Learning history from books is not for everyone. Text often struggles to adequately capture the emotions, sentiments and finer nuances of significant historic events. Nothing brings the past more to life than visiting the spot where it all happened. The displays and photographs that evoke strong emotional reactions, and the tour guides have the ability to transport you back in time so that history can take shape before your eyes.
It is then that history comes alive and you can almost feel the intensity in the air. When you leave, you feel changed and your heart is filled with pride. You are again reminded that our freedom and human rights were hard earned.
September is Heritage and Tourism Month and this gives parents the opportunity to educate society and particularly our children to visit our heritage sites. It is important for us to ensure that our children, especially those who will vote for the first time in 2014, know our painful history and grasp the meaning of living in a democracy.
This year’s theme of Heritage Month, in the run-up to our 20 years of Freedom celebrations, is: “Reclaiming, Restoring and Celebrating our Living Heritage”. The Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile when explaining the theme said “this theme is a call to recognise the importance of our tangible heritage; our museums, commemorative sites and interpretation centres, in building an inclusive society.”
Since 1994, we have established several new museums, monuments and commemorative sites as part of crafting a new, all-inclusive narrative for South Africa. These sites, which include the District Six Museum in Cape Town, the newly opened Steve Biko Centre in the Eastern Cape, and the Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, all offer an unmatched history lesson for adults and children alike.
What adds to the authenticity of many of these sites is that staff employed there was often present during the specific historic moment which the monument or museum commemorates. For example, Robben Island Guides were once political prisoners incarcerated on the island during apartheid which gives special meaning and depth to the events they describe.
The Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial, which honours the role of schoolchildren in the 1976 struggle against apartheid, employs Antoinette Sithole, Hector Pieterson’s sister. She is remembered as the shocked young schoolgirl captured in photographer Sam Nzima's iconic image of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying an unconscious Hector. On a daily basis she speaks of the emotional events and reiterates that her slain brother did not die in vain.
Addressing delegates during the 50th anniversary of the raid on Liliesleaf Farm north of Johannesburg, President Jacob Zuma highlighted that apartheid heritage sites should serve as reminders of what the struggle and freedom fighters aimed to accomplish.
“Liliesleaf is a place of hope. It must be a shrine to which we come for inspiration, to be re-energised to take forward the task of building the country of our dreams, as described in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic,” he stated.
Heritage sites remind us of the selfless actions of numerous anti-apartheid activists and that every South African has a responsibility to create and sustain a better, fairer society.
In addition, Minister Mashatile highlighted that heritage sites contribute to national healing and the building of a more cohesive society. “We have built a road linking the Voortrekker Monument to the Freedom Park; symbolising a new era of cooperation between the two heritage institutions,” he stated.
During September, government encourages everyone to visit historical and heritage sites and while doing so also explore every corner of our beautiful country. This will help build our national pride and foster a better understanding of the country’s diversity and its people.
In 2012, 12.5 million adult South Africans undertook 25.4 million trips which contributed more than R100 billion to the gross domestic product and created thousands of sustainable jobs. However, government would like to see even more South Africans discover our country’s treasures and has set a target of 18 million domestic tourists undertaking 54 million domestic trips by 2020.
A number of initiatives are underway to make it possible for all of us to be exposed to, and explore our own country in a cost-effective way. This is particularly important given the fact that many South Africans have indicated that they could not afford to travel locally.
In a further move to address this, Tourism Month saw the launch of the new domestic tourism marketing campaign - “Nothing’s More Fun than a Sho’t Left”. It will, among others, encourage South Africans to take short breaks through a number of affordable holiday deals and allow everyone to explore every corner of the country, including our numerous heritage sites.
In addition, to make our rich natural heritage accessible to all South Africans, the 8th annual South African National Parks Week will enable locals to have free access to national parks until 13 September 2013.
South Africa undoubtedly has an abundance of natural beauty, diversity and history. Let us take time and use all the opportunities to enrich our own, and in particular our children’s exposure to places of national interest. This will also ensure that our written history comes alive and reminds to cherish and protect our hard-fought for freedom.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)