Freedom Charter 'birthplace', June 16 route declared national heritage sites
Johannesburg - Two of Soweto’s most iconic historical sites have been declared national heritage sites, the national department of arts and culture announced on Friday.
The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, formerly known as Freedom Square in Kliptown, Soweto has been declared a national heritage site.
Previously a makeshift soccer field which was cleared and fenced off, the site is where the Congress of the People convened in June 1955 for the adoption of the Freedom Charter.
In its statement of significance, the department’s agency, the SA Heritage Resource Agency (Sahra), states that the charter was drafted at the Congress of the People for all South Africans to voice their hopes and dreams for the country’s future.
However, historians Thomas Karis, Gwendolyn Carter and Gail Gerhart claim it was read by Sisulu, late former president Nelson Mandela and another late Struggle stalwart Joe Matthews, who suggested that it was too late to make changes to the already prepared draft as thousands of copies had already been reproduced, according to UK journalist David James Smith’s 2010 book Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years.
South Africa’s Constitution is based on the demands and rights reflected in the Freedom Charter, according to Sahra.
The June 16 route taken by thousands of Soweto school children 43 years to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as a compulsory medium of instruction by the apartheid regime has also been declared a national heritage site.
Hundreds of school children were mowed down by apartheid security forces during the Soweto Uprisings, which spread across the country, and lasted for over a year, forcing many into exile.
According to the National Heritage Resources Act, Sahra is empowered to identify places with qualities so exceptional that they are of special national significance in terms of the heritage assessment criteria and must investigate the desirability of their declaration as national heritage sites.
In September, Sahra declared several historical sites around the University of Fort Hare national heritage sites including the grave of the pioneering Xhosa Chief Mkrazuli Tyali, who donated the land on which the institution was built in the 1800s.
A month earlier, the ANC’s birthplace, the Waaihoek Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein, was also declared a national heritage site more than seven years after the Free State provincial government bought the building for R10 million.