By Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation
On 24 September South Africa celebrates Heritage Day.
Our country is blessed with many mineral and agricultural resources, making us one of Africa’s economic powerhouses. We are also endowed with natural wonders, as well as a plethora of animal and plant diversity, making South Africa a tourist destination of note. This all forms part of South Africa’s wonderfully rich and diverse natural heritage.
However, the most important aspect of our heritage is the rich cultural, linguistic and historical diversity our people. This includes the heritage of all our peoples - including the first nations of South Africa - the KhoiKhoi, Nama and San; our indigenous African peoples - the Zulus, Xhosas, Ndbeles and Swazis; the Tswana, Pedi and South Sotho; and the Tsonga and Venda; white South Africans descended from the Dutch, English, German and French settlers; and Asians who arrived from the Dutch East Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and from India during the 19th century.
Our heritage also includes centuries of conflict and division. One thinks in particular of the Frontier Wars of the 19thcentury, the battles of Blood River, Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, and the Anglo-Boer wars. South Africa’s proud military heritage also includes participation in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and the military conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s.
Our heritage has also been enriched by the achievements of our people. It embraces a long line of heroes - of leaders like Shaka, Paul Kruger, Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela; of great sportsmen and sportswomen, like Gary Player, Graham Pollock and Josiah Thugwane; of inspirational examples like Nkosi Johnson, Oscar Pistorius and Natalie Du Toit. It includes Christiaan Barnard and internet innovators like Mark Shuttleworth and Elon Musk.
South Africa’s heritage is indelibly marked by the injustices of apartheid and the struggle against it. However, it also includes our enormous achievement between 1990 and 1994 in overcoming centuries of division and bitterness, by establishing our new non-racial constitutional democracy. Indeed, the Constitution should now be seen as the central element in our national heritage.
The celebration of our heritage should foster social cohesion, nation building, economic development and inclusive citizenship. We ought to take cognisance of our Constitution when it says that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity, where every citizen is equally protected by the law. In particular we should honour the provisions of our Constitution that protect our rich linguistic and cultural heritage.
According to the Constitution the heritage of all South Africans is important. The heritage of one group is not more important that of another. The heritage of any of our component peoples belongs to all South Africans.
Our approach to our national heritage should be one of inclusivity, understanding, building and caring. As a nation, during Heritage Month and on Heritage Day, we should celebrate the collective stories of all our communities. We should tell stories not only of Gquma and the Abelungu, Saartjie Baartman, King Shaka, Queen Modjadji and the wrath of Mantatisi, but also of Paul Kruger, the HMS Birkenhead, Racheltjie de Beer and Wolraad Woltemade. We should all be proud of people like the Second World War soldier Job Masego of the 2nd South African Division in East Africa - and the pioneer James Chapman.
Unfortunately, this inclusivity is decreasingly reflected in official statements and in the actions of government in protecting and promoting our national heritage. In his statement on Heritage Month, Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Matashile stated that the theme for 2012 is, “to celebrate the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle in South Africa”. It is quite appropriate to do so - but not in such a manner that those who did not participate in the liberation struggle will feel excluded from national heritage celebrations during 2012. Recently, at the Cosatu Conference, Popcru made proposals that the Afrikaans and English phrases should be cut from the national anthem because “Die Stem is contradictory to Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and what it means to Africans.” (Fortunately, the proposal was not accepted).
Such attitudes undermine the spirit of national unity that we are supposed to be celebrating on Heritage Day.
South African author Herman Charles Bosman put it beautifully: “Cleopatra was an African. The strategist of Cannae who employed the flank attack and pincers movement and broke a Roman army, was an African. As South Africans, such thoughts should move us. And if we accept Piet Retief as a national hero, a true sense of South African patriotism would not allow us to exclude Dingaan.”
As South Africans we have much in our collective heritage to be proud of. As a nation we should take immense and intimate pride in all the achievements and events concerning all our people that collectively make up our very proud heritage.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation