We owe the youth the right history

2018-09-23 11:59
Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

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‘The time will come when our nation will honour the memory of all the sons, the daughters, the mothers, the fathers, the youth and the children who, by their thoughts and deeds, gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans, and that we are citizens of the world.” These are the words of Nelson Mandela that speak to me of heritage, a freedom bequeathed to us as a nation by people like him, through sacrifices of important things like family, careers and, for others, the sacrifice of their own lives.

The question of heritage is an interesting one in our country. We are a diverse nation – with different languages, cultural practices and beliefs. In this same rainbow nation, we have different skin tones that could – if allowed, and as history demonstrates – divide and separate one group from the other.

But history and people like Madiba have also given us a common heritage that has to be celebrated and never forgotten so that we do not go back to that dark place they fought so hard to get us out of.

Our inheritance from the struggle heroes and heroines who took an idea that there could be equality among the people of this land, and fought to see it happen, is the rights we enjoy today. These are the rights to freedoms that some never lived to enjoy – some died in foreign countries and never got to see the country take down the plaques inscribed with the words ‘Whites only’ that signified the apartheid laws of the land.

The government, in this case, the department of basic education is to be given due commendation for considering a report from the ministerial task team led by Professor Sibusiso Ndlovu, which recommends the introduction of history as a compulsory subject in our schools.

We have a story that should be passed down to our children so that the mistakes of those leaders who created divisions among the black and white South Africans and enacted them into laws are never repeated – access to these stories is also important. We have a responsibility to the ones who actively struggled to end oppression of one group of people by another to tell those stories – we have a duty to honour their memory and build on their legacies.

What we cannot do is to allow ourselves to forget or to deprive future generations of South Africans knowledge that could prevent them from repeating the same mistakes. It is in the activation of that awareness and educating our young that we can help – knowledge stored in books can carry the legacy forward.

Imagine a world where a young South African does not recognise the names Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Sophie de Bruyn or Robert Sobukwe. That would be a bleak world indeed. Perhaps it is advisable for us to take lessons from the Jewish community, who, in celebrating their identity as a people, see to it that the Holocaust that wiped out millions of Jews during World War 2 is never forgotten. The wrong done during that genocide could never be easily repeated because, as grim as invoking the memory is, the memorial of the Holocaust has taught many people that an idea one human being can spread has the power to do irreparable harm to an entire population.

The current crop of writers should, therefore, be encouraged to tell the South African and, most important, the African story through the struggles of these leaders.

It is a good thing that National Book Week coincides with Heritage Month in our country. As we celebrate the 100th birthdays of Madiba and Mama Albertina Sisulu this year, it would be great to hear more people share their experiences and perspectives of Mandela, for his story is not one-dimensional. We ought to encourage writers to unpack Madiba’s layered and textured story so that people can experience him from many different perspectives – and this is how we pass on knowledge through the generations. Likewise, we ought to hear varying perspectives about Sisulu and scores of other liberation struggle leaders.

Another commendable recent important stride towards preserving our heritage through history is the one taken by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in establishing the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library. The foundation intends to set up a further 1 000 satellite libraries.

Our writers should be encouraged to research and tell the stories of the people whose contributions have yet to make it into the history books. We need to remember them, their selfless sacrifices and our common heritage. In so doing, we will preserve the common struggle our people have had, and therefore work at strengthening the bonds that bind us.

A number of thinkers, including Chinua Achebe, have referred us to this popular proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Let the lion tell its story over and over again so that the important lessons are passed on – the hunter may one day decide to tell the story and their version may not accurately represent our history, but theirs.

Let us each, in our own homes, be the champions of our country’s legacy and, when we braai tomorrow, we should remember how we came to be where we are as a country today. Our young democracy is also our heritage.

- Koti is director of communications and outreach at the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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