Going back to our roots


Heritage Tourism is a buzzword in the making and can mean a lot for local communities looking to embrace their roots, with an economic spin-off, writes Michael Meiring.

With our unique and diverse cultural backgrounds and our physical and natural environments reflecting our rich history and culture, it simply makes business sense that municipalities tap into their rich surroundings to create an interest in tourism in their areas.

With September being Heritage Month, Service spoke to the CEO of the National Heritage Council (NHC), Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, about the connection between heritage and tourism and how it could boost economic growth in South Africa.

Originally from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, Mancotywa began his leadership training as an activist and cultural worker at the University of Transkei, where he did his B.Juris and LLB degrees, obtained in 1990 and 1993 respectively. “I later obtained a certificate in Management and Legal Practice. I completed the Management Advanced Programme (MAP) with the University of the Witwatersrand Business School in 2005. I am an admitted Advocate of the High Court of South Africa,” he says. Starting his journey at the NHC in 2004 when he was appointed as the founding CEO, Mancotywa’s first challenge was driving transformation of the heritage landscape, which has been characterised by acute marginalisation of African heritage. Some of the other challenges that had to be addressed in the heritage landscape included underfunding, uneven levels of skills, fragmentation of coordination and mandates.

He says the NHC is mandated with the task of creating more awareness and the promotion of our national heritage to create a South Africa that is unashamedly, proudly South African – which might also have significant economic benefits for
the country.

“Through civil society engagement one was able to mainstream the heritage agenda for the country and sought to bring the distinctive rural bias dimension to the heritage sector and lead the radical transformation of the sector through a Heritage Transformation Charter. Ten years later, several key milestones on heritage programming have been reached, among others, the mainstreaming of the Liberation Heritage Route, Ubuntu, Heritage in Education, Support for Cultural Expressions, Draft Policy Position Papers on Heritage, heritage publications, opinion pieces in the newspapers, public lectures, conferences, commemorative events, funded community heritage initiatives,” he says.

In terms of what heritage means to South Africans, Mancotywa says it is that which a particular society or nation identifies with and values as worthy of protection, preservation and promotion for the present and future generations. “Definitions previously given are not all inclusive and in this regard African and the liberation heritage typologies had been left out of the conventional ones by UNESCO and other authors. The NHC, thorugh public participation, has gone a step forward and provided a definition that it would like the public to engage with.

“To that end, NHC adopted the following definition for public discourse: Heritage is what is preserved from the past as the living collective memory of a people, not only to inform the present about the past but also to equip successive generations to fashion their future. It is what creates a sense of identity and assures rootedness and continuity, so that what is brought out by dynamism of culture is not changed for its own sake, but is a result of people’s conscious choice to create a better life,” he says.

Mancotywa refers to the relationship between heritage and tourism as twinship (hence the reference to heritage tourism nowadays), but notes that heritage in itself extends beyond tourism. Tourism consumes products that are produced by and through our heritage, according to him.

“As an industry, tourism packages and presents heritage materials for public consumption. It is a downstream benefit of heritage. The NHC believes that heritage drives tourism and for that reason the latter benefits the country in terms of the contribution to the GDP. That notwithstanding, we always raise this concern that tourism revenue and other spinoffs of which heritage is the major input does not benefit the latter significantly.

“There is, therefore, a need to quantify the contribution of heritage to the GDP with demonstrable and verifiable statistical data to sustain this argument. The NHC is in the process of developing a policy position paper on this issue anchored on two indicators which would then inform the desired outputs: a declaratory statement that heritage indeed directly contributes to economic development; and the business case that validates the assertion so made,” he says.
Heritage in particular can be used to empower local communities through heritage initiatives, according to him. Mancotywa says heritage tourism packaging could be localised in all the provinces and access to the markets widened. Soft issues such as knowledge production, new models of engaging in diversity, transnational social cohesion dialogues, and peace-building missions (including post-conflict social reconstruction and leadership development) are some of the issues that, if addressed, could harmonise relations and make the ground fertile for heritage economic development in the region, he says.

