[OPINION] Brandfort heritage for Winnie, a dream not deferred

winnie madikizela mandela brandfort house heritage site

By Unathi Sonwabile Henama

May the spirit of Mama Winnie Mandela Rest in Peace. The apartheid government banished Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to the rural Free State town of Brandfort. The banishment to Brandfort was not a historical coincidence, but a deliberate act of apartheid. Brandfort is where the architect of apartheid, HF Verwoerd, attended school for several years. This was a deliberate attempt to crush her spirit and the apartheid government was surprised when the opposite became a reality. Mama Winnie turned lemons into lemonade, as she operated a clinic and a crèche in Brandfort.

Without Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the Mandela name would likely have been in the forgotten. Mama Winnie did not go to exile, she faced the brutality of the gangster apartheid state like millions of other South Africans. The community of Brandfort has been accommodative in sharing stories about how Madikizela-Mandela was the subject of spying from a security agent that resided several houses from her residence. It is the responsibility of the state to document such, if it is interested in protecting the heritage of the struggle for liberation. The state owns the property in Brandfort and public funds had been budgeted for its restoration. The Free State provincial government and local government must account about the budgeting for the restoration project in Brandfort. These are public funds and there is a responsibility to account on how they have been managed. Unfortunately, there is a cancer of accountability within our body politic.

In 2012, the ANC held its Centenary Celebrations in Bloemfontein, which resulted in the restoration of the church where the ANC was formed. A statue of Nelson Mandela was donated by a Bloemfontein businessman and this was placed on Naval Hill. The placement of the statue on Naval Hill catalysed the regeneration project for Naval Hill, as the statue became a landmark for Bloemfontein, replacing the white horse on Naval Hill as the most prominent landmark. The heritage of the ANC was used to give Bloemfontein a facelift with a new landmark, the statue of Mandela and a new museum at the Waaihoek Wesleyan Church. The heritage of the struggle for liberation must be protected and presented in such a manner that it makes it attractive for tourism consumption. Apartheid heritage continues to dominate from the design of towns, the sandstone buildings that define the architecture of Post Offices and train stations.

winnie madikizela mandela brandfort house heritage site

Make no mistake, I am disappointed that the ANC government has not created a heritage site to honour Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. But I am more worried about the new rush to create one in Brandfort. In an article published in the Free State regional newspaper, ‘’The Weekly’’, the newly appointed Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela indicated that the Free State government will erect a statue of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. This is a noble idea, but it must not be rushed, considering the plethora of failed post-apartheid heritage projects. There is the heritage project to commemorate the Bhisho massacre, which is a silent monument but within five minutes you finish a tour of the monument. A visit to Sharpeville is the most disappointing, the museum is just a building without the trappings of audio-visual technology to improve the experience. Successful post-apartheid heritage projects like Lillies Leaf in Johannesburg and the Steve Biko Centre in King Williams Town must be the model when developing the Brandfort memorial centre.

A heritage project succeeds when it is created to have multiple uses, including commercial spaces to let. It must be possible to spend money in food and beverage establishments, and other spaces for curios and the arts. The house in Brandfort is adjacent to the entrance of a stadium, which means that an interpretation centre can be established. This creates ample space to create parking space for cars and buses. The Brandfort memorial must be the Moses Mabhida Stadium equivalent, a landmark of international envy. This must be attractive enough to ensure that 30% of the cars that pass Brandfort spend at least R50 within the economy of Brandfort.

A husband-and-wife tourism route could be created between Brandfort and the Nelson Mandela statue at Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. This would allow heritage to become a job creator to restore human dignity to the residents of Brandfort. Tourism is the new gold that creates jobs and drives our economy. Public representatives are obligated to love the citizens they serve. Supporting tourism is, therefore, part of the love process towards citizens. Restoring the heritage site for  Mama Winnie in Brandfort whilst creating local jobs would be fitting for the Mother of the Nation. The opportunity to create fitting heritage to honour Mama Winnie Mandela is not a dream deferred.

Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity

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