Guards at Bhisho Massacre Memorial tell visitor she needs 'permission letter' to enter

A visitor to the Bhisho Massacre Memorial site in the Eastern Cape was left gobsmacked after security guards told her that she and a friend would need a "permission letter" from government in order to gain access to the public facility.

Broadcast journalist Sebenzile Nkambule, 30, told News24 that it had been her first visit to Bhisho and they wanted to walk around the site on Monday afternoon because of its historic nature. The site is dedicated to the 28 people who were shot and killed by the then-Ciskei Defence Force, during a protest march on September 7, 1992.

"We got there and it was locked up and closed off with a fence. At first I assumed it was because they were trying to keep cattle out," Nkambule said. They walked around, looking for where they could enter, until eventually security guards came to them and apparently said they were instructed not to let anyone in.

"That's silly because it's a memorial. It's like saying people are not allowed to enter a graveyard, which is a public facility," she said.

An argument then ensued between them and the guards.

'It's just bizarre'

"They then said we must find the Department of Public Works and get a letter. They didn't know who you needed to speak to. Then we could come back and they would let us in. It's just bizarre."

Nkambule said she had been inspired to visit local memorial sites after living in the United States and seeing how seriously the country took theirs.

Luckily, she said, she had a completely different and positive experience when they visited the Steve Biko centre.

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Department of Public Works spokesperson Thamsanqa Mchunu said memorial sites were managed by the Department of Arts and Culture and the provincial public works department.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa's spokesperson Asanda Magaqa confirmed they had received a complaint about the Bhisho memorial site.

"It is not correct that visitors are asked for permission letters or locked out. There is normally no requirement for visitors to have a DPW [Department of Public Works] letter," she said.

No permission letter required

Magaqa said they had not spoken to the guards at the site, but were making enquiries, as the site was managed by provincial government.

The arts and culture department wanted to present monuments and museums as accessible centres to the public for education, remembrance and enjoyment, she said.

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"The [department] is therefore greatly encouraged that people are taking the time to access and interact with these spaces, does not condone and condemns any individual or group being barred from doing so without a valid reason, and specifically acts of criminality including vandalism of said institutions."

Provincial public works spokesperson Vuyokazi Mbanjwa assured visitors that no letter of permission was needed from them.

"Only government departments are required to produce a letter to the security guards from the public works department to access the Bhisho contact centre conference facility," she said.

"Walk-ins are allowed access to the Bhisho memorial site through the front gate. The department regrets the incident and commits to solve this issue so that the unfortunate incident is not repeated in future."

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