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Our Shipping Heritage: The Making & Sustaining of Nations

MHI is hosting the historic inaugural Maritime Heritage Lecture and Colloquium, which in itself will be a launch of a regular Series of the same title that will feature deliberations in a manner that will feature large and diverse stakeholder community of maritime experts, industries and interested groups to engage meaningfully on the challenges and opportunities which our maritime heritage and the oceans, coasts, inland waterways and other maritime resources present in building a powerful 21st century maritime nation, living in peace, prosperity and sustainable environment.

In keeping with the theme of World Maritime Day 2020, being “Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet”, the Lecture will seek to excavate our maritime heritage and history which showcase the role of ships in the development of society, the conference sub-themes are:

  • Centrality of women, youth and communities in shipping heritage

  • Shipping heritage history in South Africa/Africa - ancient, colonial/anti-colonial and democratic

  • Shipping and maritime heritage and economic development opportunities/benefits 

  • Shipping heritage as an essential tool for our education curriculum development 

  • Creative industries and practitioners as custodians and perpetrators of maritime heritage, especially shipping

  • Establishing competitive and sustainable shipping and maritime heritage products, activities and tourism spaces

  • Tapping our under-water heritage 

  • Preservation of our water resources, climate change and pollution


South Africa is the only country on the African continent that has access and control over sea waters covering an area equivalent to 1.6 million km² with a coastline of 3924 km - from the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean in the east.


South Africa has been a major player in African maritime archaeology for many years and its history is much intertwined with maritime and underwater heritage elsewhere in the world. The South African maritime resources are vast, including almost 3,000 shipwrecks, land-based maritime sites as well as a myriad of living heritage resources connected to the maritime landscape.


The heritage legislation in South Africa has recognised the importance of protecting maritime cultures for many years, and national legislation has included the protection of shipwrecks as early as 1979. 


Our maritime heritage, like all other types of heritage (including political and socio-economic) in previously-colonised societies, needs to be approached from an uncompromisingly and unashamedly anti-colonialist stance.


From this standpoint, going forward, the view and process should/must be the de-colonialization of our maritime heritage. Honest and progressive dialogue is necessary to craft strategies, plans and programmes to ensure protection and preservation of our maritime heritage

Colonialism has sought successfully to ignore and deliberately render as non-existent the role and contribution of indigenous people in exploring and utilisation of our maritime assets for national development. Colonialists paraded themselves as having been the pioneers and sole knowledge-bearers about everything maritime, which was a total disrespect  and undermining of indigenous knowledge  systems


As it were, it passes as ‘incontrovertible’ fact that Africans' encounter with the maritime space in southern Africa began in the 17th century with the arrival of Vasco da Gama and Jan van Riebeeck, completely ignoring the documented history of Africans in the region having traded with earlier explorers/traders and nationals as far back as the 14OOs.


To name but just a few: in Kruger National Park’s Thulamela, Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain has been found; at Watervaal Boven, Indian-type ore smelters have been discovered.


Thus, accounts of the use of the seas and related maritime resources by indigenous people for trade, military, culture and related fields are insurrectionally buried deep in the annals of colonial history, much to the continued deprivation of South Africans of their maritime heritage. This negates meaningful expansion of education in South Africa, and elsewhere on our Continent, about our maritime heritage.


Maritime heritage is not divorced from, but is closely and intensely interlinked with the current government programme of maritime economic development under Operation Phakisa (Ocean Economy) and central to which is transformation and integration of the sector into the country's mainstream economy.



From this perspective, transformation, in its broad sense as amplified also in the National Development Plan, is not solely about economic issues relating to business and employment, but also historical and social aspects whose combination completes


The time to establish, maintain and continually improve a maritime heritage transformative and empowering programme that is all-encompassing, is long overdue and a bold step towards preserving, advancing and celebrating our maritime heritage.


Taking forward this process, MHI and all partners will be helping to set the tone and example to other players – within government, corporate, civil and broader society – to also recognise, preserve and celebrate our maritime heritage in all its spheres.


Needless to say, the process of evolving our maritime heritage project is a profound statement to the nation at large and our pride of place in the maritime heritage world community of nations.

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