Provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs, Sport and Recreation, Dr Ivan Meyer, on Heritage Day 2010. | Western Cape Government


Provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs, Sport and Recreation, Dr Ivan Meyer, on Heritage Day 2010.

27 September 2010

The management of heritage in the country and the province, in particular is governed in terms of the provisions of the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999). The Act gives guidance to the identification, management and preservation of our very unique and often fragile heritage resources. To date more emphasis has been placed on tangible heritage, as it is much easier to observe with our senses, often to the detriment of our intangible heritage. This discrepancy needs to be addressed.

The continued existence of our intangible inheritance depends much on the value placed on it by communities. The NHR Act is the most important tool in ensuring the lasting significance of heritage resources, as it not only aims to promote good management of the national estate but also enables and encourages communities to nurture and conserve their legacy so that it can be bequeathed to future generations.

It is therefore appropriate that the focus of this year's heritage celebrations is "Celebrating South Africa's living Human Treasures - The Custodians of our Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)", as it places greater emphasis on intangible heritage, thereby giving recognition to the contribution of people through time.

Many expressions are under threat of disappearing due to, among other things, urbanisation, cultural homogenisation, and lack of documentation. Living human treasures have played a significant role in the preservation of indigenous cultural heritage, despite a lack of support and recognition. The value of indigenous knowledge is being further eroded by the breakdown of family life and the scourge of crime and drugs in our communities. One of the biggest threats to the viability of ICH is posed by the declining numbers of practitioners. A UNESCO recommendation suggests that an effective way to safeguard ICH sustainably is to ensure that the bearers of that heritage continue to transmit their knowledge and skills to younger generations. The intention is to educate, and create a deeper understanding of society and encourage us to empathize with the experience of others. It facilitates healing and material and symbolic restitution and it promotes new and previously neglected research into our rich oral traditions and customs.

In most communities, Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) is not limited to a single domain but includes multiple domains. For example, a wedding ceremony does not only consist of music and dance, but also consists of lobola negotiations between families, the rites of passage, exchange of gifts and numerous other rituals and events. Similarly, other forms of cultural expression may include songs, dance, rituals or rites and offering of drinks and animals to the ancestors. The transmission of various forms of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) by Living Human Treasures who are mostly senior citizens enable the transmission of skills and knowledge from one generation to the next.

This year's theme also presents a unique opportunity for us to celebrate and honour our living human treasures for the role they play in transmitting their knowledge and skills to others. To our living human treasures, we say "Fundisa ulutsha ulwazi lwakho, ungatshoni nalo engcwabeni" loosely translated as "teach the youth your knowledge, do not die or go to your grave with it!" As government, we are committed to working together with our living human heritage treasures so that this knowledge is indeed imparted to our children.

Living Human Treasures are important role players in fostering social cohesion, cultural diversity and the spirit of ubuntu in South Africa's diverse society. One way of supporting and ensuring the transmission of their knowledge and skills to the next generation is for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport to create an environment that facilitates and enables the preservation of ICH.

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