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Vandals dismantling our heritage


Destruction, neglect of Bay’s treasured sites take shine off today’s celebrations


BRICK BY BRICK:The Langa Massacre memorial site has been stripped by vandals, graffiti has been written on walls and the gardens have not been maintained

Broken needles, shards of glass, condom wrappers, wanton vandalism and graffiti scrawled across historical monuments.

This embarrassing sight awaits visitors to Nelson Mandela Bay’s historical and heritage sites.

Heritage experts say the neglect of monuments, statues and other sites of historical significance is destroying the fabric of tourism in the metro, making tour guides reluctant to take visitors on tours.

As the country celebrates Heritage Day today, heritage experts say there is little to be proud of in the city.

Bay historian and curator of the No 7 Castle Hill Museum in Central, Grizel Hart, said it was upsetting to witness the deterioration and decay of some of the Bay’s most treasured sites, especially those in Central.

“It is absolutely devastating to see how criminality has crept into these sites,” she said.

While Hart catalogues the destruction in one of the oldest parts of Port Elizabeth, in Uitenhage the Langa Memorial has all but been carried off brick by brick.

Not even the paving of the memorial — built to honour the at least 20 people who were shot dead by the apartheid police on March 21 1985 just outside Langa township — has been spared.

Though the memorial is fenced in and the gate locked in an attempt to secure the site, a team from The Herald was easily able to get in through a large hole in the fence.

Once inside the memorial complex, the destruction is immediately noticeable, with the bathrooms wrecked, the taps stolen and windows ripped from their frames.

Words such as Spoiler and expletives have been crudely drawn on the walls.

Used condoms and alcohol packaging were also strewn among the rubble of the memorial that was opened by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in March 2000.

A resident who lives near the site, Valerie Khusal, said people were not informed about their heritage.

“I am 64 years old now and I am not informed of my heritage and history and that is why people are vandalising these sites — there is no sense of pride [in] who and what we are,” Khusal said.

Graves of those died in the massacre are, however, still well kept but they, like most of the KwaNobuhle Cemetery, are surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds.

Earlier this month, the historically significant No 7 Castle Hill Museum was vandalised during an attempted break-in.

Hart said part of a door situated at the back courtyard — dating back to 1822 — had been removed.

“Fortunately they couldn’t get in because the alarm had gone off,” Hart said.

Mandela Bay Heritage Trust secretary Lynn Haller said it was a never-ending struggle to have heritage sites, including historical buildings and monuments, across the Bay properly maintained and vandals often made off with fittings and features.

“I don’t think we can be proud of these sites.”

Haller said crime in areas such as Central, home to numerous heritage sites, was so rampant she feared taking tourists to view them.

“As a tour guide I have always been proud to take tourists around the city … but now we can’t take them there, the crime rate is too high.

“We don’t even want to do city tours any more because it is too dangerous.”

Haller said the biggest problem was that the municipality was not backing heritage practitioners’ calls for proper security and maintenance.

“What do we show tourists now? It is embarrassing.”

Heritage ambassadors who were meant to be stationed at most historical sites were nowhere to be seen and even during the December peak season they were scarce and offered little in terms of information and security, Haller said.

“One would think they would always be there.”

In June last year, the metro’s economic development and tourism department announced that it had employed 94 heritage ambassadors to man numerous sites in the Bay to help protect them and promote tourism.

The Herald visited some of the metro’s heritage sites and

observed the following:

● Route 67 — litter strewn across the area with light fixtures and fittings ripped out the ground;

● Donkin Reserve — overgrown in places, with fixtures and light fittings damaged. Mosaic tiles missing from area leading to the pyramid;

● Fort Frederick — though closed to the public, the area around the fort is littered while the marble slabs at the entrance sporting information about the site are scratched and damaged;

● Cenotaph — rubbish has collected at the steps of the monument;

● No 7 Castle Hill — damage to the facade of the building as well as the information board;

● Prince Alfred Guard — overgrown with weeds, graffiti on the centre monument with litter, broken needles and glass as well as condom wrappers scattered around;

● War memorial at Walmer Town Hall — piles of litter gathering in areas;

● Horse Memorial — looks relatively good, with some overgrown grass and some litter;

● The SS Mendi Memorial in New Brighton — unkempt site is surrounded by litter and old shoes;

● Sheya Kulati Memorial — slabs of marble missing from the site;

● Emlotheni Memorial Park — not vandalised but stones and bricks have been tossed into the locked site; the area is littered with rubbish and overgrown; and

● Langa Memorial — has all but been carried off by thieves, vandalised and damaged with graffiti on walls.

Municipal spokesperson Mamela Ndamase said though municipal-appointed security guards patrolled the sites, the biggest problem was combating vandalism.

“Our biggest challenge is vandalism which is done to these facilities by the residents [who] are actually supposed to protect the facilities as these are their facilities.”

She said constant vandalism also caused budget constraints because repair work done previously often had to be redone when vandals or thieves hit the sites again.

Ndamase said grass-cutting and beautification programmes restarted across the metro last week after contracts had expired and had to be renewed.

She said grass-cutting was not deemed an essential service during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ndamase admitted that the present situation was “not desirable”, adding: “We remain committed to maintaining and repairing the sites as well as to do more with the support of community ownership to reduce vandalism and danger to visitors to the sites.”

She said the municipality had applied for an Extended Public Works Programme to be undertaken in the city, including the provision of heritage officers who would be stationed at heritage sites.

She said their work would include providing information to the public and tourists and ensuring sites were clean and safe.

“However we are still waiting for approval,” Ndamase said.