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REPATRIATION OF HERITAGE (article first published : 2005-10-24)

The Ifa Lethu Foundation was established in 2004 for the repatriation of South African heritage materials from across the globe. Previously known as the Homecoming Foundation, the name was changed earlier this year to reflect the aims of the organisation. Ifa Lethu – a Xhosa expression – means ‘our heritage’ and it is in this vein that works created in the townships, mainly in the 60s, 70s and 80s, are being sought for repatriation to South Africa.

“Ifa Lethu is an initiative specifically tasked with the protection and promotion of an important part of our heritage and is a further indication of our desire to contribute to the healing process in South Africa,” says Ifa Lethu CEO Narissa Ramdhani.

“Hundreds of works – from the visual to the written - were bought by diplomats and other people based in South Africa between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, at a time when few South Africans were buying anything that did not have intrinsic value,” she continues. “For example; while a handful of local artists were able to establish themselves in international markets, a vast majority were not. Their works, however, are an important part of our cultural and artistic heritage. Our goal is to repatriate this heritage, which will be a resource for South Africans to see and learn about themselves and the African struggle for dignity and pride.”

The project began with the donation of an important collection of art by Australian diplomat Diane Johnstone who served in South Africa in the 1970s and who built strong links with the artists. Her intention had always been to donate her art collection back to the people of South Africa once the political system had been transformed.

It became apparent that there was a significant body of material residing in overseas collections and institutions. These were produced over three decades at the height of apartheid and are of great national value. Aside from the Di Johnstone donation, another important collection previously owned by another Australian diplomat, Bruce Haigh, has also been returned to South Africa.

Ifa Lethu will be launched officially in November. Thereafter, plans include the repatriation of material already identified; research and sourcing of other collections from around the globe; and a vast outreach of activities so that South Africans may appreciate and recognise their lost heritage.

Ifa Lethu has been endorsed by the Department of Arts and Culture and received the support of the private sector. BHP Billiton has recently become a founder Patron with a pledge of R3 million.

Recognising the importance of a just society in which human rights are respected, The Ifa Lethu Foundation will contribute to such recognition and to the achievement of its vision by recovering and repatriating a missing era of South African heritage, turning it into a focal point for all South Africans to understand their common heritage. Through its work and its collections, the foundation will teach South Africans about using artistic creativity to transcend adversity and heal the nation, and in so doing, contribute to the national agenda of nation building. In pursuing these goals and tasks, Ifa Lethu will be guided by the principles of reconciliation and access.

More information from Bette Kun on 011 447 7241 or 082 576 9739 or e-mail: bette@stonesoup.co.za




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