What exactly is our heritage as South Africans?

South Africans from all walks of life are consciously aware of the habit of celebrating heritage-day which falls on the 24th of September and is also loosely known as National Braai Day. Picture: Steve Lawrence

South Africans from all walks of life are consciously aware of the habit of celebrating heritage-day which falls on the 24th of September and is also loosely known as National Braai Day. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Published Sep 26, 2023


Karl Marx is said to have predicted that: “In the information age it would be meaning that matters more than profit; and community more than company.”

As we venture deeper and deeper into the information age today, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and mega trends abound, it may be worthwhile to reflect on heritage and our inheritance. South Africans from all walks of life are consciously aware of the habit of celebrating Heritage Day which falls on the September 24 and is also loosely known as National Braai Day.

So significant is this date that it is now a public holiday. But when we celebrate Heritage Day, what exactly are we doing and why? What is our heritage anyway? What exactly have we inherited?

Designated in 1996, Nelson Mandela once had the following to say about the important date: “When our 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.”

Simply put, this was about embracing diversity probably because we have inherited a land of diverse assets. A huge part of these assets is intangible and engages our cognitive faculties. For instance, there are those who still enact the previous traditions of what was Braai Day, by gathering around a fire and enjoying pieces of charred boerewors with family and peers. This has evolved into a day of celebration of traditional garments and cuisine.

In a quest for nation building and social cohesion, the act of cooking together pursues unity and connects people of different cultures and traditions. This all points to the complexity of our inheritance and draws us closer to a deeper inquiry into our heritage.

One may argue that we inherited a divided nation where competition and company was far more important than community. A large part of this relied on perpetuating inequality and rendering the lives of many without meaning. They just became labour!

In the industrial age perhaps, this outlook was useful for the interests of a few but in the Sustainable Development paradigm, in the information age and in the fourth industrial revolution, this will not serve us. A clear example of this is the tourism industry, which is often the sector of focus around this time of the year and offers a lot of intangible and cognitive value.

The SA Tourism sector contributes about 3.7% to gross domestic product and work is under way to develop the Sector Masterplan. Among its key priority areas is unlocking the Tourism Equity Fund with the potential to avail R1.42 billion needed to drive sector transformation.

In 2021 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that the tourism minister was incorrect to require tourism businesses to meet broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) requirements if they were to qualify for government’s Covid-19 relief fund. The important context here is that the Tourism Equity Fund emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic and applied BBBEE criteria even during this period.

This fund should, however, pursue far more than being a pandemic relief incentive. The Tourism department is tasked with the important work of, “finalising the concept and criteria for applications to the Tourism Equity Fund within the existing BBBEE legislation and the Tourism BBBEE Codes.”

It is possible that the pandemic gave the government sufficient grounds to launch a sector transformation stimulus fund, beginning with what was intended to be R200 million. The evolution of that fund beyond the pandemic ought to be about transforming the patterns of ownership and participation in a sector so important to the heritage we celebrate this month.

Not long ago, the sector was embroiled in a debacle on a R1 billion package to sponsor a football team, demonstrating the availability of resources needed to drive, inclusion, development and empowerment.

The Equity Fund matter before court, must be read soberly in the interests of birthing the transformation fund we need. Sector players and champions of transformation must inform the development of the masterplan and where it locates our commitment to BBBEE sector codes. The evidence already exists that transformation remains crucial in our endeavour for nation building and social cohesion in the South Africa we inherited.

A tourism practitioner once wrote: “They call tourism the hospitality industry, but it’s hardly hospitable. Hospitality is a welcome that goes both ways. You are welcome to my home, and I am welcome to yours. Tourism is hardly that. White people are welcome to the world. Brown people have to show receipts.”

We have to celebrate our heritage mindful of the need to change the structure of our inheritance. We must bring about a South Africa empowered by diversity and inclusion and not hamstrung by inequality.

Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.