Freedom Square declared a heritage site

Bonteheuwels Freedom Square has been declared a Provincial Heritage Site.

Bonteheuwel’s Freedom Square is among the five new sites declared by Heritage Western Cape as Provincial Heritage Sites.

The square, in the area’s central business district (CBD), holds historic significance, as it is there that anti-apartheid freedom fighters often gathered to strategise and organise.

Once a site is declared a Provincial Heritage Site, it enjoys the highest level of protection in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999.

Tania Colyn, the head of communication for the provincial government, confirmed that Freedom Square with Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, the Gugulethu 7 Memorial, the Langa Pass Office and Princess Vlei in Retreat, have been declared provincial heritage sites.

“All these sites have special qualities which make them significant within the Western Cape . These sites connect closely to events and figures of provincial significance and enrich the understanding of the cultural, historical and social development of the Western Cape, and indeed South Africa. Once a site is declared a Provincial Heritage Site, it enjoys the highest level of protection in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999,” Ms Colyn said.

Activist Irma Titus is among those who have welcomed the declaration of Freedom Square as a Provincial Heritage Site. Ms Titus has been at the forefront of campaigning to memorialise places of historic value in her area.

The Athlone News reported on her passionate appeal to the City of Cape Town to create a monument of a staircase outside the old Bonteheuwel library, instead of demolishing it.

Ms Titus said at the time that the steps represent the role the youth played in the 1980s, when anti-apartheid activism was at its highest.

“Freedom Square was the people’s meeting place and the staircase is central to that. I might be younger than that generation, but I can relate, because my youth activism started at the library,” Ms Titus said then.

Speaking to the Athlone News now, Ms Titus, 35, said she cannot take credit for the declaration, as it was a combined effort, involving many others.

“As an older young person, this is an honour for my generation. Clayton Oliver, a librarian who started at Bonteheuwel library was my first conscious friend. He understood my passion for history. What I’d like to see come from this is for our youth to take the baton. Youth activism must be celebrated for their fearlessness.”

Filmmaker Nadine Cloete said through her research for her film, Action Commandant, about fallen hero Ashley Kriel, she has learnt what Freedom Square really means.

“Certain spaces take on extra meaning, and having Freedom Square declared a Provincial Heritage Site is validating what took place there. A lot of young people today also feel lost, because they don’t see themselves as being part of history. This not only helps in bolstering the spirit, but it encourages people to keep asking the questions and to continue carrying the spear, similar to Umkhonto we Sizwe (meaning Spear of the Nation).”

Anroux Marais, MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport, emphasised the importance of protecting sites that hold cultural and historical significance: “These sites have a rich history to the province but also to the communities in which they are situated. In many instances, the sites hold narratives highlighting the resilient spirit of the people of our country. It is of utmost importance that we continue to protect these sites and that communities look after the sites to preserve them for generations to come.”