OCA’s nominations of sites for the Liberation Heritage Route

Observatory contribution to Liberation Struggle

Dear Mr Webster

The Observatory Civic Association would like to make the following submission with regard to nominating sites for a Liberation Heritage Route for Cape Town. We propose the following sites which we believe are consistent with the intent of the City to promote inclusivity, speak to the shared identities of all South Africans, while also celebrating the unique and significant values of our diverse range of cultural groups:

1.      The Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) is a site rich in first nation history and was the location for the first acts of resistance by indigenous people to colonial intrusion, including the defeat of the Portuguese and the resistance of the Khoe-khoe to the theft of land and cattle by the Dutch. The rich heritage of the area has already been recognised by the City and the area is slated to be part of the National Heritage Liberation Route. The TRUP Baseline Report (Attwell et al, 2016) notes that “the Two Rivers Urban Park is significant from a heritage perspective, comprising a unique series of sites and structures”, which, because of its strategic position in relation to the river systems and the historic pastoral routes to the north and south, … has a significant role in pre-colonial history in terms of the history of transhumance and the indigenous residents of the Cape and their struggles to retain their land.” The report, describing “the historic landscape contained within the land between the Black and Liesbeek River” as “a place of conflict, contestation, incarceration and displacement” defines the TRUP as “one of the most tangible and earliest historical frontiers that were to eventually herald the fragmentation of the Khoikhoi nation”. Since it is such an important site in Khoi history evidencing the first recorded resistance by indigenous peoples, it is eminently linked to liberation struggle that Cape Town should celebrate.

2.      The Pass Office in Collingwood Road  – Standard House, in Fir Street, Observatory – which is now the site of the Black River Parkway office complex – housed the Department of Bantu Administration, which together with its sister office in Langa housed the regional administration overseeing the pass law and other restrictive measures controlling the lives of black people, including the office of the Bantu Commissioner’s court, and the Regional Labour Bureau for the Western Cape. This Victorian building was a powerful symbol of black dispossession, the ordering of the cityscape through management and restriction of the everyday life of its black residents. Its strategic placement allowed easy access for domestic workers and white employers, from the white city centre, as well as to major transport nodes, to allow for the swift removal of unwanted black people to Langa office, and townships. The facts of its existence remind us that no place, even Observatory, a site known for racial mixing and anti-apartheid struggle, were exempt from the logics of apartheid.  The inclusion of the Observatory extension of the pass law enforcement will add a deeper understanding the interconnectedness of different sites across the City in oppressing black peoples under apartheid and why resistance to the pass laws should be remembered in its full entirety. Although the building is no longer present, a memorial should recognise this history.

3.      A number of important Anti-Apartheid Organisations had offices in Observatory. We propose that these sites be commemorated with appropriate plaques/memorials either on the walls of the buildings or as posts fixed to the ground. These include:

a.      The offices of the National Union of South African Student (NUSAS), which played an important role in the internal liberation movement and developed many activist leaders in the ‘white left’. The offices are current the premises for a second-hand bric a brac shop known as Munros.

b.      The first Ovamboland People’s Organisation (forerunner to SWAPO) office was located in Observatory on the corner of Station and Lower Main Rd. This is the office where Herman Toivo ja Toivo worked from.

c.       Khanya College played an important role in education for liberation and many anti-apartheid activist learned their organisation and activist skills through Khanya Collect. The College was located in the building in Anson Road facing onto Station Road bridge.

d.     The Conscientious Objector Support Groups (COSG) also had offices in Observatory.  The Organisation was established in the 1980s to provide support to  Conscientious Objectors  and their families opposed to military conscription under apartheid.

4.      Lastly, there were a number of leading anti-apartheid activists who grew up or spent lengths of time in Observatory whom we believe should be recognised in a collective manner with an appropriate installation at the Observatory Community Centre. This could be a place of memory that tells the stories of the many activists of Observatory Community people, focused on their dedicated commitment to the liberation struggle as individuals or as activists in leadership roles in various anti-apartheid organisations. Much of this is recorded in documentary information, interviews, filmed or via photographs. We name but a few of these activists to give the City a sense of the rich history and roots of the area.

a.      Rivonia Trial stalwart Denis Goldberg grew up and schooled in Observatory. He was active in the Communist Party, the Congress of Democrats and uMkhonto we Sizwe. In exile, he worked for the liberation movement and after his return, he devoted his energy to supporting and establishing initiatives to expose children and youth to opportunities in the broad field of arts and culture.

b.      The Omar family, of whom Dullah Omar was the most prominent political activist as a human rights lawyer, one of the founders of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and subsequently first Minister of Justice in the democratic government. Dullah was one of the few attorneys who were prepared to take on the political trials n the 1960s. He was instrumental in legislation to set up statutory bodies such as the Constitutional Court, Human Rights Commission and Office of the Public Protector.

Thank you for consideration of these nominations

Yours sincerely
Leslie London – OCA Chairperson