Xenophobia inconsistent with our values - Ramaphosa during Heritage Day address

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)
  • South Africans across the country are celebrating Heritage Day.
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa said ubuntu was part of South Africa's heritage and should be extended to those from other countries.
  • He also said citizens should "call on their heritage" as they deal with load shedding and other challenges.

"We are, as South Africans, a friendly and hospitable people, and it is inconsistent with our values to be xenophobic."

These were the words President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered during his Heritage Day address at the Union buildings in Pretoria on Saturday.

Ramaphosa said 24 September was a day for South Africans to appreciate the rich, diverse and common cultural heritage of the country.

"It is an opportunity for us to wear the attire that is unique to our respective cultures, to invite friends and family over for a home-cooked traditional meal, to play traditional music, and to pay tribute to those who came before us. Just as we celebrate where we have come from, we know that culture continues to evolve, adapt and change."

Ramaphosa's address preached a message of ubuntu in the wake of xenophobic attacks and a narrative around foreign nationals being pushed by some political and community leaders.

"Our heritage is also the best version of ourselves that we seek to become. I am referring here to ubuntu, which speaks to our innate spirit of generosity and human solidarity," he said.

"It speaks to our compassion and kindness towards other people, especially those less fortunate, and also to those from foreign lands who have sought refuge here," he added.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said this week that police had the right to conduct spot checks on immigrants and ask for documentation to determine their status.

He was criticised by civil society organisations for his decision to phase out the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP), a special dispensation permit that was established more than 10 years ago, providing legal protection to an estimated 178 000 Zimbabweans who live, work and study in South Africa.

Cabinet decided that the arrangement should be terminated by December and that permit holders should apply for a visa to remain in South Africa on the basis of a list of critical skills.

READ | ZEP extension welcomed but court action continues

Earlier this month, Motsoaledi extended the ZEP for the last time, until June, after the department received very few applications from Zimbabwean nationals for ordinary visas.

Ramaphosa's speech focused on the importance of promoting indigenous music and preserving culture and heritage.

He said artists must be paid their dues.

"The new Copyright Amendment Bill, passed by the National Assembly at the beginning of the month, will go a long way in protecting our artists and towards addressing their concerns about the collection and distribution of royalties," he said.

"We are determined to use the law where necessary to preserve our cultural heritage. We also need to defend and preserve our indigenous languages."

Ramaphosa said government was supporting several lexicography units at institutions of higher learning in terminology development for African languages.

PODCAST | The Story: Inside the Eskom crisis, is another four years of load shedding on the cards?

He also acknowledged that citizens might not feel they could celebrate through dance, music and art while being plunged into darkness through load shedding, facing unemployment, and dealing with the increasing cost of living.

"It is at times like this that our heritage becomes even more important. We are a nation with a heritage defined by struggle, by courage, by perseverance, by a determination to overcome even the greatest challenge," he said.

"And so let us call on this heritage as we confront the difficulties that confront our country today... Let us recognise the progress that is being made in transforming our society and draw on the experiences of years gone by to intensify our efforts to address these challenges and build a better life for all our people."

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