Heritage Month: Building support for the Heritage Economy

Posted on September 21, 2018

The University of Pretoria’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies in the Faculty of Humanities recently held a seminar together with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the National Heritage Council (NHC). Two former postgraduate students of the department, Mr Hannes Engelbrecht and Ms Kim Ngobeni, hosting the occasion, which coincided with the national celebration of Heritage Month. The theme centred on celebrating heritage and connecting to our past and taking action to preserve heritage and heritage sites for the future. SAHRA and the NHC are responsible for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of South African cultural heritage under the auspices of the Department of Arts and Culture.

SAHRA focuses on tangible aspects of heritage such as cultural property, archaeological sites, heritage structures, shipwrecks, monuments, archives and museums. The NHC is the coordinating body of heritage management in SA, with a more policy-centred focus that also extends to the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. Mr Clinton Jackson, manager of the National Inventory at SAHRA, explained how, “In recent years SAHRA has built an online inventory system for managing heritage resources called the South African Heritage Resources Information System. This database includes applications for listing heritage sites and applications for permits for archaeological excavations, repairs, sales and exports of heritage objects; and reporting heritage crimes or destruction of heritage sites. The database works across local, provincial and national spectrums, and is a world first in its size and scope of collating all heritage-related information into a single database for a wide overview of every facet of heritage management. Heritage sites and big data together form a story of the national heritage estate.”

This view was reiterated by Mr Dumisani Sibayi, executive member of SAHRA, who said that heritage management and the laws and legal frameworks must be designed with the times. He further explained that “Heritage has good and bad aspects. Some bad heritage can be reinterpreted in current contexts, but all heritage is heritage, and the good and the bad makes us who we are as South Africans.”

Mr Khwezi Mpumlwana of the NHC considered transformative, inclusive and collaborative policies and programmes in heritage management because “Heritage should be managed where it would get the best attention”. This reflects on the different spheres of government and civil society that should be involved in heritage management and ultimately derive benefit from it. He further elaborated on a current project of motivating Liberation Heritage for World Heritage status by not only focussing on the South African liberation but the rest of the African continent.

The seminar brought together the heritage statutory bodies of SAHRA and the NHC to highlight their roles to students (as future heritage practitioners). According to SAHRA CEO Mr Thomas Kgokolo, they had “identified the need to bring heritage closer to students to make students aware of what the sector does to promote and preserve heritage sites. Students will be the future community of heritage practitioners”. He listed the importance of preserving historical and heritage spaces as enabling the economy by boosting the heritage economy through tourism to South Africa.

Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities said “The relationship between UP and the relevant statutory bodies that govern heritage in South Africa will make a real change and contribution towards continuing a conversation around meaning and preservation”. He also said that heritage is a non-renewable resource and is both a tangible and intangible experience to many. Prof Reddy reminded the guests of UP’s interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Tangible Heritage Conservation, which will ensure that a community of specialists will be trained in order to preserve valuable artworks and heritage objects.

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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