On the topic of the advancement and promotion of heritage in South Africa 20 years into democracy, Mancotywa says that a lot has been done in this regard, but that there is still more to do. According to him, the fact that we have a dedicated Ministry of Arts and Culture of which heritage is a part, separate from the Ministry of Science and Technology, is proof enough that government is serious about mainstreaming heritage.

“Owing to the negotiated settlement, Arts and Culture was given away from the party that won the elections and that always carried the mandate of a united non-racial, non-sexist united democracy, to representatives of other parties that had a different vision and history. The existence of the National Heritage Council, SA Heritage Resources Agency and the Department of Arts and Culture is testimony to South Africa's commitment to its heritage. The economic challenges South Africa faces have been such that some people took the view that the economic challenges must be addressed first. Some disregard the fact that all interventions are ideologically determined, be it economic solutions, the statement of the problem, the priorities —these are all determined by ideological orientation and culture.

“The creation of institutions such as the NHC and many other legacy institutions such as the Steve Biko Centre, Nelson Mandela Museum, Albert Luthuli Museum, are monuments that are being built to commemorate our heritage across South Africa. This also includes mainstreaming of national symbols, the inclusion of heritage in education curriculum, social discourse on heritage through public lectures and conferences and the celebration of important national holidays. All of these demonstrate the seriousness with which Government regards heritage as significant in fostering social cohesion and nation-building. Heritage is the primary site of the battle of ideas—for the ideological warfare of the kind of South Africa we want; the kind of people we believe we are; what carries significance; what is the essence of our national identity; and how we will reverse the divisions of the past,” he says.

Mancotywa also points out that there is room for public and private enterprises to get on board in the quest to conserve and promote our heritage. This, he says, can be done though public-private-community partnerships. ”The private and public media have a role to play in ensuring that heritage content is availed to the public. Government also needs to incentivise heritage entrepreneurs, especially in the field of built environment, to invest in heritage in exchange for tax rebates. Similarly, the issue of balancing heritage conservation and economic development, like in the case of mining activities taking place on land subject to land claims, or adjacent to heritage sites, requires that good private-public partnership strategies are developed and implemented.”

In terms of international interest in South Africa’s heritage, Mancotywa says that reports received by them indicate that the majority of the tourists visiting our shores are interested in seeing heritage sites and key monuments such as Robben Island, Vilikazi Street in Soweto and legacy museums where a number of indigenous products are sold to them. “Even our natural heritage sites are key attractions where tourists come to interface and experience the countryside and villages to know more about the IKS driven products and the local cultures. Tourism statistics released every year do show that kind of upward trends in terms of interest, but we just need to check the numbers in terms of heritage attractions and the revenue they generate,” he says.

Mancotywa also launched his new book, Critical Conversations on Heritage, in September. He says the motivation behind the book was two-fold: firstly, to bring together in one book various articles form a range of newspapers that have contributed to the popular discourse on heritage, and secondly, making them accessible in this manner in the hope of contributing to reviewing and fine-tuning our policies and programmes so that heritage truly promotes both economic development and social cohesion.

He concludes with some insights into the future of the NHC and what it hopes to achieve over the next 10 years. “We want to see NHC as the Knowledge Hub on heritage matters and the first point of call for heritage information consumers. We want to see Liberation Heritage affirmed through legacy preservation expressed through infrastructure development, creation of knowledge hubs where the social memory of the country, especially liberation heritage, could
be recorded.

“On the education front we want to establish a heritage institute, establish a heritage chair to support undergraduate and postgraduate studies through scholarships on heritage, strengthen the Heritage Fund to leverage funds for heritage initiatives on behalf of the sector and maximise funding to community heritage projects to reach the greatest number. Above all, we want to see a totally transformed heritage landscape.”

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