ANC NPC discussion document: On Arts, Culture and Heritage

Party should pronounce on concept of a place where struggle icons are buried or honoured in a form of a Heroes’ Acre


Arts, Culture and Heritage


This policy paper is informed by the enduring vision of the African National Congress (ANC) on arts and Culture. This could be traced back to the Freedom Charter adopted at the Congress of the People in 1955, with clause 8 of the Charter stating that the “Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened” where “the government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life”. In Ready to Govern (31 May 1992) on the arts and culture, the ANC envision “a flourishing cultural life that is vital to the well-being of South Africa. [Where an ANC government] will strive to facilitate and celebrate cultural production that captures the diversity, complexity and vibrancy of all South Africans…in which the ANC recognizes that through arts and culture a sense of national identity and pride can be cultivated”.

Broadly put in its context, we saw arts and culture as a ‘potentially unifying force in a country divided along ethnic and cultural lines by apartheid” (Ready to Govern, 1992). By this it was meant that the arts, culture and heritage use-value is embedded in their ability to be “thought provoking” and thus with a great ability to “contribute to a democratic and tolerant socio-political environment” (Ready to Govern, 1992). The intolerance of the other that we are currently experiencing in our society could be the result of a weakened and weakening arts, culture and heritage that is rooted within our communities where young people are able to be creative and take the lead in reflecting on the kind of society we live in through various forms of cultural expression such as theatre, poetry and music for instance.

The Ready to Govern Policy Document when it relates to Art and Culture identified that the aim of art and culture policy is to “redress the imbalances inherent in our society in terms of race, class and gender. In particular, our rich and diverse artistic traditions in the fine arts, literature and music that needed nurture and promotion” together with all other represented traditions. Further to this, the aim was the “promotion and preservation of cultural heritage and art forms, heritage resources and facilities, including those previously neglected… to be popularized, preserved, democratized, be opened and belong to all South Africans”.

The Freedom Charter and the Ready to Govern Policy Document were given further expression in the Draft National Cultural Policy of the ANC published on 25 February 1994 shortly before the first national democratic elections based on a common voters roll. Here we bring clarity to the meaning of arts and culture and first define it as “customs and traditions, beliefs, religion, language, identity, popular history, crafts, as well as all art forms, including music, theatre, dance, creative writing, the fine arts, the plastic arts, photography, film, and in general the sum of the results of all human endeavor”.

Henceforth, our assessment below will deal with how we have performed in this important aspect of our lives in terms of policy development and implementation since it affects our identity as a people and our own humanity. The Draft Arts and Culture Policy of (February) 1994, also concerned itself with the “priorities of nation building and development where the energies of the culture of resistance [could] be channeled, in order to promote and sustain a culture of democracy, development and human rights, based on the fulfillment of the entire range of socio- economic aspirations of the country’s people”.

Here we were acknowledging that the arts and culture played a pivotal role in the struggle for national liberation in South Africa and that it should continue to mobilise society around new objectives of building an inclusive non-racial, non-sexist and equal society for all.

However, in considering these, we were not blind to the fact that contestation over power was still continuing and that there was no political formation that would act as victor since we were involved in negotiations. Negotiations by their virtue imply that there is going to be a give and take depending on the balance of forces.

In our analysis of the balance of forces, as early as 1992, we therefore noted that there will be a need for a government of national unity. By this we understood that the “balance of forces has forced onto the South African political situation a relationship between the ANC and the National Party characterized by conflict, in so far as the regime attempted to block the transition, and constructive interaction in pursuit of agreements the regime has been forced to enter to”.

This presented many challenges for the ANC when forming the first democratic government of national unity. It had to priorities which departmental governments it would assign to parties that have lost power, but had to be accommodated in the cabinet. The Ministry of Arts and Culture was one of those departments that were allocated to one of the minority parties. This meant that, in the early stages, policy formulation on the arts, culture and heritage was not under the ANC’s direct control and influence. A subject dealt with extensively below.

However, this is water under the bridge, as we look forward, and as the ANC seeks to renew itself, and by implication the renewal of society as whole. In the 4th National Policy Conference we asserted that members and leaders of the ANC at all levels have the responsibility to “safeguard and promote the core values of the ANC” in this new phase of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). We further asserted that the renewal should take into consideration that the promotion of these values “should be undertaken within the context of the ideological struggle to cultivate progressive values among all South Africans as part of building a national democratic society”.

