‘Let whites braai on Heritage Day’

2010-10-12 14:40

All South Africans must be made to feel part of national heritage days, even if that means accepting that for some it means gathering around a braai fire, a senior arts and culture official said today.

Phakamani Mthembu, the director for living heritage at the department of arts and culture, said it was a “constant complaint from the presidency” that heritage celebrations were shunned by white and Indian citizens.

“On most national days, the complexion of the people attending is almost the same. On national days, the people from white and Indian communities are very few,” he told Parliament’s portfolio committee for arts and culture.

Mthembu said it was plain to the department that for 16 years now, it had failed to draw people of all races to its events.

“It has been obvious that since our first democratic elections we have not been able to unite South Africans in terms of race, gender and cultural persuasions.

“So we have to look at this problem. Why is it that on national days not all South Africans go to stadiums?

Why is it that they go and braai? They are saying ‘no look, this is not very important for us’.”

The department has therefore thought of changing the structure of events from the standard format of big rallies in stadiums to introduce smaller events that cater to the tastes and traditions of all South Africans.

“Maybe we should move away from the rally type event. Maybe we should do things differently. Freedom Day and Heritage Day should not be the same.

“The format is usually the same. There is a rally and then there are political speeches. It might help to move towards more educationally orientated commemorations and maybe to localise commemorations so that people can commemorate wherever they are instead of having one huge rally,” he said.

Several ruling party MPs disagreed with Mthembu, saying rallies were essential.

But he said government planned to use its many institutions to organise smaller, more varied events where people would be invited to attend in their traditional clothes, prepare indigenous food and fly their own political colours.

“If people like to braai, maybe we should say people should continue to braai. Braai is still part of our heritage. It should also be mogodu [tripe]. It should be mashonzha [mopani worms].”

Mthembu said the presidency had asked that the department of arts and culture take the lead in organising events for all South Africa’s six national heritage days.

The department had now come up with a set of proposals and sent it to Cabinet.

These included inviting the leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament to speak at major events on national days to debunk the perception that these were monopolised by the ANC.

“On all national days all leaders of all political parties will speak,” he said.

“We started a Sharpeville heritage day in Limpopo... National days are not a preserve of a political party, they are the preserve of all South Africans.”

He added that various methods tried in the past to bring all races together, including choosing music designed to cater to different groups, had not worked because of an enduring rift between older South Africans.

“We know that we come from a past where people have not been taught to socialise together. It has been inculcated in our psyche that everyone goes to their own township. So it is very difficult for us to mobilise people in all communities.

“It is very easy to mobilise schools because the younger generation are used to socialising across race, across culture.”

Mthembu also briefed MPs on the often contentious process of changing place names, and said the department was aware that efforts to “decolonise” geography were sometimes seen as “inimical and antithetical to national unity and social cohesion”.

“Wherever there is a name change, there will be a committee objecting. It will object for political reasons, for cultural reasons, some people might even object because they feel there is a distortion of history, or they might just not like the personality after which the new name is named.”

He said a lack of clarity in legislation governing the process compounded the inevitable wrangling.

The department might ask MPs to amend the law to introduce a clear definition of the current requirement for “sufficient consultation” on changing a name, and to make it possible for the ministry to propose names – a power it does not have at present.

He said the perception that certain cultures were being marginalised “in a reverse form of discrimination” was not strictly true.

Careful scrutiny showed that the majority of new names approved by the department were English.

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