africa would host the African Diaspora Conference. This conference would include discussions on slavery. In this regard, Dr Serote pointed out that Asian countries were also involved in slavery. In the conference, Freedom Park would take a strong Pan-African position, which he emphasised must be non-racial. Members should be aware that Freedom Park was not only playing a role in Africa, but in other areas too. It remembered the Cubans who had died fighting for South Africa. Freedom Park had generated much interest around the world, so it was incumbent on it to respond proactively to the issues that were raised.

Dr Serote called upon Members of Parliament to find a way, collectively, to lead the country to an understanding of Freedom Park. Presidents had visited, but it would be better if all Members of Parliament visited Freedom Park together. Freedom Park no longer belonged to its council, management or staff, but to the nation, and it was fitting that the nation act as the host. Dr Serote did not know how Freedom Park would accomplish this. On 05 November 2009 the traditional leaders wanted to host Madiba. According to the agenda, the Chief Executive Officer would welcome the leaders; however, Dr Serote said that this role would be better played by someone with a national status. He suggested that the Committee should initiate a debate in the National Assembly.

Dr Serote said that at the present moment the different formations of South Africa had taken over Freedom Park and it was offering diverse events. At different times it would be hosting children playing dangerously, 2000 mothers at prayer or families playing football and sometimes these groups made all kinds of demands. Freedom Park had tried to integrate them into its content. The national structures of the State had been left behind. He preferred that Freedom Park be family-oriented, and called for debate.

Freedom Park had received many foreign visitors. The staff had found themselves required to work the whole night through to find a quotation that the President of Turkey had seen at Freedom Park and wanted to use. Freedom Park had achieved several awards.

Dr Serote raised other issues that Freedom Park could not solve on its own. The 5 000 names of those who died in Angola were be put on the list of names on the wall. Freedom Park had established a committee to trace the relatives of the soldiers who died in Angola and it was a most noted event in Freedom Park. There was also a book in which families could write their names. Dr Serote said that General G Opperman, Dr Serote’s counterpart at Voortrekker Monument, had told him that he would begin compiling a list of names at the Monument. Freedom Park made a point of mentioning the Voortrekker Monument to visitors. It was a source of controversy sometimes when the media referred to the names of the Cubans. There was a gallery of South African, African and global leaders. Some journalists referred to Freedom Park as an ANC Freedom park, but he corrected this by saying it was a park for the freedom of Africa.

Ms Marina Aucamp, Chief Financial Officer, Freedom Park, said that 31 March 2009 was Freedom Park’s last day as a Trust. The Trust had been project driven and capital intensive.  On 01 April the dynamics changed. The Trust became a Cultural Institution, and a new council was appointed on that date.

Freedom Park reported two substantial successes, being a submission to Treasury and to the National Lotteries Board. These enabled completion of the Park as envisaged. More focus was now placed on admission charges. Operating expenses had increased by 35%. There had been an increase in staff members, which placed significant pressures on management to sustain the Park and this might pose a problem in the first year of the new structure. Interest rates were very high in this year, and this enabled transfer of a surplus to Freedom Park’s funds.

Prior to 2009, Freedom Park’s capital grant had come from the Department of Arts and Culture (the Department). It would receive these grants only until 2012.  Freedom Park had taken some of its accumulated surpluses to fund capital projects for the completion of the Park. Freedom Park received its lotteries money in three phases, for concept, implementation and development. That was just an overview.

Freedom Park’s existing infrastructure was completed in 2009. Ms Aucamp drew Members’ attention to the Trust’s graphical representation on the cover of the Annual Report. She described arrangements for exhibitions, parking, the administration offices, and other facilities. Freedom Park had a garden of remembrance. Freedom Park needed to fund its non-constructional items, such as computer software. Ms Aucamp asked Members to look at the main components of Freedom Park’s capital expenditure. The administration offices were to be completed. The Freedom Park Trust had received an unqualified audit report, with ‘limited audit findings’ (see slide 2 for full details). 

Mr H Maluleka (ANC) asked Dr Serote to explain how Freedom Park would attract and retain highly skilled staff.

