Celebrating Heritage Day

2004-09-23 14:10

What Is Our Heritage?

As South Africa celebrates Heritage Month, we have an opportunity to reflect on what our collective heritage actually is.

This is apt as we look back on what we have achieved in the first ten years of South Africa's freedom and democracy.

Several public attempts have been made to define heritage, to capture its essence in the South African context.

Invariably, questions are raised about its value and worth, and particularly its role in helping us meet some of our many challenges.

Some have loosely defined heritage as "something possessed as a result of one's natural situation or birth" or "inherited from the past, passed on by those - people, experiences and events - that have come before us".

Both of these are true of South Africa's heritage, which also encompasses our history, values, norms and culture.

Given our diversity, it is difficult to speak of any of these in a singular sense.

Through an extensive consultative process and critical analysis of various research findings as part of the Brand South Africa campaign, the International Marketing Council defined our heritage in terms of three elements: who we are, what we have and how we do things.

Who we are

In a way, who we are and who we choose to be as a nation is very much a product of our collective heritage.

Because of our history and the lessons drawn from it, we have chosen to gather strength in our diversity and not to regard or use it as a divisive tool.

The celebratory Khoisan term Ke e Xarra Ke ("United in Diversity") serves as a living testimony to the choice we made more than ten years ago - to find peaceful and productive ways of resolving our differences, which has led to all of us living as one nation.

That choice makes it possible for us today to proudly speak of "unity in diversity".

South Africans have a pioneering spirit, courage and the determination to succeed.

These traits continue to drive us as we deal with the challenges of building a nation once divided, to finding fresh and innovative solutions in dealing with these challenges.

The optimism and encouragement we find in unlikely places and from the most unexpected people, fuels our task of bettering the lives of our fellow South Africans and at the same time, ensuring that we compete with the best in the world.

What we have

Increasingly, South Africans are beginning to appreciate what we have inherited and what we are collectively capable of.

Similar to the rich and diverse natural resources of this beautiful land and its wildlife, we have a productive diversity, caring strength and creative ingenuity that is building a country that is adored and envied by the world.

To most of the world, we are viewed as having so much to offer to all of our citizens and the rest of the international community. Examples are:

  • Our country's successful transformation from a pariah state to a stable and prosperous democracy, which has led to South Africa being respected and revered internationally for its most progressive constitution

  • Our ability to turn a tragic situation into a lesson for the world - our transition to a democratic state was expected to be marred by violence and retribution, but instead it was an astounding lesson in reconciliation

  • Our underlying wealth and natural assets and the talent of all South Africans - the world comes to South Africa to see its beautiful skies and beaches, Table Mountain and the game reserves, which always fulfil their expectations. However, what amazes and surprises visitors is that they fall in love with the warmth and friendliness of our people, which always entices them to come back for more South African smiles and caring attitudes.

    How we do things

    South Africans do things in unique ways, which is most evident in the way we strive to achieve win-win solutions.

    It is also through this collaborative approach that we are able to talk of and achieve fresh, sustainable solutions.

    Although logic, research and the input of many, pointed to these three elements, something was still missing - we could not completely explain how we manage to compete with the best in the world and succeed beyond expectations.

    How is it possible for us to produce the best BMW 3 series in the world, or to export R20bn worth of locally-assembled vehicles annually?

    What makes it possible for us to collectively raise and donate R930m a month to charitable causes despite our many pressing financial challenges?

    How is that we led the world into ATM banking or, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, giving the world an alternative model to dealing with post-conflict situations and nation building?

    The answer is that South Africa has produced winners. Our collaborative approach in dealing with some of our challenges has led South Africa to participate in many peace initiatives in the continent and beyond. It was definitely our creative ingenuity, working hand-in-hand in our approach and our focus on transformation that ensured our successful FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010 bid - throughout the bid process, we emphasised the value the bid would bring to the continent, worked with leading icons of the game from this and other continents and, most importantly, did all of this without once bringing any of the competing bids down.

    All of these traits make ours a dynamic economy that is on a momentum of growth and continues to create boundless opportunities for traders, investors and travellers alike.

    South Africa's remarkable rebirth and transformation is perhaps the most tangible proof that the unique manner in which we do things is a key driver of our success as a nation. It is the main differentiating feature that gives us the edge.

    South African heritage - definitely as diverse, inspirational and worthy of pride as South Africa herself.

    Ten ways to celebrate our heritage

    The Oxford dictionary defines heritage as "what is or may be inherited and a portion allotted to anyone".

    September is Heritage Month in South Africa and it is every South African's right to embrace and celebrate it! In this tenth year of South Africa's freedom, here are ten ways we can celebrate our heritage:

    1. Explore and discover our country - and while you're at it, visit our heritage sites. Not sure where they are? Click on to plan your trip from experience to experience.

    2. Show your true colours and fly our flag - be an ambassador for South Africa and fly our flag in thought, word and deed. After all, marketing South Africa is everyone's business and each and every one of us, through our behaviour, the words we use and the stories we tell, can make a difference in how we see ourselves and how the rest of the world perceives South Africa. Think of our progressive constitution, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela as just a start.

    3. Celebrate our successes and share your life story; we have a lot to be proud of - we continue to inspire the world to a new way of doing things, because our unique combinations create refreshing possibilities.

    4. Proudly buy South African products and make use of South African services. This is not only a celebration of our heritage but it helps to sustain our economy too. Marmite, boerewors, Mrs Balls Chutney, Ouma's Rusks and biltong - does it get any better than that? Why not host a Heritage Day lunch and serve only South African food?

    5. Learn our anthem - We must be the only country to have a national anthem composed in five different languages - and probably the only one whose people don't know the words to all of the verses! Our anthem, with its different languages and its different tunes, is a reflection of the diversity of our nation, and the words of each verse proudly proclaim the love we all have for this awesome country. Go to to learn the words to the entire anthem and do a private karaoke session while you learn. You'll do the nation proud the next time you stand up and sing with pride!

    6. Recognise the role our past has played in shaping what South Africa has become today - read up on the parts of our history that you don't know or haven't thought of since your were a child. Read the biographies of some of South Africa's awesome heroes. Remember the challenges and celebrate the successes - go to to begin.

    7. Learn the story of our flag - Did you know that our flag is the third most recognised flag in the world? It is also certainly one of the most loved by its people. Fly our flag this Heritage Month!

    8. Learn one more of our 11 languages and explore the culture attached to it - learn more about the other races of the South African nation and open your eyes to the amazing diversity of South Africa's people, and at the same time, indulge in other tastes and flavours.

    9. Celebrate our progressive constitution - no other country in the world is blessed with a constitution like ours - it's one of the most progressive in the world. You can celebrate and commemorate this by exercising your democratic rights and respecting the rights of others to begin with.

    10. Live "Ubuntu" - "I am because we are" - show hospitality and warmth to fellow countrymen and visitors alike.

    Mostly, it is about togetherness and teamwork, attributes that have helped to build the rainbow nation and that will keep the rainbow intact for years to come.