Inside Labour: Heritage is fresh meat

2014-09-29 13:45

Wednesday was Heritage Day and carnivore commercialism seems largely to have claimed it.

For many – if not most – South Africans who could afford it, this was a day to indulge in and enjoy shisa nyama, the ubiquitous braai.

In fact, Heritage Day has now been redubbed “National Braai Day”, with calls to people to “unite around fires, share our heritage and wave our flag on September 24 every year”.

The implication is that our collective heritage comprises wors, pap and chops with some well-known lager in an atmosphere of nationalistic fervour.

This seems to be encouraged by the fact that politicians, several pundits and the labour movement provided us, yet again, with that vague admonition to “celebrate unity in diversity”, along with that rather shopworn concept of the “rainbow nation”.

Publicity for the day also seemed to be made up of a mixture of contradictions and commercialism, with more than a dash of convenient amnesia and a side of hypocrisy.

But a day off work – for those lucky enough to have a job – is always cause for celebration. And the weather being fine, it’s also cause for many to haul out the charcoal, the mealies and the meat.

In fact, that is what many people in other parts of the world also do. So this being a hardly unique experience, perhaps we should wave the flags of those countries as well.

Basically, heritage should not be dumbed down to grilled food and to the insistence that while we are different, we are all equal.

Quite simply, the word means everything we have inherited from the past: languages, food, the built and natural environments, and the various things that make up what we refer to as “culture”.

For the sellers of labour, heritage means primarily the social, economic and work environment in which we exist. This was highlighted for South Africa this Heritage Day in a report released by the statistician-general.

Titled “Youth employment, unemployment, skills and economic growth 1994-2014”, the report revealed a worrying picture of still racially skewed large-scale joblessness and skills deficits. This applied particularly among the “born-frees” (those born after 1994).

If ever there was a misnomer, “born-frees” is it, because the children born after 1994 were born into families that grew up in the earlier decades where advantages accrued on a racially graded scale.

The transition from a racially biased parliamentary democracy to a nonracist version did not undo the advantages and disadvantages of decades of social engineering and centuries of the racist deprivation embedded in colonialism.

This much has been recognised by most of the trade union movement, but resisted by elements such as the Solidarity union and its “civil rights” offshoot AfriForum. But even Cosatu gets caught up in the “unity-in-diversity”, “all-in-the-same-boat” mantra.

Responding to the statistician-general’s report, the federation bewailed the fact that “our companies are still purely profit-oriented and not concerned about social transformation”.

But our economic heritage is a competitive, individualistic and profit-driven system. Companies that are not profit-oriented do not survive. And it is also a legal requirement that companies maximise profits for their shareholders.

Perhaps we should not be celebrating our diversity as much as questioning why our diverse communities are so grossly unequal.

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