We are of the view that these could be achieved if we have a vibrant art, culture and heritage policy that is rooted in our communities and imbued by them. This is important in South Africa where the values and ethics of liberation struggle are under serious attack and the credibility of the ANC as leader of society is seriously challenged on all fronts by the forces that seeks to control the narrative of liberation to suit them.

By implication, these forces seek to lead the dialogue in society with the objective of undermining the historical injustices and drive the dialogue that will determine future policies. Such policies as they seek to promote are aimed at undermining the progressive policies set by the liberation movement and replace them with policies that seek to undermine the efforts towards a developmental state.

It comes as no surprise that some organisations will challenge the heritage of the liberation struggle in court and use the courts as censor officials of this heritage. On the other hand, where progressive institutions have sought to ban the symbols of apartheid like the old South African Flag, they again go to go and seek the court to give reactionary forces the freedom to hoist and promote such symbols. It is in this context that the following critique is offered and recommendations made.


This position paper is a brief overview and evaluation of the past 28 years on arts, culture and heritage within our society. We do this mindful of extensive material on this subject but choose to settle for a modest and yet important task of a critical self- introspection that is meant to highlight key areas of ANC performance, strategic importance of arts, culture and heritage in challenging dominant ideologies or hegemonic systems as well as outlining key areas of possible interventions going forward.

We first recognize that the Covid19 pandemic has unleashed an economic and social disaster across the world. This had a disastrous impact on the arts, culture and heritage sector since they could not practice their craft. We note that in many societies, the arts, culture and heritage sectors often become the first victims of funding cuts or austerity measures when there is an economic distress. South Africa is no different. However, what makes it more difficult in South Africa are the high levels of unemployment that have negative consequences to many families.

Having noted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had on our society, we are also aware that it also presented an opportunity for re-evaluation and for us to think and do things differently. This is primarily so because we are all aware of the social fabric that has been weakened over time.

Such breakdown in our social fabric includes the scourge of gender based violence, children abuse with the rise of child headed families, gangsters, drug and alcohol abuse, intolerance which includes violence against non-South African nationals, etc. In all these cases, the role of the arts, culture and heritage in building communities and bridging gaps between people cannot be undermined and is of critical importance.

The lack of cultural activities for the youth and their understanding of their own heritage has resulted in regressive political posturing and the rise of prosperity churches occupying buildings that were once thriving businesses in the townships and city centres, among others. It could only be surmised that, this is a result of our own limitations to articulate a well thought-through and progressive position on arts, culture and heritage, in which we also included indigenous knowledge systems.

This position paper is meant to stimulate rigorous discourse on this often-understated yet critical and instructive strategic area particularly in the area of social cohesion, with the aim of generating concrete policy interventions and programmes to protect, promote and preserve our arts, culture and heritage.

In the final analysis, it is argued that it is inconceivable that the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution (NDR) would fully succeed without elevating arts, culture and heritage which in many instances is seen as soft power at the same level (if not more impactful) as economic and political power. It is only through a well knitted social fabric that political and economic power can have room to thrive.


We note that the arts, culture and heritage were important weapons in pursuing the liberation struggle in South Africa as already illustrated in section 1 of this paper. In this instance, the ANC in exile and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) structures inside the country profiled its envisaged cultural policy for a democratic dispensation through extensive discussions that took place in various forums and conferences.

The ANC and MDM structures also used culture to mobilise the international community against apartheid. Conferences and festivals of anti-apartheid cultural workers were organized in 1982 in Botswana, and the same year in Netherlands and again in 1987 in Netherlands. This demonstrated the good grasp the ANC had on the strategic importance of arts, culture and heritage and its ability to convey a unifying message. MDM structures such as Trade Union Movements and Youth Organisations used a variety of art forms to mobilise workers and communities.

President OR Tambo succinctly stated this understanding when he proclaimed that “let the arts be one of the many means by which …we inspire the millions of our people to fight for the South Africa we envisage”.

The seemingly de-emphasis of a critical strategy that worked before – which is the arts, culture and heritage or what others argued is the neglect of the sector post- apartheid has robbed the ANC of one the important weapons of mobilizing for a socially cohesive society, that is built on non-racialism, non-sexism and a truly democratic ethos. For a society to be truly cohesive with safe communities, it needs a stable political power, growing economy that creates employment, anchored on an evolving culture that is progressive and addresses the (feel good) and spiritual needs of the communities it serves.

However, we also note that with limited intervention and direct support from the ANC and its structures, our deployed cadres in government, informed by the theory of our revolution have made some strides in addressing some of the societal problems in the portfolio they occupy. Such efforts are appreciated. For example, the Department of Sport Arts and Culture has a concerted campaign against Gender Based Violence. This campaign must also be taken up by all our branches and Alliance Partners.

