Address by Minister Mthethwa on the occasion of the joint sitting of both houses of Parliament to debate Heritage Day, Cape Town

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
18 Sep 2014

Honourable Speaker

Honourable Chairperson

Honourable Deputy President

Honourable Ministers & Deputy Ministers

Honourable Premiers Present

Honourable MECs present

Honorable Members

Ladies & Gentlemen

20 Years of Freedom

On this day 24 September, we remember the assassination of the king of the Zulu Nation, King Shaka, I lembe eleqa amanye amalembe ngoku khalipha. Unoduma ehlezi kaMenzi.

The theme for Heritage Month is “Celebrating 20 Years of Democracy: Tell Your Story that Moves South Africa Forward”.

We strongly encourage all South Africans to take the opportunity to reflect on the significant life-changing transformation that South Africa has been experiencing since the dawn of this new era.

It is also indeed true that various sectors of our society have a positive story to tell about the progress made since 1994 in promoting and preserving the heritage of this country.

The Contestation

The transformation of the colonial heritage landscape is one of the biggest challenges we face today.  In fact, redefining the soul of this nation, defining new identity and building new monuments, heritage sites to honour our legitimate historical figures should rally us together.

At some fringe corners, we have met resistance. Thus we have wrestled in court with some fellow South Africans who, presumably, should understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going. It is time we make it clear what we mean by heritage in this beautiful land that far too many cannot yet enjoy because of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

At the centre of the debate about Heritage is the contestation between two cultural forces which have shaped the character and identity of the South Africa that we live in today: the colonial cultural landscape and the struggle of a New African heritage landscape to be born.

The colonial and apartheid cultural landscape have tried but failed to wipe off the African heritage that existed before 1652. Our languages and indigenous African knowledge systems, customs and traditions, among others, continue to exist.

As Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo has aptly captured it, “Africa uncritically imbibed values that were alien and had no immediate relevance to her people. The richness of Africa’s cultural heritage degraded, and her people labelled as primitive and savage.”

The advent of Western imperialism and cultural domination has, over three centuries, certainly co-opted and created opportunities for Africans who were willing to turn their backs on their African identity, culture and heritage.


We define our heritage as the dreams of our visionaries, leaders and intellectuals who went before us. In fact, we who live today stand at the vast pyramid of African self-determination and struggle, slowly but surely accumulated through the many long struggles against colonialism and apartheid. We are the living link, the African heritage that they have ever dreamed, thought out, fought and died for.

Today when we face what is probably the greatest challenge humankind has ever known – to give the world a human face or Ubuntu - it is very important to draw a distinction between history and heritage. The two terms are misunderstood, confused and sometimes used interchangeably.


History is the remembrance, recording or account of everything that has happened in the past. The colonial prism has over-determined how we look at the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902, for example, where over 21 000 African women and children in concentration camps were blind-spotted out of history deliberately.

But not all history is heritage for heritage is the principles, ideals, personalities and institutions that we consciously select to transmit from the past because they have helped move us forward. We cannot consider the history of violent oppression, dispossession, land loss, prejudice and exclusion of fellow human beings part of our heritage to be celebrated. The formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 is history, yes, but it can never be part of our heritage.

Thus we choose to define our heritage as visionary pronouncements that have helped us move forward as envisioned by that great son of the soil, Pixley ka Isaka Seme in his award winning oratory work in 1906 on the Regeneration of Africa and the call he made for Unity of Africans in 1911, among others.

The Constitution & Other Relevant Documents

This vision was further elaborated in the document African Claims of 1943, in the declarative principles of the Freedom Charter of 1955… in the Constitutional Guidelines of 1989 … in the 1989 Harare Declaration … and culminated in the pledges of the world renowned Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1996 which says:

“We the people of South Africa,

Recognize the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country, and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

Languages (Izilimi ezahlukene)


Umthethosiseko wezwe uyakucacisa ukubaluleka kwezilimi zethu zomdabu ekuvikelweni kwamagugu namasiko ethu. Umbhali uNgugi wa Thiongo uqhuba athi, “Kukhona izinto ezithile abomdabu abangeke bakwazi ukuzichaza ngezilimi zezifika namthwalo ezichazeka kuphela ngokujula nokuceba kwezilimi zethu... Konke lokhu kungenza ngiqiniseke ukuthi ukuthuthukiswa kwezilimi zethu yikho okuyokwenza ukuthi iphupho lokuvuselelwa kwezwekazi leAfrika lifezeke”.

Lombhali ubuye abonise ulwazi olunqala ngezwe lakithi lapho ephawula ngezinga eliphezulu lababhali bakwa Dlomo, o HIE nomnewabo uRRR begcweka njengezincubabuchopho ngokubaluleka kolimi. Omncane waseMakhabeni (u HIE) ebeka ukubaluleka kokuzisebenzisa nezilimi zaseNtshonalanga kanti umnewabo (uRRR) eqhakambisa ulimi aluncela ebeleni.


