Premier Invites Western Cape Communities to Rediscover Shared Heritage | Western Cape Government

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Premier Invites Western Cape Communities to Rediscover Shared Heritage

23 September 2003
Statement by Western Cape Premier, Marthinus van Schalkwyk to mark the Celebrations of National Heritage Day - 24 September 2004

One of the most significant changes in the way which South Africa approaches our history is reflected in the change from speaking about 'national monuments' to instead talking about 'heritage sites'. Instead of looking at our past as a collection of dry facts, dusty pictures and old buildings, removed from our experience, it is critical for us to embrace our past with a real understanding of how and why we live the way we do today. In this way, our past, our complete heritage, is very much a living part of the New South Africa. In the Western Cape our celebration of National Heritage Day is as much about our future as it is about our past.

For our Provincial Government, the celebrations this year have a dual purpose - to highlight the importance of conserving our unique heritage, and at the same time to bring more of our people into direct contact with it - to effectively rediscover the value of our shared history. With more than 2000 of the 4000 declared South African heritage sites in our province, with a large proportion of the more than 15 000 identified rock art sites, with some of the earliest fossils, with footprints dating back some 117 000 years, the people of the Western Cape have much heritage to celebrate. From historic mission settlements to fishermen's cottages, from industrial buildings to historical bridges and mountain passes, the different strands of our physical history are clear.

The challenge though, in making heritage relevant, is to ensure that the histories of all our communities are recognised, preserved and presented to our people. For too long there has been a divided perception about 'our history' and 'their history'. The Western Cape today celebrates all of these strands as equally important in contributing to our South African identity. We celebrate our indigenous heritage - the ancient wisdom of our first-people. We celebrate our Eastern influences - the diverse tapestry which added so much depth and colour to our culture. And we celebrate our European heritage - much highlighted but often oversimplified.

Last year alone more than 1 million people visited our 28 museums in the Western Cape - many of these visitors were learners from our schools. The key to the success of our museums and other heritage sites has always been the strong partnership between Government, the museum boards, private owners and donors of items and collections - relationships which have helped us to develop and nurture our heritage for our own children, and future generations. An important new development which will help us to expand these visitor figures, and bring heritage closer to our people is the new Heritage Western Cape resource management authority. Established in January this year, this body will be taking over many of the heritage roles that were, until recently, performed by the National Government. Although there are still areas of concern which must be clarified, like the transfer of sufficient funds to the province and a full staff establishment, we are optimistic that this development will be a real opportunity for the people of the Western Cape to take a more direct, hands-on approach to promoting and protecting the heritage of all our communities. We appeal to our heritage partners to join us in this endeavour.

As we celebrate National Heritage today, we should recall that the most vivid and concrete expression of our shared history is our people - the living exhibits of our heritage.

Enquiries: Riaan Aucamp
Cell: 083 778 9923

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