Last week the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) held a gala dinner to announce its 2017 award winners. The first Simon van der Stel medal was awarded in 1969. Since then the awards have become the foremost honour for heritage conservation in South Africa with previous winners including notables such as Mary Cook, Gawie and Gwen Fagan, Dr. Dan Sleigh, Dr. Philip Tobias, Dr. James Kitching, Vali Moosa, Prof. Roger Fisher, Twin Mosia, Dr. Isaac Balie and Salma Patel. Similarly, organisations that have received awards include Historical Homes of South Africa, the Anglo American Corporation, the Stellenbosch Municipality, the Market Theatre Complex as well as the Eastern Cederberg Rock Art Group. Congratulations to the 2017 winners.
Gold Medal – Dr Janette Deacon
Dr Janette Deacon is an internationally renowned South African archaeologist living in Stellenbosch. In 2010 she was awarded the UNESCO and World Heritage Convention medal for her work on rock art and in June 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature by the University of Cape Town. Janette has written seven books on archaeology and has authored many scholarly articles. She has edited and commented on many more, particularly during her long service to the South African Archaeological Bulletin. She graduated from UCT with a BA in 1960, an MA in 1969 and her PhD was awarded in 1982. Janette’s career spanned both the research and heritage management spheres of archaeology when she took on the post as an archaeologist at the National Monuments Council (later replaced by the South African Heritage Resources Agency). She was instrumental in developing the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 and has had her hand in most of the policies and standards developed for South African heritage management. Janette’s footprint in archaeological heritage management also extends to the international arena where she has worked on various World Heritage Site nominations for UNESCO and has run many rock art training workshops through the Getty Conservation Institute.
Janette has a personal passion for and deep connection with rock art and founded the eastern Cederberg Rock Art Group (eCRAG) in 2007. The volunteer group of just over 30 members is affiliated to the South African Archaeological Society and has recorded nearly 1500 rock art and other archaeological sites in the Cederberg mountains of the Western Cape. One of Janette’s most well-known books was co-authored with her late husband, Hilary Deacon, called ‘Human beginnings in South Africa’ which drew on their work of the past 30 years. It has been described as “a masterful synthesis of the longest archaeological record and provides an effective introduction to modern scientific method and theory, the evolution of human behaviour and the current interpretations of the social, symbolic, and economic lifeways of ancient Khoisan peoples”. It remains an indispensable text for Africanists and for any course on African archaeology”.
Janette Deacon (UCT)
Gold Certificate – Reefsteamers
When Transnet discontinued daily steam operations in the early 1990s, Reefsteamers was established to fill the void. While the primary objective of Reefsteamers is to preserve and rebuild old steam locomotives, the impact of their operations is equally felt in the conservation of rail heritage more widely. Their operations are based at the old loco shed in Germiston – itself a heritage structure.
Reefsteamers is a voluntary organisation and their conservation efforts are cross-subsidized by private and public tours and day trips as well as donor funding. Volunteers come from all backgrounds – business, engineering, accounting and importantly former railway employees – but they are united by the passion to preserve the giant heritage trains and keep the spirit of the age of travel alive. They have 200 volunteers.
By having built up a strong following among day trippers from Gauteng they not only provide a unique heritage-tourism experience but keep an interest in rail travel alive. In addition, they meet both international and national demand for steam travel photography and videography. They regularly conduct day trips to Magaliesburg, Irene and elsewhere in Gauteng and South Africa on both a scheduled and chartered basis.
As the time and cost requirements of restoring steam trains are hugely prohibitive, many volunteers at Reefsteamers don’t see the completion of some of their projects in their lifetime.
The commitment by Reefsteamers is further illustrated by the increasing difficulty that railway heritage bodies – and commercial operators – face given official disregard and the prohibitive costs required to restore and sustain locomotives, passenger cars as well as supporting services and infrastructure. Prohibitions on trips during the winter months, lengthy signaling delays and the theft of railway lines, are but some of the regular obstacles that Reefsteamers doggedly face. Reefsteamers plays an indispensable role in keeping a part of South Africa’s unique industrial heritage alive.
Reefsteamers (Gauteng Film Commission)
Certificate of Merit: Rina Wiid
In recognition of her considerable role, in the conservation and restoration of our heritage, Rina Wiid is awarded The Simon van der Stel Certificate of Merit.
In 1994, Rina and Lemmer Wiid bought “Alfalfa”, part of Doornbult, an irrigation farm on the banks of the Orange River. In the course of exploring their new farm, the couple discovered metal artefacts of all kinds – old galvanised iron buckets, driepoot pots, old sun-bleached Lennon’s bottles, rusty bully beef and condensed milk tins, scissor blades, and buttons. Initially they thought there had been a ‘blikkieskamp’, or squatter camp, on the farm. What the couple had discovered however, turned out to be South Africa’s most intact, well-preserved and artefact-rich Anglo-Boer South African War Concentration Camp.
Single-handedly, Rina spent every moment of her spare time researching the camp terrain, carefully noting the distribution of artefacts. Over time, she discovered the camp cemetery and the camp administration area. The couple also restored the blockhouse, established a site museum and have maintained the site and cemetery at their own cost and at Rina’s initiative.
In 1999, Protea Books published the story of her discoveries. Since then she has self-published other titles on the artefacts, the story of the camp and its inhabitants, many of whose descendants she tracked down and corresponded with.
Thanks to Rina, there remains for future generations to see and experience, a well-preserved historical archaeological site which, because of its authenticity, provides an extremely powerful historical experience. Now fairly elderly, Rina still conducts guided tours of the very extensive camp and administrative areas.
Rina Wiid (Netwerk 24)
Certificate of Merit: James Ball
James Ball holds a Master of Arts in History (with distinction, 2012) and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History (with distinction, 2010), both completed at the University of the Witwatersrand. His Master’s dissertation investigated the evolving relationship between the Johannesburg City Council and the Native Affairs Department and how this affected urban African administration during the early stages of Apartheid. He also completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences in History and Politics with Rhodes University (2003) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Enterprise Management (2004).
After two years abroad in the UK, James spent five years in the corporate sector before the love of history pulled him back. He founded The Heritage Portal in 2012. Here he takes overall editorial responsibility while overseeing the ongoing development and management of a complex content management platform. The Heritage Portal has arguably become South Africa’s de facto news source and information platform for all matters related to the country’s history, heritage and aligned fields. What is remarkable is that the Portal publishes almost daily content and issues an informative newsletter every Thursday morning.
What few realise however is that this is essentially a one-man passion project kept alive by James’ extraordinary commitment – a no-nonsense enthusiasm that quietly inspires others to ensure a non-stop stream of free content from across South Africa and abroad. From polemic academic essays, book reviews, out of print journal articles, threads on endangered heritage resources, notices, industry news and more, the Heritage Portal often feels like a heritage community vox populi – all held together by James’ flexible yet astute editorial control. Many people are surprised when they learn that the Portal is not James’ ‘day-job’. James is history teacher at the International Pre-University College in Johannesburg (2014 to present). Here he teaches Cambridge syllabus to International General Certificate of Secondary Education students as well as Cambridge International AS and A Level students
For his unstinting commitment to furthering knowledge in the field of heritage studies and conservation, the education of the general public on history and heritage matters, the creation of public awareness of heritage matters across subject fields and furthering all aspects of South Africa’s cultural heritage, James Ball is awarded a Certificate of Merit.