The late SACP and ANC stalwart, Harry Gwala.
The late SACP and ANC stalwart, Harry Gwala.

Gwala family cemetery declared national heritage site

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published Dec 31, 2020

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Cape Town - The family cemetery where liberation struggle activist Harry Gwala was buried in KwaSwayimane, Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal, has been declared a national heritage site by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra).

Sahra CEO Lungisa Malgas said the declared portion of the Gwala family cemetery encompassed the grave of Harry Gwala, his wife Elda and daughter Lulu.

"Sahra identified the site as having the qualities so exceptional that it is of special national significance and warrants declaration as a national heritage site,“ Malgas said in her letter to stakeholders dated December 18.

She said the Gwala graves were of historic value due Harry Gwala’s work in the ANC and SACP and the family’s association with South African politics.

Malgas said the focus of the historical record in South Africa has often been patriarchal with the experiences of children and wives often overshadowed by the focus on the male activist.

At times, entire families faced the wrath of the apartheid state as it sought to silence those who opposed its unjust policies.

“The experiences of Harry Gwala, Elda and Lulu form part of a longue duree of the struggle against apartheid. Their graves, as a tangible reflection of their lives, represent the sacrifice and struggle of the family in the fight for South Africa's freedom and democracy.”

Malgas also said trio were liberation struggle activists in their own rights with the story of their lives interweaving through the different generations of the struggle from the emergence of resistance and protest in the 1950s up to the 1990s.

She said their lives intersected with those of individuals, groups or organisations whose life, work or activities have been significant in the history of the nation.

“Gwala's political activities and influence brought into the struggle some of the leading figures in the country's political landscape, for instance Moses Mabhida.

“This was done while he was a member of the ANC and Communist Party, which spearheaded the struggle against apartheid.”

Malgas said Elda was the pillar of Gwala's life especially after he was imprisoned with the banning orders.

“It was Elda who became the point of communication and the one to take messages to various activists during the 1950s.”

She said after Elda's death in 1984, Gwala appointed Lulu to be the head of the family.

“Lulu did not only look after the family, but she began a protracted struggle to mobilise communities and progressive legal lobby groups for the release of Harry Gwala. Lulu established political partnerships with the Release Mandela Campaign."

Malgas said the lives of Elda and Lulu represented the role of women, but also the role of families in the liberation struggle that has often been neglected.

“Their lives epitomise how apartheid was not just a political ideology, but a disruption of lives and families of those who opposed it. The graves of Harry Gwala, Elda and Lulu are symbols of the triumph of humanity against adversity.”

Sahra also declared the gravesite of Magrieta Jantjies, Kameelboom Cemetery in Upington, Northern Cape, a national heritage site .

Jantjies, also known as Ouma Griet, was Khoisan and one of the last to speak the N!uu language fluently.

Also declared a national heritage site was the Sibudu cave in Tongaat in KwaZulu-Natal.

Sahra said the cave contributed to human evolutionary history through its archaeological evidence of Middle Stone Age occupation, which dates to between 77 000 and 38 000 years ago.

Political Bureau

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