Heritage Month Commemoration and Social Cohesion address by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, Northdale, 25 September 2021
Sanibonani! Namaste! Salaam! Shalom!
We meet a day after our nation commemorated South Africa’s Heritage Day where we celebrated South Africa’s beautiful and distinctive unity in diversity.
It was a day of national pride which reminded us of our rich history and diverse heritage which we continue to use as a resource to forge social cohesion and advance development.
In our own province, we are aware of a number of activities that were driven by various communities to reach out to each other, heal wounds, and advance peace.
We applaud the community leaders and cultural activists who took various initiatives to use heritage day to promote social cohesion and harmony.
We celebrate the Heritage today because, historically, we dedicate the 24th to mark and pay tribute to a great nation builder, King Shak kaSenzangakhona.
In 2021, Heritage Day and indeed Heritage Month is being celebrated under the theme of: “The year of Charlotte Maxeke: Celebrating South Africa's Intangible Cultural Heritage”
Addressing Heritage Day yesterday, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa used the day to point out at some of the intangible cultural heritage that we boast as South Africans.
These include our spirituality, our customs, our languages, our stories, and more importantly, our values as a people and a nation. To cite the President, he said:
“As South Africans we share a common cultural value of respect for others, for the elderly, for women, for children, for people’s property and belongings. But we also have a deep respect for ourselves.
The South Africans that we are makes us care for the welfare of others, be they our neighbours, our neighbours’ children, or strangers…”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me to thank the cultural workers and artists that are with us today here in Northdale. We wish to publicly acknowledge you and many in the creative sector following this event. We cannot overemphasise the role of the creative sector in social cohesion and nation building.
When historians describe and explain events, it is the sensitive eyes of gifted artists that are able to see beyond the horizon and predict the future better that our most skilled historians.
It is our creative workers who are able to give us the interiority of history and better explain the human condition. When we learn that so many people died during riots, the artist is always keen on revealing the humanity of each person thus reminding us never to lose our very humanity even if we deal with our adversaries.
Through poetry, literature, song, performance, theatre, dance, sculptor, painting, photography, film and many more art forms, our artists are able to reawaken our consciousness, challenge us, inspire us, and point us to the correct direction.
From this part of the world, our artists have over many years lifted the KwaZulu-Natal flag on the continent and on global stage. They are trendsetters, household names, and hold immeasurable influence in their hands. We are truly proud of them and we value them.
We wish to acknowledge that as government, we are fully aware of the difficulties that the sector faces, especially since the advent of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought untold hardship and destroyed the creative industries and creative economy. Lockdown restrictions have severely affected the livelihoods of our artists who could not perform at large gatherings.
Once more, we thank this sector for cooperating with government and for being a part of the solution in the fight against this deadly pandemic. We thank many of you who have used your power and influence to encourage society to observe social distancing, wearing of masks, and regular cleaning of hands with soap or sanitiser.
We applaud you too for fighting myths about the pandemic and vaccines. We cannot honour you enough for encouraging the people of KwaZulu-Natal and our country to vaccinate so that we can all return our lives to normalcy and get on with the programme of rebuilding our lives and economy.
Apart from provincial initiatives to cushion the cultural, heritage and creative sector, President Ramaphosa also revealed yesterday that last year alone, government succeeded to support more than 34 000 creative workers in the sector through the COVID Relief Fund. As you would know, this Fund is part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus and it has entered its second phase this September.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was deliberate that we chose to come to our capital city to mark heritage month and advance social cohesion.
This is a city with a proud history and rich heritage.
When we falter, when we get lost, we always look to the promise of our glorious and historic city for inspiration. This is a city that evoke the battles of the AmaZulu people under King Dingane and the Afrikaners. It is also a city that carries the history of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who were both given the Freedom of the City in 1997.
The communities of Imbali and Northdale fought side by side against apartheid colonialism to usher a new South Africa founded on unity, non-racialism, non-sexism, equality, and prosperity.
Side by side, we fought for a South Africa founded on justice, the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution.
As we forge this new society, we must be informed by the constitutional values and Bill of Rights. Our Constitution enjoins all of us to honour human dignity, the right to life, and to heal the wounds of the past.
In 2021, we commemorate Heritage Month still coming to terms with the trauma and horrific violence of July, a month of birth of our peace icon, Nelson Mandela.
It also takes place in the 60th year in which Inkosi Albert Luthuli became the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for peace. It is this peace that Madiba, Ghandi, Luthuli, and Bishop Tutu are known for globally that we must actively build and to claim as an integral part of the heritage of the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
We must draw lessons from the July riots and be united that we must all be peace ambassadors, that there is no place for wanton violence, destruction of property, and preventable loss of life for the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
We must be united that all those who sow seeds of division, anarchy, and instigate violence must face the full might of the law.
