Address by Acting President Kgalema Motlanthe on Heritage Day 2012, Northern Cape, Upington
24 September 2012
Programme Directors, Deputy Minister Joe Phaahla and MEC Pauline Williams;
The Acting Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms GrizeldaCjiekella;
Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile;
Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Members of Provincial Executive Councils;
Leaders and Representatives of Political Parties;
YourExcellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Mayors and Councillors;
Religious leaders present;
Traditional Leaders and in particular Oom Petrus Vaalbooi of the San community;
Members of the Upington 26 and their families;
Fellow South Africans:
Let me start by thanking you for joining us for this year’s Heritage Day Celebrations.
Last week I had the honour of delivering the inaugural Oscar and Rose Mpetha Memorial lecture at the University of Stellenbosch.
The University of Stellenbosch Choir opened the proceedings with a remarkable rendition of our national anthem, followed by two more renditions of local traditional songs, one in IsiXhosa and the other in SeSotho.
The performance of the choir left all of us spellbound. The rendition of the African pieces was awe-inspiring and I wished the performance could have been beamed live on national television for all South Africans to witness this magical moment.
Not only was the overall performance peerless, but the choir’s pronunciation, accent, vocal inflection and intonation gave a lie to the thinking that people of European descent cannot enunciate African words.
The dancing and rhythmic stunts of the choir created such a natural feeling that one could have been forgiven for momentarily thinking that the choir comprised native speakers of the languages they were singing in.
For the duration of the performance I was so engrossed in the proceedings it escaped me that the choir that was filling the venue with a uniquely African experience through such masterful technique was actually predominantly white students singing African songs in indigenous languages.
Feelings of pride in being a South African gushed through me, and I concluded, from the ecstatically wild response of the audience that most of them, black and white, caught up in a tide of cultural pride, had the same feeling.
At this point I realised that indeed we have common heritage as South Africans. To realise this all we need do is make an effort to embrace our diversity.
This need not be an imposition. Like the Stellenbosch choir, and the South African Olympics and Para-lympic teams, it has to come naturally to us as a people, ready to reach out to the other side of humanity.
We need to develop a natural urge to embrace all the languages and cultures around us, to immerse ourselves in the richness of our collective cultural heritage.
The moment of inspiration that stemmed from the performance of the Stellenbosch Choir proved that it is actually possible for all of us to reach each other half way.
In this regard, the history of Mr Johnny Clegg of the famous Juluka and later Savuka is the case in point.
We need to draw inspiration from such moving accounts of some of our patriots.
As we gather here to celebrate our diverse South African heritage let us bear in mind that such heritage is not and should not be imprisoned in our ethnic or racial origins.
We should not enclose what we deem to be our racial or ethnic cultural heritage within the walls of Jericho. Culture does over-flow boundaries of time, race and ethnicity since it is the totality of lived reality.
In any case, most of our South African cultures have influenced each other. Even at a time when racial domination was scarring the South African social landscape, cultural influences still managed to find outlets to decant into different social domains.
No culture in South Africa is pristine, and no language is unaffected by the multi-lingual experience that has been the melting pot that is South Africa for years.
The Afrikaans diction has been heavily influenced by indigenous languages, as the indigenous languages themselves reflect English and Afrikaans influence in many respects.
The clicks of the Khoi-San people are found in the Nguni and Sesotho dialects. Hindi and IsiZulu influenced each other in interesting ways in KwaZulu-Natal.
In addition culture is a historical phenomenon whose development is determined by the succession of socio-economic formations.
From communal society to slavery, from slavery to feudalism, from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to whatever mode of production will follow.
This is motion. This is change because only change is constant, hence the young poet Rafael in (‘We are Building a New School by Chris Searle’) says:
‘We want today
To be men of tomorrow
We do not want tomorrow
To be where we are today’
Heritage day as you know is a day on which we as South Africans celebrate and affirm our individual and collective cultural, traditional or ethnic identities that make up our uniqueness as a country endowed with rich diversity.
It seeks to acknowledge our injurious past and the history which diminished the use and status of indigenous languages and free cultural expression.
Celebrating this heritage therefore is part of our efforts of healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
Heritage Day reflects the values of a constitutional democracy where all South Africans’ cultural and linguistic rights are recognised and protected by the constitution.
Explaining government’s decision to make Heritage Day a public holiday in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela said that:
“the democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days; we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
The message Madiba was communicating to the nation was that there is an indivisible interrelationship between the mores, values, and traditions that shape our identity as individuals or cultural groups and their resultant effects on the overall cultural heritage of our nation. Indeed Heritage Day is our source of pride as a nation.
