Failure to restore the old Pretoria Synagogue: Lack of political will or complete indifference?

Issued by Madeleine Hicklin MP – DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure
05 Jul 2023 in News
  • The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s lack of commitment to restore the Old Synagogue in Pretoria has been evident since May 2021.
  • Despite promises, the building remains unprotected and neglected, highlighting the department’s disregard for South African heritage.
  • The ANC government’s failure to address this issue reflects a lack of political will to prioritise the concerns of the country’s citizens.

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Since May 2021 the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s lack of commitment to the restoration of the Old Synagogue in Pretoria has been painfully evidenced in every engagement on this matter.

On 30 June 2023 not even the promised 24-hour security guard, meant to ensure that the already desecrated building be spared from further plundering, was on the premises. If conversations with the neighbouring security guards in the Department of Transport’s parking area alongside the shul are anything to go by, he hasn’t been there in days – and often doesn’t appear for weeks at a time.

The promise to restore and repair this National Heritage Site is just another hallmark of this Department’s complete lack of political will to honour its obligations.

It is another example of the hollow promises trotted out by the ANC to the citizens of South Africa, whether it is the Jewish Community for whom this building holds so many memories, or the heroes of our modern democracy who were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment in the Rivonia Treason Trial that took place in this very building in 1964.

The DPWI and the ANC takes no pride in South African heritage. They care even less about the requirements of the National Heritage Resources Act, Section 24 and Section 9. These sections determines the South African Heritage Resource Agency’s (SAHRA) mandate to restore and refurbish heritage buildings that have fallen into a state of disrepair must be accomplished, while adhering to strict guidelines on exactly how this must be undertaken.

Since July 2021, answers to written questions to the then Minister, Patricia de Lille, promised that ‘the Department is planning for the restoring and linking of a suitable adaptive reuse of the Heritage asset, within the Tshwane Inner City Regeneration Programme ambit’. I was assured this was well underway, as well as a pre-feasibility study for the redevelopment of the precinct having been undertaken to maximise the State land.

In addition, Minister de Lille said: In this regard, the recommendation is to accommodate the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s (DSAC) head office on the property. The old Jewish Synagogue is proposed to be used as both a monument and as a multi-use centre for conferences and exhibitions, open to the public and tourists. The proposal has been submitted to the DSAC and is awaiting their concurrence.

A feasibility study had been commissioned and, pending its outcome, the execution of this project via a Public Private Partnership (PPP) would be on the cards.

In December 2021, Minister de Lille confirmed that the feasibility study was completed ‘but was for internal consumption only’ and that the ‘historic value of the building was a critical factor considered during the due diligence process, which included engagements with the City of Tshwane in 2017 … that culminated in the completion of the feasibility study in 2019’.

Minister de Lille confirmed that, as of 3 December 2021, only the roof of the structure had been stabilised – but that this had been completed in 2011.

Since then, nothing has been done. Absolutely nothing. Except for the placement of the 24-hour security guard … who is nowhere to be seen.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the Pretoria Jewish Community, and many concerned individuals would gladly get involved in a PPP to restore this building to its original splendour – given half a chance!

When she was appointed as the Acting Director General in the DPWI, Ms Nyeleti Makubele reached out to me and asked me whether there were any pressing, outstanding issues she could look into. The matter of the Old Pretoria Shul (among others) was raised with her on 24 May 2023.

The thundering silence on this matter since then – like so many others raised with the DPWI – shows me that it is the inherent flaw in the ANC Government. It is a complete lack of political will to address the interests of the average South African citizen.

And that is a crying shame.

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