Mainstreaming heritage

Promoted by a number of meetings, and its foundational act, the National Heritage Trust (NHT) has compiled a position paper that reflects its view on policy development to mainstream heritage in development.

The position paper makes recommendations for future research and policy development initiatives to be undertaken to develop a policy framework on mainstreaming heritage development, particularly social development. The theme cuts across various government departments and agencies and is therefore complex. Many divergent opinions exist regarding the interaction between heritage and development.

Heritage Day isn’t just a day for South Africans to get out the braai tongs — it’s a time to celebrate our great diversity and culture. And this year the celebrations started early.

The recently released paper is limited to a conceptual framework and the identification of future research and processes to require a more complete policy framework. The departure point is that the heritage sector should be aligned with the developmental mandate of the South African government, which is based on both the Constitution and the medium-term strategic framework (2009-2014) entitled Together doing more and better.

The paper also aims to redirect heritage resource management towards current international practice, based on an integrated environmental and spatial approach. Currently, South Africa’s heritage sector is dominated by concepts such as memorials and museums developed before 1994 by the National Museum Council. Hence heritage resource practice does not reflect fully the opportunities created by the South African National Heritage Resources Act (aka NHR Act 25 of 1999) to introduce proactive integrated spatial approaches in response to threats to particular sites. The sector has to reposition itself as a significant and irreplaceable asset to society.

The position paper makes it clear that although heritage is a contributor to development, heritage management and conservation should not limit heritage practice to development programmes and projects.

Development goals include the development of a society that enables its citizens to lead fulfilling lives. Social programmes, including heritage, contribute to the development of such a society by nurturing and supporting a society that allows citizens to innovate and contribute to national wellbeing, the paper states. It hopes to create an environment in which heritage is acknowledged as an asset. In the context of heritage conservation the paper takes the broader approach to include empowered communities. ‘Heritage conservation should not only be considered in terms of economic and physical development. [It should also consider] human development and creating a cultural environment that informs development strategies,” the paper concludes.

From this perspective, development can take place only as people become actively involved in development processes, something the paper encourages in terms of heritage development.

What is heritage?
A number of forms on heritage exist, including cultural, living and geoheritage. Unesco defines heritage in terms of both tangible and intangible culture. Cultural heritage includes monuments (architectural works, sculptures, paintings), groups of buildings and specific sites, such archeologically important areas. The same convention identifies natural heritage as natural features as plants, geological or physiological formation that form part of the habitat of threatened animals and plants, or natural sites that have value to science, conservation and natural beauty.

These definitions are in the process of being redefined to better reflect the historic urban landscape approach. This approach deals with a site in its broader context. It includes land use patterns, spatial organisation, social and cultural values, visual relationships, topography and other natural features, geomorphology, vegetation and all elements of the urban structure.

It also includes dynamic processes, economic aspects, intangible dimensions of heritage and aspects of cultural diversity and identity. This approach can be adapted for rural settlements.

The Act does not define heritage as such, but provides a detailed description of nationally important items (called the national estate — see box), which includes both cultural and natural heritage. Living heritage is defined in the national policy on South African living heritage as ‘cultural expressions and practices which form a body of knowledge and provide for continuity, dynamism and meaning of social life to generations of people as individuals, social groups and communities.

Living heritage allows for identity and a sense of belonging as well as an accumulation of intellectual capital for current and future generations in the context of mutual respects for human, social and cultural rights.” (See box)

The Geological Society of South Africa defines geoheritage as places and sites of geological importance that are recognised and preserved as outstanding natural sites. In South Africa geoheritage includes the vast and unique mineral deposits that have been instrumental in fuelling the country’s economic development.

It is clear that heritage is a broad concept that includes both cultural and natural elements that can be tangible and intangible. The paper defines heritage as being about ‘what is valued as significant in — cultural, socioeconomic, aesthetic, historical, scientific terms. Heritage can be produced by people or be natural features that have meaning to humans.”

Heritage is seen as contributing to economic development in a number of ways. These include:

  • Creative industries;
  • Creating products for or in support of the information and know-ledge sector and the leisure sector;
  • Heritage tourism, which includes museums and interpretive centres at heritage sites;
  • Creating capital values through the conservation of the built environment;
  • Creating small and medium-size enterprises in urban and rural locations;
  • Creating specialist heritage and conservation employment; and
  • Creating unskilled support services to heritage and conservation professionals.
  • The policy recommendations cover a number of these areas. It includes calls for greater co-operation at an executive level between government departments to ensure the integration of heritage policy and programmes with that of other departments, such as tourism, trade and industry, social development, science and technology, co-operative governance and traditional affairs, environmental affairs and energy and minerals, plus their provincial and local counterparts.

    It calls for a number of research initiatives, including research to understand better the impact and role of heritage in society, the compilation of a national high-level (and ultimately a detailed local) database of tangible and intangible heritage, research into the planning legislation and regulations that affect heritage, a review of heritage resource management authorities and legislation, studies to compile a business plan for the development of a skilled conservation and restoration sector and the development of a detailed database of heritage-related research across South Africa, to be made generally available.

    In addition, the paper suggests the review of training requirements within the heritage sector, ensuring the heritage sector is suitably capacitated to fulfil its mandate, partnerships with other government departments, the development of programmes and guidelines for promoting tolerance and intercultural dialogue through heritage experiences and assistance in developing educational programmes to support creativity and innovation.

    Living it
    Living heritage includes:

  • Orality and performances; include dance and
  • Rituals and festivals;
  • Memory;
  • Skills and techniques;
  • Indigenous knowledge systems;
  • Cultural traditions;
  • A holistic approach to nature; and
  • Society, societal relationships and ubuntu.
  • The national estate
    According to the NHR Act, the national estate includes:

  • Places, buildings, structures and equipment of cultural significance;
  • Places to which oral traditions are attached and that are associated with living heritage;
  • Historical settlements and townscapes;
  • Landscapes and natural features of cultural significance;
  • Geological sites of scientific or cultural importance;
  • Archeological sites, including ancestral graves, royal graves and graves of traditional leaders, graves of victims of conflict, graves of individuals designated by the minister by notice in the Government Gazette, historical graves and cemeteries;
  • Other human remains not covered in terms of the Human Tissues Act;
  • Significant sites relating to the history of slavery in South Africa; and
  • Movable objects, including objects recovered from the soil or waters (including archaeological and palaeontological material, meteorites and rare geological specimens), objects to which oral traditions are attached and that are associated with living heritage, ethnographic art and objects, military objects, objects of scientific or technical interest and books, records, documents, photographic positives and negatives, graphic, film and video or sound recordings.
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