National Heritage Council chief executive Sonwabile Mancotywa. Jacques Naude African News Agency/ANA
Pretoria - Fifteen years on, and advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa is bowing out as chief executive of the National Heritage Council. The internationally- acclaimed heritage advocate has finally decided to hang up his robe, after being at the helm of the council for three terms.

As he leaves, Mancotywa reflects on his contribution to the country’s heritage programmes.

Among these are the Early African Intellectuals Project, which provided incisive analysis on the historical dynamics of African intellectuals; the Ubuntu Campaign, which revived and continues to promote the core idea behind ubuntu; and the Liberation Heritage Route, which seeks to develop precincts on Struggle-related sites of historical and heritage significance.

He spoke to the Pretoria News and said the next person to sit in his chair had to have passion about heritage.

The world-famous skull of Mrs Ples was discovered at the Cradle of Humankind, which was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1999. ANA Archives


“When I came here, I did not have educational background on the heritage side of things; however, I had passion for these things.

“The person who comes after me will have an organisation that has already been built and, unlike me, who did not inherit anything when coming here, the person will inherit a healthy organisation.”

He said that the National Heritage Council was formed “on a piece of paper” back in 2003. He had to start everything from scratch; making policies and getting office space.

Fifteen years on, his hard work and dedication has been recognised by the Serbian-African Investment Forum, as he was selected to receive the international leadership award.

The Golden Rhino found at Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in 1934.


According to the forum’s committee, Mancotywa was acknowledged for making an outstanding contribution in the arts, culture and heritage fraternity and playing a leadership role in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and South America.

The council was officially launched in 2004 under former president Thabo Mbeki’s leadership. Mancotywa said that in his previous position he was the MEC of arts and culture in the Eastern Cape. It was in that position that he got to interact with the likes of anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ANC Raymond Mhlaba.

“Spending time with the elders inspired me to learn more about the history and heritage of this country. Working with Mhlaba also gave me the opportunity to interact with president Nelson Mandela,” he said.

Mancotywa said being around elders made him aware that there was nothing being done to preserve the heritage of the country.

“It was then that we established the National Heritage Council. We had to travel the length and breadth of our country. We spoke to people: traditional people, faith-based communities, the youth and everyone else.

“We discovered that heritage at that time was known by the people, because for the past 10 years of democracy the government had focused on service delivery.”

His focus now is heritage: the preservation, by documenting, of something that one wants to identify with.

Mancotywa said a lot of villages had heritage sites, but did not know how to preserve them.

“Every community has a story to tell, and many rural areas are poor, so we help villages create jobs through tourism attraction.”

Robben Island , where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.


The council was in talks with the Department of Education to make history a compulsory subject for pupils, he said, and the Heritage Council would be providing advice on the kind of material to be used in schools.

He added that it was engaging with the Department of Education on the role of heritage in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), saying that would have to be in the form of a documentary. He described the 4IR as machines replacing human beings.

However, he said, machines could not replace values: “We still need people who will respond to a simple greeting, and we need to inculcate certain values into children and teach them ways to address their elders. Those are the values you cannot replace by any automotive system.”

Pretoria News