While driving through Bhisho along Independence Avenue, the street where the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature and the University of Fort Hare are situated, we passed by a very beautiful building adorned with the images of freedom fighters. The name of the building is State House, formerly known as the Ciskei government ministerial residences. On the main gate of this building, is a big board with bold writing proclaiming “Home of the Legends”.
The building sparked a conversation on the distinction between the concept of Home of the Legends and the national liberation path.
Whether the concept of Home of the Legends is a public relations exercise, or a much-needed conversation that the people of the Eastern Cape must have, it is a conversation worth having. What do they mean when they speak about the Home of the Legends? Who are the legends and what was their contribution to society?
Perhaps the people of the Eastern Cape must revisit Tiyo Soga’s first article in 1862, in the first edition of the newspaper, Indaba, in which he asked, “Besingenazizwe na kudala? Iphi na imbali yazo – yamasiko azo amabi, namahle. Besingenazinkosi na kudala. Bekungolekho zidumileyo na? Bekungekho zimbongi na kudala. Bezibonga obani. Bekungaliwa madabi na. Bebengobani abafo bebekhaliphile. Iphi na imbali yalomagorha? (Did we not form nations in the past? Did we not have our traditional leaders? What has happened to the wisdom of these leaders? Did we not have poets? Where are these poets? Did we not fight wars? Who were the heroes?)”
The Eastern Cape has missed an opportunity to answer Tiyo Soga’s questions and ultimately rewrite the history of the Eastern Cape and South Africa. The provincial government of the Eastern Cape, led by the ANC, has missed an opportunity to create a public discourse on what it means to be born and bred in the Eastern Cape and what it means to be a legend. An opportunity that was going to give the people of the Eastern Cape a chance to narrate their history of dispossession, to promote culture, customs and heritage.
A discourse that was going to create space and a foundation for the people to conceptualise the term Home of the Legends. A public discourse that would define the Eastern Cape as a unique province, a historic and contemporary province of choice for investment, tourism and development.
Instead, the term Home of the Legends has been misconceptualised and narrowed only to political figures who fought against apartheid. It creates an impression that the history of South Africa is only traced back to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the establishment of the ANC in 1912. This misconceptualisation has created a duplication of the concept of the National Liberation Route, a concept that focused on the era of the national liberation Struggle.
The concept of Home of the Legends as it is now is a distortion of history that is misleading and confusing society. It needs to be revisited and broadened. The history of the Eastern Cape is not only the history of politics. The history of the province must recognise other sectors such as recreation and arts; sports, literature, and more. This misconceptualisation has failed to create a solid foundation for street-name changes and institutional name change, and a solid decolonisation process.
The concept must include historical figures as great and mighty as Chief Maqoma, Queen Nonesi, King Mhlontlo, King Hintsa and other progressives who led the people before the 1910 formation of South Africa. It must also look for ordinary people who took a stand against the colonial/apartheid regime. This will ensure that all sectors of society are included in the process, particularly the recreation, arts and culture fraternity.
The Eastern Cape province has always been earmarked as the home of legends and a characterised as a province with a rich history of educated leaders in the past. It has birthed a high calibre of individuals, ranging from lawyers, scientists, musicians and sports icons to academics.
It would be indeed very refreshing to hear names such as the legendary Enoch Sontonga, Tiyo Soga, George Pemba, SEK Mqhayi, Ben Tyamzashe, John Tengo Jabavu and others being referred to when the province is said to be the home of legends – the individuals who existed prior to and within the Struggle to build a free and democratic society.
The journalists such as John Tengo Jabavu, who started his own newspaper, Izimvo Zabantsudu, who became a pioneer of journalism and in the realm of the contest of ideas. Instead, only the political side is highlighted as if a person can only make an impact politically. Professor Mangaliso Sobukwe’s academic role is scantily referred to because only the often controversial political side is given.
For that matter, traditional leaders and many other gallant fighters were the first to be imprisoned on Robben Island, as the book Maqoma: The Legend of a Great Xhosa Warrior by Timothy Stapleton clearly explains.
It would be very impressive if statues other than those of politicians are carved and an aspiring teacher can see himself in Oliver Tambo; a future lawyer can see herself in Rolihlahla Mandela; tomorrow’s vocalist can imagine Ben Tyamzatshe the famous music composer and poet; and still others can recognise that their dreams are valid and, that most of all, they are important and appreciated by society. We must also remember that when freedom was being fought for, many used their industries to send messages to the apartheid state of South Africa.
We are in the 4IR era and it would be wonderful for STEM geeks to realise that they also matter. It is a tragedy that only the political side is being emphasised when many great fields have contributed to decolonisation.
Broad-mindedness is needed so that transformation is rethought, lest we are adamant to kill society by excluding others. Decolonisation cannot just be a means to pump the egos of politicians, all sectors of society matter and the future should not politicise the significant individuals of the past who have made their mark in building the Eastern Cape.
The information that has been omitted in the concept is readily available, a case in point being the book on “early intellectuals”, The House of Phalo: A History of the Xhosa People in the Days of Their Independence by Jeff Peires; and even the memorial stone to the heroes who participated in the Frontier Wars at the House of Traditional Leaders.
This confirms a long-held suspicion of deliberate omission of all those who came before 1910 as if everything started then. Heritage is loosely defined as “what we were bequeathed by our forefathers and what we transmit to the future generation”.
We certainly do not want to distort history by transmitting an incorrect narrative of 1910 and 1912, the legends then and later were inspired by the previous generations who we are choosing not to honour.
We can do better than that. DM