• Sun. May 28th, 2023

UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Government and the management of Watoto Church (formerly Kampala Pentecostal Church/KPC) are locked in a standstill over plans to demolish the historic Norman Cinema building.

Watoto wants to replace it with a 12-storeyed building, three-star hotel, 3,000-seater auditorium, a shopping centre and youth centre.

However, preservationists have launched a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch” to halt the plan.

The Norman Cinema building was established in the 1940s by an Indian businessman, Norman Godinho, and was famous as a movie place and performance hall known as Laquinta.

The building was an ideal dream destination for many revellers, as referenced in a song titled “Ebinyumu ebyaffe” by the legendary kadongo kamu artist Elly Wamala. It not only had a modern cinema but also had space for retail shops, a posh bar, and a nightclub called Tablois, which was later renamed Laquinta in the 1960s.

Watoto had earlier released a plan that would see the building demolished to pave the way for the construction of a 2,000-seater conference center, retail space, and a 3-star hotel, among other business and recreation functions.

However, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) declined to approve the designs, demanding that the developers submit a plan that caters for the preservation of some aspects of the historical building. It was not named what should be preserved, but Watoto was asked to consider an inclusive design.

In spite of the demand for preservation from KCCA, Watoto insists that theirs is a private property that is not protected by the Historical Monuments Act of 1968, which gives the line minister powers to publish lists of the preserved or protected objects.

The government position remains that Watoto management should consider preserving part of the structure. Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye, the acting commissioner for museums and monuments at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, says that the government hopes that the current bill on Historical Sites and Monuments shall help in their bid to preserve such sites.

In 2022, parliament passed the Museums and Monuments Bill, which sought to provide for formalization, control, and protection of tangible and associated intangible cultural heritage. Preservationists were hopeful that Watoto, which is listed as item 213 of part III that lists historical and cultural sites in the new bill, would be saved. However, the president returned the bill, questioning some of the listed sites.

Simon Musaasizi, the team leader of the Heritage Conversation Trust of Uganda, a project run by Cross Cultural Foundation Uganda (CCFU), a non-government organization that promotes culture and advocates for the preservation of Uganda’s cultural heritage, says the absence of a law leaves the future of the historic building in uncertainty. He, however, says they shall continue engaging the leadership of Watoto Church and hopes they shall appreciate the need to preserve important aspects of the Church.

With both government and Watoto Church seemingly resolute on their decision to preserve and redevelop the contested premises, and no law to settle the haul between them, the future of Norman Cinema remains hanging. It could join the list of lost buildings such as the Ivory Tower of Makerere University and Kasubi Tombs in Kasubi, which were brought down by fire, and Pioneer Mall, the first mall in Kampala, which was demolished for another bigger and modern mall.

The bill which could cushion the situation is yet to be passed. The ordinance among others includes sections that require the government to acquire historical sites in private hands and where the property is not acquired by the government, a fund is set up for owners as motivation and also help them maintain the sites. Preservationists also propose incentives such as reduced or waived property rates on historical buildings and sites. If passed, this bill could help in the preservation of historic buildings like the Norman Cinema and promote their value to future generations.


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