Speech: Mapisa-Nqakula on Castle commemorative programme


Speech by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, presented on behalf of President JG Zuma, on the occasion of the conclusion of the year-long commemorative programme of the 350 years of the existence of the Castle of Good Hope, 09 December 2016, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.

Programme Director

Speaker of the National Assembly

Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans

Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Representatives of the National House of Traditional Leaders

Royal Houses (I recognise the Delegation from the Zulu Royal House, led by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the traditional Prime Minister, so tasked to represent the House on behalf of Isilo samabandla, King Goodwill Zwelithini. I’m particularly elated that Dr Buthelezi, as one of our political elders, and a former elder counsel and colleague of mine personally, accepted the invitation and the task to lead the delegation. I also recognise the Delegation of the Bapedi Royal House, as led by Kgoshikgolo Sekhukhune; the Hlubi Royal Delegation led by inkosi Langalibalele as well as the delegation representing the Khoi Royal House led by Chief Basil Coetzee)

Secretary for Defence

Acting Director-General of the Department of Military Veterans

Chief of the SANDF

Members of the Military Command

Senior Government Officials

Distinguished Guests

Members of the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me first and foremost to extend the most sincere apology of our Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, who as a result of the change in the program of the State Visit by President Lungu of Zambia, is no longer able to be the Chief Functionary at this commemoration and Parade. The President has expressed his deepest regret for not being at this event which has been key on his calendar, and requested me specifically extend his apology to his guests, including His Majesties from various royal houses present here today. I therefore, today address you, not in my own capacity, but present the President’s Address on his behalf to you. Thank you

Program Director

This week, on Monday the 5th of December, South Africans of all walks of life once again observed with a mixture of gratitude and great sadness, the 3rdanniversary of the passing of our beloved father Nelson Mandela three year ago.

President Mandela is celebrated as a true symbol of our quest to heal our nation of its divisive past, to correct the injustices that divided and sort to destroy our nation, and to collectively advance towards a common future for us all.

Nelson Mandela, urged us in this regard, to not reject our past, however bad it could be, but to embrace it, to learn from it, and most importantly to correct it and to vow never to allow our country to return to it.

Speaking in Parliament on the occasion to commemorate 10 years of our democracy in South Africa, he emphasised this imperative, when he said:
“Let us never be unmindful of the terrible past from which we come – using that memory not as a means to keeps us shackled to the past in a negative manner, but rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved.”

The Castle of Good Hope, a historic edifice in the heart of Cape Town’s central business district, can be described as a symbol of the beginning of an era that set our country on the destructive path of colonial injustice, and racial oppression. A standing reminder and sanctuary for the defence of a brutal system that robbed the majority of South Africans of their dignity, social identity, land and other benefits of their country’s economic potential.

It is this and many symbols of the past from which we have come, that Nelson Mandela reminds us to keep as a reminder, a lesson and a warning, never to return our country to an era they represented.

So today, as part of this quest to learn and to remember, we commemorate the 350thanniversary of the building of this place, as the first building of modern western architecture in our country.

When the foundation stone was laid in August 1666 by the then Governor of the Cape Colony, Zacharia Wagenaar, the intention was to build a solid defence against two main enemies – rival European powers who could attack from the sea and the indigenous population who fought to retain their land and freedom.

The Castle, whose construction began on 2 January 1666, was more than just a military fortress. As the Dutch settlers and later the British used the Cape peninsula as a springboard to conquer the inland, the Castle became the political, judicial, legislative, penal and social nerve centre of the fledgling colonial administration. It was also the residence of the Governor from 1679 until the British took control of the Castle in 1795. It served as military headquarters for the British until it was handed over to the government of the Union of South Africa in 1917.

The Castle of Good Hope, therefore, officially turned 350 years old in January of this year. It is our country’s oldest building and its age, content, adaptive re-use and ongoing historical significance is indeed a major milestone in the life of our young democracy.

In recognition thereof, the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans ordered a refurbishment and restoration program of R108 million, that started early 2015 and as you can see left us a Castle that is beautiful, accessible and user-friendly.

In fact for the first time in history the Castle will have complete universal access. We have installed two passenger lifts – the first in 350 years, haves installed ramps and have changed the interpretive system of the Castle for the better. The original builders of the Castle were craftsmen from many European countries, working side by side with Khoi-Khoi, African and Eastern slave labourers.

Historically, the Castle was the centre around which Cape Town and South Africa developed. Almost every South African alive today, has in one way or another been affected by historical decisions made and executed at the Castle.

Although the historic and architectural significance of the Castle is widely documented, the citadel took a back-seat in comparison with Robben Island, Freedom Park, Cradle of Humankind and many other heritage sites during the first two decades of SA’s democracy. This is a bit of a historic anomaly given that for at least two centuries this Castle served as the centre for all economic, military, political and cultural life in the Cape colony and indeed the entire Southern African region.

The Castle housed the first formal seat of government until 1811 – this is in fact the room behind me – fulfilled its role as military headquarters from 1674 till the late 1990s, served as prison for high profile historical figures like King Chetswayo, Adam Tas, Adam Kok I, King Sekhukhune, and King Langalibalele and was the birthplace of the South African Navy amongst many others. No wonder that the pentagon shape was chosen in 1957 as the symbol for the old South African Defence Force.

