Whose Heritage Matters: Mapping, Making and Mobilising Cultural Heritage in Cape Town

The Whose Heritage Matters project was designed to understand whether, and if so how, cultural heritage could be mobilised to support more sustainable and just urban futures in Cape Town (South Africa) and Kisumu (Kenya).

Our goal was to co-produce the project with local partners through mapping tangible and intangible cultural heritage meanings and values enabling the making of cultural heritage through active interventions and mobilising knowledge and partnerships to support the strategic role of heritage in policy and civic action.

The collaboration underpinning the project was supported by the Mistra Urban Futures network which enabled researchers in the UK, South Africa and Kenya, working on the intersections between culture, justice and the city, to form and test partnerships.

Our action-oriented approach meant grounding the project in locally-produced understandings of critical challenges and opportunities to mobilise cultural heritage for sustainable futures.

This report tells the story of Whose Heritage Matters in Cape Town, South Africa

Part 1 – LOCATING: We start by locating the project in the context of Cape Town’s rich and varied cultural heritage sector; situating the research in the African Centre for Cities’ reflective and responsive research agenda; and placing the project in relation to our two main project partners: Greatmore Studios and the City of Cape Town (CCT). We also highlight the impact of COVID-19 on what it means to do embedded and engaged research during a pandemic.

Part 2 – MAPPING: In Part 2 we turn to mapping the terrain, paying attention to the different heritage actors and the values that shape their engagement with heritage in Cape Town. Plural values can create tensions and contradictions. We identify some of the key intersecting challenges that shape the way heritage is understood, made and operationalized in Cape Town.

Part 3 – MAKING: Part 3 introduces the commissioned creative research projects and reflects on collaborating and co-producing action-oriented research during COVID-19. It highlights the role of experimental and creative heritage interventions in reckoning with the past in conflicted places.

Part 4 – MOBILISING: In Part 4 we look at what it means to mobilise knowledge, action and networks produced and nurtured in the project. We share how the project mobilized critical approaches to heritage in scholarship and in shaping public discourse, as well as showing how the project leveraged networks to identify plans for future action.

Part 5 – LANGUAGE: We reflect on the new language needed to understand the potential of mobilizing cultural heritage in the city: land, livelihoods, lives, liveability, and legislation.

Part 6 – LAST WORDS: We summarise the key implications and reflect on the value and impact of the project in Cape Town and beyond.