Enye yezingqalabutho zababhali bakithi uSEK Mqhayi eyayizazisa kakhulu izilimi zomdabu nokusetshenziswa kwazo yayinemibono efanayo neka Ngugi. Encwadini yakhe 'Ityala lamawele' ukhombisa ikhona labomdabu ekuxazululeni izingqinamba ngendlela yobuhlakani yezizwe zakithi. Lento ichaza ukuthi izinkinga zethu thina bomnsinsi ziyaxazululeka ngendlela yethu uma nje sizinika isineke ngazo. Sikhumbuza amalungu alendlu yesishayamthetho ukuthi kulonyaka esikuwo lencwadi yombhali uMqhayi, Ityala lamawele, ihlanganisa ikhulu leminyaka yabhalwa.

(This Constitution explodes with enlightenment when it comes to the glorious and central role of African language as part of our heritage. The indigenous languages are the carriers of the values, customs and traditions that connect us with our heritage.

Ngugi, again, captured it succinctly when he said: “But what the African can never express, until he abandons the use of foreign languages, is the peculiar genius of his own languages … all these reasons – and more – lead me into affirming that the development of our languages is the prerequisite for a real African Renaissance.”

Demonstrating the insight Ngugi cited the intellectual engagement on the same matter between the Dhlomo brothers – the younger (HIE Dhlomo) wrote in English while the elder one (RRR Dhlomo) wrote in his native language.

Also, language activist and writer SEK Mqhayi further emphasized the point raised earlier when he wrote the classic, “Ityala lama wele” that demonstrated that Africans have always found solutions to the challenges of the day. This year marks the centenary of the book.)

The value of languages is what has motivated us to intervene to resolve the impasse in the Pan South African Language Board.

National Symbols

Cultural and traditional practices are intrinsic to creating a new language of symbolism in an emerging democracy. As such, we have moved with speed to transform national symbols. It was necessary to create new symbols to help foster new cultural practices associated with a burgeoning democracy.   The new national anthem is potent with the symbolism of reconciling previously irreconcilable anthems. It supports a new practise, in South Africa, of reconciliation.  Also, the conceptualization and the design of the new national coat of arms as well as the popular national flag have a rich, beautifully textured meaning and symbolism that is all-embracing of our heritage. The national orders, which are the highest insignia awarded to South African and world citizens who have distinguished themselves in service of humanity through their craft.

So, in this new era, we have moved forward to create new and healing practices to turn us into agents of the future we all want to see.

Theme for Heritage

As the theme for this year says, the stories of these legendary figures and all our people will be used to examine ideological issues and to situate their personal choices and sacrifices within the on-going struggle for a truly just and equal society. We can only understand ourselves when we know who we are and where we come from. Above all, we must know who our real heroes are. The narratives of these outstanding individuals have laid the foundation not only for our heritage but also to inspire all of us, especially the youth, to do and say what will move South Africa forward.

The individual sites and monuments that have been identified and build over the last 20 years have been introduced because they were subjected to a certain type of cruelty and oppression in their efforts to bring about change. They are part of the larger movement towards a just and equal society.

The renaming of Johannesburg International Airport to OR Tambo International Airport is quite significant and has such symbolism only to be paralleled by the likes of JFK International Airport in New York, Charles de Gaulle International Airports, a fitting tribute for a colossus of our revolution. Think of the a larger than life statue of former president Nelson Mandela at the Union Building lawns, the symbolism of the triumph of the human spirit in Robben Island, the erection the statue of Inkosi Bhambhata in Greytown and refurbishing the Wesleyan church in Waaihoek, among others.

Thus when we provide resources for the refurbishment of Beyers Naude and Rahima Moosa’s graves, the revamp of Bram Fischer in the Free State and John Dube’s homes in Kwa-Zulu Natal, this is an essential aspect to the programme of the celebration of our heroes and heroines and the retelling of our stories. It speaks to an important agenda of memorizing and the decolonization of our identity and heritage.

Let us underscore our commitment to building a National Heroes Acre whose work is underway as a tribute to the heores and heroines of our people from the pre-colonial epoch to the liberation heritage.

The theme for this year has been chosen to mark an important milestone in our achievements and to mark a turning point. All our people have stories to tell. We are determined to give an opportunity to make a distinction between history and heritage and, at the same time, reconcile with heroic figures as they shape a new identity through storytelling.

We believe we are charting the peculiar contours of the individuals, institutions and nations that were part of us in the road to becoming.

Africa Month

We will start celebrating Africa Month next year with our compatriots, our brothers and sisters in the continent and the diaspora through the sharing of our arts, culture, heritage and all other genres of humanity’s fountain of wisdom.

Cultural Transformation

Cultural self-determination occurs when a people use their imagination to create positive images that portray their true Selves and striving for their own goals. Over the last three centuries the African entire way of looking at the world was determined by colonialists.

In Decolonizing the Mind, Ngugi says “the economic control of the African people was effected through politics and culture. Economic and political control of a people can never be complete without cultural control.” Thus we have embarked on a radical socio-economic transformation program to empower people with important tools to produce content that reflects their creativity. This will make them keepers of memory of our society. 

In conclusion, we borrow from the words of poet Aime Cesaire in his poem Return to my Native Land when he says, “No race possesses the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of freedom. There is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory”

We end by saying: our heritage should belong to us all, our heritage is our pride as South Africans:- Tell Your Story that Moves South Africa Forward.