Designated heritage routes, as diverse as the Makana, Sandile, the Maqoma, Phalo and the Nelson Mandela routes; historic sites such as the Commemoration Church, High Street, Grahamstown and the City Hall, Oxford Street, East London, symbolise our collective history, culture and landscape.
Reviewing the list of Eastern Cape heritage locations provides an impressive history lesson, a sense that community and the cycle of seasons and life are more important than the incessant ticking away of seconds, minutes, and hours.
We can all learn why liberty is important by preserving and protecting our history and culture. Our heritage sites and routes support an integrated, socially cohesive society by building bridges to promote intercultural understanding; or that foster citizenship, civic memory, civic pride, and respect for core democratic values grounded in our history.
True, cultural diversity is what makes South Africa great. Our diversity has given us delicious food, upbeat music, vibrant clothing and so much more! But most importantly our heritage and culture teachers us resilience through determined and unyielding spirit.
Every city, town, village and community has its own culture and heritage. That is why Eastern Cape tourism has unveiled many heritage sites, trails and routes across our province to tell the stories of places, people and leaders who have contributed to the historical legacy of our province.
Here are a few which define who we are and where we come from:
Four heritage routes, the Makana, Sandile, the Maqoma and Phalo routes, tell the history of our province, from author Olive Schreiner’s house, King Sandile’s grave, the Battle of Centane, the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance to the Bhisho Massacre Monument.
The Nelson Mandela Route, which starts in King William’s Town, moves through Bhisho, and takes a scenic drive on the N2 to Mthatha, which hosts the Nelson Mandela Museum.
The Nelson Mandela Museum houses a collection of heritage sectors spread across three locations: Qunu, Mvezo and Mthatha. A display reflecting the life and times of Mandela can be found here.
The Art Museums of Port Elizabeth reflect the rich diversity of cultural groups in the Eastern Cape, offering South African art, particularly that of the province, British art, international printmaking and Oriental art.
If you are a colonial history enthusiast, the following sites will quench your thirst:
- Fort Murray, Zwelitsha district, built in 1834 by Sir Benjamin D’Urban when he annexed all the land between the Keiskamma and the Kei Rivers as part of the Cape Colony and called it the Province of Queen Adelaide;
- Old Gaol, Van der Walt Street, Burgersdorp. This gaol was completed in 1861 and played an important role during the Anglo-Boer War and the Rebellion of 1914;
- Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse, Aliwal North, which was a strategic point for the British during the Anglo-Boer War against the Boer commandos;
- Methodist Church, York Road, Bathurst, built in 1832 by settlers who belonged to the Methodist Church;
- Port Alfred Railway Station, dating back to the early 1880s;
- Old Powder Magazine, Fort Glamorgan, East London, was used during the Seventh Xhosa War, also known as the War of the Axe, in 1846;
- Old Public Library, Argyle Street, East London, forms an integral part of the historical and architectural core of East London;
- Grey Hospital, King William’s Town, erected between 1856 and 1859 at the instance of Sir George Grey and intended mainly for black people;
- Anglo-Boer War concentration camp site, Uitenhage. This was one of the last of about 50 concentration camps established by the British during the Anglo-Boer War; and l Commemoration Church, High Street, Grahamstown, with its neo-Gothic style architecture which was erected to mark the silver jubilee of the arrival of the British settlers of 1820.
Heritage sites and routes makes us proud, but it’s not only about pride, it’s also about the economy. Research shows that more and more travellers are seeking the authentic experience offered by cultural and heritage tourism. Tourists are looking for authentic places and the stories that go with them.
I hope you will take time now and in the future to visit our province and country’s heritage sites to share our intertwined history, from one another and find common ground on our heritage. Happy Heritage Day.
Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole