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The good, the old and the ugly

Johannesburg, perhaps more than any other city in the country, has a heritage collection that embraces the complete tale of this land.

Iron Age and Bushmen artefacts; remnants of Bantu peoples, colonials, gold diggers; apartheid resistance; and the political maturing and place of residence of the country’s most esteemed citizen, Nelson Mandela, and icons such as Mahatma Gandhi.

But the city also epitomises how not to preserve its heritage — for decades it has pulled down some of its most beautiful buildings. Thankfully, however, that has come to an end and it now has a heritage policy.

In 2004 a 21-page Heritage Policy Framework was produced. “Heritage resources are viewed as positive instruments for growth and change and identified as a major driver of inner city revitalisation,” the document says.

A list of 76 city-owned heritage properties has been compiled, ranging from nature reserves, houses, koppies, markets, monuments and statues to squares and prisons. Among these are places of significant history: the Old Fort prison complex, the Drill Hall, the June 16 Memorial Acre, the Walter Sisulu House, the Enoch Sontonga Memorial Park and Kippies Jazz Club.

In the past half dozen years the city council has moved quickly to restore and respect the city’s heritage. The name Sophiatown has been reinstated to that suburb, dropping the offensive Triomf; most of the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Soweto has been restored; and the Indian War Memorial on Observatory Ridge, a monument remembering the substantial contribution of Indians in the 1899-1902 Anglo Boer South African War, has been restored.

Also in Sophiatown, although it has subsequently died, an oak tree in Bertha Street was declared South Africa’s first champion tree, denoting its historical significance. It was a meeting place for gangs, religious leaders and activists and, on the sombre side, two people hanged themselves from its branches, in protest against forced removal from the suburb. The 1938 Oudstryders’ (veterans) Monument on the Cottlesloe Ridge, commemorating men who died in the Anglo Boer South African War, consists of about 40 granite and marble plaques plastered on a large concrete box. They have been cleaned and the site enclosed.

And new memorials have been erected: the Hector Petersen Museum in Orlando West and the Freedom Charter Memorial in Kliptown. The building of the Constitutional Court on the Old Fort site has given the place new life, drawing tourists to the Women’s Jail and No 4 prison, while taking in judgements made in the highest court in the country. The private sector has erected the powerful Apartheid Museum, part of a new genre of African architecture.

“It is routine now for the Johannesburg Development Agency to apply for heritage approvals — they recognise the value of heritage,” says Eric Itzkin, deputy director of immovable heritage in the city’s arts, culture and heritage department.

But it’s not all good news — other properties have been neglected. The historic city-owned Rissik Street Post Office, given to the Gauteng legislature, has been left derelict and continues to deteriorate. The 1913 Marshall Street Barracks, the city’s first police station and owned by the national public works department, was burned to the ground in 2002 and is still a charred shell. In 2002 the 103-year-old Drill Hall, site of the early stages of the Treason Trial in the Fifties, suffered the same fate, with loss of lives, but the public works department handed the building to the city, which has created a multi-purpose community site, while respecting the history of the hall.

The Mandela house in Orlando West, which belongs to the Soweto Heritage Trust, is popular with visitors, but has been in limbo for many years.

“It has been badly compromised,” says Ali Hlongwane, curator of the Hector Petersen Museum. “The correct repairs and maintenance need to be done, but it also needs to be properly curated.”

The majestic Barbican stands forlornly in the CBD, owned by Old Mutual, but bricked up and suffering “demolition by neglect”. And further down Rissik Street the Trades Hall, with its classical columns, is also bricked up, waiting hopelessly for attention.

Private sector developers have brought muscle to the restoration efforts in the city. A number of art deco buildings in Yeoville and Bellevue, among them the lovely Beacon Royal and Helvetia Court, have been refurbished. A smaller two-person community effort has seen the Gem Bioscope in Kensington lovingly restored.

Some efforts have been misplaced. What was thought to be the original Gandhi house in Albemarle Street, Troyeville, was bought and meticulously restored. Some time later Itzkin discovered the Gandhi house was a more ordinary house up the road, but residents can meanwhile enjoy the art nouveau gem that has been revived.

The ripples from the 2010 Soccer World Cup preparations are being felt too. Sections of Bertrams are on the brink of being bought and revamped — some of the dilapidated houses will be demolished, while others will be refurbished, possibly including a row of pepper-pot houses.

Trails are being developed as a means of offering tourists another way of taking in the city’s heritage — hostel and mining trails are about to be launched.

Hlongwane has been researching the June 16 route that students took before they converged on Orlando West where they met the police. “We have been speaking to former pupils, driving around with them and recording their conversations.” The route from the Morris Isaacson High School is straightforward, he says, but the other routes are more complicated.

The policy framework states that “cultural tourism is the fastest-­growing segment of the tourism industry worldwide, offering a valuable source of income and employment”. Two sites — Soweto and, to a lesser extent, Constitution Hill are essential tourist stops. If we continue restoring our heritage, both residents and visitors will benefit.

Make the most of what you have

Some of the country’s top tourism consultants and researchers have contributed to editor Richard George’s new handbook Managing Tourism in South Africa (Oxford University Press). Most, like George himself, are affiliated to tertiary institutions that teach subjects from social marketing to history and human resource management.

The range of subjects the book covers is vast, providing an overview and history of tourism in South Africa. Moreover, the book is a practical guide to tourism management and each chapter is accompanied by a case study taken from the current tourism landscape.

George holds a PhD in marketing and is senior lecturer in tourism management and services marketing at the University of Cape Town.

