Deficiencies of heritage impact assessment viewed from a historical perspective as revealed by a study of the history of Tokai Park, 1792–1910

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Without accurate historical evidence, gleaned from meticulous research, it is not possible to manage and conserve a heritage place optimally. The Burra Charter, widely used as a guideline for conservation management, emphasises that heritage conservation at a heritage place starts with a thorough understanding of the meaning and significance of the place. The document states that "conservation should make use of all the knowledge, skills and disciplines which can contribute to the study and care of the place". Best practice for conservation management should flow from proper multidisciplinary research, with historical research as an indispensable component. Specialists in other fields have not received the appropriate training to take over the work of qualified historians.

The current South African heritage conservation regime, based on the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) of 1999, is in agreement that the identification, assessment and management of national cultural heritage resources should involve accurate research, documentation and recordkeeping. Vigorous historical research, taking the cultural values of all stakeholders into account, is the logical point of departure for successful conservation management (see section 5.7 of the NHRA).

Extensive primary research by Berta van Rooyen in the Western Cape Provincial Archives (WCPA) for a PhD in history on Tokai Park revealed that recent heritage impact assessment documents lack a strong historical research base and, as a result, contain inaccuracies which have led to erroneous interpretations and recommendations. Baseline studies for impact assessments show methodological shortcomings. They focus on visual heritage; they lack primary archival research and proper source references. They ignore unpublished dissertations and sources in Afrikaans or Dutch, e.g. the important studies by Sleigh and Appel. One document after the other reproduces the same information from the same outdated secondary sources, without questioning their veracity. These overused secondary sources focus on architectural history and mainly on the style, architects and owners of buildings. This results in the omission of important historical and cultural markers in reports. Because of inadequate research, important historical facts have been overlooked.

It seems that because architects play a leading role in Western Cape heritage management, and because they rely heavily on books dealing with architectural heritage, the focus of current conservation management planning is on buildings, and other heritage markers are hardly taken into account. In the case of Tokai the main focus is on the "manor house", which is indeed the main building of the farmstead, but not a genuine manor. Before 1883 the farmhouse was part of a typical Cape Dutch farmstead. When Georgina Bain married the plantation superintendent, J.S. Lister, in 1885 and moved into the house, she called it a manor. Because the main house takes centre stage, the surrounding area (former crown land of the Tokai estate) does not receive enough attention. The conclusion about Cape Dutch houses that gables serve only as symbols of European power and domination is inaccurate and one-sided and based on incomplete historical data. The other buildings that receive attention in the assessment process are those at the Porter School. The conservation of these buildings from the British colonial period are emphasised at the expense of the precolonial and Dutch colonial periods.

Van Rooyen's research exposes many errors and gaps in the heritage assessment baseline studies used for the 2012 development plan of the Tokai farmstead, precinct and sub-precinct. These include:

  • Erroneous identification of supposedly significant heritage markers, e.g. oak trees (Simon van der Stel never planted oak trees at Tokai as stated in assessment documents) and horses (mules were used at Tokai up to 1983 and the farm was not used for horse breeding).
  • Neglecting the heritage of wood supply (the major land use activity in the Dutch period up to the 1790s) and agriculture (the major form of land use on the farm between 1792 and 1883), which removes many layers of the rich history of Tokai and may be detrimental to the ideal of the conservation of the fynbos.
  • The description of Buffelskraal as a sheepfold, whereas it was used for wood-cutting in the Dutch period.
  • Wrong assumptions about the built heritage (it is doubtful whether the facade of the Tokai farmhouse was designed by Thibault; and the fish pond, an important design element before 1883, is not even mentioned).
  • Scant attention to the history at Tokai of the Khoina, slaves and labourers. The impression is created that cursory references to people of colour are made only for the sake of political correctness.
  • The original Dutch names of geographical features (as shown on 18th- and 19th-century maps) are not used correctly, are not used at all or have been replaced by English names.
  • Certain people associated with Tokai, including Simon van der Stel, L.M. Thibault, William Porter and J.S. Lister, receive much attention, whereas individuals who had even stronger links with the place, e.g. Count Meredith de Regné de Vasselot and Sir David Ernest Hutchins, are hardly mentioned.
  • The heritage of the Eksteens, the Dutch-Afrikaans farm owners in the 19th century, is marginalised, and when reference is made to them they are usually depicted as bankrupt farmers and drunks, while archival material shows that in reality they were relatively successful farmers.

These errors and gaps imply that the research for the Tokai assessment process falls short of the requirements contained in section 5.7 of the NHRA.

Another recent example where historical data was ignored because it was regarded as standing in the way of development was the way in which the application with regard to the Melck store in the Cape Town CBD was dealt with. The downgrading of the building's heritage status shows disregard for the role of the Dutch and German inhabitants in the history of the city.

We argue that the Tokai Park case study brings to light a general trend that professional historians, who are qualified to make valuable contributions, are more often than not excluded from heritage impact assessments in the Western Cape. The relevant authorities (South African Heritage Resources Agency, Heritage Western Cape and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning of the Western Cape Provincial Government) do not require the inclusion of historians in the environmental impact assessment process. The membership list of the Association for Professional Heritage Practitioners reveals that the field of heritage studies in the Western Cape is dominated by architects and archaeologists. As a result, in the process of planning for the development of the Tokai farmstead as part of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), trained historians were conspicuously absent. The lack of source criticism and archival research had the effect of lowering the general quality of the baseline studies for the Tokai impact assessments and development planning.

We are convinced, after comprehensive historical research dealing with Tokai, that although it is impracticable to demand a full-blown academic study for each heritage impact assessment, the assessment process should at least partially be based on research by historians using tested historical methods. Unfortunately historians are partly to blame for the current unsatisfactory situation, because the majority of them seem less than enthusiastic about participation in heritage impact assessment and prefer to dodge their responsibility in this regard. The result is that heritage places are in danger of losing their historical memory.

In the light of the findings of the study we recommend that heritage authorities should provide stronger guidance on the inclusion of historians in heritage impact assessment in order to ensure that they make inputs based on thorough research, even if it is on an ad hoc basis. Furthermore we recommend the strengthening of the accreditation process of historians as heritage practitioners following the Australian example. Currently the South African Society for Cultural Historians has an accreditation programme in place, but as yet not the other professional bodies for historians, the Southern African Historical Society and the Historical Association of South Africa.

We call on historians to become involved in heritage impact assessment on a regular basis, which will help to raise the academic standard of the assessment process and enhance informed decision-making in heritage management and conservation.

Keywords: heritage impact assessment; heritage resources; heritage specialists; historians; historiography; National Heritage Resources Act; South Africa; Tokai Park; Western Cape

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Problematiek van erfenisimpakassessering vanuit ’n geskiedkundige perspektief soos bevind na ’n ondersoek van Tokaipark se geskiedenis, 1792–1910

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