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Remaking the urban: Heritage and transformation in Nelson Mandela Bay

Remaking the urban: Heritage and transformation in Nelson Mandela Bay

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Remaking the urban: Heritage and transformation in Nelson Mandela Bay

Länge:
366 Seiten
5 Stunden
Freigegeben:
Jan 26, 2021
ISBN:
9781526140302
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

After the end of the apartheid regime in the 1990s, South Africa experienced a boom in new heritage and commemorative projects. These ranged from huge new museums and monuments to small community museums and grassroots memory work. At the same time, South African cities have continued to grapple with the difficulties of overcoming entrenched inequalities and divisions. Urban spaces are deep repositories of memory, and also sites in need of radical transformation. Remaking the Urban examines the intersections between post-apartheid urban transformation and the politics of heritage-making in divided cities, using the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in South Africa’s Eastern Cape as a case study.

Roux unpacks the processes by which some narratives and histories become officially inscribed in public space, while others are visible only through alternative, ephemeral or subversive means. Including discussions of the history of the Red Location Museum of Struggle; memorialisation of urban forced removals; the heritage politics and transformative potential of public art; and strategies for making visible memories and histories of former anti-apartheid youth activist groups in the city’s townships, Roux examines how these twin processes of memory-making and change have played out in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Freigegeben:
Jan 26, 2021
ISBN:
9781526140302
Format:
Buch

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Remaking the urban - Naomi Roux

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1

Introduction: The articulated skeleton

The beginning

We’re traipsing along yet another suburban street, hemmed in by face-brick walls and electric fences. I’ve spent the morning following Yusuf Agherdien, a writer and heritage activist from the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, around his no-longer-existent childhood neighbourhood. We’ve just made a lengthy stop at a construction site for a new apartment block, where Yusuf has befriended the site foreman, convincing him to collect and keep any detritus that comes out of the ground. He stops by once a week or so to collect the most recent treasures. Today we’ve got an old glass bottle, a rusty fragment of an advertising sign and a couple of coins. Next we’re off to somehow charm our way on to the roof of a nearby apartment building to take a photograph from a very precise vantage point; but first, there’s something else that Yusuf wants me to see.

Outside yet another residential security complex, Yusuf stops on a triangular stretch of manicured green pavement. I miss it at first, and then I see: two concrete steps, right in the middle of the triangle of grass, coated with the remnants of what was once shiny red enamel paint. The steps end in jagged bare concrete, poking out of the ground like a broken tooth, leading nowhere. Yusuf explains that these used to lead up to the stoep of a corner shop that served the mixed-race, working-class community that lived in this neighbourhood until the 1970s. Under one of apartheid’s most notoriously destructive laws, the Group Areas Act, the neighbourhood of South End was declared ‘White’ in 1968. Twelve thousand people lost homes, businesses and networks as the state forced them to move to new segregated townships and distant suburbs.

The shop the stairs gesture towards is long gone, demolished at least forty years ago. It’s not clear why they have survived, or how much longer they might remain, given the pace of construction that is quickly obliterating the last remaining traces of the neighbourhood’s past lives. Ivan Vladislavić has described these so-called ‘tomasons’ in the context of Johannesburg, another city that constantly rises and falls with erasure and reconstruction: urban remnants that have stayed in place while the landscape around them has shifted, rendering them obsolete matter-out-of-place as well as markers of memory.¹

Objects like these are everywhere in the urban landscape, if you know where to look, or if you are lucky enough to have a guide to point them out. Here’s a line of bricks in the long grass marking the foundations of a house that no longer exists. Over there, a dusty untarred road that seems completely unremarkable, until someone tells you the story of digging a trench across it thirty years ago to catch a police van. Here’s an abandoned office building with a strange piece of graffiti facing towards its broken windows. And then the impressive architectural productions of memory, some of which have already become ruins and remnants: an empty granite memorial that nobody can access. An impressive concrete and iron building, its glass doors darkened and chained, with a hastily scrawled sign in black marker declaring it unequivocally ‘CLOSED’. Up the road from this building, a women’s cooperative has turned the old municipal beer hall into a backpackers’ hostel; decades ago, some of the same women led the crowd that defiantly set the beer hall on fire during the student uprisings of the 1970s.