While we note that the ANC developed strong progressive and extensively debated policies such as economic policies, we also note that policies on arts, culture and heritage seemed to be ad hoc, tentative and poorly expressed. It is often subsumed under a range of other policies with no dedicated focus such as the current combination with sports, which undoubtedly receives more prominence and funding compared to the former.

It is telling that the ANC has had no dedicated arts, culture and heritage policy commission in its conferences since 1991. As a consequence, much of arts, culture and heritage policies were developed and implemented by the Department of Sport Arts and Culture with little authoritative input from the ANC’s vision and policy position.

We can only imagine what would be the results of such policies had the ANC actively led in this process and actively participated in all interactions and consultation and not left this to the Ministry to shoulder this responsibility in isolation. We state this in light of our general experience that very often, Government Green and White Paper policy blueprints on this sector are an expression of and diffusion of diverse stakeholders in the sector with little policy directive or input from ourselves as the ANC.


As already mentioned, ANC had a better coordination and articulation of anti- apartheid cultural workers’ resistance that was rooted within the understanding of a future society the ANC envisioned. This consciousness extended to the concerns the ANC had with regard to its memory and history, hence it secured an agreement with the University of Fort Hare to house its archival material. The security of this archival material was achieved. Today our policy position must clarify ways in which this archival material should be enhanced and to exploit its value.

The digitization project that has taken place on the collection also requires a clear policy formulation of what is to be done with the digital record and how it should be exploited and protected. In addition to this, we need to come out with a clear policy position of what we will do with our archival material that is scattered across the world taking into consideration complex legislative frameworks of different countries and how the material came to be with the current holders. In short, a policy position is urgently required to deal with issues of repatriation of ANC heritage resources.

This extends to the South African heritage resources where some of the archival material belonging to the ANC or the state may be in private hands and or with private companies. We note and appreciate that the Department of Sport Arts and Culture submitted to Cabinet for its approval the Policy on the Repatriation and Restitution of Human Remains and Heritage Objects, as the ANC we need to engage with this policy and where we find aspects that limits our objectives, we need to submit for its review.


There is a complex interplay of various factors that seem to have cumulatively led to marginalization and de-emphasis of arts, culture and heritage. The most prominent factors included the following:

a) The ANC seemed to forget the role played by the Arts and Culture in the liberation struggle and therefore relegated it as a “not so important portfolio”. The prioritization on other portfolios at the expense of arts and culture, the results of that neglect are felt today more than any other period in the post-apartheid state. The levels of violence against foreign nationals is caused by the lack of understanding of our common humanity, issues that the arts and culture are ceased with. A misconception that real power was in the political and economic realm and not in culture and heritage. In many ways this has been shown to have been a misdiagnosis of power since the arts and culture shape public consciousness and therefore, national character.

b) The misconception that culture and heritage is about distant past issues which are traditional and conservative, which pose a hindrance to efforts to modernize and deal with unfolding futures such as the 4th Industrial Revolution. And yet many advanced modernized and modernizing global powers such as Japan, Russia, China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and many others have demonstrated that enhancing and infusing their culture and heritage does not become an obstacle to their advancement instead it is used as a source of inspiration and national pride.

c) The complex and pervasive nature of this sector, which others may regard as not given the necessary attention it deserves has made it difficult to assess and quantify its social and economic value or contribution to societal well- being. It is for this reason that lack of proper conceptualization and delineation of arts, culture and heritage has led to a caricatured view that this is merely an entertainment “song and dance” area of no strategic importance and value in nation- building and social cohesion, and in pursuing a revolution or transformation in a transitional post-apartheid society.

Our limitations of building a new progressive culture for the new society informed by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and empowering previously marginalized heritages (such as the liberation heritage) has led to a default embrace of culture of groups that were dominant during colonial and apartheid past as default South African cultures. Dominance of English and to a lesser degree, Afrikaans, of neoliberal ideologies and western cultures can be attributed to this neglect of arts, culture and heritage as strategic levers of the battle of ideas and counter-hegemonic struggles. In other words, while we had identified this in Ready Govern has one of the aspects that needs to be transformed, we have not succeeded to transform this reality for reasons we have already mentioned in other sections. This does not necessary mean we have not made any strides.

