The recent statements made by Arts and Culture Minister, Paul Mashatile, as well as Pretoria/Tshwane executive mayor, Kgosientso Ramokgopa - only three days after South Africa celebrated Heritage Day - raise questions regarding their commitment to the Preamble of the Constitution to "heal the divisions of the past" and that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity".
At a metro council meeting last week Pretoria/Tshwane executive mayor, Kgosientso Ramokgopa - in relation to the ongoing street name change court battle with AfriForum - said that "no court will define the future". Ramokgopa went further to say that "we will be unstoppable and are convinced that we will win the matter in court due to the correctness that the ANC represents". Ramokgopa also indicated that "no-one" would stand in the ANC’s way regarding its proposed name change of Pretoria to Tshwane.
Similarly, Arts and Culture Minister, Paul Mashatile, indicated in Johannesburg last week that certain statues at the Union Buildings might be moved to make way for a R8.4 million statue of former president Nelson Mandela. There is speculation that the department wants to move the statue of former South African Prime Minister JBM Hertzog. Mashatile indicated that this forms part of government’s "ongoing work to introduce new symbols and monuments that reflect South Africa’s new society". Mashatile concluded that "of course everything at the Union Buildings is heritage and for that reason we will not destroy anything, but it may be necessary to rearrange certain things".
Similar statements were made earlier in 2013 in Parliament about the statue of General Louis Botha at the entrance of Parliament in Cape Town.
Although the introduction of new symbols and monuments throughout South Africa to reflect our new society is welcomed and necessary, the Preamble of our Constitution states that the people of South Africa recognise the injustices of our past and honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land. The Bill of rights also guarantees that we are all equal, and this includes cultural equality as envisaged in section 9(3).
In our constitutional dispensation, the preservation of the arts, culture and heritage of all South Africans ought to be inclusive, and not exclusive. The Revised White Paper on Arts and Culture of 2013 - which the Minister once again endorsed at a recent workshop in Cape Town - expressly directs that in matters of the arts, culture and heritage, cultural diplomacy is required.
Cultural diplomacy and the Constitution require government to respect the cultures and histories of all our people, united in our diversity.
All our communities have produced leaders who have in their own ways made positive contributions to the history of South Africa.
JBM Herzog is one such example. During the Boer War of 1899 - 1902, he rose to the rank of general, becoming the assistant chief commandant of the military forces of the Orange Free State. He gained renown as a daring and resourceful leader of the guerrilla forces continuing to fight the British. Eventually, convinced of the futility of further bloodshed, he signed the May 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging.
Louis Botha fought in the Second Boer War as a general, commanding and fighting with impressive capability at Colenso and Spioenkop. Subsequently, he played a key role in the foundation of the Union of South Africa within the borders that our people still occupy.
Ramokgopa’s statement also draws into question his acceptance of the supremacy of the rule of law. Surely he did not mean to say that the ANC would not abide by the rulings of our Courts?
The Preamble states that the people of South Africa respect those who have worked to build and develop our country and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. Regardless of what our different cultures and heritage constitute, we all need to respect each other’s culture and heritage equally. Our Constitution mandates it, and that would serve to better heal the divisions of the past and build cultural gateways to the future heritage of all South Africans.
by Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation