September 24 will mark Heritage Day in South Africa. Over time, traditional regalia, different cuisine
including braais, have signified the day, a very colourful public holiday at that. We seldom speak of
meaning and deeper substance to Heritage Day, and perhaps at the crossroads our beautiful country
finds itself in, now is the time to begin these hard yet necessary reflections.
What are we celebrating as South Africans? Are we celebrating a heritage of inherent violence, are
we celebrating our notoriety for corruption, crime, inequality and every other fault line we shrug to
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation board member, Zarina Motala who is also a community activist
grapples on Heritage Day 2021 which will this year be in the midst of a global pandemic.
Zarina suggests that it is opportune for South Africans to reflect beyond cuisine, costume pomp. “It
is time to begin thinking about the kind of society we are shaping and the type of legacy we should
be building towards for our children and grandchildren to inherit”
For all the hype about technology and progress we tend to be quite short-term in our approaches to
life. Indigenous wisdom from a variety of cultures, would require people to think about every action
and decision they were taking, with the potential impact on seven generations forward.
Covid-19 has revealed and amplified many of the challenges that plague our country, the continent
and the globe. As we prepare for Heritage Day 2021, we must re-imagine the society we are creating
by the actions we are taking and promoting now.
Reports, though arguable, continue to crown our country the title of being one of the most violent,
tarnishing any good name we are trying to build. Headlines profiling the brutal attacks and even
killings of women, children and members of the LGBTQI+ community have become our daily bread.
Yet on the 24 th and several other public holidays we forget these terrible incidents and claim a
utopian sense of unity. We are a country that has endured so much. Our legacy is one of triumph,
having defeated a system that sort to oppress and divide our people. Yet today we have different
and newer struggles. What are we doing to address these and ensure that we leave a legacy we can
all be proud of in the next few years to come?
I would like to bequeath subsequent generations, a society in which all forms of life are held to high
levels of respect and human dignity. . The other pandemic facing our society is the terrible scourge
of gender-based violence as well as racism. We need urgent approaches with the requisite wisdom
and determination, so that women are safe in both the private and public realm. We need all sectors
of society to work together to enable this to become a reality.
Imagine a society where public servants serve the community and where honesty, integrity and
ethics are cornerstone. We can create institutions in the private sector, public sector and civil
society, which are premised on the notion of ubuntu, common good and where accountability is
Our rivers, streams, forests and air are all giving us an abundantly clear warning, we cannot continue
to disrespect the life sources that our continued existence is integrally tied to. Climate justice is
everyone’s concern, yet very little action is taken to address these terrifying warnings.
So, this heritage day, I will not be thinking about biryani or braai – but making my conscious
contribution to the inheritance we wish to leave to next generations. Let us start by calling for
accountability, protecting the vulnerable, applauding whistleblowers who have opened our eyes to
our country being stolen from under our feet and guarding against vicious attacks to the very
institutions that should be protecting us and ensuring there is a South Africa for next Heritage Day to
be celebrated and reflected upon.
Zarina Motala is a Board member at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.