Outwardly, Port Elizabeth – the biggest of the three towns that make up the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro – is a quintessentially ‘ordinary’ city, known primarily for industrial manufacturing and as an unpretentious, family-friendly holiday spot. South Africa’s fourth largest city after Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, it forms a convenient beginning and end point for travellers on the Garden Route down the coast towards Cape Town, and a gateway into the rural Transkei district. Known both as the ‘Windy City’ and as the ‘Friendly City’, Port Elizabeth’s town centre boasts some well-preserved Victorian architecture and a slowly growing arts and culture scene, but it remains unlikely to top visitors’ ‘must-see’ lists. And yet, with a little excavation, it reveals itself to also be an extraordinary, complex site of memory and memorial practice – made all the more compelling by its very ordinariness.

The first seeds for this book were planted a decade ago on a visit to the recently opened Red Location Museum of Struggle, in the city’s New Brighton township, in early 2010. I had met the curator, Christopher Du Preez, at a conference hosted by the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town. At this conference I had presented a paper on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Johannesburg, the site where the 1955 Freedom Charter was signed. This event, the Congress of the People, was an extraordinary moment of political solidarity and defiance against the newly instated laws of apartheid. In the early 2000s, the dusty open square in Kliptown was transformed into a huge, formalised open space, complete with a memorial tower, retail space, a covered market, ten massive concrete bollards topped with statues and a five-star hotel (figure 1). But across the railway line, in the ironically named Freedom Charter Square informal settlement, few of the Freedom Charter’s visions of equality and dignity had been realised. ‘There shall be housing, security, and comfort for all’ was inscribed on a concrete wheel under a rarely lit ‘eternal flame’ in the memorial tower: meanwhile, most Kliptown residents lived in shacks and crumbling eighty-year-old houses on the floodplain, with limited electricity, running water and other basic amenities. This irony was not lost on residents, who watched tour buses come and go through the newly built square while day-to-day life in Kliptown continued much as it always had.²

After my presentation, Christopher Du Preez found me at a coffee break, excited that there seemed to be so many parallels between what had happened in Kliptown and the challenges he was facing as the curator of a large new museum in a historically marginalised township community, built at around the same time as the developments in Kliptown. On his invitation, I spent a week in Port Elizabeth a few months later, much of it in and around the Red Location Museum (figure 2).

Nelson Mandela Bay boasts some spectacular architectures of memory, both old and new – the Red Location Museum among them – but most striking to me on this and subsequent visits to the city was the extent to which, for many people, memory remained so close to the surface and so easily evoked. Many of the stories I heard, directly from residents as well as within formalised museum and memorial spaces, demonstrated how powerfully the lived experiences of memory continued to shape people’s identities and experiences of the city.

Figure 1 Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, Kliptown, Johannesburg, four years after its construction.

Figure 2 Red Location Museum of Struggle, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth: four years after opening, constructed in the same time period as the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication.

This is not unique to Port Elizabeth: every city is a space of memory and of multiplicity. The idea of the city as a ‘storehouse for memory’ is well established, as Dolores Hayden’s work on Los Angeles in the 1990s attests.³ Nonetheless, the more time I spent in Nelson Mandela Bay, the more I was intrigued by the extent to which the city’s memory appeared unresolved, unable to stay domesticated in the places designated for it. It spilled out, messy and uncontainable, troubling the curlicued Victorian public buildings and the shiny new public art programmes. The museum in Red Location itself struck me as bizarre – part factory, part architectural folly, part theatre. I could easily see the parallels with Kliptown that Du Preez had noted: it was a brand new, well-funded, tourist-orientated site of memory that was meant to trail ‘development’ and investment in its wake, surrounded by shacks and two-room, state-subsidised cottages. Like Kliptown, the Red Location development appeared to be trying to place the story of New Brighton in the realm of ‘heritage’, while that past and its reverberations continued to unfold literally right on the museum’s doorstep, refusing to be sequestered.

The old-new thing

Lalou Meltzer, in an essay about memories of forced removals from the Cape Town suburb of Sea Point, describes the streets of her lost-but-still-extant childhood neighbourhood, which ‘survive as the bones of an articulated skeleton remain preserved’. For Meltzer, the processes of remembering and reading the landscape evoke a sense of piecing the past back together, but this literal ‘re-membering’ can never be complete: ‘the process of remembering’, Meltzer argues, ‘is filtered and textured, entangling the stages of then and now. It culminates in the evocation of an old-new thing, rather than the flesh of what was once there.’

