Durban – President Cyril Ramaphosa has implored South Africans to embrace the various cultures while celebrating the beauty of the country and its languages in his Heritage Day address on Thursday.
Ramaphosa who delivered his address virtually also took aim the continued incidents of gender-based violence, racism that was recently highlighted by the Clicks hair advert and colonial and apartheid era statues which he said has to be “relocated”.
He also tribute to the “spirited defenders of our heritage” who sadly died this year but pointed out that South Africans needed to honour the country’s Living Human Treasures whom he described as repositories of South Africa’s knowledge, customs and traditions.
“Heritage Day is a time to appreciate the many facets of our cultures, customs and traditions,” Ramaphosa said.
“It is the time when we put them on display to appreciate and celebrate and share our cultures and traditions with others… We are the nation that is taking the world by storm with the #JerusalemaChallenge, as young and old in France, the UK, Jamaica, Angola and even in Palestinian East Jerusalem itself are getting in on the craze.
We are a nation of eleven official languages that also celebrates other languages commonly used by various communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. We are a nation that steadfastly protects those indigenous languages that are facing extinction such as N|uu, Nama, isiHlubi, Khelovhedu and other indigenous languages,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the greatest thing about heritage is its dynamism which is a source of identity and cohesion for our nation.
“It makes us who we are. Heritage shapes and moulds us, and gives us a sense of belonging. It is the inheritance passed down from generation to generation, linking the present to the past,” he said.
The president said that South Africa is the third most mega-biodiverse country in the world with abundant fauna and flora. This is what makes South Africa the most beautiful country in the world.
With the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic casting a shadow on South Africans – like the rest of the world – Ramaphosa highlighted the role traditional medicine can play in fighting the virus while honouring those who preserve “all aspects of our traditional and modern heritage”.
He said our indigenous knowledge systems preserved by our elders and traditional healers are a vital part of our heritage, adding that long before the advent of modern medicine, our ancestors used the herbs and plants that are so abundant here to heal, to give strength and for sustenance.
And as the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa said the the knowledge of traditional medicinal plants has increased.
“In as much as we join the international community in the search for diagnostics, therapeutics and a vaccine, we are also looking at the real and important contributions indigenous knowledge systems, particularly traditional medicine, can play in improving the health outcomes of our people,” he said.
Ramaphosa paid tribute to authors Achmat Dangor and Elsa Joubert who died this year saying their works gave expression to the human condition under apartheid.
“We have had to bid farewell to the musical giant, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the father of isicathamiya, uBab Joseph Shabalala. We have lost the legendary photographer Jürgen Schadeberg. We have mourned the passing of Ouma Griet Seekoei, one of only remaining speakers of the endangered N|uu language. We pay tribute to them all, for in their own unique way they have contributed to preserving our past, but also to defending the struggles of the present. It is because of them, and many like them, that we are today able to celebrate where we have come from,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that this Heritage Month is dedicated to Dr Esther Mahlangu, Mama Madosini Latozi Mpahleni and Mama Ouma Katrina Esau all of whom will feature in three three books that acknowledge the efforts of these great women.
Throughout this month we will be promoting greater awareness of their work, especially among young people. We will also promote the work of the many others who are doing so much to conserve our diverse customs and cultures.
While saying that the country must be proud of the gains of democracy, Ramaphosa however had a stark warning for the country’s citizens.
“So long as this country’s women and children live in fear from violence, we cannot regard ourselves as totally free,” he said.
“So long as women are being harassed, abused, beaten, raped and murdered, we cannot say we are a civilised society. Abusing women is not our tradition, nor is it our custom.
It is not, and will never be, our heritage”.
Ramaphosa also touched on the offensive hair advertisement that rocked the country earlier this month saying it showed that South Africa still had a long way to go.
“The apartheid government denigrated our cultures and tried to make us ashamed of our cultures, our traditions, our languages and our very appearances. It is disheartening to see that in democratic South Africa, there are still crude stereotypes of black women being put on public display,” he said.
“The social cohesion we seek in this country means we must be mindful of the legacy of our past, whether we are businesses selling products, whether we are producers of content for television, or otherwise. Building a united nation means we must be aware of and check our own acts of racism and prejudice continuously,” Ramaphosa added.
Ramaphosa said that as the country forged ahead to build a united nation, naming and renaming of towns and cities will form part of this, as well as the erection of new statues and monuments.
Of the colonial and apartheid era statues that glorify our divisive past and still pepper cities across the country, Ramaphosa said they would have to be “repositioned and relocated”.
“This has generated controversy, with some saying we are trying to erase our history. Building a truly non-racial society means being sensitive to the lived experiences of all this country’s people. We make no apologies for this because our objective is to build a united nation. Any symbol, monument or activity that glorifies racism, that represents our ugly past, has no place in democratic South Africa,” he said.