Heritage sites (with valuable artifacts that have been preserved and passed on from one generation to the other) are a place where one can go to reconnect with their traditions, the history of mankind, the environment, cultural practises… They create a space of reflection on how we identify ourselves, those around us and the environment we live in. It is important that everyone gets an opportunity to be in that space and have an engagement with their heritage.
We recently visited the Iziko museum, followed by the Iziko art gallery and one of the things that sparked the conversation was the entrance fees at these sites. I was troubled by the fact that we wouldn’t have been able to get access to either of these places had we not had the money. Now, how many South Africans have been deprived of the opportunity to engage with their heritage simply because of their economic position?
Acknowledging coming across as pedantic, one would ask if this is an attempt to ensure that the site doesn’t get packed to a point that it cannot be managed by the staff they have? But again, won’t that mean job opportunities for people in our country? Or is it just an exclusionary measure being perpetuated by one who still believes (in a post-apartheid South Africa) that poor people (predominantly black people) are not worthy to be in the same social spaces as the wealthy/affording population (mostly our white) counterparts? Where is equal opportunity in that?
Yes, students, pensioners and kids get discounts, but we should not ignore the high unemployment rate in our country and that the poor simply can’t afford the fees. Who are these heritage sites catering for? Yes, they do need money to keep their doors open, but that funding should be coming from the government and the private sector.
I see heritage sites as educational spaces, spaces that allow for a deep reflection of where we come from as a people and encourage national unity while accepting foreign cultures. Have we become too invested in our country’s economy such that we have reduced these places to just tourist attraction sites? It is important that we recognise these places for the cultural essence they embody. I believe getting access to a heritage site should not be a privilege only a few enjoy, but rather a space open even for those of poor financial background.