Serote calls for debate over artefacts

South Africa’s universities may soon find themselves under pressure to turn over all the cultural artefacts and “collected national heritage” in their possession, including examples of San and African rock art.

This is if government heeds a call by Freedom Park Trust executive chairman Dr Wally Serote, who on Friday said such artefacts “should be a national responsibility”.

He was speaking after briefing a joint meeting of Parliament’s select committee on education and recreation, and its portfolio committee on arts and culture, on aspects of the proposed Freedom Park near Pretoria.

The R360-million park, to be built on a 52-hectare site outside the capital, will incorporate a national memorial, a remembrance garden, and a “state-of-the-art interactive museum”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Serote told members that South Africa was “the country” when to came to rock art, but warned “this national heritage is in the hands of the universities—something is not right”.

The former parliamentarian said he was not referring

to the research carried out by these institutions, but the rock art and other artefacts in their collections.

“What I’m saying is, research must be in the hands of the universities. It is proper that it is so. The research is correctly placed… but the artefacts and rock art itself, in my view, should be a national responsibility.”

Asked if this meant he would like to see such artefacts and rock art moved to the Freedom Park Museum, once it was established, Serote said “not necessarily”.

“But I think the nation should debate and discuss what should happen, so that the nation as a whole has access to artefacts.”

“It’s not only rock art… it’s heritage in general.”

There were no institutions better placed to conduct research than the universities.

“But once artefacts have been collected, I think we should address what happens then,” he said.

Several South African universities, particularly Cape Town and Wits, are world renowned for their research and scholarship on San and other African rock art.
- Sapa

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