The essence of “South African-ness”

Our South African society is equivalent to a mosaic art piece. When you look at it in its entirety, it is breath-taking beyond belief, although its beauty consists of fragmented pieces. This is symbolic of the immense variety of cultures in our country. Our cultures underpin our diversities, which in turn form the basis of what we strive for – unity through diversity. With the passing of Heritage Day, we reflect more deeply on our cultural identity in a land that has been claimed by so many traditions and beliefs.

Heritage Day is reserved for celebrating the ‘cultural wealth’ of our nation, but what defines our culture? Is our culture based on a set of traditions and beliefs that have been passed on from one generation to the next? Or does it have a deeper connection to our personal psyche?

Photographer: Aubrena Armstrong

Photographer: Aubrena Armstrong

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele said, “Heritage is born of the past but lives through us every day as we create new history, and as we act as guardians of our shared future.”  She goes on to say that South Africa has lost direction and needs to retrace its steps to the foundations of society. “[We need to] build a new prosperous country in which we aim for excellence: in which we create dignified jobs; a healthcare system which makes women, children, the elderly and vulnerable feel safe; and a police service that works with communities…the prospect of realising unity for our young nation remains crucial,” told Ramphele.

While Ramphele focuses on prospects of a shared future, the thought of a social heritage based on services that render society dependant, feeds into the uncertainty of how to define our cultural identity.

Pieter Mulder, of the Freedom Front Plus, stated that celebrating Heritage Day in the right way will lead to a greater respect and understanding of each other. “Through that, the diversity of South Africa can be a positive asset and not a burden or a source of conflict,” he said.

Albie Sachs noted that each cultural tributary contributes toward and increases “the majesty of the river of South African-ness”.  He says, “It is important to distinguish between unity and uniformity. We are strongly for national unity, for seeing our country as a whole, not just in its geographic extension but in its human dimension. We want full equal rights for every South African, without reference to race, language, ethnic origin, or creed.”

In a nation that is plagued by uncertainty and the weakening strength of unity, it is important to remember that society is us and we are culture.

Aubrena Armstrong


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