Maritime Heritage Initiative; South Africa National Heritage Council commits to partnership with SAMSA

South Africa's National Heritage Council (NHC) CEO Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa (seated Left) listening attentively to Commander Fanele Mbali, one of only five surviving members of the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) naval unit, relating the unit's endeavors to use the seas during the liberation struggle of the 1970s. The unit's story of a vessel known as the Aventura was shared as part of this year's observance of World Maritime Day at the Xhariep Dam in the Free State
MARITIME HERITAGE: South Africa’s National Heritage Council (NHC) CEO Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa (seated Left) listening attentively to Commander Fanele Mbali, one of only five surviving members of the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) naval unit, relating the unit’s endeavors to use the seas during the liberation struggle of the 1970s. The unit’s story involving a USSR vessel known as the Aventura was shared as an aspect of the country’s Maritime Heritage initiative at this year’s observance of World Maritime Day at the Xhariep Dam in the Free State

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.

Part of the audience at this year's launch of a Maritime Heritage initiative during observance of World Maritime Day 2016 in the Free State on Thursday
Part of the audience at this year’s launch of a Maritime Heritage initiative during observance of World Maritime Day 2016 in the Free State on Thursday

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.

Veterans of the MK naval unit, Commander Fanele Mbali and former Commissar Mr Tlou Rankabele Cholo.
Veterans of the MK naval unit, Commander Fanele Mbali and former Commissar Mr Tlou Rankabele Cholo.

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 TransitAutography 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 FatherlandThe 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.

REMINISCE: (From Left) Arzebaijan Amabassador to South African, Dr Eikhan Polukhov having a chat with MK's naval unit veterans of the Aventura adventure, former Commissar Mr Tlou Cholo and Commander Fanele Mbali at the Gariep Dam resort during South Africa's observance of the World Maritime Day.
REMINISCE: (From Left) Arzebaijan Amabassador to South African, Dr Eikhan Polukhov having a chat with MK’s naval unit veterans of the Aventura adventure, former Commissar Mr Tlou Cholo and Commander Fanele Mbali at the Gariep Dam resort during South Africa’s observance of the World Maritime Day.

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.

For Adv Mancotywa’s full remarks in Audio only Click Here, and for Video, Click Here

 

In celebrating World Maritime Day 2016, South Africa reflects on its maritime heritage

A commercial cargo vessel entering the port of Port Elizabeth in May 2016.
A commercial cargo vessel entering the port of Port Elizabeth. (May 2016: Photo by SAMSA)

Gariep Dam (Free State): 28 September, 2016

The global celebration of shipping as this year’s theme of the World Maritime Day on Thursday,  29 September 2016; will see South Africa broadening focus to include its own maritime heritage specific to shipping as part of the country’s oceans economy development discourse  aimed at enhancing public awareness, drawing investment and creating employment opportunities.

South Africa’s celebration of World Maritime Day this year takes place at the site of the country’s biggest dam, the Gariep; situated some 200km south of Bloemfontein, on the Orange River in the Free State.

Led by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the global celebration’s theme is: “Shipping: Indispensable to the world” – this in recognition of trade statistics indicating that as much as 80% of world’s goods trade in volume, and 70% in value; is handled between countries and continents via oceans bearing vessels.

Docked at the port of Cape Town, the SA Agulhas II, South Africa's dedicated research vessel owned and operated by the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA). Photo: SAMSA
Docked at the port of Cape Town, the SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s dedicated research vessel owned and operated by the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA). Photo: SAMSA

According to the IMO, in early 2015, the world’s commercial fleet stood at about 90,000 vessels, with a total carrying capacity of some 1.75-billion dead weight tons, manned by more than a million seafarers.

“A single ship can carry enough grain to feed nearly four million people for a month; another, enough oil to heat an entire city for a year, and others can carry the same amount of finished goods as nearly 20,000 heavy trucks on the road. Modern ships are, truly, among the engineering wonders of the modern world.

“The truth is, shipping affects us all. No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article. Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping.

“For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind. But this does a huge disservice to the industry that, quietly and efficiently, day and night, never pausing and never stopping, keeps the world turning and keeps the people of the world fed, clothed, housed and entertained. This is a story that needs to be told,” says the IMO in statement prepared to mark this year’s celebration of World Maritime Day.

The Gariep Dam built from 1965 and opened in 1972 is South Africa's biggest, with a height of 88 meters, allowing it a holding capcity of 5,340 hm3 (megaliters)) on a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres (140 sq mi) when full. (Photo: SAMSA)
The Gariep Dam on the Orange River built from 1965 and opened in 1972 is South Africa’s biggest, with a height of 88 meters, allowing it a holding capacity of 5,340 hm3 (mega-liters)) on a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres (140 sq mi) when full. (Photo: SAMSA)

In South Africa, on the west bank of the Gariep Dam near to its majestic sluice gates pillars, where this year’s celebrations led by the Department of Transport (DoT), are hosted by the Free State Provincial Government; the country will look as much at the crucial role of shipping currently in global business trade as has been and continues to be in other spheres of life such as, in South Africa’s case – the use of ships as instruments of liberation during the country’s past few decades of political strife over apartheid.

This focus on ships as versatile transport ready for action even during periods of civil strife will take two forms: the launch Wednesday of a South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) driven and Department of Transport endorsed initiative to have maritime heritage incorporated into the country’s swathe of national heritage records.

The two hour function to be attended by among others, National Heritage Council chief executive officer Advocate Sonwabile Mangcotywa; is anchored on a significant yet little known event involving the African National Congress’ then armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe (a.k.a MK) whose USSR-trained naval wing in the 1970s once attempted to infiltrate then apartheid South Africa via the oceans.

The story goes that the unit of between 22 and 30 men, then based on the east European coastal city of Baku, a capital town of Azerbaijan; had through assistance by Moscow, acquired a mid-size leisure vessel known as the Aventura.

SHARING EXPERIENCE: The three veterans, part of a group of five still alive today in South Africa, also shared their story of the aborted occupation of the USSR vessel, Aventura, which they'd commandeered towards South Africa for attack against the then apartheid regime.
SHARING THEIR NAVAL EXPLOINTS: The three of only five surviving veterans of ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe naval wing sharing their story of the aborted occupation of the USSR vessel, Aventura, which they’d commandeered towards South Africa for attack against the then apartheid regime (Photo: SAMSA).

The MK naval unit’s Commander at the time, Mr Fanele Mbali and his second in command and commissar, Mr Tlou Rankabele Cholo – two of only five surviving members of the crew – will be at the function Wednesday and Thursday to share their memories of the ill-fated effort – the emphasis being on the historical role of ships in the shaping of South Africa’s history.

The event Wednesday will be followed by the main celebration on Thursday, punctuated by a formal launch of an inaugural Maritime Heritage Lecture and Dialogue series involving Mr Sobantu (SAMSA acting CEO), the Azerbaijan ambassador to South Africa, Mr Eikhan Polukhov and Mr Mbali.

Other participants in the main event on Thursday include Free State MECs, Messrs Bhutana Khompela and Weziwe Tikana, senior officials of the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), and local government officials.

The traditional rendition of the IMO statement will be done by Mr Khompela.

End