InSA

A celebration of our Cultural Heritage

Article by Carel Oberholzer

Heritage is important to both individual and group identity. It influences our loyalties, sense of belonging and our behaviour. It affects individual self-identity, self-esteem, and relationships with others.

On 24 September, each year we celebrate Heritage Day.

Maybe it is one of the national days that is the least understood and not fully honoured. In 1996 president Mandela said: "when we decided to make Heritage Day one of our National days, we did so because we know our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new Nation.”

So, what is cultural heritage and why is it important? There are many definitions of cultural heritage, but I like the informal saying; “heritage is the past made present. It is anything valued today that was also valued by previous generations.” (Cultural Heritage Project ~ www.sfu.ca/ipinch) Put in another way; heritage is anything considered to be important enough to pass from one generation to another.

Cultural heritage can be divided into two primary categories: tangible and intangible. Tangible cultural heritage is something that can be seen and touched, including things like buildings and museums, natural wonders, clothing, artwork, tools, etc.

Intangible cultural heritage (in South Africa is also called the living culture) cannot be seen, but it exists and is extremely important. It’s a nations values, beliefs, tradition, songs, rituals, and social practices.

Heritage is important to both individual and group identity. It influences our loyalties, sense of belonging and our behaviour. It affects individual self-identity, self-esteem, and relationships with others. Americans normally have a positive self-esteem, based on their pride and knowledge of their history (This is based on 11 years of experience working with them).

Human beings all have a psychological need to belong, belonging to a family, a group or as part of a nation. Our heritage is that single denominator, that can create a national pride. We are not born with a national identity, it is learned over time, from our parents, schools, friends, religion and many other ways. It becomes the 'past made present.'

One of our challenges as a country is to appreciate our current heritage and develop a common South African heritage for generations to come.

The Brand South Africa campaign (News 24~2004) defined our heritage in terms of three elements:

  • Who we are ~ despite our history, we have chosen to gather strength in our diversity, therefore our motto of Ke e Xarra ke, United in Diversity.
  • What we have ~ a unique country, beautiful natural sites and we are blessed with various minerals and other resources.

    Today we have 8 Unesco World Heritage sites.
    • iSimangaliso Wetland Park, (St Lucia)
    • Drakensberg Park
    • Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in the Limpopo province
    • Cradle of humankind
    • Robben Island
    • Cape Floral Region
    • The Vredefort Dome ~ the world’s biggest meteor crater
    • Richtersveld cultural and botanic landscape
  • How we do things ~ South Africans are pioneers and delivers world-class performance in many areas, from building cars to banking, and science and engineering. We can be proud of our achievements.

How can we develop a common South African heritage?

Here are some guidelines:

  • Know our South African history, not only the history of a specific group but also that of others. Some of the places that can help us understand our history are to visit different museums, like for instance, The Freedom Park, The Apartheid Museum, and the Voortrekker Monument, but there are much more.
  • Explore our country. The 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites may be a good start.
  • Learn and understand our national symbols and its history, the Coat of Arms, our flag, our national tree, fish, flower, bird, etc.
  • Try to learn one of our 11 national languages.
  • Just be proudly South African, celebrate Heritage Day fully and in a unique way.