Fifty years ago Dr Martin Luther King Jrn delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In it he envisioned a new country where people would "not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character". Thousands of people from across the globe last week marked the 50th anniversary of the speech delivered on 28 August 1963.
Dr King's dream for equality between all people inspired thousands around the world who suffered under the yoke of oppression, including those living in South Africa. Just like Dr King, South Africa, under the leadership of former President Nelson Mandela envisioned a unified nation, where race and gender no longer defined individuals.
As the first democratically elected President, Mr Mandela laid a strong foundation for the country, based on the ideals of non-racialism, freedom, equality, dignity for all and national reconciliation. His own story as articulated in the “Long Walk to Freedom” has, like Dr King before him, inspired millions of people around the globe to work for a better world.
Government continues to champion Mr Mandela’s dream of national healing, nation building and social cohesion. Last month the Department of Sport and Recreation, supported by the Department of Arts and Culture hosted the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day, which combined a number of sporting and cultural activities.
This historic event brought together South Africans from all walks of life to watch both national rugby and football teams playing against their opponents at the same venue. Speaking on the rationale behind the event, Minister Paul Mashatile stated: “… through this unique event we are using the combined power of sport and the arts to carry forward Madiba’s legacy of building a true rainbow nation, at peace with itself and the world.”
The Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula described the event as a resounding success. “… we stand before you to proclaim that the inaugural Mandela Sport and Culture Day was a resounding success and momentous occasion, which will remain engraved in our hearts and minds for many years to come and for many generations to emulate”, he said.
As we enter Heritage Month this September under the theme “Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage”, it is time to once again reflect on Mr Mandela’s dream for our diverse heritage to be respected and equally recognised. During this month, South Africans are encouraged to come together to celebrate the rich cultural heritage and diversity that has the power to help build our nation.
Celebrating our heritage is part of government’s efforts to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
Prior to 1994, our museums and monuments were accessible only to a few and reflected the experiences and political ideals of the minority. However, government is proud of the progress that has been made since 1994 in ensuring that our cultural institutions portray the country’s diverse history.
Today, our cultural institutions are also in line with the ethos of our Constitution and Bill of Rights that recognise and respect people's culture equally. More importantly, we have named various heritage sites, memorials and buildings after a number of our icons from South Africa and the African continent.
These include Sarah Baartman; Sol Plaatjie; Nelson Mandela; Shaka Zulu; Steve Biko; Samora Machel and others. South Africa is also home to eight of the world's official heritage sites, as determined by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.
As we take stock of, and celebrate our rich heritage, we should also take time out to reflect on what we have achieved over the past nineteen years. We have not only made great progress in developing our country; we have made huge strides in redressing the legacy where people were judged according to their race, creed and sexual orientation.
In the first ten years of our democracy, government approved 789 laws or amendments to eliminate institutionalised racism from legislations enacted by the apartheid government. It further established Chapter 9 institutions to strengthen and protect our constitutional democracy and human rights.
Importantly, we have reclaimed our heritage of working together by showing the world that dialogue and consensus are important principles upon which nations are built. We should continue reclaiming our heritage this month by expressing compassion, justice, and the spirit of Ubuntu in the interests of building and maintaining our cohesiveness.
Undoing the damage of the apartheid system in a short space of time was a great accomplishment; however nation building is a process and government continues in its efforts to build a cohesive society. Expanding on the solid foundations we have laid, we must also commit ourselves to fighting the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
The National Development Plan 2030 is an important instrument through which government would like to ensure that all South Africans attain a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality by 2030.
During Heritage Month it is incumbent on all of us to foster our unity in diversity, cast aside that which divides us and work together to eradicate inequality, poverty and unemployment. We all have a responsibility to respect and acknowledge the past, celebrate the present and build the future together.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)