Meltzer’s evocation serves as a compelling reminder of the paradox of the reconstitution of memory. On the one hand, there is the drive to remember, to piece together lost landscapes and precarious social relationships, but on the other, the awareness that these can never really be recovered. At best, something new can be created that performs the work of memory. The making of memory and of memorial sites is both an act of preservation and an act of transformation. The ‘articulated skeleton’ refers not only to the tangible streets and houses that evoke memory of what was once here, but also to the ephemeral sense of place that those remembered streets evoke. Even if the remembered space is rebuilt exactly as it was, something crucial has been lost for ever.

There is a powerful relationship between memory and space, and particularly urban space, as Meltzer hints in this evocation of landscape-as-skeleton. The double-edged nature of memory – the desire to preserve the old while creating the new, or to reconstitute the past while transforming it – mirrors the process by which urban space is made, transformed, read and experienced. By their nature, cities are changeable, transformative spaces, simultaneously constituted by and constitutive of those who live in them. De Certeau captures this process in his image of the Wandermanner:

The ordinary practitioners of the city … whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility … The networks of moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces.

The stories of loss, remembering, memory-making and place-making in this book all serve, in different ways, as reflections on the links between these multifaceted processes of making the city and the processes of producing public memory. They also begin to unpack some of the complications that arise in between state-sponsored, ‘official’ forms of post-apartheid memory and those that arise organically, or in cases where occluded memory begins to seep into the material fabric of the present. There is, thus, a larger set of questions at play here around the limitations of post-apartheid heritage legislation.

The National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 (NHRA) aimed to provide a new legislative framework for heritage and national memory that overturned and offered redress for some of the violence done to memory under apartheid and colonialism. It provided, in theory, a legal framework for memory as an agent of healing, redress, and building new forms of citizenship and belonging.⁶ To this end, the new legislation set up national and provincial bodies dedicated to the management of heritage and to developing new sites, spaces and institutions. These include the South African Heritage Resources Agency, responsible for managing spaces and resources identified as being of ‘national’ importance, while nine provincial agencies manage heritage at a regional level. Particularly at regional and local levels, heritage tends to be managed and understood in terms of tangible and built resources; despite the optimistic and inclusive framing of the NHRA, it has proven difficult to adequately enable and make space in policy for that which cannot be seen or touched.

At the same time, in the immediate aftermath of apartheid the spatial fixity of South African cities and the need to address apartheid geographies of segregation and exclusion became, and remain, major issues in political and public discourse. Heritage and urban transformation are both potential tools for redress as well as highly contested arenas of citizenship and identity; and urban space also acts as a repository for a multi-authored, layered, fragmented practice of memory.

In Port Elizabeth, as in many other South African cities, the twinned spheres of memory and urban change give rise to tensions between the urge to remake, rebuild and transform on the one hand, and to conserve, remember and keep on the other. In Red Location, for example, while planning for the museum precinct was underway there was pushback from local residents regarding plans to conserve the neighbourhood’s century-old original wood and iron houses. In a built-environment conservation framework, these were seen as an important heritage resource. But to those who lived in and alongside them they were reminders of long histories of systematic marginalisation and painfully inadequate housing and services.⁷ In South End, meanwhile, unmarked traces of a neighbourhood forcibly removed by the state in the 1970s still litter the landscape, marking traumatic sites of loss that are haunting but officially unworthy of legal ‘heritage resource’ status. These remnants are often in the way of new developments and are in constant danger of erasure. How does a city do the work of transformation, when its ordinary places remain haunted?

The work of memory and the work of urban transformation both offer opportunities for a politics of ‘dissensus’, in the context of what Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift have termed a potential ‘expanded urban democracy’.⁸ As a space of difference and inequality, they ask, ‘What better place than the city as a site of contested practices and aspirations, a zone of agonistic engagement, a place of experimentation with democracy as practice?’⁹ In this regard, they draw on Lefebvre’s concept of the ‘right to the city’, conceptualised as the right of citizens not simply to access the city, but to actively shape its futures.¹⁰ These contestations over public space, urban transformation and public memory, then, also open up possibilities for radically democratic practices of space-making and memory-making.

Memory politics

There are a plethora of examples across the Eastern Cape, and South Africa more broadly, where the state has failed to effectively drive a genuine post-liberation practice of memory, including at several sites officially designated as ‘heritage’. This is most apparent in the extraordinary number of memorials across the Eastern Cape that have been left abandoned and vandalised without ever attracting sustained audiences or memorial practices, as well as those that have been pre-emptively fenced off and locked up (figure 3). What does it mean to build a site of public memory that the public cannot access? What and who do these sites serve, and what can we infer about questions of public ownership, participation, and the presence and meaning of history in these sites?

