Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2016 Heritage Day celebration

24 Sep 2016

Address by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during Heritage Day celebration, Galeshewe, Kimberley

Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms Sylvia Lucas,
Ministers, Deputy Ministers, MECs and Councillors,
Traditional and religious leaders,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Our Living Human Treasures,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dumelang! Thobela! Lotjhani! Ndi masiari! I nhlekanhi! Sanibonani! Molweni! Goeie Dag!

We are gathered in the land of legendary Kgosi Galeshewe to celebrate Heritage Day under the theme, “Celebrating our Human Treasures by Asserting our African Identity.”

We hold Kgosi Galeshewe dear in our hearts for leading the Ba Tlhaping people against colonial subjugation and injustice.

His name evokes the heroic deeds of the Kings, Queens and Chiefs who fought hard to safeguard our birth right.

His name evokes the spirit of Autshumao, Hintsa, Sekhukhuni, Ngungunyane, Cetshwayo, Makhado and Mantantisi.

They inspired generations of liberation stalwarts like Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, Sol Plaatje, Nelson Mandela, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Braam Fischer, Helen Joseph, Dorothy Nyembe and many more.

They bestowed upon us a rich heritage that defines our nationhood, values and aspirations.

We are enjoined by the National Development Plan to continue to build a new, united nation that pays allegiance only to the cries and dreams of the people of Africa.

Explaining our identity, the NDP says:

Who are we?

We are Africans.

We are an African country.

We are part of our multi-national region.

We are an essential part of our continent.

Being Africans, we are acutely aware of the wider world, deeply implicated in our past and present.

That wider world carries some of our inheritance.

We have learned a great deal from our complex past; adding continuously to our experience of being African.

We create rather than eliminate; value arises from improving through creativity that which we inherited.

Our connectedness across time and distance is the central principle of our nationhood.

Heritage Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on our history, our cultural heritage, our rituals and our languages.

It obliges us to pay attention to the values upon which we seek to build a united and prosperous nation.

It reminds us that we are all Africans, not just individuals and groups who happened to occupy the same geographical space.

It must also remind us that from a history of racial division and social exclusion, we need to work tirelessly to forge a common future founded on equality, compassion and social justice.

Recalling the havoc wrought on communities by our brutal past, we must refuse to be silent when we witness violence against women, children, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Heritage Day must also serve as a reminder that education is not only Africa’s proud heritage, but remains the most potent asset in the hands of our people to restore their dignity.

We must cherish the opportunity to learn and we must jealously guard the instruments of learning.

Burning books, schools and lecture halls is an assault on our collective being and the foundations of our society.

Just as we proclaim what we treasure as a nation, we must also condemn social conduct that is akin to spitting on the graves of those who built the civilisations of Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe and Timbuktu.

We must condemn attitudes, practices and institutions that perpetuate social exclusion.

We will attain social cohesion and prosperity when the fruits of our democracy are equally shared with those who are today trapped in a cycle of poverty.

We will achieve social cohesion when our words, teachings and conduct cease to insult and dehumanise those who do have not have the same skin colour or hair texture as us.

When we refuse to offer refuge to bigots who preach hatred against vulnerable communities, we will say we are making progress in building a cohesive society free from the chains of prejudice.

In this South Africa of our dreams, there must be no tolerance of sexism, tribalism and racial prejudice.

Fellow South Africans,

Our 2016 Heritage Day theme calls on us to assert our inclusive African identity by paying tribute to South Africa’s Living Human Treasures.

Living Human Treasures are custodians of indigenous knowledge systems.

They are living legends who possess rare insight into our culture, oral history and past lived experiences.

They are an irreplaceable asset because of their stellar contribution to cultural heritage, social cohesion and nation building.

They represent specialist knowledge and information which has been sustained over generations through memory and oral tradition.

This intangible heritage provides communities with a sense of identity and belonging.

South Africa’s interest in recognising and safeguarding this living heritage is part of our nation’s aspiration to guarantee the full potential of its diverse, yet shared future.

We applaud the Department of Arts and Culture for embarking on the journey to develop a national inventory to register and recognise our Living Human Treasures.

The Department provides assistance to our Human Treasures so that they can share their rare knowledge with young people.

We urge communities to assist government in identifying many more deserving individuals who are custodians of indigenous knowledge.