It strengthens our nationhood and accentuates our common humanity by recognising the need to forge unity through common dignity, self worth and the esteem of each citizen.
As we know culture and heritage are not static forces, they are fluid and inter-dependent social processes which shape national consciousness and the cultural personality of a nation.
It is for this reason that the South African Heritage Council has endorsed the Braai4heritage campaign, supported by amongst others, Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who has said: “hierdie ding ons doen saam”.
Understood this way, the significance of Heritage Day can be appreciated more as a day that affirms the values of a secular state, where all do different activities— be it through braaing, going to church, visiting sacred spaces, sharing with others, etc— enjoying our South African-ness in whatever way we can while appreciating our diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen;
If in the past the main enemy was the oppressive system of apartheid that held up the cultural interests of a few people in this country, today the biggest enemy facing our society is the triple problem of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
While it is the primary duty of government to address the triple problems mentioned above, it is also true that government needs social partnership to make sure that we achieve results.
All South Africans, black and white, including business, have to roll up their sleeves to uproot the conditions that engender and sustain poverty, inequality and unemployment.
While addressing these central weaknesses we also need to address other inhibitions such as skills shortage, inefficiencies and corruption.
We need to build on the culture of teaching and learning to produce thought leaders and technical skills that our economy needs for growth, development and reconstruction.
Those who are entrusted with education and our schooling system should ensure that our schools have all the necessary facilities that a normal school should have.
There should be qualified, diligent and well equipped teachers who go to classes and teach in each and every day of the week because it is only through proper schooling that we will be able to produce well informed citizens who can contribute towards the development of our country.
We need to open the doors of learning and culture to all!
Further, all of us should join hands to nip corruption in the bud. Corruption undermines the ability of the state to provide services to its people.
Resources that are meant to improve conditions and lives of our people are diverted by the few, well-positioned individuals to feed their insatiable greed.
While in the past culture was embedded in the political processes and used as an object of racial oppression, today culture is a unifying force that must be celebrated by all.
Diversity of cultures must be seen as an endowment, and not a handicap; we must use it to explore new and untapped ideas, knowledge forms and our rich heritage.
As we have said before, our multi-faceted heritage is enriched by our biodiversity, our fauna and flora, hosting amongst others the Big Five and ten percent of the worlds flowering species, bolstered also by various arts and crafts handed down from generation to generation.
Our country is therefore well-positioned to make a significant contribution to various facets of the global body of knowledge and by increasing, nurturing and retaining African intellectual and scientific talent to ensure that such indigenous knowledge systems are used to solve the problems confronting society.
Part of the Heritage Day cultural exchange must also encourage us to heed the call by the Minister of Tourism to be tourists of our own beautiful country.
Indeed we are fortunate to be living in a country blessed with this beauty, and having 8 world heritage sites recognised by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
All of us must be able to appreciate these UNESCO Heritage sites which are:
· The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, in Northern Cape, located in the remarkable mountainous deserts on the north-west coast of our country.
· The Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park in KwaZulu Natal, which is a site of ongoing fluvial, marine and aeolian processes that have produced a variety of landforms, including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps and extensive reeds.
· The Cape Floral Kingdom, in the Western Cape, which is a region spanning 553,000-ha of land and has one of the richest diversity of plants in the world.
· The Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng, which confirms South Africa to be the custodian of the first human ancestor Australopithecus Sediba in Maropeng- now scientifically known to be the origin of humanity.
· Robben Island, in the Western Cape, an Island that was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups, lepers and a military Naval base. Later the island was used to incarcerate anti-apartheid activists such as Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Neville Alexandra, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe and many others.
· Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, in KwaZulu Natal, an exceptional natural park whose beauty is captured through its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts.
I hope that South Africans will have the opportunity in their lifetime to visit these world marvels and celebrate these alongside other monuments that mark our historical journey as a people.
Allow me to once again recall the example of the University of Stellenbosch choir, who last week taught us through their angelic voices and sweet folk melodies, that as South Africans we have the ability to embrace and affirm our cultures and tradition in a manner that brings us together.
The Stellenbosch Choir demonstrated beyond doubt that with willingness to learn it is possible to create a society bound by its national imperatives of unity and co-operation.
As a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society we must always foreground our unique heritage.
By emphasising our common heritage we will be moving away from our divisive past and downplaying any alienating traits of exaggerated self-importance as ethnic or racial entities.
What stands over and above everything in our country is our strategic goal of creating a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous nation. This is where our future belongs and our common heritage is interwoven with this strategic goal.
Let us use this day to move towards that vision of national unity and cultural harmony.