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Heritage Day reminds us to embrace our inherent right to dignity

23 September 2023

As the country celebrates Heritage Day, there is a greater need to introspect on the meaning of heritage in today’s context. This is 2023, not 1994 when the majority of South Africans were marching on the same line inspired by the dawn of democracy and the Madiba magic. There was unity in the need to reach the common goal of building the spirit of ubuntu (humanity), hence the term or slogan “united in our diversity” was coined.

South Africa then did not have the same problems as now. Dynamics have changed; the South Africa of today is experiencing gender-based violence, crime, lack of service delivery, unemployment, growing levels of inequality and racism. Issues of heritage and ubuntu no longer carry common interest to everyone in South Africa.

Some people tried to revive Heritage Day by terming it braai day. This was a negative move; it devalues the meaning and significance of the day. Another point that is constantly setting the agenda, especially on social media platforms is the new phenomenon where some members of society equate conversing in English as a barometer of smartness. Some parents even opt to restrict their children to learning only English, depriving children the opportunities of understanding their African languages.

Grandparents who only converse in African languages are not able to connect with their grandchildren and pass knowledge about their heritage and culture because of the language barrier.

Sentiments that languages have an important role in preserving our traditions, history and mode of thinking, are correct. Hence, it was no surprise that the apartheid’s architect separated people according to tribes and languages in an effort to sow division amongst black people in South Africa. Apartheid targeted land, demonised Africanism and created a different black mindset. Apartheid’s proudest product, racism, continues to be exposed frequently on social media.

Growing levels of disharmony and polarisation in the country are a serious concern. The 2020/2021 annual complaints statistical report Trends Analysis reveals that equality-related complaints, which include racism, consistently remain one of the highest right violations reported to the South African Human Rights Commission.

In response to these challenges, the commission embarks on promotional advocacy activities teaching people about the significance of the Bill or Rights and the Constitution.

The commission has been protecting human rights through conducting investigations and making findings. However, high levels of disharmony continue to persist.

As such, the commission consulted widely in an effort to construct a different methodology of tackling this humongous challenge. The Social Harmony National Effort (SHiNE) was born and launched at the Freedom Park in Pretoria in September 2022.

The commission is this year taking SHiNE initiatives to the people across all provinces to revive the spirit of positive dialogue as a form of addressing high levels of disharmony. Through planned topics, SHiNE is creating spaces for society to engage and craft solutions to addressing current societal ills. SHiNE encourages older generations to transmit knowledge and practices to younger generations. So far, SHiNE activities have been held in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Free State.

Limpopo’s activities will be held in October and the Northern Cape in November. It would be of paramount importance to use this year’s Heritage Day to reflect on our individual contributions towards creating a harmonious society and revive the spirit of ubuntu. Use Social Harmony National Effort initiatives of dialoguing as an opportunity to embrace our languages, connect with our cultures, seek solutions towards addressing the scourge of violence against women and children; and create spaces to impart knowledge from one generation to another.

After all, the term rainbow nation acknowledges that South Africa is a diverse nation with people of all colours, from all backgrounds, rich and poor, all religions and many different languages.

The constitution puts it correctly where if provides that everyone has an inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected. Late former South African president Nelson Mandela eloquently put it “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Mandela’s statement on the importance of language is more relevant than ever in reminding us of solutions for addressing current societal ills; and the meaning of heritage, ubuntu and pride in today’s context.

*Wisani Baloyi is an acting Communications Coordinator at the South African Human Rights Commission

Source IOL

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