What is heritage tourism?

Heritage and culture (heritage tourism is also referred to as “cultural heritage tourism”) have been long-standing elements of tourism. In discussing the role of heritage and culture in tourism, definitions are important. Heritage can be defined in terms of what is inherited by one generation from past generations. Culture can be defined in terms of shared norms, values, customs and artistic achievements held by a group of people at a certain time. What these two definitions indicate is that the combination of heritage and culture leads to considerations of human activity related to, and including, the built/human-made environment (that is, relating to monuments, building and artefacts) and the natural environment (that is, mountains, moors, lakes and rivers).

In recent years “heritage” and “culture” have been rediscovered as an important marketing tool to attract tourists with special interests in heritage and arts.

Nowadays, tourists want to do more on their holidays than just merely sit on a beach and soak up the sun; they demand “real” cultural experiences.

How much does heritage tourism account for in the general flow of foreign tourists to the country?

South African Tourism’s research indicates that South African cultural tourism products are in demand by international tourists. Eighty-five percent of Americans, 77% of Europeans and 60% of Asians show interest in exploring South Africa’s local heritage. These statistics clearly have impetus for sustainable tourism. Tourism companies can work with local communities to see how opportunities stemming from South Africa’s cultural diversity can be unlocked. Organising excursions to archaeological sites, supporting a local festival or developing local culinary experiences can all be used to make a tourism product offering unique and provide guests with authentic experiences.

Cultural heritage tourism is important to South Africa for various reasons; it has a positive economic and social impact, it establishes and reinforces identity, and it helps preserve the cultural heritage. With culture as an instrument it facilitates harmony and understanding among people, instills a sense of pride in the nation, and helps renew tourism.

How much does heritage tourism account for in the travel patterns of South Africans inside the country?

No data exists to adequately answer this question; however, anecdotally South Africans are travelling more domestically. In the past few years, the department of environmental affairs and tourism and South African Tourism, as well as the production of local TV travel programmes, have done a great deal to encourage South Africans to travel more within the country — in essence, to develop a culture of travel.

Are we a divided country as far as heritage tourism is concerned? Is it a case that black South Africans are prepared to invest time and money in visiting struggle-related sites while white South Africans gravitate to scenic spots and game parks?

Tourists — regardless of origin and background will visit a host of tourist sites for a variety of reasons. It is, however, unfortunate that more white South Africans are not taking advantage of opening up experiences related to the country’s past, such as going on township tours.

Is enough being done to encourage and develop tourist initiatives linked to the heritage of the country? Or is too much being done to develop infrastructure but not enough to market new developments?

One could argue that enough can never be done. But certainly in terms of the present a tremendous amount has been down in terms of marketing — and efforts should be lauded. Provincial tourism organisations are doing their best to encourage visitors to their respective provinces and promoting their cultural heritage sites. The Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Maropeng Site and Sterkfontein Caves are all being well-marketed by Gauteng Tourism Authority — in terms of marketing collateral and advertising. These sites are well maintained, house fantastic displays, offer good service and deliver, to some extent, authentic experiences.

In South Africa, there is a plethora of cultural heritage sites that have the potential to be developed and marketed. A great deal has been done already and the work will continue.

Your book is titled Managing Tourism in South Africa. Are we in fact managing to manage tourism in South Africa?

Yes, I hope this book will help managers of tourism business. Managing tourism in South Africa explores the fundamental business management aspects of tourism including law, management, human resource management, marketing and finance, and shows how the industry is structured. The chapter case studies in the book give a clear indication of people making success stories in the South African tourism industry.

From the ground up at Lilliesleaf

Lilliesleaf farm is regarded as the birthplace of Umkhonto weSizwe. Tucked away in fast-developing Rivonia, it has gone through various phases: it was an out of town mansion in the Sixties but, by the turn of the century, was functioning as a chintzy bed and breakfast sleepover that was featured in décor and food magazines.

Photographs from 1963, when Nelson Mandela and comrades were arrested there while hiding from the security police, show a characteristic suburban setting — a gracious home with a bay window facing a rolling lawn. Behind the “manor house” stood a row of rather ungracious servants’ quarters where black members of the ANC made themselves at home while the authorities hunted them.

In 2006 the venue again made headlines when the present owner, Nicholas Wolpe (son of late anti-apartheid stalwart Harold Wolpe), invited archaeologists to scour the property for Mandela’s Makarov pistol that he received from an Ethiopian colonel as a contribution to the armed struggle.

Of course the handgun, considered of key symbolic importance, was never found. But Wolpe continued to develop Lilliesleaf and today it is on the brink of becoming a meaningful landmark for anyone interested in struggle history.

Architects of the Mashabane Rose stable, also responsible for sites such as the Hector Petersen Museum, Apartheid Museum and the Wits Origins Centre, have demolished developments on the property since the Sixties and have begun to reconstruct the famed row of servants’ quarters and premises for a research and archive centre.

“We have restored Lilliesfleaf by using original brick,” says Wolpe. “We undertook an archeological excavation and brought in the company Corobrik. They identified different types of brick and then baked the brick. We sit with about 60% of the original structures still standing.

“We have completed building the resource centre that contains an archive section, properly air-conditioned with temperature control. Then there will be a library and above it the administration of a trust. We’re in the final phase of completing the Liberation Centre containing a crèche, coffee shop and a curio shop. There will be a 66-seater auditorium that will be used to show a film to put Lilliesleaf into context.”

Lilliesleaf will be opened to the public in June 2008.Matthew Krouse

For information Tel: 011 803 7882

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