Arts and Culture Minister Mthethwa pays tribute to the unsung heroes of the 1916 Battle of Delville Wood

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, today on 08 July 2016 laid a wreath at the Arques-La-Battaille Cemetery and Town Memorial in France to pay tribute to the all South African soldiers, both black and white, who perished during the 1916 Battle of Delville Wood.

South Africa’s colonial and apartheid governments had excluded the recognition of black South Africans who were enlisted to serve in France during the First World War (WWI) as part of the British Empire.

The year 2016 marks the centenary commemoration of the Battle of Delville Wood that took place in July 1916. The centenary provides an opportunity to address the injustices of the past and rewrite South African military history to include the contribution of the  90 000 black South Africans who served in the various war campaigns in Africa and Europe and especially the 21 000 black South Africans who served in France during the WWI.

The black soldiers were not acknowledged at Delville Wood Memorial Museum along with their white counterparts, despite having formed a significant proportion of the Labour force available in France during the War.

The Department of Arts and Culture in partnership with its institution, the South Africa Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) is leading the transformation of the Delville Wood memorial to portray an inclusive free and non-racial South Africa. The Department of Defence and Military Veterans, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Higher Education are also playing an integral part in this initiative.

The transformation includes the reconstruction of the memorial and the interpretation of the museum narrative through redesign and reconstruction of the exhibitions in the galleries, the development of new murals in the museum depicting the involvement of the South African Native Labour Corps in the Great Wars as well as the Sinking of the SS Mendi and a memorial wall bearing the engraved names of all South African Forces who fell during the WWI as well as a Garden of Remembrance for those who fell yet whose bodies were never recovered.

“The transformation is necessary in order to incorporate the missing aspects of the South African military history. This site transformation will ensure that the historical role played by the black South Africans in the First and Second World Wars is documented and our heritage landscape in transformed for generations to come,” said Minister Mthethwa.

Minister Mthethwa prior to the commemorations the 1916 Battle of Deville Wood Centenary will on 11 July 2016 during the State Visit to France sign the Programme of Cooperation (POC) between the Department of Arts and Culture and the French Republic. The POC was developed largely as an outcome of the SA-French Seasons and seeks to consolidate and build the goodwill that has existed between the two countries. Minister Mthethwa will also on the day officially conclude the symbolic handover of the Rivionia Trial dictabelts, flexible vinyl cylinders holding the recordings of the Rivionia Trial which took place in Pretoria between October 1963 and June 1964 as well as the hard drives with all the digitised preservation files.

Tonight, the Mayor of Dieppe will host a dinner cocktail as part of the centenary commemoration; and  South African musicians are participating. Tribute Birdie Mboweni is expected to serenade audiences with her strong soul voice together with Thabang Tabane, a young malombo drummer and percussionist.

Enquiries: Lisa Combrinck 082 821 8446 LisaC@dac.gov.za

Issued by the Department of Arts & Culture

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