Xhariep Dam Resort: 30 September 2016
Research into South Africa’s maritime heritage has been given a boost following a commitment by the National Heritage Council (NHC) to collaborate with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in efforts that maritime heritage received priority attention for recognition in the country’s swathe of heritage records.
The commitment – soon to be followed by ratification of a formal Memoranda of Understanding and Agreement (MOU and MOA), respectively, was made by the NHC Chief Executive Officer, Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa at the formal launch of the initiative during the World Maritime Day observation event held at the Xhariep (Gariep) Dam in the Free State from Tuesday to Thursday this past week.
Acknowledged by both parties during the event was that South Africa’s maritime heritage was just as rich and yet lagged behind in terms of formal recognition and celebration during the Heritage Month of September.
In addition, and equally crucial, was the fact that South Africa’s history of maritime ignore or remain ignorant of historical dimensions of the country’s maritime journey which appeared limited to recognition only of European traders like Bartholomew Diaz, that rounded the Cape Point on or about the 15th century.
According to Adv Mancotywa, not only was this incorrect, but it perpetually distorted South Africa’s maritime history through a distorted perspective that effectively undermined the role others played in the development of ocean-based trade endeavours, such as Chinese explorers that reached the country’s eastern coasts several years prior.
Contemporary South African history was also oblivious or ignored the use of the country’s oceans by liberation struggle organisations during the fight against apartheid.
One such initiative occurred as recently as the early 1970s when a hitherto little known naval unit of the African National Congress’ uMkhonto we Sizwe trained in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) embarked on an ocean-based military sojourn, aboard the ANC-acquired vessel, Aventura, from Baku in Azerbaijan to South Africa, only to suffer suspected yet irreversible ‘sabotage’ while on the Indian Ocean, parallel Somalia.
Two of the five surviving members of the 30-odd member MK naval unit, Commander Fanele Mbali and Commissar Rankabele Tlou Cholo, were at the World Maritime Day function from Wednesday to Thursday to share their experiences of the mission.
Their story is also documented in their respective autobiography and bibliography published a while ago.
Mbali’s book, titled: “In Transit – Autography of a South African Freedom Fighter,” featuring among others; Dr Jean-Marie Jullienne, an academic, researcher, an honorary Colonel of the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), a recipient of the Leonardo Da Vinci Award and former Governor of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection; and Cholo’s bibliography, titled: “Heeding the call to fight for the Fatherland –The life and struggle of T.T Cholo (Fortune-d Publishing) by also a renowned author and academic, Dr Tlou Setumu, with the foreword by Professor Shadrack Gutto of the University of South Africa, provide a more detailed record of the MK naval unit’s ill-fated military adventure.
The pair and their three colleagues’ record of military exploits on a vessel known as the Aventura, somewhat fudged by fading memory – all are in their late 80s and early 90s – is to receive research support from the Government of Azerbaijan, whose ambassador to South Africa currently, Dr Eikhan Polukhov, has offered in his speech at the said World Maritime Day events at the Xhariep Dam last week..
Dr Polukhov, who attended both the launch of the SAMSA Maritime Heritage initiative on Wednesday as well as the World Maritime Day event on Thursday, also presented the group with gifts symbolic of Azerbaijan’s appreciation of strong relations between that country and South Africa since the latter’s dawn of democracy in 1994.
Meanwhile, at the SAMSA Maritime Heritage Initiative launch event on Wednesday, Adv Mancotywa said the NHC would provide some financial and other resources for the initiative that would support further research into maritime heritage.