We must never allow our province to return to the deadly violence of the eighties and the nineties. That violence created orphans and widows and our people still carry their scars. In all that we do, peace must be our way.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was tragic and heart wrenching to see Northdale descend to the levels of violence in July.
Like what happened in Phoenix, we were truly heartbroken to see the violence that was directed at a poor black community. We learned that in the aftermath of burning of people’s homes, no less than three people lost their lives. Once more, we convey our deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost their loved ones in this unacceptable act of violence. Just as we said about Phoenix murders and others in the country, the law must take its full course and justice must be served.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have been appraised that as recently as Thursday, representatives of Government and stakeholders from this community met at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to engage and to prepare for today’s event.
We are aware that the meeting was attended by the exemplary Peace and Development Committee comprising residents from Northdale and the nearby informal settlement. The aim was to foster social cohesion, reconciliation, and peace.
It was clear that there is a need to bring dignity to the informal settlement residents by building them proper houses and to provide them with basic services like water and electricity.
We welcome the message from the residents of Northdale who are emphatic that they want to live side by side in peace with the residents from the informal settlement.
We also heard that both sides praised the leadership of the ANC for taking a step back and allowed the residents to iron out their differences amicably. Through continuous talks, people from both sides are now able to find each other. They now understand each other's plight.
It is encouraging to learn that both sides denounced war talk coming from some individuals in the area.
We have also heard the appeal from people from the informal settlement that government must not forget them and remember them only on the eve of voting. For our part, we can assure you that this is not the last time you are seeing us and trust us when we say we are committed to improving the lives of all our people.
Some of the needs that were identified include the provision of water and electricity. People lost their jobs and belongings during the attacks in which informal settlement dwellers lost their lives.
Mayor Tebolla, please also urgently attend to the plea that government should bring a mobile office from Home Affairs which can help them with reapplication for IDs and children's birth certificates which were lost while their shacks were burnt to the ground.
In our audience today, we have representatives from Phoenix and Bhambayi, and we hope that they will learn from the work of the Peace and Development Council here in Northdale and also share their lessons on how they are building social cohesion and lasting peace.
Through the KwaZulu-Natal Moral Regeneration and Social Cohesion Council, we want to use each day to build bridges and lasting peace.
Peace must be the foundation of our economic reconstruction and recovery plan. We cannot end the high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality without peace. We are thus working together with the religious sector, our traditional leaders, civil society organisations to inculcate positive values that reject violence and crime in our nation.
We have a vision of a model citizen who abhors crime, corruption, the abuse of women and children. A model citizen who acts in solidarity with his or her fellow human beings and is free from the prison of racial hatred, tribalism and sexism.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Hand in hand, side by side, we will return our communities to peace and prosperity.
Let us again applaud the work of the Peace and Development Committee which came together in the aftermath of the distressing events of this past July.
We maintain that the destruction of homes in the Khan Road settlement was traumatic and devastating. We will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of that matter and hold people accountable.
At the same time, let us acknowledge the huge goodwill in this community. Let us celebrate people coming together. Indian and African joining hands to say that we have always lived together in peace. Let us never allow the forces of division and racism to pull us apart. We are each our sisters and brothers keepers.
Unity and social cohesion must always be the first prize. Great peacemakers have walked these streets of Umsunduzi. Let us recall Ghandi’s wise words that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Remember, human dignity is the cornerstone of our constitution. It was Madiba who said: "The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved."
We remember other peacemakers too. Our heroine Choti Motala received generations of activists in her home and herself marched through some of the most epic moments in our struggle history.
This is the home of the Robben Islanders Cdes Harry Gwala and Truman Magubane whose fighting spirit is firmly inscribed in the annals of liberation. Our President JT Gumede is buried here.
This is the home too of the trade unionist Cde Dasrath Bandoo of the Leather Workers Union and the great pacifist Uncle Bandy. Honour the memory of the peacemakers by turning toward each other rather than on each other.
Umgungundlovu has seen too much bloodshed and trauma over the past forty years. Generations to come will ask how was it that we allowed our communities to slip into violence when we could have been unrelenting in working for peace and social cohesion.
Peace is a personal statement and a group effort. It is for that reason that the Peace and Development Committee has had such great success in calming tensions and demobilising the forces of division and racial tension.
History will judge us harshly if we were not to work without rest in uniting our people and building our country.
Peace must be our only way. Peace and development must be our prize. Peace and shared prosperity must be the legacy and heritage we bequeath to future generations.
Let peace, justice, and freedom reign in the year of Charlotte Maxeke!
Stay safe on the roads and protect yourself from COVID-19 by vaccinating!
Together Growing KwaZulu-Natal!