When I googled the meaning of the word, this is what I got: “Heritage is the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. Most important, it is the range of contemporary activities, meanings and behaviours that we draw from them. Heritage includes, but is much more than preserving, excavating, displaying, or restoring a collection of old things.” Since this week is the start of the month designated as Heritage Month in our country, I thought I would delve into the topic and find out what this word means to all of us, given our diverse backgrounds and different social, political and economic situations. Can we claim, as South Africans, a common heritage? Is that feasible or even desirable to claim a single heritage for all of us?
The motto in our country is “Strength in diversity.” Is it a strength or a weakness of ours? Is this not risking perpetuating apartheid-created divisions by acknowledging them and even entrenching them for the generations to come? 27 years after the advent of democracy in our country, shouldn’t we be busy dismantling the divisions based on culture, colour, language and traditions? Did apartheid entrench what was already there or did it create its own artificial sub-divisions intended to keep us apart for political gain? Does celebrating my Xhosaness or Zuluness or whatever I indentify myself as, run the risk of alienating others and further solidifying the division we so clearly see in our day-to-day existence? Where does that leave others who do not have such definite cultural identities and affiliations? Does that not run the risk of them being seen as nobodies since they have no such cultural practices and traditions?
This month always brings this kind of debate to the fore and unfortunately we only wake up in September and then the very same debate lies dormant for another year. A case in point is September 24. To some it is a national braai day and they use it to celebrate what they see as their heritage, while to others it is a day on which they dress up in their traditional gear and cook what they deem are their traditional dishes. This usually elicit a hot debate as some object to what others do on this day. So I ask again, what does heritage mean to you? For me there is no wrong or right answer as each group or race or whatever identity marker you use to identify who you are, has a different take on the matter and that is okay. What is not okay is for those who have cultural and traditional practices that go back centuries to look down upon those who do not fall quite into a category or cultural group. We have to be tolerant and allow them to create it for themselves and develop something that they can possibly pass on to their future generations. Heritage should be about people.