Hacking and Healing

Hacking and Healing:  Aspects of Heritage Tourism

In recent BBC World television coverage, I watched devotees of Ansar Al Dine hacking away destructively at the tombs of Sufi Muslim saints in Timbuktu, Mali.

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Destruction of Sufi tombs in Mali

In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the historical Buddhist statues of Bamiyan fashioned in the sixth century c.e.

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Bamyan

During the “cultural revolution” in 1966, Mao’s Red Guards did incalculable damage to Buddhist temples and art.  In the 17th century Protestants scrubbed art off the walls of cathedrals in Europe.  Through the first millennium c.e. Christians hacked at the monuments of the pharaohs in Egypt.

The history of religious and ideological intolerance in relation to heritage around the world is long and tragic.  The destruction is irreversible; the loss, absolute.

For South Africans in tourism the problem has been discussed and to a large extent we are dealing with it.  Thus far it would seem that the spirit prevailing in 1994 – a momentous political transition without a war – also prevails in matters of heritage.

How do people of colour in South Africa feel about the monuments of the past, set up by an authoritarian government during the apartheid era, an extension of a grossly unequal history?  Are these statues, buildings, memorabilia and sites part of their heritage?  The answer is, of course, yes.  But in what way?

Groot Constantia

Does a visit to Groot Constantia serve as a homage to Simon van der Stel or as a reminder of slavery?  For people of colour, probably the latter.  The owners of Groot Constantia have a permanent exhibition depicting aspects of the history of slaves.  It would seem that there is sensitivity about these matters, both from the government and from the side of those whose predecessors were represented by these inheritances.  One of most magnanimous gestures in recent times has been the subsidy for the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria which will help to preserve it as part of Freedom Park, a development that stimulates thought and feeling to all who visit it.

It is significant that township tourism has been the sector of the industry showing substantial growth.  With this growth is the recognition of sites, buildings and memorabilia that are deeply meaningful to black people.  The question remains:  to what extent can there now be a confluence of the two histories, often in painful conflict?

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Church Square, Cape Town

When I stand on Church Square in Cape Town, I see the confluence of the two streams, one turbulent.  The statue of Onze Jan (Our Jan) has hitherto dominated that space, a man instrumental in the recognition of Afrikaans as a language.  He now shares that space with several marble blocks bearing names of slaves imported from other parts of Africa, Indonesia and Madagascar.  It is almost as if he stands amongst them, the two forming a single image.  Across the street is the Slave Lodge with ongoing exhibitions and depictions of history. The Prestwich Museum points us to a dark strain of our history – the mass grave for paupers and slaves uncovered at Green Point.  Cape Town and its tourist industry have in the past decade and a half become well and truly aware of a history  which includes the inequities, the injustice and the cruelty.

Will tolerance of the two histories prevail?  Or will there come at some future point extremist hackers with their hammers?  Are we developing a consciousness that can philosophically bring the two histories together and make them one?  The need to do this is founded on the value of preserving monuments from the past no matter what cruelty they imply, no matter how much pain they caused.

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Val de los Caidos, Spain

The Valle de los Caidos near Madrid in Spain is an instructive example for us.  It was erected by the dictator Franco who held sway almost forty years, a monument to those who died in the bitter Civil War in the 1930s, 47,000 lives at the outset of that war.  It is said that this large edifice was in part erected by convicts and that many in Spain still do not accept the place as a monument to reconciliation as it was intended by Franco.  Should the Spanish break it down?  No.  The Spanish and we who tour there view it through an expanded consciousness.

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Auswitzch

Perhaps the most horrifying of such sites is that of Auschwitz in Poland where hundreds of thousands of people were systematically murdered.  It is an international monument with streams of tourists passing through it.  It is easy to see why it has been preserved as a tourist site and not destroyed:  we may not forget what we are capable of doing.

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Bust of Dr H.F. Verwoerd

Though I am not sure of the details, I have heard that the statue of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, often called the architect of apartheid, was removed from its public place in Bloemfontein.  I would imagine that part of the reason was to guarantee its safety.  In recent times there has been a call by a group of San descendants to remove the statue of Jan van Riebeeck from Adderley Street in Cape Town, seen as a symbol of white colonialism.  This is open to debate, I imagine, and I would argue that colonialism, for all its negativity, also brought benefits to the colonies that these very San descendants would be loath to part from.

There will be debates, but I feel confident that with the spirit that we have seen from 1994 to the present we will work it out.  I conclude with the transformation of Vlakplaas.

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Vlakplaas

Vlakplaas, twenty kilometres west of Pretoria, was a farm housing the headquarters of the counterinsurgency unit in the apartheid era.  Opponents of the regime were “re-educated” or executed.  In August 2007, the South African Department of Science and Technology announced that the farm was to become a centre for healing where traditional medicines would collaborate with western forms of medicine.  This site deserves to have a respected place in a tourist heritage itinerary, the more so for being on a continent racked with pain on every conceivable level.

Will van der Walt ©

4 July 2012

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Image Sources:

Destruction in Mali – source not traced

Bamiyan Buddhas – culturalpropertylaw.wordpress.com

Constantia – helloyebo.com

Church Square – sapropertynnews.com

Auschwitz – flickriver.com

Verwoerd – panoramio.com

Vlakplaas – haliokhan.org 

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