National Heritage Council: briefing

Arts and Culture

20 May 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

20 May 2005


Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:

National Heritage Council PowerPoint presentation

The National Heritage Council (NHC) briefed the Committee on the progress it had made since its institution on 26 November 2004. They stressed the significance of the partnership with Mpumulanga, and budgetary constraints caused by high administrative costs.

Members’ questions were focused on the problem of representing cultural diversity in the context of rediscovering the histories of cultures that had been marginalised and separated from one another. The Committee felt that the youth had an important role to play in affirming cultural diversity


National Heritage Council briefing
Mr Sonwabile Mancotywa, Chief Executive Officer, briefed the Committee on the NHC’s budget and programmes for 2004-2005 (the first year of its existence). The highlight of the NHC’s work was its partnership with Mpumulanga to unearth the history of that province for the past two thousand years. This project would be a prototype for other provinces. Starting in December 2005, the NHC would work alongside academics from Witwatersrand University to identify more heritage sites in Mpumulanga and to redress the distortions of heritage that had taken place in the past.

Other significant NHC programmes included:
- the conference at Freedom Park on the history of the Khoi and San communities;
- a project to recover the works of eminent African intellectuals in conjunction with the University of Fort Hare;
- co-operation with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to infuse elements of local heritage into their programming; and
- the proposed institution of an annual Indigenous Cultural Festival of indigenous music.

The NHC’s budget had increased by 6% overall. The funds given to marketing, which had been allocated a significant portion of the budget in the first year of the NHC’s existence, had decreased. More funds could now be given to the core business of the NHC, heritage and research. The largest portion of the budget (40%) had been allocated to finance and administration, which included servicing the meetings of the Council (and its sub-committees), whose 30 representatives travelled from different parts of the country.

Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the NHC, observed that the NHC’s achievements were laudable given that it had only been launched on 26 November 2004 and Council membership had only been established late in the year. The NHC’s partnership with Mpumulanga was a demonstration of how heritage could be used to ‘re-brand’ a province and how the economic potential of heritage could be unlocked. Through the Transformation Charter, the NHC had for the first time co-ordinated talks between librarians, archivists and others on the subjects of transformation and repatriation.

Mr C Gololo (ANC) was concerned that such a large portion of the budget had been allocated to finance and administration, and asked whether the boardmembers were paid for attending meetings. Mr Mancotywa responded that the NHC were paying for both Council members and external members of the audit committee to attend meetings, as well as covering their travelling expenses.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) enquired whether it was in the mandate of the NHC to undertake ‘social engineering’ and to manipulate market forces to promote heritage. She asked whether the NHC had links with the tourism authorities, pointing out that in KwaZulu-Natal, where there were two world heritage sites, the tourism authorities managed the sites.

Dr Fikeni replied that the NHC had identified the South African Tourism Board as strategic partners and had arranged meetings with South African Tourism (SATO). In order to remedy poor investment in heritage, the contribution of the heritage sector to the tourism industry should be quantified so that a case could be made for investment.

Mr L Greyling (ID) noted that market forces had determined that, for instance, Edgars retail stores were not selling traditional African garments. He urged the NHC not to attempt to ‘protect’ culture, but rather to allow cultural forces to ‘run free’. The youth would then be able to assimilate these forces, but nevertheless needed to be educated about cultural icons. Although the heritage of marginalised cultures needed to be recovered, the major challenge for the NHC was to bridge the gap between different cultures. The ‘full richness’ of culture should be enjoyed by all citizens through events that were fully representative.

Mr Mancotywa said that the NHC aimed to celebrate the ‘rich tapestry’ of South African heritage. In the past, heritage had been used to divide cultures. These divisions should be overcome, not by means of legislation but through a process of negotiation, exemplified by the Transformation Charter. For example, the government played no part in deciding what sort of books were produced by publishers, yet discussions should be held with publishing houses to ascertain why certain books were not in demand. The NHC did not want to ‘commercialise heritage’, but maintained the need to intervene to ensure that heritage was inclusive.

Mr B Zulu (ANC) asked what criteria had been used to identify national heritage sites and whether these sites were monitored. In Kwazulu-Natal, an unmonitored heritage site of the graves of 17 Zulu kings had been fenced and transformed into a game reserve. Mr Zulu expressed concern at the dissipation of oral culture. Oral history was not being recognised and preserved, so that when the elderly died, large amounts of cultural history disappeared with them.

Mr Mancotywa replied that the NHC was discussing both the teaching of indigenous languages and the improvement of the history syllabus with the Education Department. Children should learn not only the history of colonising countries but also African history. Ghana, which was recently visited by the NHC, was an example of a country where the elderly were encouraged to contribute to the rediscovery of cultural history.

Dr Fikeni added that the NHC worked very closely with the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) in the identification of heritage sites, which SAHRA then assumed the responsibility of monitoring.

The Chairperson stressed that the NHC had been established to facilitate dialogue between different cultural groups that had been separated in the past.

Mr H Maluleka (ANC) felt that the consequence of the ‘divide and rule’ logic of colonialism and apartheid was not only the division between black people and white people, but also the separation of different groups of black people from one another. This could not be overcome by legislation. Cultural festivals, whether provincial or national, should reflect the diversity of cultures.

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) stated that the racial divisions entrenched in the past should not be reiterated in the rediscovery of cultural heritage. The youth were most easily achieving the cultural imperative to ‘learn each other’s cultures’, as was demonstrated at a commission on language, culture and religion in December 2004. South Africa should only compare itself with countries that had a similar range of cultures.

Mr K Khumalo (ANC) claimed that his own generation possessed a ‘bounded rationality’ due to the divisions that history had ingrained in them. He suggested that the NHC concentrate on the next generation by giving resources to young people, and including them at cultural festivals and visits to heritage sites. He urged that Members should be invited on trips, such as the NHC’s visit to Ghana, and suggested that the NHC investigate an historical site of the Tswana people in the North West Province.

Ms N Mbombo (ANC) noted that Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, was also an important historical site for the Xhosa people. She also urged the NHC to make more use of community art centres.

Mr Greyling observed that yet another cultural divide existed between urban and rural areas. School tours to rural areas should be organised in conjunction with the Education Department.

Dr Fikeni said that the example of other countries (such as France) had shown that heritage should not be "left to the mercy of market forces". Interventions such as the affirmation of marginalised cultures, were necessary so that existing cultural diversity was represented and different cultural groups could be reconciled. The NHC programmes focused on children and youth. A conference was being held on 24 June 2005 on youth, heritage and nation-building.

Mr Mancotywa emphasised that the NHC was a statutory body which, through its commitment to the Transformation Charter, aimed to celebrate heritage and ‘reclaim’ the history of African peoples. The NHC was not concerned with racial categorisation but rather with issues of cultural identity, raised for example by the problem of teaching indigenous languages in schools.

The meeting was adjourned.



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