Charting Tshwane’s liberation heritage route

Friday, February 3, 2023

By Sihle Manda

The formation of the democratic South Africa was not a singular event. It was a decades-long tumultuous voyage of dispossession and deprivation that would ultimately lead to freedom.

Twenty-nine years into democracy, the Department of Tourism has embarked on a journey of displaying this history in a tourism route reel.

The department is developing a Tshwane Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route, a sub-route of the South African Chapter. The department recently took tour guides and tour operators on an educational tour of the Tshwane sites that played a role in the liberation struggle.

The purpose of the tour was to share information with stakeholders about the respective site and services as well as experiences offered by the sites.

The department said it was aware that tourists get different narratives at the various sites.

“Some [tourists] will get a different story about one site. The purpose of this was to educate the guides and operators,” says Deputy Director for Experiences and Route Development at the department Fundiswa Mbam.

The department first developed a framework for route development to assist municipalities, the private sector and other government departments to develop sustainable tourism routes.

“We decided to pilot it in the City of Tshwane through this resistance and liberation heritage route. We established a committee to implement the guidelines.”

At each of the 12 sites visited, a tour guide shared extensive information about the tourist attractions.

 “We wanted the operators and guides just to know more about each of the sites that are part of the route,” she says, adding that the plan is to launch the Tshwane Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route during the 2022/23 financial year.

“We want it to be a finished product for Gauteng Tourism to sell, for the various tour operators to sell, and for South African tourism to sell,” she said.

The route is expected to fill a gaping hole in the telling of the painful history of the country.

WATCH |  Tshwane Liberation and Heritage Route Tour 

“[In the country] we currently don’t have a liberation heritage [tourism route]. We have many liberation sites such as Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum but there are none that are linked. So, we are trying to establish a route, especially in a place like in the capital city [Tshwane].

Some sites like Freedom Park a national heritage site, are known to the public.

 “Most people know about Freedom Park but they don’t know about the Palace of Justice. The purpose is to showcase even those sites that are less visited,” she explains.

Touring Tshwane’s sites

The daylong excursion made its first stop at Freedom Park, in Salvokop, a cultural institution housing a museum and a memorial dedicated to chronicling and honouring the many who contributed to South Africa's liberation.

The group then headed to the gallows at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre. Between 1961 and 1989, the apartheid government executed 134 political prisoners. Liberation struggle icon Solomon Mahlangu was executed by hanging in April 1979, at what was then known as Pretoria Central Prison.

The tour guides and operators then had a brief history lesson of the formation of the city and sightseeing of the Palace of Justice where Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress (ANC) leaders were the accused in the Rivonia Trial.

 It was during this trial that Mandela—who later went on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected President made his famous speech, which concluded as follows: “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The tour then proceeded to Ga-Motle which was established as required by the 1932 New Group Areas Act. As an administrative building, here marriage and identity documents were issued for the marginalised Black citizens. Those who transgressed the law were also detained at this centre.

Another site visited was the Old Synagogue which was originally a Jewish house of worship. Originally a Jewish house of worship, the synagogue was in 1952 converted into an apartheid court which heard the Treason Trial where ANC leaders were tried for acts of sabotage intended to overthrow the government of the day.

Other stops made during the tour included the Union Buildings, the official seat of South Africa's government that houses The Presidency. It was originally built to house the public service for the Union of South Africa. The Union Buildings in 1994 hosted the inauguration of President Mandela.

Mbam said while there are other routes across the country, none were liberation itineraries.

“For instance the Drakenstein Prison is included in the Winelands route, but the Drakenstein Prison has a liberation significance. There are sites that are packaged with other things, like museums and such. This is specifically for liberation, which are few and very specific,” she said.

Enhancing knowledge

Pretoria based freelance tour guide, Minky Seloane was part of the group that experienced the route first-hand. Even she confessed that she got a different perspective of the sights visited.

“With us guides we do ‘general’ tours. But when you get to specific sites, that’s when you get specifics, you get to expand on the topics and enhance your knowledge. Knowledge is critical when you are with clients,” she pointed out.

This knowledge would henceforth enhance her commentary when guiding tourists in the city adding that she is grateful for the department’s initiative.

She recalls how she almost left the industry when it was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

“It was a stressful period. I only survived through yoga and meditation… It was devastating. We no longer had salaries. We had to live on savings. I survived on my savings until they went dry.”

Beyond this, she relied on meagre earnings from her work as a traditional healer.

Her passion for the industry is only reason she has continued to be a tour guide.

“I am passionate about this. It allows me to be who I want to be.” – SAnews.gov.za

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