South Africa needs to do better at preserving the history of the late kings, queens and other traditional leaders, the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Obed Bapela, said on Thursday.
Bapela was speaking during a virtual Heritage Month celebration webinar hosted by the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL), in collaboration with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.
He expressed his displeasure at the state of the King Shaka Memorial in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, which he visited on Saturday.
“The manager at the centre took me through some important historical information about the memorial site and the stone that King Shaka was sitting on when he was killed.
“The centre manager shared with me a number of concerns, ranging from the lack of funding and support from the government and its agencies, crime in the area that drives tourists away and lack of parking for visitors,” said Bapela.
He said his heart broke to see the dilapidated statue of a person of King Shaka’s calibre.
“He is someone who was a strong, influential leader, a military strategist and military innovator, who fought and conquered many battles.
“I have to say, as a country, we can do better to honour our sleeping kings and queens to maintain and preserve our rich, and diverse cultural and heritage history.”
The country is celebrating Heritage Month under the theme, ‘Celebrating South Africa’s living human treasures’.
“The question of living human treasures is very relevant, since it is acknowledged that most of what still needs to be excavated, coded and stored is available from the many living archives,” said Bapela.
CoGTA Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has also tasked Bapela to look at the process of documenting the role played by women traditional leaders, their contribution towards the struggle against apartheid and the injustices they endured.
“That will be the proper documentation of the [Queen of Bolebedu], which should be traced 400 years back,” Bapela said, adding that he will announce the members of the task team in due course.
Government has also committed to supporting the process to digitise information about traditional leaders and ensure connectivity in the Traditional Councils.
The Deputy Minister said this year’s celebration will be hosted virtually due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
“That shows we have evolved as a people and we should use the advent of technology as an integral part of our culture… Culture and cultural practises are not static. Technology will play a significant part in the restoration of our heritage.”
He has also encouraged the Provincial Houses to make it their responsibility to work towards the preservation of the cultural sites, as they play an important part in the provinces’ heritage.
“… We can take lessons from [other] countries on how they preserve their heritage sites… as an integral part of their heritage that contributes to economic stimulation,” Bapela said.
He also paid tribute to Queen Manthatisi of the Batlokwa nation and applauded her for her bravery, intelligence, and the way she led her people to remain together, despite the frequent raids by other nations.
“I plead with the National House and Traditional Leaders to ensure that during our lifetime, we achieve [things such as] the return of the head of Bhambatha, which is in England and the return of the head of Hintsa, which is also in England.”
Bapela hopes that there the statues of Makhado, Moshoeshoe, Sekhukhune, Galeshewe and the many other great kings and queens will be developed.
He has also called for the production of archives, films and books, which will safeguard the cultural perspective.
“If you don’t write your own story, someone else will, and they will do so from their own perception. As custodians of the cultural institution and structures, we ought to ensure that we write these stories, narrate them with inspiration and convey such enthusiasm to our future generation.”