Cape Town is a city with a rich cultural history. It’s no wonder visitors are keen to learn more about the heritage that accompanies our white sandy beaches and luxury hotels.
The National Heritage Act’s definition of Living heritage includes “cultural traditions, oral histories, performance, ritual, popular memory, skills and techniques, indigenous knowledge systems and a holistic approach to nature, society and social relationships”.
“Living heritage is linked to our identity and includes practices that can bring people together to create a deeper understanding of our past, to move us towards a shared, inclusive and representative heritage future. But living heritage does not exist in isolation and it is easy to compartmentalise it,” said the City’s mayoral committee member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Marian Nieuwoudt.
“It is inextricably linked to our inherited built environment. Living heritage can relate to the lanes that lead down to the springs and streams to collect water in Newlands Village.
“It can be the stoeps and verandas where food is shared and where children are watched while playing in the street, and where neighbours have communed for generations. Living heritage may exist in memory and in open spaces, seemingly devoid of a past, but in which former residents may have been forcibly removed in the wake of the Group Areas Act.
“Living heritage may even be the Athaan (call to prayer) sounding out across the neighbourhoods.”
One such physical marker of living heritage is the corner shop. Traced to the turn of the 19th century, the corner shop proliferated in Cape Town. Commonly, it had a place of residence attached for the shopkeeper with an associated Victorian terrace.
The corner shops sprung up as Indian migrants sought economic opportunity. It was highly regularised by the government, who wanted to hold and control economic power. These shops soon became places of social gathering, and of security for the working class, who could not afford basic supplies on a daily basis.
The shopkeeper would allow patrons to buy on credit, which became known as the practice of “koep oppie boekie” (buying on credit).
Cultural heritage is therefore more than what is visible and tangible. It is the everyday and the mundane, as well as the extraordinary and monumental. It is the oral histories, knowledge systems and social relationships which are more significant when they are connected to a place.
“Thus, I want to encourage all residents to cherish the importance of the everyday heritage in our city and make every effort to visit a corner shop, sit in a park, take a taxi (while social distancing), walk the streets of Cape Town, taste and smell the food, and remember the past, acknowledge its value in the present, and imagine what an inclusive heritage future could look like, before the end of this Heritage Month. These places carry a rich history that needs to be passed on to the next generation,” added Nieuwoudt.