Heritage Day, which will fall on 24 September 2017, was declared a public holiday in 1995 to celebrate diversity in cultural heritage. Or, as the Department of Arts and Culture favours, “the day’s events are a powerful agent for promulgating a South African identity, fostering reconciliation and promoting the notion that variety is a national asset as opposed to igniting conflict”.

The quote above is the antithesis of the national mood, which is fearful and uncertain. Every day the public wakes to new and corrupt forces shaping the contours of the South African political and economic landscape. The impact on the psyche of the nation is immense.

Building common threads of respect, understanding and celebration amongst South Africans was envisaged as an evolutionary process by former president Nelson Mandela.  During the inaugural Heritage Day celebrations in 1996 he said, “When the first 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 process to build a South Africa envisaged by Nelson Mandela is opus de profectus and requires active work. This includes economic growth to minimise inequality; building and promoting social cohesion to minimise racial tensions, and the promotion of accountability and transparency to minimise political capture. The process is running bare in the hands of the current administration on virtually every front.

The process of rebuilding social and political capital in South Africa is being substituted by monitoring the moves of the powerful and connected, whose modus operandi is that of setting the proverbial fox to guard the henhouse and destroying vital institutions of government and governance in the process.

The painful quest of building a nation with provision for all who live in it to have a seat at the table on an equal basis – per the constitutional requirement – should have been so much further over the last two decades, per the expectations of so many millions. The sense of disappointment is palpable. While many speak of a dream dented and damaged, the current crisis around the revelations of corruption and state capture have reignited a voice and a fight that is unanimous in its condemnation of the country we do not want.

The challenge for South Africans is to revisit the powerful narrative that captured the imagination of the country during the transition to democracy. One that prized respect, cohesion, engagement with differences overlaid with a commitment to transformation, the growth of the economy, and building able stewards for political accountability. The fight for the country we want is once more too powerful to ignore. This binds us in the most commanding of ways as we reflect on what heritage we bequeath generations to come.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director    

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC BY        

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