“Our heritage celebrates our achievements and contributes to redressing past inequities. It educates, it deepens our understanding of society and encourages us to empathise with the experience of others. It facilitates healing and material and symbolic restitution and it promotes new and previously neglected research into our rich oral traditions and customs.”
This quotation from the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) encapsulates the spirit of the South African Heritage Resources Agency, (SAHRA), which has replaced the National Monuments Council (NMC). One of the most important elements of the legislation is the opportunity it will provide for communities to participate in the identification, conservation and management of our cultural resources.
Who is SAHRA?
SAHRA is a statutory organisation established under the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999, as the national administrative body responsible for the protection of South Africa’s cultural heritage.
The Act follows the principle that heritage resources should be managed by the levels of government closest to the community. These local and provincial authorities will manage heritage resources as part of their planning process.
In order to develop the skills and capacities of communities, heritage resource agencies will promote education and training to encourage public involvement in the identification of heritage resources, with the recording of living heritage associated with heritage and oral history a crucial element, because much of the past is undocumented.
We present this information about SAHRA in order to create an awareness among the people of our country of their right to conserve what they consider to be valuable heritage resources, the mechanisms for doing this, and to recognise the exciting new possibilities that the Act creates for them.
Objective of SAHRA
SAHRA is mandated to coordinate the identification and management of the national estate. The aims are to introduce an integrated system for the identification, assessment and management of the heritage resources and to enable provincial and local authorities to adopt powers to protect and manage them.
A South African Heritage Resources Survey (SAHRS) will be established to coordinate a national strategy for the identification of heritage resources.
Issues relating to heritage resources and their value will be increasingly introduced into school curricula, with universities and technikons encouraged to increase heritage management programmes.
The national estate encompasses heritage resources of cultural significance for the present community and for future generations. It may include places to which oral traditions are attached or which are associated with living heritage; historical settlements; landscapes and natural features of cultural significance; archaeological and palaeontological sites; graves and burial grounds, including ancestral and royal graves and graves of traditional leaders; graves of victims of conflict; and sites relating to the history of slavery in South Africa.
The national estate includes movable objects such as those recovered from the soil or waters of South Africa; objects associated with living heritage; ethnographic and decorative art; objects of scientific interest; and books, documents, photographs, film material or sound recordings.
A place or object is considered part of the national estate if it has cultural significance because of its importance in the community, or pattern of South Africa’s history, its possession of rare aspects of South Africa’s natural or cultural heritage, its strong or special association with a particular cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.