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NATIONAL HERITAGE COUNCIL (article first published : 2004-03-11)

The National Heritage Council (NHC), a statutory body aiming to bring equity to heritage promotion and conservation, was launched in February in Johannesburg.

The appointment and establishment of the NHC makes tangible the National Heritage Council Act, 1999 (Act No.11 of 1999) and brings into being a major component of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage of 4 June 1996. Heritage is a vital aspect of the remit of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), through which the NHC will receive a parliamentary grant. As defined in the White Paper, heritage refers to permanent collections and sites as well as to living heritage. In the former category are museums, libraries, archives and sites having religious, political, cultural, scientific, archaeological or environmental significance. Living heritage embraces the traditions of song, dance, storytelling and oral history.

Notably, the White Paper emphasises that: "Attention to living heritage is of paramount importance for the reconstruction and development process of South Africa. Means must be found to enable song, dance, story telling and oral history to be permanently recorded and conserved in the formal heritage structure." To this end, the NHC will provide funding for on-going operational requirements and project requirements by transfer payments to institutions under its aegis. Further funding might take place through matched subsidy or core funding. Funding applications will be assessed by sub-committees comprising Council members.

In addition, the Council will also advise on policies for research, management of collections, curating, exhibits and education. It will, where necessary, set up panels to promote its mandate.

In terms of the White Paper, the NHC, in conjunction with the Ministry of Arts and Culture, "will establish a national initiative to facilitate and empower the development of living heritage projects in provinces and local communities." The strategy will enable and encourage communities themselves to initiate heritage preservation projects.

Five members of civil society were appointed to the Council by the former Minister, Dr Ben Ngubane. The remainder of the NHC comprises nine provincial representatives, nominated by the MECs responsible for cultural affairs in the nine provinces, and by the chairpersons of the following: the Council of the South African Heritage Resources Agency; the National Archives Commission; the Heraldry Council; the Board of the National Library; the Council of the Northern Flagship Institution; the Council of the Southern Flagship Institution; the Nelson Mandela Museum; and the Robben Island Museum.

Council members will serve three-year terms, renewable after a three-year interval, except that one-third of the members may be immediately re-elected in the interests of maintaining continuity. The NHC will be supported by a Chief Executive Officer, Sonwabile Mancotywa, and a small professional staff.

The Council will significantly increase co-operation and co-ordination on Heritage sector development between DAC and its provincial counterparts, associated institutions, Declared Cultural Institutions and other departments.

"The challenge," says Mancotywa, "is to create opportunities for people to visit, to make things accessible, to boost tourism and education opportunities." He adds that whereas in the past, heritage has been characterised by fragmentation and a lack of co-ordinated strategy, now the importance of synergies and the virtues of representation will become apparent. "It is important for the Council to ensure the heritage sector transforms, to oversee the transformation of heritage sites, and to be the mouthpiece for heritage."

As important is heritage’s interaction with tourism. The White Paper noted that "The Ministry and NHC will consult with practitioners and provincial heritage services to develop a strategy and code of ethics for using living heritage resources for cultural tourism. This should be done with Satour (sic) and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism."

More information from Bridget van Oerle, BUZ Publicity, on 011 673 4995 or 011 673 9272 or 083 263 6991 or email: bridget@buz.co.za




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