Botshabelo turns 150 but who is celebrating?

Anthony Benadie MPL

DA Provincial Leader and Spokesperson on Culture, Sport and Recreation:

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Botshabelo, the now neglected former missionary station, cultural village and heritage site just outside Middelburg which lies in ruins.

Once known as the Jewel of Mpumalanga, this historical village used to be frequented by both international and domestic tourists who would immerse themselves in the customs and various art forms traditionally practiced by the Ndebele and baPedi people. A jewel that not only created jobs, but also generated vital revenue for the local municipality and local tourism economy.

The museum is now in a shocking state of disrepair and the once famous site is just a shadow of its former self. The locals selling traditional Ndebele arts and crafts can barely eke out a living because now, only a handful of tourists can be found visiting the site. Today is a significant day on the province’s cultural calendar but there is nothing to celebrate.

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On a visit to Botshabelo with former Culture, Sport and Recreation MEC Nomsa Manana, the MEC committed herself and her department to resolving the matter of the decaying heritage site. She also committed to addressing the ongoing dispute between the beneficiaries of the successful land claim that saw Botshabelo placed in the hands of land restitution beneficiaries. To date, nothing has been done.

The DA requested to help preserve Botshabelo by being granted permission to access the museum in order to remove the precious artifacts and place them in safe keeping, while the department created a rescue plan but we had no success.

Nothing came from MEC Manana’s promises and there has yet to be an indication of when the heritage will be restored. While Botshabelo must be managed in a manner that generates financial and residential benefit to the land beneficiaries, the heritage site and historical town must be restored and protected.

A day that should have been filled with celebration and cultural reflection will pass by literally unnoticed, symbolic of how the ANC has neglected not only Botshabelo, but the land beneficiaries of the site as well. To this end, we will write to current Culture, Sport and Recreation MEC, Norah Mahlangu, as well as the chairperson of this portfolio committee and invite them to accompany the DA on an oversight visit to Botshabelo.

The department must restore Botshabelo to its former glory, by providing investment and guidance to the claimant beneficiaries to ensure that the beauty and heritage of this significant site cannot simply fade into distant memory.