The first armed resistance the Dutch settlers faced was from the indigenous habitants of the Cape peninsula – the Khoi-Khoi and San. Three Khoi-Khoi Dutch wars were fought in1659, 1673 and 1674. Like wars against other indigenous groups which were fought later when European settlers started trekking to the eastern and northern inland in search of more land and treasure, the colonialists ultimately triumphed through a combination of superior firepower and the alliances they formed with some indigenous peoples.

Today we will be honouring three indigenous warrior-kings and gallant heroes and heroines who literally took on the might of the colonial armies – King Chetswayo, King Langalibalele, King Sekhukhune and Chief Doman. The statues that you see in front of you, is the tangible recognition of these and thousands of other unsung heroes and heroines colonial wars of resistance. It is the beginning of an on-going commitment to honour all those who gallantly fought against colonial conquest and in turn inspired future generations of freedom fighters.

But that’s not all – we are also opening the first ever Centre for Memory, Healing and Learning. The symbolism behind this is huge in recognition of what took place here. The flanks of the Centre houses two very harrowing spaces: the one is called the torture chamber – and I don’t have to explain to you why. The other is the jail cells in which were incarcerated the kings and chiefs we are honouring here today. This centre, sponsored by the Department of Military Veterans – is breaking the curse of oppression, persecution and ignorance.

I understand that this is going to be seminar room where topics of colonialism, restitution, healing and heritage will be debated and discussed and taught. And I would really encourage all government departments to make use of this facility.

Since the Castle essentially served as a haven for colonial rulers and was a strong proponent of slavery, it is perhaps no accident that the largest contradiction and conflict around identity and race is to be found in the Western Cape and in particular Cape Town. We must use this opportunity to change the mind-set of the Castle being glorified as a bastion of colonialism.

It is against this background that the commemoration of the 350 year’s existence of the Castle offers us a unique opportunity to revisit, reinterpret and re-write our complex, brutal colonial and apartheid history in manner that is fully inclusive, restorative, respectful and educational.

As with all events like these, the decision to commemorate was not taken lightly, that is why we decided not to call this a celebration but rather a commemoration. We need to embrace our collective history and heritage – whether it is good, bad or ugly.

The 350th mark offers us a once in a life-time opportunity to rewrite our colonial history in a manner that is inclusive, and enhance healing and nation building. And it must start with the primary school children – all of whom must be taught about the history of the Castle in their current history books.

This 12-month commemorative programme of the Castle which we are concluding today was launched by the Ministry on 2 January 2016 with the original cornerstone unveiling, witnessed by over 700 invited guests reflecting on what happened 350 years ago.

One of the strong pillars on which the new democracy in South Africa is built is national reconciliation. While recognising the many horrors associated with the Castle, its place in the history of the country cannot be denied.

We have resolved to transform the Castle from what it used to stand for then to a place of nation-building and reconciliation now and for the future. This bastion of colonialism must, through a balanced interpretation of history, become a centre of healing and learning.

It is of critical importance that young South Africans study the true history of the Castle and from lessons learnt, be part of efforts to achieve the overarching objective to heal and reconcile this nation. A study of the history of the Castle, which is so interwoven with that of events leading to the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and beyond, will also enrich scholarship in institutions of higher learning.

Our history of war and conflict, including that of our king warriors and generals, lays the basis that informs our lessons and experiences of the past as a nation, helping us to forge a common identity, a common future, and destiny.

During this year, working with the Department of Arts and Culture, we have put emphasis on giving practical expression to our decision to reorganise, preserve and celebrate our military heritage, as an integral part of building our new society.

This decision included the various commemorations, both at home and internationally, including the memorial of the sinking of the Mendi, which serves as the official Armed Forces Day for the SANDF, as well as our recent visit to Arque-la-Bartaille in France to honour many South African soldiers who fell there during World War 1.

The Department of Defence and the Castle Control Board decided to commemorate 350 years of the Castle under the theme: “Freedom from Oppression”.

From 2 January 2016 when the beginning of the construction of the Castle was commemorated, right up to today’s final event, many activities involving learners, youths, women, artists, cultural groups were held.

One of the highlights of the commemoration was in August 2016 when we honoured and held a ceremonial repatriation of the spirit of mama Krotoa – a Khoi woman who worked for Jan van Riebeeck – from Die Groote Kerk in Cape Town city centre to the Castle where she was originally buried. All these events were guided by our expressed determination that the 350 years of the Castle, be commemorated in a conciliatory and inclusive manner.

Today, in the context of a democratic South Africa, the Castle of Good Hope, historically associated with the fundamental ills of our colonial past, is now being transformed into a that represents the values that underpin the new democratic dispensation.

This concluding event of the Castle of Good Hope commemoration is but one small step in rewriting our history in an inclusive and respective manner that fosters nation-building, healing and reconciliation.

The Castle has now been declared a national heritage site and will soon apply to UNESCO to be upgraded to a World Heritage Site. This recognition and enhanced status will enable The Castle of Good Hope to make its contribution to efforts to educate, heal and reconcile South Africa’s diverse population and attract visitors both local and international to come to the Castle and learn more about this site. This will further enhance our tourism whilst educating our people.

I thank you