Robben Island’s heritage a driver for economic growth

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Arts and culture may not have been on the main agenda at World Economic Forum (WEF) talks but a sideline event was held to discuss its economic impact.

The national arts and culture department hosted a one-day gathering to share information about the “economic power” of the creative sector. It was held in Cape Town last week as WEF talks just started.

WEF’s main focus was to interrogate Africa’s development and the arts department wanted to unpacks the “creative economy’s potential as a driver to entrepreneurship and job creation”.

Webber Ndoro, director of the African World Heritage Fund which aims to ensure the preservation of heritage sites, raised the possibilities of enhancing existing sites to further economic growth.

Webber Ndoro, director of the African World Heritage Fund. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Webber Ndoro, director of the African World Heritage Fund. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ndoro turned to Robben Island, just off the Cape Town coastline, and said its buildings should be used or it would dilapidate. This could lead to potential tourism opportunities, he said.

“The island was occupied. There was a system that maintained everything. There is a lack of maintenance on the island. A lot of those buildings are not part of heritage. We have to find adaptive and appropriate use for it,” said Ndoro.

“We cannot say that people can’t live on the island. It’s unsustainable.”

He added: “If you are going to maintain a building, you use it. If you don’t use it you are killing a building. I’m not arguing from an economic point of view, just a conservation point of view.”

Ndoro said from a heritage perspective, one would then start questioning how the buildings are used. That would lead to exploring economic possibilities.

“From an economical point of view, how do we use the buildings? There are so many opportunities around Robben Island that will allow local communities to also be part of what happens there,” he said.

“There are tourism, skills training, education and film opportunities on the island. We need to make people aware of these opportunities, while there needs to be a consideration for heritage.”

Ndoro added: “We can’t look at Robben Island as a museum only. We must find adaptable use for it, as long as we maintain the outstanding universal value that it was nominated a heritage site because of its contribution to the struggle against apartheid.”

Vuyo Jack, acting director-general for the arts and culture department, said they aimed to make arts part of economic conversations such as the WEF platform.

Vuyo Jack, acting director-general for the arts and culture department. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Vuyo Jack, acting director-general for the arts and culture department. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Having attended a number of WEF events, we have seen there is an appetite for people to participate in arts and culture. We want to mainstream arts and culture into the economy. We are using this as a platform to engage on the issues,” said Jack.

“We want arts and culture to part of the main event. Artists are not just about song and dance. This is a serious business.”

He said the department’s strategy to assist artists relied on the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy. This entailed creating incubators for arts training as well as making available venture capital to start up creative sector businesses.

“We help people to be sustainable. We look at the entire value chain on how we develop artists. There are people with talent but they need help and banks won’t give them money,” said Jack.

Jack said the department also wanted to “involve local communities in development” of cultural projects.

He said the department was looking at developing a culture passport that young people could carry with them and have it stamped to indicate they have visited different cultural and heritage sites.

Businesses also needed to look at loyalty schemes that rewarded customers for visiting cultural places, said Jack.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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