Dr Serote responded that the role of Freedom Park as an institution would remain the promotion of reconciliation and nation-building, but this must be done by professionals. Freedom Park’s organogram illustrated the need for academic skills. Having recruited staff with such skills, it was necessary to nurture them. It was the knowledge heritage department that especially needed a high level of skills. Highly skilled people were needed to drive Freedom Park to nation-building, and to represent South Africa in the world. Freedom Park needed to generate funds for itself. Therefore the finance department would have to be very skilled. Dr Serote admitted that Freedom Park needed a Chief Executive Officer who was different from him because the position now called for a businessman. Freedom Park conducted much international benchmarking.

Mr Maluleka asked how to market Freedom Park to children and young people, but especially to young children. 

Mr Maluleka raised also the issue of schools. He saw this as important because Freedom Park was one more opportunity to assist with nation building. It was desirable to have a good mix of young children entering for frequent visits. Such young visitors should be assisted and taught by story tellers, rather than mere curators. Such story tellers would be conscious of not just doing a job but of raising the new South Africans’ awareness.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) agreed that it was important to encourage children to visit Freedom Park to make sure that they knew their history.

Dr Serote responded that Freedom Park had not gone out of its way to mobilise schools, because it was still a project, but as it transformed itself into an institution it would try that experiment. Freedom Park was now opening an educational section. Freedom Park had requested the African Renaissance youth movement, the core of which was in the Tshwane Pretoria area, to participate on the basis of an understanding of South Africa’s history and indigenous knowledge systems. The whole of Freedom Park was based on indigenous knowledge systems. Youth must address the question of heritage. Freedom Park wanted more participation in its website’s discussion forum. The website itself was well visited.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked if there were any problems or delays with project management, and whether all the projects would be complete by 2011.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) asked if there were contract penalties.

Ms Aucamp replied that everything was on track. Freedom Park was awaiting transfers of funds from the National Lotteries Board. Freedom Park wanted to issue the tender for its interactive centre this year. It also was anxious to complete the administration building. There were no other delays. She referred Members to page 18 of the Annual Report for more detail.

Dr Lotriet asked to what extent Freedom Park was involved in the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems in universities in South Africa.

Dr Serote replied that Freedom Park was holding discussions and brainstorming sessions with various universities to find innovative ideas for indigenous knowledge systems. Freedom Park was a good example of what indigenous knowledge systems could achieve. Freedom Park had received several high profile international awards.

Ms Van der Walt asked if there would still be a road link between Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument.

Dr Serote said that for the time being Freedom Park had to be very thrifty. The top priority was to complete the project. Freedom Park would have to put the road on its agenda. In the meantime, visitors to Freedom Park were told about the Voortrekker Monument, and vice versa.

Ms Van der Walt said when Members had, as a Committee, visited Freedom Park, it was really the beginning and the Committee needed to pay another oversight visit. She remarked that it was always good to visit to Freedom Park.

The Acting Chairperson said that Mr Maluleka and Ms Van der Walt had anticipated some of her questions. She asked about a bridge of reconciliation between Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, and questioned if the two institutions held any meetings together. She was concerned lest the young and the outside world perceive two separate mentalities.

Mr Maluleka asked if the two walls assisted the process of nation-building. He was worried lest they reinforce the perception of two South Africas.

Dr Serote replied that the two walls were a very serious challenge. Freedom Park wanted to commemorate the 5 000 names of those who died in Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to address, in some way, the loss and pain of families who could not reach closure over lost loved ones. In a meeting with the Chief Executive Officer of Voortrekker Monument, Dr Serote had pointed out that the duty of soldiers was to kill, and had asked the Voortrekker Monument’s CEO if he would include the names of the people who had been killed by the soldiers, but the answer was negative. Dr Serote suggested that this should be kept on the agenda for future discussion. He found the same strong passions, and asked what must be done.

