Full remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Heritage Day 2020 celebrations in South Africa

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24 September 2020 – 1:00pm

Fellow South Africans,

Dumelang, Molweni, Sanibonani, Goeie Dag, Thobela, Lotjhani, Ndi masiari, Nhlekanhi,

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Today we celebrate the unique and diverse heritage of this place we call home: Mzantsi Afrika, Afrika Borwa, Afurika Tshipembe, Suid-Afrika.

Heritage Day is a time to appreciate the many facets of our cultures, customs and traditions. 

It is the time when we put them on display to appreciate and celebrate and share our cultures and traditions with others.

We are the nation of the maskandi, Malay choral music and sokkie treffers, but also of amapiano.

We are the nation that is taking the world by storm with the #JerusalemaChallenge, as young and old in France, the UK, Jamaica, Angola and even in Palestinian East Jerusalem itself are getting in on the craze.

We are a nation of eleven official languages that also celebrates other languages commonly used by various communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

We are a nation that steadfastly protects those indigenous languages that are facing extinction such as N|uu, Nama, isiHlubi, Khelovhedu and other indigenous languages.

The greatest thing about heritage is its dynamism. 

Heritage is a source of identity and cohesion for our nation.

It makes us who we are.

Heritage shapes and moulds us, and gives us a sense of belonging.

It is the inheritance passed down from generation to generation, linking the present to the past.

Heritage doesn’t only find expression in dress, rituals, food, music, art and language. It also finds expression in our natural world.

South Africa is the third most mega-biodiverse country in the world with abundant fauna and flora. This is what makes South Africa the most beautiful country in the world.

We are home to the most beautiful sites dating back to antiquity, opening a window into the lives of the earliest ancestors of humankind.

Our indigenous knowledge systems preserved by our elders and traditional healers are a vital part of our heritage.

Long before the advent of modern medicine, our ancestors used the herbs and plants that are so abundant here to heal, to give strength and for sustenance.

This year’s Heritage Day is taking place in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This pandemic has taken a toll on human life, on communities and on our economy.

In this time of the pandemic, we have seen the knowledge of traditional medicinal plants increase.

In as much as we join the international community in the search for diagnostics, therapeutics and a vaccine, we are also looking at the real and important contribution indigenous knowledge systems, particularly traditional medicine, can play in improving the health outcomes of our people.

In Heritage Month we honour those who work so hard to preserve all aspects of our traditional and modern heritage.

We pay tribute to the spirited defenders of our heritage that we have sadly lost this year.

We have lost Achmat Dangor and Elsa Joubert, two celebrated authors whose works gave expression to the human condition under apartheid.

We have had to bid farewell to the musical giant, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the father of isicathamiya, uBab Joseph Shabalala.

We have lost the legendary photographer Jürgen Schadeberg.

We have mourned the passing of Ouma Griet Seekoei, one of only remaining speakers of the endangered N|uu language.

We pay tribute to them all, for in their own unique way they have contributed to preserving our past, but also to defending the struggles of the present.

It is because of them, and many like them, that we are today able to celebrate where we have come from.

Yet as there are those who have passed from this life, we have our Living Human Treasures, our repositories of knowledge, customs and traditions.

This Heritage Month is dedicated to Dr Esther Mahlangu, Mama Madosini Latozi Mpahleni and Mama Ouma Katrina Esau.

Dr Mahlangu’s paintings inspired by Ndebele design are on display in more than a dozen countries around the world and her work has won numerous awards.

Mama Madosini, the Queen of Pondoland music, is the greatest living musician who can play the indigenous bow instruments.

Mama Katrina Esau is a champion of the culture of the San people, and is one of the two last remaining speakers of the N|uu language. 

Over the years she has single-handedly worked to keep the language alive by running a school for young people.

As part of Heritage Month we have launched three books that acknowledge the efforts of these great women.

Throughout this month we will be promoting greater awareness of their work, especially among young people. We will also promote the work of the many others who are doing so much to conserve our diverse customs and cultures.

Fellow South Africans,

It is important that generations that come after us must fully grasp the importance of the freedom we have all achieved.

The men, women and children of tomorrow must be proud to have inherited a democracy that affirms the worth and dignity of all our citizens.

So long as this country’s women and children live in fear from violence, we cannot regard ourselves as totally free.

So long as women are being harassed, abused, beaten, raped and murdered, we cannot say we are a civilised society.

Abusing women is not our tradition, nor is it our custom.

It is not, and will never be, our heritage.

Throughout the history of this continent, women have built and shaped our societies.

They have ruled kingdoms. They have been highly respected and valued.

We must put an end to this terrible shame that is tainting the image of our country.

When you oppress a woman, you oppress a nation.

When you beat a woman, you beat a nation.

We must do away with practices that discriminate against women.

With the same determination, we must stand firm against attempts to disrespect our country’s women through crude forms of representation in the media, in advertising and in popular culture.

An offensive hair advertisement that was recently published shows that we still have a long way to go.

The apartheid government denigrated our cultures and tried to make us ashamed of our cultures, our traditions, our languages and our very appearances.

It is disheartening to see that in democratic South Africa, there are still crude stereotypes of black women being put on public display.

The social cohesion we seek in this country means we must be mindful of the legacy of our past, whether we are businesses selling products, whether we are producers of content for television, or otherwise.

Building a united nation means we must be aware of and check our own acts of racism and prejudice continuously.

We come from a history of prejudice and exclusion, and since democracy we have worked to transform the heritage landscape of our country.

The naming and renaming of towns and cities forms part of this, as well as the erection of new statues and monuments.

Monuments glorifying our divisive past should be repositioned and relocated.

This has generated controversy, with some saying we are trying to erase our history.

Building a truly non-racial society means being sensitive to the lived experiences of all this country’s people.

We make no apologies for this because our objective is to build a united nation.

Any symbol, monument or activity that glorifies racism, that represents our ugly past, has no place in democratic South Africa.

The struggle against apartheid was first and foremost aimed at ensuring that all our people should reclaim their dignity, black and white.

Restoring their dignity is the preoccupation of this administration.

In the wake of COVID-19, and well into the future, it will remain our singular concern.

We will recover from this crisis and rebuild our lives and our economy.

We will continue to strive to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment.

We will continue to uphold the rights of all our people to practice their cultures, to speak their languages and practice their traditions.

We will continue to support every effort to preserve our common heritage, as well as those of individual communities.

As much as we celebrate our customs and traditions on this day, let us also appreciate that in practising our cultures freely and openly, and in speaking our native languages, we are reclaiming not just our heritage, but our pride and our dignity as South Africans.

I thank you.

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