Heritage status bestowed on City Hall

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The Cape Town City Hall as seen from the Grand Parade. Photograph: David Ritchie

Cape Town - The Cape Town City Hall, arguably the place that marked the beginning of the politics of reconciliation in South Africa when just-released political prisoner Nelson Mandela spoke from its balcony 23 years ago this week, has been declared a Provincial Heritage Site.

A plaque commemorating the declaration was unveiled by Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Dr Ivan Meyer and the chairwoman of the board of Heritage Western Cape, Ronèe Robinson.

The unveiling came ahead of a function in the City Hall where Meyer presented the Western Cape Arts, Culture, Heritage, Museum, Geographical Names, Libraries and Archives Awards.

In his speech, Meyer pointed out that Mandela had stood on the hall’s balcony to deliver his first public address after 27 years in prison on February 11, 1990.

“His speech marked the beginning of the politics of reconciliation in South Africa,” he said.

“As the first president of democratic South Africa, Mandela reached out to various cultural groups on many occasions… (He) distinguished himself as the architect of cultural warmth by placing others first.

“In so doing, he demonstrated what is possible when we draw on the untapped power that lies within our cultural diversity.”

The City Hall had borne witness to numerous events that were testimony to the idea of a South African identity, Meyer said, and the decision to declare it as a provincial heritage site “made perfect sense”.

“(It) has indeed become an embodiment of ‘my culture, our heritage’. It has demonstrated that when people are free to express their cultures within an environment that emphasises tolerance and respect for diversity, we begin to welcome the possibility of embracing other cultures and celebrating our common heritage.”

Meyer described the awards as “a celebration of our common heritage”, and singled out two Capetonians as people who had “undoubtedly played a key role in giving expression to the values of the Constitution”.

“Firstly, there is the late Dr Neville Alexander, who worked tirelessly to promote multilingualism and earned the utmost respect for his pioneering work in the field of language policy and planning in South Africa.

“I’m honoured to announce that the award in the category Language: Promotion of Multilingualism through the Official Languages will henceforth be known as the Neville Alexander Award for Multilingualism.

“Secondly, the recent passing of another giant, Professor Jakes Gerwel, has left a space that will not easily be filled, and I will be honouring him with the Achievement Award (posthumous).

“I believe that both Jakes Gerwel and Neville Alexander understood the power that language, like food and music, has to build bridges. Both used language very effectively to bring people together.”

- Cape Argus

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