Sunday, June 29, 2008

Heritage and Progress

- William Penfold -

HERITAGE - A word much bandied about these days. Some are afraid of it, some pooh-pooh it and some don’t grasp the real importance of it. What does it really mean and what is the significance to the residents of Prince Albert?

Webster’s refers to ‘inheritance’, a ‘legacy’, a ‘tradition’. The Oxford English simply refers to ‘the things that one has inherited’. The Readers Digest Great Encyclopaedic Dictionary (yes, really!) refers to ‘what is or may be inherited’.

Whichever word or words of description you prefer, the meanings really are all the same. Eve Palmer, the author of that wonderful book, ‘The Plains of Camdeboo’, sums it up pretty well on the very first page. For us, we look at the truly mighty Swartberg with its dainty clear perennial stream, our lifeblood; the glorious indigenous flora in the kloof, spilling out towards us; the bird life that this water and the flora supports; the old gnarled quince, pomegranate, lemon, apricot and other trees in our gardens and hedgerows; the rural open spaces between the houses; the town farms with their beautifully proportioned quaint barns and sheds, and; of course, the unique architecture, from the grandest gabled houses to the humblest brakdak huisies, some with old koffie blikke for chimney pots.

This, dear reader is our collective heritage. The implication is that whether you have actually inherited a property by descent or have acquired a property of your choice as a newcomer to town by purchase, the onus is really upon you to carefully consider the history of it and the reason you were attracted to it in the first place, before wanting to rush in and make changes that you and the townsfolk may well later regret.

Most of the people who live in Prince Albert are born and brought up here. Many of them have never been much beyond the boundaries of the town. For them, the very town itself is their heritage. Many residents are newcomers from the city; some to retire, a few to open businesses of a variety of natures.

Of these newcomers, several have a good idea of the need to maintain the ‘heritage’ that they acquire. There are others, however, who, in their quest to relieve themselves of the stresses of the city by relocating ‘to the country’, seem to do their utmost to bring the city to ‘the country’ in order to maintain their urban lifestyles with city architecture, city interiors, city gardens, city security lights, city alarms etc, all of which entrenches the continued lifestyle of which they really cannot let go.

This ‘foreign’ style may soon induce our original inhabitants to change their heretofore ‘quaint’ lifestyle and to follow suit with inappropriate changes which will gradually change the landscape of the village, reducing its original appeal which attracted the city dweller in the first place!

Another worrying potential landscape change is the strong possibility of city-inspired mass developments on a scale not known before to the town. Without touching on all the potential infrastructural problems that these proposed developments could cause, it is the change to the heritage landscape of the town, which is its very attraction to the tourism industry and the main reason for the town’s survival that is the issue at stake.

Developments of this nature that bring short term instant gratification to certain sectors, in the long term can be the death knell of the town through loss of visitor revenue, having already lost so much of its past revenue through the partial demise of the farming industry which once was its mainstay.

Whilst it is said that ‘one cannot stop progress’, it is most important to understand that ‘progress’ could be defined as ‘remaining as much the same as possible’ and preserving our heritage. This in itself will help promote the tourism industry, which will mean that we do progress and have economic growth for all our inhabitants.

So many of the visitors to our town say; ‘Wow, what a quaint town you have here!’ ‘It’s so nice that little has changed, only a few inappropriate alterations’ and ‘We will definitely come again and stay for longer’ and ‘We didn’t even know about this place or what to expect.’ These are the people who enjoy our ‘heritage’. These are the people who will continue to help our town to survive and, hopefully, thrive.

But, the most important aspect of this is that we should learn to understand and appreciate our heritage because we live here and we want to enjoy it. We all want to be ‘Proudly Prince Albert.’

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