So much better than founding a nation on nightmares

2013-09-25 00:00

FOR a country that is still grappling with the very notion of being one nation after almost five decades of institutionalised segregation, Heritage Day is a holiday that can easily achieve the opposite of what it was supposed to achieve.

The KwaZulu homeland previously celebrated the day as Shaka Day, named in honour of King Shaka, who gathered petty chieftainships into the proud people the Zulus are today.

As you would have noticed, I used “the people” rather than “the nation” to describe King Goodwill ka Bhekuzulu’s subjects.

That the Zulus or any other community feels entitled to call itself a nation signifies why Heritage Day must be a starting point rather than a destination.

If the Zulus are a nation, so are other language or cultural groups. If everybody belongs to their own “nation”, can we then say there is something called a South African nation?

Or do we then all carry something akin to a dual citizenship, where we are all something else and South African?

A further question is: what are we first?

Are we Zulu or Afrikaner or Indian, and so on, first, and then South African, or is it the other way around?

Whatever your answer to that question is, what remains is that the issue of who or what is a South African remains unresolved.

And because it is unresolved, it follows that the next question is whose heritage do we commemorate or celebrate?

It is for this reason that I am quite chuffed that someone came up with the idea of the day being celebrated as Braai Day.

I can see why radicals and Zulu traditionalists would disagree vehemently, and even feel that an important day in their culture is being desecrated.

It is not ideologically perfect, but I do think that Braai Day is the most sincere attempt at national cohesion. For one thing, it is not prescriptive as to what it is that you are asked to braai, even vegetarians can grill what they wish to. You may even fast if you wish.

More importantly for me, Braai Day has no overt political or religious overtones, unlike most, if not all, other public holidays.

In a country like ours, a non-political or non-religious holiday can do more for national cohesion than any speech by a politician.

Furthermore, sharing aspects of one’s culture without the assumption that yours is superior to the next person’s, can contribute to us getting to know each other better.

South Africa has too many monuments standing in honour of victims of injustice.

Many of our streets and towns have been changed from being named after men and women of war and conquest on the one side of the divide, to men and women of war and conquest on the other side of the divide.

That in itself is not a bad thing. There can never be moral equivalence between those who fight to sustain an unjust system declared to be a crime against humanity, and those who fight for its removal.

It becomes problematic when we seek to establish a nation on nightmares, or by perpetuating what divides us, rather than that which unites us as a nation.

For that reason, I am all for Braai Day, until something better comes along that we can all celebrate.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance journalist and former editor of The Witness.

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