Forging Unity in Diversity? Today's South African Heritage Practise and the Post-apartheid Recovery Process

By Julie Wells.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Heritage sector in South Africa today is booming, as people find new ways to affirm their cultures and histories. Silenced and suppressed histories of the majority population are now being researched and projected into public spaces in the form of monuments, rituals, special events and community museums. For many, this carries with it a sense of 'decolonising the minds' from racially-based ways of thinking.

While this is experienced as a healthy corrective to the judgements and racially-exclusive ways of representing the past as practised in the apartheid era, it also embodies the danger of deepening a sense of difference. Policy-makers face the challenge of crafting funding and mangement programmes which achieve a balance between celebrating the richness of diversity while at the same time contributing to a new sense of a collective consciousness which transcends ethnicity.

This paper will explore some of the central issues that arise in discussions at the level of the National Heritage Council, and then provide case studies of how new initiatives and projects are managed at the local government level. It covers the key ingredients of the emerging new national identity, issues of funding and the challenges in trying to achieve community ownership of heritage meanings and uses. Finally, it suggests ways that the academic community can achieve greater integration with the growing heritage sector in the public sphere.

Keywords: Heritage, Local Government, National Policy, Post-apartheid, Community Ownership

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp.181-190. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 909.858KB).

Prof. Julie Wells

Professor, History Department, Rhodes University, South Africa

Although born and raised in the USA, I have been deeply involved for the past 35 years in the change process in South Africa, where I now live. My doctoral work was in women's political resistance to apartheid and I maintain a keen interest in women's leadership. I have represented my province, the Eastern Cape, on the newly-created National Heritage Council of South Africa, and serve my local community as an elected member of the local Municipal Council, where I held responsibilities in the Environmental and Heritage sectors. Involvement in several community heritage development projects has informed my lecturing at Rhodes University (Grahamstown) in the fields of Oral History and Public History. My passion lies with assisting disadvantaged communities to define, own and economically benefit from their own histories.

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