The Liberation Heritage Route Project: The Road to African Independence

Published on 11th April 2018

The Liberation Heritage Route Project is a continental memorial, designed as a collection of sites, memories, recollections and records that will depict the stories associated with the liberation struggle in Africa.  The probe into the past through the Liberation Heritage Routes is drawing attention to the remarkable and painful journey to freedom which was characterized by deep human sacrifice.

In recognition of the concluded chapter and the new chapter, at the conclusion of the OAU’s African Liberation Committee meeting, it was resolved that an African Liberation Heritage Programme with various country chapters will be implemented. 

In 2004, General Hashim Mbita from Tanzania assembled a team of African academics to embark on a process to record the liberation heritage of our continent under the auspices of the African Union and UNESCO. Tanzania was assigned this task to complete the task they have started in the OAU’s African Liberation Committee. They are the custodians of this project and for this we extend our heartfelt appreciation to these African patriots.

We are all part of a generation who are presented with the rare and precious opportunity by the global progressive community to write our own story from our own perspective for the first time ever.

The Draft concept note defines the aim of this project as follows:

“The African Liberation Heritage Project is aimed at commemorating, celebrating, educating, promoting, preserving, conserving, ensuring sustainable management and use, as well as, providing a durable statement of Africa’s road to independence. It seeks to recognise the tangible and intangible elements of relevance to the Liberation of Africa for preservation, promotion and celebration. It recognizes the people, communities and icons that laid down their lives for freedom. It will illustrate the places and record epoch-making events which had a significant impact on the resistance to colonialism and oppression and the struggle for liberation on the African continent.”

Consistent with the vision articulated in Agenda 2063, the 33rd General Conference of UNESCO recognises our struggle heritage as being of universal value and significance (33 C/DR.29).

The Sixteenth Ordinary Session of the African Union assembly. [Assembly/AU/Dec. 357(XVI)] of heads of States and governments in 2011, endorsed the UNESCO resolution on the recording of an African road to independence and the further broadening of the mandate given to the United Republic of Tanzania to include the entire continent, instead of just regional ALHP in Dar Es Salaam, with the maximum support from the AU Commission and all member states.

We have an opportunity to share progress, lessons, challenges, achievements and suggestions on how to implement the call by the continent and the entire global community to have country chapters that ensure integrated management of the heritage of our separate and collective roads to independence. It also gives us a platform to harness the opportunities to collaborate and expand on the foundation built by many years of solidarity in our struggle against colonialism and apartheid. 

This deep and unbreakable connection and unity forged in our struggle history continues to be evidenced in the inter-connectedness of people’s liberation movements, and for countries in Southern Africa, areas of trade, cultural co-operation, tourism, education and many other areas. All of these can be consolidated, and we trust that this forum is one of the platforms that will allow for such consolidation.  Transnational collaboration on Resistance and Liberation will be an initiative that is faithful to the solidarity that earned all of us our freedom.  It is an initiative that is faithful to the promise of the freedom charter, stating that:

“The right of all peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close co-operation.”

We are collectively involved in a decisive step in honouring the pledge in the Africa Vision, Agenda 2063 document that one of the pillars and prompts for collaboration will be the glorious legacy of the roads to independence project. There has to be markers for the various milestones of the road to independence.  These milestones must be marked in ways that will assist all Africans to meet the social and material challenges of their lifetime and of their future.

One of the innovative ways in which the Heritage of Resistance and Liberation must succeed is to ensure that the work of this project supports local and regional development agendas (Agenda 2063), that it meets the needs of present generations without harming the ability of future generations to sustain themselves. The sustainability agenda of this heritage will necessarily include education, capacity building, tourism, heritage conservation and dissemination, communications as well as the creative economy. All of these must be done in such a way that is sensitive to the reality that this is a glorious yet painful heritage. Leading players in unlocking this socio-economic potential must include all veterans of the struggle.

Similarly colonialism and apartheid violated and brutalised generations and generations of Africans, this heritage must and will play a major role in restoration, recognition and affirmation.  This work must result in the reconfiguring of spaces that will transform the public cultural landscape forever. 

Currently the world has more than one thousand world heritage sites that have been declared as such and only 98 sites are located within this continent that is also recognised as being the cradle of humanity. This anomaly has to be corrected and as countries we should support each other in this endeavour.

Freedom did not arrive to Africans without a price, it came as a result of much sacrifice and independence or liberation struggles. These struggles built on the successes and lessons taken from the resistance struggles in the era gone before.  Some of these struggles like the ones in South African and Namibia captured the global imagination for protracted periods of time. 

The key here is to remember that they are a major part of the heritage of humanity; they closed the global colonial chapter, and created the possibility of a better life for Africans.

We must not only end with celebrating the successes, or lamenting the failures, but must be invigorated and inspired to generate material for the next steps. The work of unearthing, conserving and leveraging this glorious heritage is a massive monumental task. Only by working together we will succeed and achieve. Failure is not an option. The time to succeed is now.

The great, late Poet Laureate, Mazisi Kunene, paid tribute to the great men and women of practical wisdom, who have shaped our lives, when he wrote the following lines:

When the sage left our midst

When he entrusted us his meagre possessions

He stated: “Should I never return

Open these belongings of mine

And you shall find a thick book

Throw it into a running river

So that you discover the huge treasures

The calling of your generation, much, much

Higher than the mountains, deeper than the lakes!”

(“The book of generations” from Pipedreams, translated from the Zulu by Vusi Mchunu)

By Nathi Mthethwa

Minister of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa.


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