We must embrace our heritage for it makes us who we are

Iziko Social History centre collected several items to celebrate heritage day in this undated file photo. Picture: Cindy Waxa/Cape Times/File

Iziko Social History centre collected several items to celebrate heritage day in this undated file photo. Picture: Cindy Waxa/Cape Times/File

Published Sep 26, 2023


By Tswelopele Makoe

THIS month of September, South Africa celebrates the country’s annual Heritage Day. This colourful public holiday is the celebration of our nation’s abundant cultural diversity.

South Africa is a hub of multiculturalism, with a dozen official languages among a population of over 60 million citizens. There are other unofficial spoken languages that are indigenous too. In fact, South Africa is hailed for its multiculturalism, ranking as the ninth most diverse country in the world.

Diverse languages and cultures are a normalised aspect of South African societies. This heritage day, it is crucial that all of our citizens take the time to truly appreciate the role of heritage in our society. I have previously written on this subject, and remains very close to my heart.

First and foremost, we must recognise heritage as something that we all share, the roots from which we are born. It is important that we recognise heritage as a crucial aspect of our identity formulation.

Heritage is defined beyond our birthplace, our identity, or our dialect. It is the building block of who we become, the role we undertake in the world. It is rooted in history, passed down from one generation to the other.

Heritage directly shapes our moral fibre, value system, practices, and traditions. It is situated at the very essence of our philosophy of life. In other words, heritage strongly influences the way we lead our lives, based on our true norms and cultures.

Our heritage also encompasses the culture of our society. Traditions, languages, and buildings all embody a deep history that is connected to our heritage. Heritage is the foundation of our communities, and an integral part of our socialisation as a people.

The immense role of heritage in our society should not be undermined. It is our unique heritage that separates us from the rest of the global community.

It is the instillation of our cultural traits, our norms and our values that shape who I am, and how I enact my role in the world. Heritage is not only inherited from those who came before us, it instills in us the lessons needed to live in today’s world.

Knowledge of our heritage makes us powerful individuals, communities, and societies as a whole. When a people understand and protect their heritage, they are undeniably more empowered.

Societies such as China, France, America, and groupings such as Jewish and Indian people are known for their strong embrace of their heritage. The Zulu nation deserves a mention, too.

Societies that have stood by their cultures have remained uniquely identifiable by the manner in which they choose their unique path to development in the modern era. Rather than disregarding the past, they embrace their past. They instinctively use the lessons from the past to formulate their future.

They retain their identity and they develop their knowledge systems by embracing their heritage, rather than copying from other societies. They are proof of the collective strength and preservation that derives from a well-founded appreciation for one’s heritage, and by extension, identity.

The history of South Africa is one that is extremely tumultuous. Despite this, South Africa has steadfastly held its position as a key participant of the global arena, both politically and economically.

It is pertinent that when we think about our trials and tribulations – or triumphs for that matter, we consider the bravery and endurance of those in our society. It is pertinent that we learn from our past, that we grow as a nation, and that we put our prosperity at the forefront of the national philosophy.

We are a resilient, diplomatic and progressive people at heart, and together, we have the potential to transform our society beyond our wildest dreams.

Our government should recognize heritage as a driving force for development and social cohesion in our society. Our heritage not only consolidates various groupings of peoples and inspires public discourse that is crucial to social justice advancement.

On this Heritage day, each and every component of our South African society should celebrate their history, their culture, and their collective heritage proudly.

I am a proud Tswana woman and I derive a lot of joy by sharing my heritage with others and learning from others too. What makes South Africa successful as a nation is due to its unity in diversity. Diversity makes us stronger and enables us to persistently learn from one another.

We get empowered by the knowledge that we acquire from our interactions with others that are different from us. We are inclined to multiculturalism, multilingualism, and the advancement of our society.

As a nation, we need to acknowledge and utilise the unique strength that we embody through our collective heritage. Heritage makes us who we are. It is the unseen connection between the members of our society.

It is crucial to our continuity that we vehemently preserve our heritage. As Martin Luther King Jr once tactfully said: “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.” Happy Heritage Day, Mzansi.

Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.