Our hard-won her­itage is not for sale

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Sunday Tribune - - OPINION - VVO Mkhize

THE HER­ITAGE of South Africans today is of a na­tion united in diversity. A mighty her­itage of the Khoi and the San, the Nguni and the Sotho, the So­mali refugee, and rest­less eco­nomic ex­iles from Mozam­bique, Zim­babwe and Le­sotho, to men­tion but some. Ours is the her­itage of the Great Trek and the Union Jack, colo­nial­ism and con­quest, apartheid and democ­racy, ex­ile and re­turn.

Ours is that beau­ti­ful her­itage of the sari-clad In­dian curry mer­chant, lawyer and doc­tor whose ances­tors sailed here to serve the sugar-cane farms and help de­velop South Africa’s ex­ploita­tive sugar-plan­ta­tion in­dus­try, led by English sugar barons. We are the chil­dren of Sekhukhuni, Moshoeshoe, Jama, Gandhi, Luthuli, Sobukwe, Dadoo, Fa­tima Meer, Mgi­jima, Camp­bell and Fis­cher.

We are de­scen­dants of Malay slaves, Zanz­ibaris, Chi­nese and many more. We cel­e­brate Chris­tian mass and go on pil­grim­age to Mecca and other sites of re­li­gious im­por­tance. We un­der­stand our com­mit­ments to Al­lah, Qa­matha and Mvelin­qangi. Ev­ery De­cem­ber, we de­vot­edly climb Nh­langakazi to evoke the spir­its of the Shembe pathfind­ers and other great an­ces­tral guardian spir­its.

As avowed Jews, we fast and ob­serve Shana Tova, so that we and our beloved ones may live ex­em­plary lives. We ob­serve the Sab­bath, Christ­mas, Kwanza, Di­wali, Easter and Ra­madan, and pray for bread and rice. We are the rain­bow peo­ple of God. We burn in­cense and pay homage to our ances­tors via um­samo.

We are the rain­bow na­tion of Tutu and Man­dela’s noble dreams. We are the en­chant­ing dreams born of yes­ter­day’s night­mare. We are the ones who tamed storms and hum­bled hur­ri­canes. Ours is a na­tion of abun­dant fruits of hope, love and peace. We are a liv­ing kalei­do­scope of col­lec­tive vic­tory.

Look at us when we dance the pantsula, the nd­lamu, the mx­henso, the lan­garm, the bhangra, sakkie sakkie and bal­let. See us per­form the umhlonyane, the thomba and umemulo cer­e­monies for our beloved ones. Join us when Princess Ma­gogo Buthelezi ka­di­nizulu evokes Zu­l­u­land of yore, as she sings her heart out in elegi­wac ac­com­pa­ni­ment to umakhweyane, her an­ces­tral one-string-bow.

Come closer as NP van Wyk Louw re­cites Raka, that clas­sic po­etic song of dis­sent and il­lu­mi­na­tion. How can one for­get Na­dine Gordimer, In­grid Jonker, An­dre Brink, JM Coet­zee, Jo­han van Wyk and Wil­liam Plomer? We are of the sto­ical stock of Alan Pa­ton and his epic cry for a beloved coun­try. Brenda Fassie’s melan­cholic yet dare-devil songs are our songs too.

Enoch Son­tonga sang of our col­lec­tive con­ti­nen­tal pain and re­cited epic prayers. So did ESK Mqhayi, Peter Abra­hams, E’skia Mphahlele, Nat Nakasa, BB “Nonkam­fela” Ndelu, Can Themba, Lewis Nkosi, Kessie Goven­der and Don Mat­tera.

Our her­itage is both tragic and joy­ful. Re­mem­ber when Maqhawe Mkhize’s wry hu­mour rubbed shoul­ders with that of that il­lus­tri­ous son of the Groot Marico, Her­man Charles Bos­man? It was in ex­ile that Breyten Breyten­bach and Mazisi Kunene forged a last­ing bond. Ex­ile was where Ger­ard Sekoto de­fi­antly painted his rain­bow free­dom dreams on the cold can­vas of cruel Paris. In ex­ile, Miriam Makeba, Dol­lar Brand, Dorothy Ma­suka, Hugh Masekela, Cai­phus Se­menya, Letta Mbulu and Jonas Gwangwa sang free­dom songs – Not just for Man­dela’s long walk to free­dom, but for all of us to walk free.

Ours is the her­itage of hu­man rights de­nied and re­stored. One of fron­tier wars, the Mfe­cane, the Bat­tle of Isan­dl­wana, the South African War, the Bul­hoek, Sharpeville and Langa mas­sacres, the mur­ders of Ruth First, Steve Biko and Hec­tor Peter­son.

Ours is a revo­lu­tion­ary her­itage of songs sung un­der fire, while Cato Manor, District Six, Lady Sel­bourne and Sophi­a­town were de­stroyed.

Our eyes have seen and em­braced in­jus­tice as an essence of our hu­man con­di­tion. Look at the tears our peo­ple shed through the paint­ings of Du­mile Feni and the pho­tog­ra­phy of Ernest Cole, Peter Magubane, Paul Wyn­berg, Zanele Muholi, and Cedric Nunn. How can we for­get Alf Khu­malo, Ken Ooster­brook, Steven Hil­ton-bar­ber and all artists who stood for jus­tice and peace?

Her­itage can­not be re­duced to a na­tional braai day, a lousy ex­cuse for ex­ces­sive booz­ing and noise. As an African of Zulu de­scent, the cal­lous day that em­peror Shaka the Great was mur­dered – Septem­ber 24, 1828 – is a day wor­thy of solem­nity and re­flec­tion, and not a fes­ti­val of deca­dence and com­mer­cial ex­cess. Our her­itage is not for sale. It is for the heal­ing of our minds and souls.

Bhedlind­aba “VVO” Mkhize is an African spir­i­tual healer and philol­o­gist

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