WITS UNIVERSITY PRESS
Thabang Makwetla, deputy minister of Correctional Services, says Forgotten World fills a hiatus in South Africa’s history literature.
In 2005, Prof Peter Delius was asked by Thabang Makwetla, former premier of Mpumalanga, to lead a research project on the history and heritage of the region. This initiative ultimately gave rise to two books. One of which is the Wits University Press publication, Forgotten World: the Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment.
In an address by the deputy minister of Correctional Services, Thabang Makwetla at the launch of the Wits University Press publication, Forgotten World: the Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment, Makwetla explained how he helped initialize the publication of a book on the stone-wall heritage of Mpumalanga.
“It was during one of the family Christmas gatherings in December, if I am not making a mistake in 2004, when my niece who whilst eavesdropping a conversation I was having with her dad about our ancestral village in Middleburg, in which I was narrating the account postulated by Dr. Delius, about Botshabelo, in his book, “The land belongs to us” that she gave me goose-bumps when, uninvited she jetted in and said she knows Dr. Delius, that Dr. Delius was her history lecturer at Wits.
That blew my mind because the book I read was published in the mid 70’s and the pages of the copy I read were even brown. Without much thinking I concluded that it was one of those that are out of print, and whose author had long checked out and returned back to his creator. Even after this unexpected and exciting detail, I was not overoptimistic to think that Dr. Delius was still possibly around.
Back in the office in the New Year, we were battling with the challenge of finding a combination that would invigorate our delivery endeavours as a provincial administration of Mpumalanga. I shared my thinking on the matter with the DG of the province then, Advocate Stanley Soko. Incomplete as my thoughts were at the time, I expressed a deep belief that a lot could be benefited from a credible professional exploration and reconstruction of the history and heritage of Mpumalanga, the former Eastern Transvaal region of our country, in the context of the bigger story of the history of this region of the African Continent. I was attracted by the possible new vistas that could be opened to diversify our strong tourism product as a province. I also imagined that with a strong presence of popular awareness of this heritage, many of our contemporary endeavours and industry might in the process be boosted immeasurably in more ways than we could possibly fathom. After this customary ventilation with my DG, I moved on with the more pressing and burning matters, which constituted my key performance areas, which were more relevant to my popularity stakes.
Many weeks after my conversation with Adv. Soko, he returned to me one day, with an unbelievable surprise. He said he made contact with Dr. Delius, the author of the book I told him about. That Dr. Delius was still with Wits University and he was keen to honour us with an audience for which the DG wanted to confirm a proposed date, and as they say the rest is history.”
Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla also spoke about how Forgotten World fills the hiatus left in the history of South Africa and that our literature seems to suggest that South Africa has no history outside the epoch of her colonial subjugation by both the Dutch and British European nations. Recalling his own political education, he said:
“As someone who was largely moulded by resistance politics and who had a fair exposure to the struggle’s political education, I made an uncomfortable observation overtime that our liberation struggle literature has a hiatus which seems to suggest that South Africa has no history outside the epoch of her colonial subjugation by both the Dutch and British European nations. This omission in our broad liberation literature, I have come to understand it as a consequence of what constituted the main problem our liberation struggle primarily sought to address – which is “ What we stand for, what our vision and hopes are – and what programmes we adopt to make our lives worth living”, as the former President Thabo Mbeki said in his address at the University of Havana Cuba, 27 March 2001. The other questions of who we are and how we do things, were in the order of priorities of that struggle relegated to the back burner, thereby allowing, unintentionally, the racist ideological bigotry of forcing people to renounce their cultures, languages, beliefs and identity to linger on.
I am possibly among the last people in the community of our public servants to have the privilege of visiting China. One very enduring experience of my visit to China is the big place the Chinese accord their national heritage and culture. Their collective memory of who they are and where they come from as a people, and how that is interwoven with their national pursuits today, and informs everything they plan to achieve in the future, is inspirational and mind-boggling. Our limited understanding of who we are as South Africans in the context of the evolution and development of human societies is an enormous handicap. But today, through collaboration of different disciplines and the advancement of science, we can fill this void of knowledge and memory. The team of researchers who were coordinated by Dr. Delius to go into the “history and heritage of Mpumalanga” were clear at the completion of their assignment that it was only laying a basis for much more intense work still to be done in a host of areas of the disciplines that were coordinated in this project.
It gives me great pleasure and inspiration that his evening we are here to celebrate the hard work and staying power of those who decided to remain continuously seized with this challenge. To me they are in a big, but modest way our heroes of labour – intellectual labour. The stone-walled settlements of the Mpumalanga escarpment, like all other huge heritage and history puzzles which suffer neglect and those still to be discovered are a legitimate responsibility of our government to explore, research, reconstruct and preserve. Government must provide leadership in what should be a national endeavor in this sector.
The stone–walled settlements of Mpumalanga are not only important to Mpumalanga as a province, but to South Africa as a country and South Africa as a society. As for me personally speaking as a cadre who comes from the ranks of the governing party, I have a feeling that we are running out of time in tackling some of these overwhelming challenges, which must lay the foundation of the remaking of our society. “
Forgotten World: the Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment is published by Wits University Press. This full-coloured illustrated book is authored by Peter Delius, Tim Maggs & Alex Schoeman.
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