If we are to renew ourselves and continue to lead society, we have to deliver and improve on the material conditions of the poor, mainly black people, on the one hand, and, on the other, we must also master the art of profiling the liberation heritage through sustainable high profile programmes; and work towards the transformation of the arts, culture and heritage sector. This should include opening up the space and empower the previously disadvantaged nationalities. In this way, we believe that some of the social ills that we are currently experiencing in our society will be reduced, such as destruction of public buildings that are of service to learners and the health of the community.

We note that the Department of Sport Arts and Culture since 1996 has been steadily undermining the apartheid spatial planning through the establishment of legacy projects such as the Robben Island Museum, the Luthuli Museum, the Nelson Mandela Museum, Freedom Park etc. In the past five years, the government has upgraded the Winnie Mandela House in Branfort, the OR Tambo Garden of Remembrance in Mbizana, it is constructing a new Limpopo Provincial Theatre and Film Hub in East London in the Eastern Cape.

While these are important, their strategic intent should directly benefit our people especially the youth. We have noted with concern that at times these seemingly progressive ventures such as art centres are built and no continued support and resources are provided for their success. Our policy position must address itself to this dilemma.


A cursory assessment of South African social and cultural landscape immediately reveals that we have been unable to transform society to reflect our own diversity in various spheres of life. Most importantly, this is reflected in the celebration of our public holidays. Occasions that are supposed to mobilise us as a society and be reflective of our Constitutional aspirations are dominated by one race group at the self- exclusion of minority groups. We need to understand why it is so? What role could the arts, culture and heritage play in rectifying this? How should it go about doing this?

Our lack of cohesion as a society was clearly demonstrated by the Fallist Movement of 2015/2016 student protest with their target on statues, place names, languages, history and institutional cultures of public universities. It is also the case that name changes for streets, towns and geographical places in general, has met fierce resistance from those who are custodians of the dominant cultures.

Indigenous languages are largely missing in public participation in our democracy and in commerce and education. English and to a lesser extent, Afrikaans, still dominate the space with few cosmetic changes.

Ultimately, it is for this same reason that South Africans do not have a shared memory of history, something that is a pre- condition for social cohesion, unity, collective memory of a nation as well as basis for understanding tradeoffs necessary for building an inclusive society. This is despite the fact that we have implemented some of our earlier policy directives in the Ready to Govern Document.

One of the key issues we state there is that the government must strive towards the achievement of nation building, cultural diversity and a united country through the use of the arts, culture and heritage. We further state that, the government must establish institutions that will fund arts and culture in our country. These have been done as soon as we came to power.

We also note that, efforts of government to implement some policy decisions on this sector are crippled by lack of coordination among departments that have arts, culture and heritage components in their work.

These include but are not limited to the Departments of Basic Education, Higher Education and Training, Environmental Affairs, Social Development, Defence and Military Veterans, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional affairs. This then poses a need for the strengthening of cooperative governance in areas of common interests, with the Department of Sport Arts and Culture at the centre of the coordination. This will assist the state in the mainstreaming of its activities as various departments are faced with huge budget cuts, with the arts, culture and heritage disproportionately affected by this.

The ANC, as a governing party that also led the liberation struggle, is charged with two main historic missions that seem to be contradictory and yet essential for realization of the promise of liberation:

a) addressing the injustices of the past through some form of redress, and

b) uniting South Africa towards a common purpose and destiny.

Currently, South Africa remains a divided society to some degree with many under privileged communities without arts, culture and heritage centres. The bulk of these being semi-urban and rural communities. In such an environment, it makes it difficult for the arts, culture and heritage to play its pivotal role of uniting the country. In this instance, we have to debate and come out with policy position of the role of the Local Government and Provincial Government in relation to the National Government in the promotion of the arts, culture and heritage.

This is so when we know that the mandate of Local Government does not include the arts, culture and heritage. However, if we are to be mass based and rooted in communities, there has to be a rethink of the role of this sphere of government which is the coal face of national government with the people, in supporting the arts, culture and heritage.


We are the oldest liberation movement in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. With this comes experience and responsibilities. We need to utilize this experience to rebuild our society through active citizenship.

Knowledge of self and of society plays an important role in this regard. Archives are the source of this knowledge. We have presided over the most internationalized anti-apartheid liberation struggle in the world. We have also developed a home-grown experiment in resolving political conflict and a “world- acclaimed” model of peace and reconciliation. We however also acknowledge that this model has its own limitations that could be improved on. After two decades of political power, the fissures caused by the continued economic disempowerment of the majority are showing. South Africa has a rich tangible and intangible culture and heritage which is globally recognized.