A lack of well-used memorial space, however, certainly does not translate to an absence of memory or of memorial practice. As many of the interviews and stories in this book demonstrate, memory remains extraordinarily important to Nelson Mandela Bay residents from a wide variety of walks of life. The forced removals of the 1970s and the dramatic conflicts of the 1980s remain extremely close to the surface of lived memory, and their traces are everywhere, tangible as well as psychic. This book seeks to use the form of the city and these traces to try to understand where meaningful practices of memory are happening, and to explore what this might mean for the ways in which memory makes itself seen and felt in the urban spatial archive. It traces the way that the dynamics of heritage, memory, space and politics have intersected in order to think through the power of urban space to act as a record and representation of the past, and as a site of struggle over the ownership and legacy of that past.

Figure 3 Abandoned memorial to the assassinated Cradock Four activists, Cradock, Eastern Cape.

The majority of the interviews, site visits and fieldwork research that appear in this text were undertaken between 2012 and 2016. In the intervening years between the development of the project, the research process and this monograph, many of the sites, organisations, political contexts and micropolitics that inform this study have changed, in some cases quite drastically. So why this particular work, with this particular temporal focus, right now?

In many respects this book offers a snapshot view of a particular historical moment in South Africa. In the period that this book was being researched and written, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro experienced an extraordinary amount of political fragmentation, instability and infighting. Activist and civil servant Crispian Olver was tasked by Pravin Gordhan, at the time the minister of finance, to ‘clean up’ the city’s local government structures between 2016 and 2017. Olver has likened the political and financial morass in which he found the city to the processes and extent of ‘state capture’ within national government that had begun to come to light around the same time.¹¹ In the 2016 local government elections, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) lost control of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). In this context, the story of how memory has been inscribed in Port Elizabeth’s public spaces is inextricable from its story of post-apartheid transformation, its challenges and its failures. Fragmentation and inertia at local government level have had a lasting impact on the city’s ability to effectively and collaboratively build heritage.

Many of these divisions, deals, and oblique and overt networks of power were already shaping the city at the time that I was undertaking this research, mainly between 2011 and 2015. Events in Port Elizabeth in this period were, of course, linked to a much larger context, including (but also predating) the ousting of President Thabo Mbeki by Jacob Zuma and his supporters within the ANC in 2007.

Beyond the specifics of local politics in Nelson Mandela Bay, this second decade of the twenty-first century saw a number of seismic shifts in South African society, and indeed across the globe. The Marikana Massacre at the Lonmin platinum mine in 2012 left forty-seven people dead, evoking for many memories of the violence enacted by police and security forces against protesting citizens at Sharpeville in 1960, Soweto in 1976 and Uitenhage in 1985, and several other moments of violent trauma that have shaped the South African memorial imaginary.¹² Jacob Zuma had at that point been in power for five years, in the midst of multiple allegations of corruption and bribery linked to the notorious arms deal of the late 1990s. Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren published a damning and thorough account of the arms deal process and related cover-ups, The Devil In The Detail, in 2011;¹³ this was three years before the Zuma-appointed Seriti Commission finally began holding hearings into the arms deal in a process widely decried as biased, politicised and unreliable. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on ‘state capture’, soon to be a buzzword across South African dinner tables, social media and news, was finally published in 2016 after concerted attempts by the Zuma administration to have it suppressed.¹⁴

In many ways, this was the period in which ideas about the ‘rainbow nation’ and post-apartheid national fantasies of ‘reconciliation’, predicated on symbolic justice, began to irretrievably fall apart. As the extent of the ‘dream deferred’ became clearer, to adapt Mark Gevisser’s use of Langston Hughes’ term, a sense of disillusionment took hold across seemingly all sectors of South African society.¹⁵ By 2015 this disillusionment had spilled into rage, as students across the country embarked on weeks of protest under the banner ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ and, later, ‘Fees Must Fall’ – catalysed by student Chumani Maxwele’s act of throwing human faeces over a statue of Cecil John Rhodes that had gazed from the imposing steps in front of the University of Cape Town towards the Cape Flats since the 1920s. Rhodes’ statue was removed, and the plinth he once sat on was boarded up: not too long after, a painted shadow appeared sprayed across the steps, a reminder that although the statue was gone, Rhodes’ legacies and all they stood for were not. The Rhodes Must Fall movement (and its global iterations, particularly in the UK and the United States) has led to a renewed sense of urgency to rethink what kinds of historical symbols appear in public spaces, and how the public remnants of dark or traumatic histories might best be addressed.¹⁶

