When President Nelson Mandela declared this month Heritage Month, culminating into Heritage Day on September 24, he said: “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
This month reminds us that the social history of our nation is steeped in the tradition of celebrating significant events tied to our sociopolitical and economic heritages. There are 12 days in which we celebrate something.
In all, this is the month that gives deep colour and strength to our social fabric. September reminds us that our way of life didn’t spring up overnight, and it didn’t come without costs.
The price was paid in defeating apartheid. Our freedom continues to be defended today.
It is in September when we vigorously acknowledge our nationality.
We review the sombre facts about the past that prove what the human spirit can endure.
Of course, it may be difficult to acknowledge a painful past, but if we neglect our past, we are neglecting the knowledge of ourselves. No one should forget the painful or the exciting events that have been the foundation of our nation.
Despite our differences, we are all children of the Rainbow Nation. Our pasts may be different, but our common ground is our love for South Africa.
Our heritage reflects our shared past, defines our current understanding and informs our perspectives of the future, as philosopher Edmund Burke noted when he said: “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
So how must we celebrate our heritage?
We need to fight for a country where every person can climb the ladder of opportunity and a country where no one feels unsafe, unequal, or un-South African because of their race, colour, ethnicity and religion.
We need to rededicate ourselves to nation-building so that when we celebrate we are indeed celebrating increased growth, development and the achievements of ourselves and our beloved Rainbow Nation.
Let us at all times celebrate the positives of our heritage, starting with the attainment of full freedom 23 years ago.
We must not forget to find time to visit museums and galleries. There are hundreds of museums worth visiting across the country which tell us so much about our important past.
Of course, our heritage is not confined to cultural aspects, but can help us address the ills of the contemporary age.
As we celebrate Heritage Month, my colleagues and I in the Eastern Cape government recognise our responsibilities to make sure that everyone in this province is able to live in peace and harmony.
The best way to do this is to make sure every child gets a good education, not just a few children, but every single child must receive quality education.
I believe strongly that every child can learn, regardless of the colour of their skin and background.
This month let us sincerely take time to celebrate those who contributed their knowledge, talents and skills in the arts and culture sector. Let us celebrate them for their enormous involvement in promoting our unique diverse heritage.
Our country is known for its rich cultural and ethnic diversity and we need to reclaim and fully assert our identity to ensure our diverse and unique culture unites us as a nation.
Let us remember to be heritage tourists and visit cultural villages to learn about the cultures, lives and experiences of the various people of South Africa.
There are heritage routes such as the Makana Heritage Route here in the Eastern Cape, the Battlefields Route in KwaZulu-Natal and heritage sites in Gauteng such as the apartheid museum, the Hector Peterson Museum – a heritage site intrinsically linked to the origins of the Soweto uprisings and its aftermath – the Mandela House Museum, and Constitution Hill which traces South Africa’s turbulent past.
Heritage tourism creates economic opportunities for residents and also celebrates the rich diversity of our country.
Let us remember what President Mandela said in his first month in office: “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole