Minister Nathi Mthethwa: Launch of National Heritage Monument

15 Sep 2015

Keynote addressby the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, MP at the Launch of the National Heritage Monument, Groenkloof Nature Plaza, Pretoria

Programme Director:
Honourable Premier of Gauteng Province, David Makhura
Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Cllr Kgosientso Ramokgopa
Honourable Deputy Minister, Thabang Makwetla
Honourable Deputy Minister, Thokozile Xasa
Honourable Deputy Minister, Bulelani Magwanishe MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Ms Molebatsi Bopape
Delegates from the House of Traditional Leaders
Members of the Media
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered here to witness yet another milestone in our journey towards the redefinition of our national heritage. The establishment of the National Heritage Monument is part of the government of the Republic of South Africa’s efforts to redress historical imbalances and instil a sense of pride and identity among the people of this beautiful land.

For a very long time, the South African story was single dimensional—told from the perspective of our erstwhile colonisers. The African proverb, “Until the lions have got their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter,” rings true of the South African situation.

Historical records, landmarks and national symbols like statues, glorified the deeds of those who were in power and suppressed the voices of the oppressed. The stories of the indigenous people of this land were distorted to reflect the perspective of the oppressor.
 
Our challenge now is to correct the misrepresentations of the past and rewrite the South African story for future generations to have a broader view of our narrative.
It was Frantz Fanon, later to be echoed by Steve Biko, who recognised the impact of imperialism not only on material condition, but also in the mind of the former oppressed. He posits: “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” In this extract Fanon calls for what Ngugi Wa Thiong’o refers to as “Decolonising the Mind.”

Twenty-one years since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, we can no longer view our history through the colonial prism. One of the fundamental elements in nation-building and cultivating a cohesive society is the reconfiguration of the heritage landscape to ensure that it reflects the diversity of our society.
 
The Department of Arts and Culture, as the custodians of our nation’s heritage, is best placed to play a lead role in the preservation and promotion of our cultural heritage. It is imperative that as we carry out this mandate, we do so in a principled manner and in accordance with the prescripts of the law.
 
Our interventions are guided by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the supreme law of the land, whose preamble partly reads as follows:
‘We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all those who live in it, united in our diversity.’

In line with these constitutional imperatives, the Department of Arts and Culture is committed to the preservation and promotion of the country’s heritage. The establishment of the National Heritage Monument is a crucial step towards the revitalisation of the South African heritage landscape.

The theme for Heritage Month, “Our Indigenous Knowledge, Our Heritage: Towards the Identification, Promotion and Preservation of South Africa’s Living Heritage,” captures the essence of our event today and expresses our fervent desire to harness and optimise our heritage resources. It compels us to place the heritage landscape at the epicentre of our social, political and economic regeneration.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a few months ago I paid an official visit to Cuba, a country that takes pride in its national identity and heritage. They recognise the historical connections and bonds that they share with the rest of the world, especially the African continent. I was privileged to visit the African Founding Fathers Park, which pays homage to liberation heroes from across the African continent and the Diaspora.
 
The park contains busts of liberation icons such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana, Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and our own, O.R. Tambo, the longest serving President of the African National Congress.

Progressive nations all over the world understand the importance of preserving cultural heritage and they invest enormously on matters that promote their national identity.

The dilemma with the South African situation is that the symbols of our colonial past dominate the heritage landscape and many still occupy prominent positions in the public domain.

Our history is littered with incidents of colonial conquest and racial segregation. These are historical facts that cannot be wished away, no matter how dreadful and regrettable they may be.

We must rewrite our history and fill the gaps that are the manifestation of colonial dominance. The history of our liberation struggle needs to be told in its entirety. There is no place for grey areas in history.
 
South Africa, having emerged from over three centuries of colonial domination, and over four decades of apartheid rule and racial segregation, needs to redefine itself in relation to the rest of the continent. It is against this backdrop that His Excellency, President J.G. Zuma, alongside his Mozambican counterpart, President Felipe Nyusii, opened the Matola Memorial Monument and Interpretative Centre in Mozambique last week.
 
This centre will serve as a permanent reminder about the sacrifices that were made by the martyrs who died for freedom. It is also a reminder of the bond that exists between African nations. It reminds all of us, once again, that we are Africa!

Ladies and gentlemen, the National Heritage Monument that we are opening today contributes to this unfolding narrative as we seek to reconfigure our heritage landscape. To paraphrase the founding father of our democratic nation, President Nelson Mandela, “Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

It is against this backdrop that, as part of this monument, we have established the “Long March to Freedom,” represented by Four Hundred (400) life-size bronze sculptures of individuals who played a pivotal role in various stages of our liberation struggle. The names of these heroes will be forever etched in our collective memory.

The busts that have already been constructed reflect the diversity of our society and provide a kaleidoscope of critical moments in our history.

The icons represented here include Chief Makhado, Charlotte Maxeke, Father Trevor Huddleston, King Hintsa, King Moshoeshoe, Yusuf Dadoo, Ray Alexander, Steve Biko, to name but a few.

I am confident that the National Lotteries Commission recognises the importance of the heritage landscape in the identity of any nation, hence they funded this initiative alongside the Department of Arts and Culture.

We will continue recognising our heroes in other sites of historic significance around the country. Later this month, we will be unveiling the statue of Bambhatha kaManciza, or Chief Bambhatha as he is popularly known, in Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal province.

All these sculptures remind us that the freedom that we enjoy today is the product of many years of struggle and great sacrifice. The struggle for liberation was a collective effort and we remain indebted to the stalwarts who fought tirelessly and triumphed over the brutal forces of colonial structures and apartheid regime.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I officially open the National Heritage Monument, I am making a clarion call to each one of us to take a moment and visit this historic site. This is a place of learning, a place of growth, and a place of self-reflection. It is a place for us to connect with our inner selves and go through the odyssey of the history of our people.

This also poses a challenge for us to uphold the principles and values of our national heroes. These visionaries have left indelible footprints in the contours of our liberation landscape.

We have the responsibility to ensure that their stories never vanish from the face of history. For a nation without memory is a nation with no vision. Let it be our mission to celebrate our icons, uphold their legacy and chronicle our history for future generations.

Thank you.