Please allow me to thank some of the Living Human Treasures that are with us today.

These include Esther Mahlangu, Naledzani Netshirembe, Mlawu Tyatyeka, Simon Masilo, Kampeni Mona, Kathrina Essau, Katrina Allie, Credo Mutwa and Welcome Msomi.

As South Africans, we consider ourselves fortunate that we have a renowned elder like ubaba u-Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa.

He is an indestructible repository of ancient African wisdom.

We applaud him for his consistent fight against ignorance of African languages and cultures.

He has fought against prejudice and demonisation of African spirituality and African customs.

Africa’s diverse and rich intangible heritage is a living fountain.

All should have an opportunity to drink from its revitalising waters.

We owe it to our youth to ensure that they are nurtured in the ancient wisdom that has been passed from generation to generation.

This knowledge must be at the centre of school and university curricula.

Our contemporary challenges of moral degeneration and extreme inequality can be addressed by paying attention to the philosophy, ethics and values espoused by our Living Human Treasures.

Colonialism sought to alienate Africans from their identity and cultural universe.

Colonial education and later apartheid education aimed to uproot and pacify Africans as they were dispossessed of their land.

As a Governor of the Cape in the 19th century, Sir George Grey explained his colonial policy. He said: “We should try and make them a part of ourselves, with a common faith and common interests, useful servants, consumers of our goods, contributors to our revenue...at the same time, unremitting efforts should be made to raise the Kaffirs in Christianity and civilization, by the establishment among them, and beyond our boundary, of missions connected with industrial schools, by employing them on public works, and by other similar means.”

The colonial classroom was meant to dehumanise and malign much of what was African.

Those found speaking an African language at school would become an object of ridicule, humiliation and violence.

Citing Franz Fanon, Steve Biko said that: “The colonialists were not satisfied merely with holding a people in their grip and emptying the Native’s brain of all form and content, they turned to the past of the oppressed people and distorted, disfigured and destroyed it.

“No longer was reference made to African culture, it became barbarism. Africa was ‘the dark continent’. Religious practices and customs were referred to as superstition. The history of African society was reduced to tribal battles and internecine wars…No wonder the African child learns to hate his heritage in his days at school.”

But as the lives and experiences of our living legends reveal, our people resisted dehumanisation.

They strove to ensure that the ethics and philosophy of ubuntu survived and flourished.

Now, as we strive together – black and white – to build a new, united society the spirit of ubuntu needs to permeate everything we do.

If we tolerate extreme inequality, high levels of joblessness, stealing from the poor and conspicuous consumption in a sea of poverty, we have no prospect of flourishing as a nation.

Ubuntu teaches us that we can only affirm our own humanity by recognising the humanity of others.

The seeds of our economic renaissance will be rooted in a cultural revolution that will rekindle the values of kindness, generosity, selflessness and magnanimity.

By paying closer attention to indigenous knowledge, traditional ways of mediating conflict and African restorative justice, we stand a better chance of ending the unacceptably high levels of violence in our society.

Because our Living Human Treasures have safeguarded our intangible heritage, we are encouraged to see many young people researching and preserving indigenous knowledge.

In his Sesotho Dictionary for Mathematics, researcher and author Zulumathabo Zulu demonstrates that Africans understood complex mathematical concepts long before the advent of colonialism.

To South Africa’s Human Treasures, our nation does not simply respect the many years you have lived, but we also revere your achievements.

You are an irreplaceable force for nation building and social cohesion.

As we celebrate Heritage Day this year, we should reflect on who we are as a people, how we got here, and where we are going.

Allow me therefore to conclude with reference once again to the National Development Plan. It says:

We are a people, who have come together and shared extraordinarily to remake our society.

We ply between our cities and our ancestral origins.

Others' ancestral origins are beyond our country.

Where they go, from time to time, is a piece of our home too.

We discover the country and the world.

We live peacefully with neighbours.

We have good friends in other societies.

We have welcomed people from distant lands, who have chosen to live among us.

We value interdependence and reciprocity.

We feel hospitable.

We are a community of multiple, overlapping identities, cosmopolitan in our nationhood.

Our multiculturalism is a defining element of our indigeneity.

We are, because we are so many.

Our many-ness is our strength – we carry it in us throughout our lives.

I thank you.

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