In the August 2016 local government elections, the ANC lost control of three of its key metropolitan strongholds for the first time since 1994: Johannesburg and Tshwane in Gauteng, and Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape. The losses in Gauteng were a major political upset, including the economic hub of Johannesburg and the nation’s capital, Tshwane (Pretoria). The loss of Nelson Mandela Bay, meanwhile, was a profoundly symbolic one.

The Eastern Cape has historically been the heartland of ANC support and the birthplace of much of its leadership, as well a hotbed of struggle and apartheid-era resistance. In New Brighton in Port Elizabeth, the very first actions of the Defiance Campaign – a programme of passive resistance to the segregationist laws of ‘petty’ apartheid – took place in Red Location in 1952, led by struggle stalwart, later Rivonia trialist and, even later, the first post-apartheid premier of the Eastern Cape, Raymond Mhlaba. Steve Biko was imprisoned and received the injuries that would kill him in the security police headquarters in an unremarkable building in the middle of Port Elizabeth in 1977. The townships of Veeplaas and Soweto-on-Sea burnt with rage and resistance in the late 1970s and 1980s, as the activists known as the ‘young lions’ tried – successfully – to make the townships ‘ungovernable’. Many of the leaders at the helm of the struggle against apartheid were born in and around Port Elizabeth, and elsewhere in the Eastern Cape: Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Ernest Malgas, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko, to name just a few.

So it was not at all surprising that in the first democratic elections of 1994, the ANC won an overwhelming 84% of the provincial vote in the Eastern Cape, netting forty-eight out of a possible fifty-six provincial seats. But twenty-five years later, in 2019, this support had declined to just over 68%. In Port Elizabeth, Nceba Faku became the city’s first black mayor in 1995 and maintained a clear majority above 65% in the city council in 2000 and 2006. Things began to slip in 2011, when the ANC only just managed to maintain a simple majority with 52% of votes in the Metro; and 2016 brought the historic loss to the opposition, the DA, with the ANC garnering 41.5% of the vote against the DA’s 46.7%.

Clearly, in that decade between 2006 and 2016, something had gone seriously awry for the ruling party on its own home ground. A detailed analysis of the political machinations, factions and failures of this period is beyond the scope of this book. My interest, however, is in what all this has meant for the making of memory and the inscription of heritage in the city, and associated ideas of nationhood, belonging, identity, resistance and subversion.

At the exact moment that local leadership was fragmenting and the national psyche was coming face to face with its intractable, unburied skeletons, a host of projects and plans were underway for public inscriptions of memory and heritage-making in Nelson Mandela Bay. Some of these were ‘official’, state-driven, spectacular showcase projects, while others emerged from grassroots processes with minimal support or structure; or from activist processes in which memory was not seen as the primary thing at stake, although it was nevertheless being harnessed for the purposes of the present. The fortunes of the most well-known and documented project covered in this book, the Red Location Museum, can be mapped on to the political vagaries of Nelson Mandela Bay’s leadership, from its inception in the heady moments of the mid-1990s to its eventual completion in 2006 and its closure in 2013. These timings are not coincidental or accidental, but reveal something important about the work that both collective memory and heritage-making do in the present – and what kinds of futures are imagined by such projects.

Making and breaking: Activist memory

The history of Port Elizabeth – and of the Nelson Mandela Bay metropole, and indeed the Eastern Cape as a whole – is inextricable from a history of activism. The city has been shaped by a long series of ‘insurgent architects’,¹⁷ as a landscape forged through and marked by dispossession, warfare, resistance and retaliation. Between 1779 and 1879 nine ‘Frontier Wars’ were fought between the British and the Xhosa, in the course of which Xhosa-speaking and other indigenous people were dispossessed of land and livelihoods and British control extended into the Cape interior. These wars left behind a powerful legacy of resistance, but were also a crucible for British colonial policy, forming legislation, attitudes and imperial policies later exported to other Southern and East African colonies.¹⁸ In 1799 the settlement that

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