Heritage Day, marked on 24 September, is a very special holiday day in our beautiful country. On this day, we celebrate our common humanity, with its rich tapestry of diverse and colourful cultures. We celebrate the many languages spoken in our country; the variety of religious beliefs; and the
freedom we enjoy to openly express our feelings and loves, in different and beautiful ways. Essentially, we are embracing and celebrating our magnificent diversity, which we recognize as our strength, despite the persistent challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. If we, as a
nation, can be truly united in our diversity, that strength will become a powerful force. Quite simply, it means giving effect to our unique motto: ! ke: /xarra //ke – diverse people unite. Diversity we surely have, in splendid abundance, but for it to become a strength, we need to all contribute to ensuring that there is enough for everyone. We need to shed our prejudices and stop believing that our differences make us superior or inferior to one another. As Maya Angelou put it: “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, but we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal no matter what their colour”. On Heritage Day we celebrate every precious thread of this tapestry. Days of celebration are important. We have emerged – not by luck, but through sacrifice and struggle – from a difficult past, and we surely owe it to ourselves to celebrate who we are – our many different identities, the beautiful land we have inherited and the many joyful things we do together. Every single South African has a heritage to cherish, and has moments of joy and celebration, whether it is the birth of a child, a love found or a marriage, or an achievement that we feel proud of. Our joy is expressed in song and dance. In laughter and in poetry. Or the colourful clothes we wear on special occasions This is how it should be.But this is where we need to pause and reflect: will every South African be celebrating Heritage Day 2021? Sadly, the answer is no for so many who live in daily realities that prevent them from celebrating. For the many children and women who will be abused in their homes today there will be little to celebrate. Today will be another day of anguish for the parents who are unable to put enough food on the table for their children. The homeless who will be sleeping outside tonight will not celebrate this day. Heritage Day 2021 follows a particularly difficult period in the history of our country. Our dream was that our democracy would put us on a steady uphill path – rocky at times, with some unavoidable setbacks, but overall a steady march towards the society we set out to create. It is tragic that greed, selfishness and abuse of power, in both the public and private sector, set us back badly from the realization of our dreams. Let us also use Heritage Day to reflect deeply on the scourge of state capture and corruption. Its extent, carefully hidden by its perpetrators, has seen layers of it uncovered by the Zondo
Commission as well as the new leadership at our critical institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Special Investigations Unit and the Hawks. Often leads were provided by courageous men and women who took a strong stance as whistle-blowers. Where vestiges of corruption remain or wherever it raises its ugly head afresh, let us forge a culture of absolutely zero tolerance. The underlying message is clear: it is going to take every one of us to rebuild our country, to realise the aspirations and dreams of our Constitution.
Just as we were trying to navigate our way out of the state of capture we were in, Covid19 struck. It exacerbated the poverty, unemployment and inequalities that were already painfully with us. And while there are many heart-warming stories of caring and kindness in the midst of this awful
pandemic, representing the absolute best of us, some of the worst came out as well, as we witnessed some of the most despicable corruption imaginable. Now, more than ever before, we need to be united in our fight against the evils that plague us. And the only way we can succeed is to
be united in our diversity, and united in our quest to create a better life for everyone in our country. So, while there really is so much to celebrate, our celebration is dampened in the face of brutal poverty and the continued gender based violence that makes life quite unbearable for so many women in our country. We dream of a non-racial, non-sexist society in which there will be no more hunger, homelessness and abuse of women. But our dream will never be realized for as long as corruption erodes all the gains we have made, and takes away the resources that are sorely needed to address the many challenges we face. On this Heritage Day we need to genuinely embrace our diversity, and focus more on our common aspirations and desires than on our differences (that are often quite superficial) and work together to make South Africa a country that belongs to all who live in it. A South Africa that cares and where individual voices county where our diversity becomes a huge source of joy, pride and strength. It is up to us to forge the new legacy, to build on the struggles of our forebears. Heritage Day 2021 must be a day that will be celebrated by all. On that day we should be able to say: we got through the hard times by accepting and respecting each other, with all our differences and uniqueness, and working together towards a common goal. Let us be open minded to creating the type of heritage that the coming generation will reflect on and be proud of. Let us be open to discarding that of corruption, lawlessness, violence and
intolerance such as xenophobia, which seem to overshadow our potential as a people. Let us reimagine a South Africa that cares. I am reminded of the words of lifelong activist Ahmed Kathrada who once said that the hardest thing to open is a closed mind. Derek Hanekom is the Chairperson of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.