By Bonginkosi Dhlamini
The 24th of September is etched in our history as the day when all South Africans celebrate our country’s heritage. The diversity of our cultures and traditions imbues this day with different meanings based on people’s experiences, identities, and other aspects that make up heritage. It also goes beyond identities and cultural experiences. Heritage should also speak of our actions and treatment towards one another as citizens of this country.
As I reflected on the meaning and celebration of Heritage Day this year, I could not overlook the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on how we celebrate this day. In any ordinary year, we would gather in enormous crowds at festivals and taking pride in our cultures. This year, it will be less so, not least because, despite being on alert level 1, we are still vulnerable to the pandemic.
In the pandemic’s wake, we all saw and felt the sense of the shared value of Ubuntu/Botho. It is that shared spirit of Ubuntu/Botho which saw everyone realising that we are all affected by what happens around us and that we need to be keepers of each other’s well-being. In the little ways we could, we helped with kind gestures of pledges and donations to assist those less fortunate amongst us.
As the Inkatha Freedom Party, we believe the acts of kindness and neighbourliness displayed during this pandemic, reflect the most humane aspect of our heritage, coded as the spirit of Ubuntu/Botho. This year we can celebrate and promote more of that Ubuntu/Botho spirit which unites us, despite the socio-economic challenges that divide us.
Our call and promotion for a humanistic approach in the commemoration and practice of heritage come at a time where our country is confronting a myriad of socio-economic crises. That includes gender-based violence, a recessionary economy, and worsening inequality, poverty, and unemployment, etc. It is also worth noting that these crises are further complicated by the rising callous corruption where greedy elements gnaw away state resources which are meant to benefit society at large. Corruption, like all criminal acts, only distracts us from making progress in creating a better society and legacy for future generations.
The principles of Ubuntu, which find semblance in our constitution, imputes all of us with the responsibility and duty to fight this scourge. That is the common principle on which we should create new political norms and promote a culture of social cohesion.
In this regard, I would agree with a respected academic, Dr Sonia O’Connell who has recently opined that the pandemic context, in which this year’s Heritage day takes place, provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on how to eradicate the legacy of past injustices that continue to haunt us today.
If there is any hope that future generations will acknowledge us as worthy ancestors, such hope depend on us creating a better heritage and legacy right now. I believe that this can start with normalising intolerance against the rising tide of corruption, which must be prosecuted accordingly. The Zondo Commission of Inquiry continues to reveal shocking accounts detailing how much the integrity of our democracy has been weakened by the actions of some corrupt public representatives and officials.
Building a better legacy can also begin with each of us actively assuming the responsibility to fight against the culture of violence. Especially as it pertains to violence against women and children. We cannot accept it as normal that 26 years into our democracy there are designated hotspots for gender-based violence and femicide. That is an indictment on the failures of our public policing and it also implicates us for our silence and inaction when men in our communities use culture and tradition to justify abuse. We must speak out and act against cultures that seek to perpetuate ideas and practices that subjugate women and children.
While there are many ways, we can choose to celebrate Heritage Day – braais and Jerusalem dancing challenges included. It is also important that we use this moment to consider the principles and values that future generations will remember us by. I hope that we can emulate and personify the spirit of Ubuntu/Botho which encapsulates the African moral ideals articulated with the maxim: ‘a person is a person through other persons’. We can all decide today that this is what our heritage entails and put a solid foundation that will guide future generation in celebrating our heritage.
*Bonginkosi Dhlamini is a Member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature and Chairperson of IFP Gauteng.