It’s Spring time and to all of us South Africans that means heritage month. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little research about the meaning behind the word heritage and not only that, but the history behind heritage day, to be specific.
We'll start with the meaning of the word and proceed with its rich history. So, here are a couple of definitions found in the Cambridge dictionary with regards to the word “Heritage”
1. An inheritance; property that may be inherited.
2. A tradition; a practice or set of values that are passed down from proceeding generation to generation through families or through institutions memory.
3. A birthright; the status acquired by birth, especially if but not exclusive to the first born
I think it’s safe to conclude that as a country our definition falls under the second point. Ours is a tradition, practice and/or a set of values passed from generation to generation. To help us understand why I say this, let us study the history preceding this magnificent month and day.
I don’t know how many of us know or are familiar with the story of how in Kwa-Zulu Natal, 24 September Heritage Day was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King Shaka.
Shaka was the legendary Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation. Each year people gather at King Shaka’s grave to honour him on this day. The Public Holidays Bill presented to the new democratic Parliament of South Africa in 1995 did not have 24 September included on the list of proposed public holidays. Becauset of this exclusion, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill. Parliament and the IFP reached a compromise and the day was given its present title and seen as a public holiday.
One word that stands out for me about this entire piece is “cohesive nation.” In his efforts to build a strong foundation for his people, the Zulu King, unbeknown to him has managed to bring an entire nation together. In this month, on this one day, we all get to celebrate our uniqueness as a country and as a people. Celebrating each other's traditions and cultures, acknowledging our beauty and showing pride in our rich culture.
So, when you gather for the braai vleis on Heritage Day, remember that it’s all about togetherness; it’s about traditions, culture, and a place where your uniqueness is not only accepted and encouraged but it’s celebrated as well.
Happy heritage month from my South African Sesotho heart to yours.