UNVEILING OF EGAZINI (BATTLE OF GRAHAMSTOWN) MEMORIAL BY EASTERN CAPE MEC FOR SPORT, RECREATION, ARTS AND CULTURE, MS N BALINDLELA, Egazini, 24 February 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen, comrades and friends, it gives me great pleasure to be invited to this very important occasion today. What we are doing here today can be interpreted at a number of levels: Firstly, we are gathered here to unveil a memorial to heroes who fell during the struggle against colonialism in our country. Secondly, we are engaged in an exercise of redressing the imbalances of the past in terms of the manner in which the heritage of the majority of the people of this country has been memorialised. Thirdly, we are witnessing an example of a successful partnership between not only the provincial government and other government agencies like the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA), but also between government and community organisations. All of us here need to encourage this relationship because it can only benefit all our people.
BACKGROUND: WHENCE WE COME FROM
The Eastern Cape Government has pioneered the concept of Community Heritage Projects (CHPs). I shall now spend a few minutes on the background to this concept. In 1998 the Directorate of MUSEUMS & HERITAGE RESOURCES in the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture began a process of calling for public nominations for projects that would commemorate heritage at local level. The site itself must have meaning to the community itself. For example, ukuba kwilali ethile kukho umthi ekwakuthandazelwa kuwo kucelwe imvula, lomthi okanye londawo yindawo ebalulekileyo yembali nemvelaphi yoluntu lwalo lali, ngokuba ibalulekile kubantu balo lali.
Advertisements were placed in newspapers and radio stations and officers in the department held meetings with communities to promote the concept of Community Heritage Projects. Communities were then invited to submit applications for projects that would be relevant to them. The five main objectives of these community projects were to:
* recognise neglected sites
* redress imbalances in the portrayal of history in the Eastern Cape
* promote nation building and reconciliation
* maximise the tourism benefits of heritage sites
* promote the educational aspects of such sites
I would like to pay a special tribute to the people of Grahamstown for coming forward to the government with a project of this nature. I am informed that representatives of a wide spectrum of the people of Grahamstown worked together tirelessly to make this project the success it is today. Congratulations.
BATTLE OF GRAHAMSTOWN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
On 22 April 1819 a large group of Xhosa warriors, commanded by the famous traditional healer and leader, Nxele, took up arms against the Colonial forces of the British Empire in defence of their land. The British forces were armed with artillery. The Xhosa warriors, probably over-confident because of their numerical superiority, forewarned Colonel Willshire that they would attack Grahamstown in reaction to continued harassment and invasion of Xhosa territory by the British colonial authorities. The Xhosa came very close to taking over the town, but the attack was repulsed by the British using heavy artillery and gunfire.
Ultimately the Xhosa were forced to retreat after suffering a high casualty rate. The Colonel Governor asked Nxele to surrender and the latter was taken captive and later imprisoned on Robben Island where he died.
Addressing the Opening of Parliament in Cape Town on 9 February, President Thabo Mbeki, emphasising the importance of moving away from our painful past as the country, had this to say, I quote,
The (painful) past of which I speak is well known to all of us
It is a past of a racially divided country, of masters and servants, of racially inspired conflict and mistrust
It is a past of endemic and widespread poverty and gross imbalances in levels of development and the distribution of wealth, income and opportunity. It is a past of an economy that was immersed in a crisis that was destined to worsen.
It is a past of the denial of freedom to the majority, gross violation of human rights and repression, of entrenched sexism, a past of high levels of crime, violence and corruption
It is a past of a South Africa isolated from the rest of Africa and the world, a pariah among the nations.
It is away from this painful past that our country is progressing and must progress.
There are important lessons for all of us to learn from the experience of our forebears of 1819. This battle was the culmination of continued harassment of the Xhosa by the British. The former wanted to defend their land at all costs, even if this meant paying with their own lives in the end.
1. Never again must racial polarisation be allowed to be the rule of law in this. It did not work in 1819; it did not work in 1899; it did not work in 1948; it did not work in 1960; and it certainly cannot work in 2001!
2. When a nation is pushed too far for that which they hold very close to their hearts, like land and human dignity in this case, they are prepared to pay the ultimate price - to die for their cause.
3. The Traditional Leaders of our land played a very crucial role in the defence of their land. They were always in the forefront in the struggle of their people against those who wanted to wipe them off the face of the land.
4. Nation building and reconciliation are at work here today. Although our country is still bleeding from the scars of yesteryear and today's generation is still trying to come to terms with the past, the descendants of the adversaries of April 1819 are today not only sitting side by side, but are also working together to make our democracy work.
5. This ceremony must also, of necessity, be seen within the context of the African Renaissance. This country is indeed on course to put on the centre stage the agenda that highlights the importance of being an African in the African continent. The majority of the people present at this ceremony are indeed South African. Again in this regard, Mbeki had this to say in Parliament, I quote him:
Outwardly we are a people of many colours, races, cultures, languages and ancient origins.
Yet a million visible and invisible threads tie us to one another.
In conclusion, let me congratulate all those who were involved in making sure that this project is successful. Your pioneering work should serve as an important example to other communities.
This memorial will ensure that there will be a permanent reminder of the sacrifices our forefathers made in defence of what was rightfully theirs.
To the youth of our country who are here today, let me appeal to all of you to take the trouble to learn more about the history of your community, your province, your country and indeed, your continent.
Seek inspiration in the heroic deeds of those who came before you. Take up the challenge and help us build a better life for all in South Africa.
I thank you all
Issued by Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape
24 February 2001