Ms M Morutoa (ANC) said that since achieving democratic government, South Africa had paid lip service to the eleven official languages. It was important that everyone felt free to use his or her own language. She asked if Freedom Park had a way of dealing with this issue, which she saw as a barrier. Many people could express themselves well in their own language, but not in the language that they were expected to speak in official circles.

Dr Serote replied that Freedom Park had a language policy whereby it exposed people to the eleven languages, but admitted that it was a challenge. Freedom Park had liaised with the African Union, which had divided languages into categories, including border, business, and neighbourly languages. He did not know how far the Pan South African Languages Board (PanSALB) had taken the issue.

Ms Morutoa asked if Freedom Park had managed to upgrade the language of the Khoi people.

Dr Serote said that Freedom Park had not exerted itself to promote the Khoisan languages, though it had held several workshops in which speakers of those languages expressed their views that they had been left out. 

Ms Morutoa asked about ways of popularising of Freedom Park.

Ms Nxumalo supported popularising Freedom Park. Although she stayed in Gauteng, she admitted, with embarrassment, that she had hardly visited Freedom Park.
Dr Serote discussed the use of musicians. Freedom Park had held a major event with South Africa’s top musicians. There was no other as effective way of advertising Freedom Park. The musicians enjoyed themselves to the extent that the Department had co-opted them to do something for 2010. There was also a suggestion that Bafana Bafana should go to Freedom Park for 2010.

Ms Morutoa said that she had not heard mention of publicising Freedom Park on the continent of Africa. She thought that Freedom Park was part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) component.

Dr Serote replied that in order to maintain its core function Freedom Park had tried to identify like-minded organisations and to establish partnerships nationally, on the African continent, and internationally.  Freedom Park had links with museums in the United States. He was pleased with Freedom Park’s efforts, beginning with Tanzania, and including the United States, from which there had been a major response by Afro-Americans and others.

Ms Nxumalo asked about the challenges faced by Freedom Park.

Dr Serote replied that the challenges included the hall of names; the issue of languages – where more could be done - and the need to ensure that the majority of South Africans felt ownership of Freedom Park, since much taxpayers’ money was spent to build the Park and it could not remain the concern of only the council and staff.

The Acting Chairperson asked who the dreamers were. 

Dr Serote replied that there was a proverb in Khoi that a dream was not a dream until it was shared by the entire community, and said that the answer was ‘We are the dreamers’.

The Acting Chairperson asked if funds could be raised by means of pledges from wealthy individuals and organisations.

Dr Serote replied that Freedom Park had tried to engage the private sector, but had found it necessary to postpone plans to take the matter further.

Mr Maluleka asked if Freedom Park had requested the help of universities in the area of Tshwane to assist it develop unique programmes. 

Ms Aucamp responded that Freedom Park had a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of South Africa (Unisa) and had appointed a curriculum developer.

Ms Morutoa said that the table of the employees was very unusual.

Ms Van der Walt said that Freedom Park was a very exciting monument for the present and the future and it had put South Africans on the right track to work together as a nation for the future. There were many reasons why grumpy people did not attend events such as Heritage Day.

Ms Van der Walt said that for the past five years there had not been sufficient focus on the core issue of social cohesion that was inscribed in the Department’s vision, but instead the focus had been on entities. 

Ms Van der Walt noted that some meetings were poorly attended and asked why. 

Ms Aucamp replied that a new council had been constituted, and only one member, being the previous Chairperson of the Trust, remained on the new Council. The new Council members were very passionate, and further problems with attendance were not anticipated. 

Dr Serote asked for serious advice on how to encourage white South Africans to have a positive attitude to Freedom Park. Various consultations thus far had been unsuccessful. Freedom Park was gratified by the number of white foreign visitors but noted that very few white South Africans were visiting Freedom Park.

Dr Serote invited the Committee to visit Freedom Park.

Mr Maluleka said that he hoped that the Committee would be able to visit early in 2010.

The Acting Chairperson said that the briefing had entertained and empowered Members. She believed that Freedom Park would respond to dreams, and vice versa, in building South Africa. Freedom Park was precious to Members who would make every effort to ensure its sustainability.

The meeting was adjourned.


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