All these are heritage treasures which could ignite and rejuvenate arts, culture and heritage emanating from a unique South African experience. It has the potential to capture national and global imagination. More important, we must be deliberate to involve the youth as key agents who will also transmit this to future generations and also utilize it as part of the creative industry. Such mainstreaming of culture and heritage will also assist in decolonizing the public social spaces and the education system.


The following is a summary of recommendations of what could be done in the medium to long term:

Recognising the national and global unifying appeal of Arts, culture and heritage, the ANC should establish a dedicated Policy Commission at every conference that focuses on arts, culture and heritage as a focal point for policy development to guide government.

The ANC should:

a) Elevate and amplify the understanding of Ubuntu/Botho which is already widely embraced as a worldview and way of life for indigenous Africans and yet has a universal appeal.

b) Come up with New funding methods to ensure sustainable resourcing of the arts, culture and heritage even during periods of economic challenges. Lessons can be gleaned from other countries where this sector is regarded as a national treasure and artists are on a continuous basis subsidized by the state.

c) Lead and champion the creation of a liberation memory bank , such as a Liberation Heritage Resources Centre, that transcends partisan lines, thus bringing on board different strands of liberation movements such as the Pan African Congress, Azanian Peoples Organisation, Unity Movement, Trade Union Movements and sister organisations.

d) Champion the promotion of digitization as part of the 4th Industrial Revolution. This should include archives of all liberation movements that participated in the liberation of South Africa. In this regard, the ANC needs to develop a clear position on the Department of Sport Arts and Culture Policy on the Digitisation of Arts, Culture and Heritage and engage government on its position.

e) Develop a clearly articulated position paper on culture and heritage in a post- apartheid society.

f) Develop a clear policy and guidelines on repatriation and reburial of those who passed on in exile. On this, we note that Cabinet adopted in 2021 a National Policy on the Repatriation and Restitution of Human Remains and Heritage Objects.

g) The ANC, partly in line with the above, should develop a position on vandalism of heritage sites, especially graves and monuments associated with liberation movements.

h) Develop a clear policy and guidelines on how to pay respect and maintain the resting place (graves) of South Africans in general.

There is also a need for the ANC to pronounce on the concept of a place where struggle icons are buried or honoured in a form of a Heroes’ Acre.

Linked to the above, the ANC should also:

a) Develop a clear policy and guidelines on the repatriation of liberation material and cultural objects.

b) Aggressively drive and advocate for authentic prescribed history in schools, with culture and heritage emphasis in Life Orientation programmes.

c) Actively promote the development and adoption of the Southern African Liberation Heritage Route as an anchor flagship project of promoting and preserving liberation history – “Lest We Forget”.

d) The ANC should Champion the project of declaration of the Southern African Liberation Heritage Route as a World Heritage Site just like the Silk Road or other similar trails. The African Union has also expressed its support for this project. The embrace and adoption of this SADC-focused heritage project will go a long way to symbolically express gratitude to countries that hosted South African exiles and, in some form, address perceptions of South Africa as a xenophobic country that has no regard for the history of international and frontline state solidarity during the anti- apartheid struggle. It will be a significant manifestation of cultural diplomacy for the region and the rest of the continent. It is worth noting that some work towards realization of the liberation heritage (incomplete sentence).

e) The ANC should develop a policy on the Infusion of indigenous knowledge systems and craft including medicines into the mainstream life. Oriental alternative health and medicine is a prominent example of dual systems of health and wellness.

f) The ANC should promote inter- governmental corporation on departments that have a bearing on arts, culture and heritage. These include but are not limited to Arts, Culture and Technology, Environmental Affairs, Basic and Higher Education and Training, Defence and Military Veterans, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and social development.

The ANC in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture and DIRCO should revive and send to its embassies cultural attaches for pretty much the same kind of rooted solidarity that was established during the struggle years.


All of the above-mentioned areas are important and worthy of intervention. But it is argued that at this historical moment it is important to single out and identify only a few flagship programmes and policies that have a catalytic impact on others as well as a huge symbolic importance for the liberation struggle. In terms of policy intervention, the following areas are in need of urgent attention:

a) Revival of cultural attaches established in critical embassies across the world.

b) Repatriation policy for mortal remains of South Africans abroad and those in the country away from their places of birth

c) Archives policy

d) Indigenous Knowledge Systems and language policy

e) Promotion and mainstreaming of Ubuntu

There are specific flagship projects which are underway but can be formally adopted and endorsed because of their potentially profound impact on the liberation struggle in public memory and national consciousness. There projects are:

a) Southern African Liberation Heritage Route.

b) Liberation Memorial Multi-purpose Centre

c) Establishment of a National Heroes Acre