Heritage Day: what exactly are we celebrating?

24 Sep

Braai (n):[‘brae’] /South Africa’s slang/: a barbeque where a meat is roasted normally in an open fire.

Some call it National Braai (barbecue) day but I would like to stick with its official name, National Heritage Day. For those who are living under a rock in an open sea, On this day-24th of September, the people of South Africa as a traditional practice braai meat or anything that can be barbecued to celebrate their rich history and heritage.

In fact, this day affords one the possibility to ask the simple question – when we celebrate Heritage Day and Heritage Month, exactly what are we celebrating?

Many decades ago, the esteemed American poet Countee Cullen, wrote a poem which he entitled “Heritage”. Its opening stanza says:

What is Africa to me?
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang When the birds of Eden sang?…
What is Africa to me?

You will remember that Countee Cullen asked this unequivocal but yet rhetoric question-What is Africa to me? – when he sought to fathom why America of his day denied him and his fellow African Americans their identity and therefore their ability to insist on their humanity.

This day gives me a further opportunity to reflect on what exactly happened during pre 1948, post 1994 and more importantly the years in between. What the students of history call the “conqueror” came down to Africa colonised the land and divided the people who lived in it. In lay term for a lay man, colonialism means divide and conquer!

The Former President of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki in a speech delivered in Royal Bafokeng in September 2010 He said and I quote “In apartheid South Africa, the conquerors made a desperate attempt to impose on a black race an identity they hoped they would accept, and which would serve their interests, by separating them into malleable fragments of different ethnic groups, each awarded a false identity in a Bantustan, seductively described as a homeland.”

I give you this brief history in deliberate attempt to try to answer the question I have posed in the beginning of this post, when we celebrate Heritage Day and Heritage Month, exactly what are we celebrating?

Let me err and perhaps say that in present day South Africa we have not yet fully utilised the opportunities that come with this spring day in September Month – The National heritage day. I err because in my eyes as a country we have not yet discovered a common and uniting identity as a people. That is evident by the way people behave in social networking platforms.

It is indeed difficult in South Africa- owing its bitter past- to discover a common and uniting identity. However, it is on this day that I am challenged to find common values that can unite South Africans-however long that might take.

I am reminded of a phrase “Proudly South African” which I believe it is that can be used as a fount and foundation to unite this beautiful country. Once again, let me bother your mind in asking you what does being Proudly South African mean? In grinding poverty that most of our society members live in, the pandemic of AIDS disease, and with highest unemployment rates in the world amongst other challenges, I stand with absolute doubt that this can make one a proudly South African.

You may ask, what then is that heritage we must discover to enable us to define for ourselves our identity as – Proudly South African!

Afford me another opportunity to educate you on what I think we must celebrate on this day.

  • The historic victory of Isandlhwana in South Africa in 1879.
  •  The victory of the Afrikaner people as they fought British imperialism during the South African or Anglo-Boer War.
  •  Those, through, their sustained effort had helped in ending the era of apartheid.
  • The 19th century and early 20th century South African intellectuals such as Tiyo Soga, Robert Sobukwe and others for their contribution in the fields of knowledge in various disciplines.
  •  The writers who have won Nobel Prizes for Literature, as well as others, as great, who have not, such Ntozakhe S Shange, Zakes Mda. J.M.M Coetzee and Mazisi Kunene.
  •  Legendary artists whose creative imagination has given us the music that inspired Africa jazz and other musical streams.
  • Other creative artists whose artwork gives South Africans something to brag about, such as PH Pierneef and Gregoire Boonzaier.
  • The National Symbols
  • And the National Orders

The last two aspects are important in a sense that they constitutes our common and unifying identity in terms of what has been done in our country in post-apartheid South Africa.

Bear with me while I take you through a short course on the matter of our national symbols, which constitute an important part of the heritage.

  • Both our flag and our national anthem represent bold and creative contributions to the country’s continuing task to further strengthen the national reconciliation.
  •  The coat of arm, which its parts mean different things, but importantly the shield in it represents the defence or protection of the nation.
  • Our National Motto,!ke e: /xarra/ //ke – which means – diverse people unite reaffirms our identity as a people.
  •  The national order of Mapungubwe: This Order is awarded to South African citizens for excellence and exceptional achievement.
  • The order of Ikhamanga: Ikhamanga is a Xhosa name for a flower known in English as Strelitzia,This Order is awarded to South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
  • The order of Baobab: (The mighty tree) This Order is awarded to South African citizens for distinguished service in the field of business and the economy, Science, medicine and technological innovation and Community service.
  • National Orders of Luthuli: The Order is awarded to South Africans who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice and peace, and conflict resolution.
  • The Companions of O.R. Tambo: This Order is awarded to foreign nationals (Heads of State and Government) and other foreign dignitaries. It is awarded for friendship shown to South Africa. It is therefore an order of peace, co-operation and active expression of solidarity and support. The Order constitutes an essential pillar of international and multilateral relations.
  • The Mendi decoration for bravery: The Decoration is awarded to South African citizens who have performed an extraordinary act of bravery that placed their lives in great danger, or who lost their own lives including in trying to save the life of another person, or by saving property, in or outside the Republic of South Africa.

I thus see it fit to use the patriotism displayed by Americans towards their own nation when they adopted the so called “American dream” to coin a new word that I believe will instil loyalty amongst South African and that shall be called “The South African identity”!

After all this is a heritage that we all share and as such we must embrace and celebrate it.

The question I have posed earlier in this article – what is that are we celebrating? and that question raised by Countee Cullen in his poem – What is Africa to me? are questions that still remain piquant!!!

Happy National Heritage day!!!

SOURCE: The department of Arts and Culture

1 Comment

Posted by on September 24, 2011 in General, Politics


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One response to “Heritage Day: what exactly are we celebrating?

  1. Brain Schlindwein

    October 25, 2011 at 1:13 am

    I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one these days..


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