Debate on the Commemoration of September as Heritage Month

by Hon MB Gwala MPL

At the outset I must record sincere condolences on behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party Family on the tragic passing away of Prince Mthokozisi and Prince Sipho who were killed in a motor vehicle accident as they were travelling to the King Shaka Celebration. We remember that Prince Mthokozisi of Osuthu Royal Residence was at the forefront of directing the proceedings at many cultural events. Prince Sipho, who comes from the Ntembeni Royal Family was a descendent of Prince Sitheku, the son of King Mpande. Both Princes have made immense contributions in preserving our heritage and to the progress of our province as a whole. The IFP sends its condolences to His Majesty the King, His Royal Highness Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP and to the families of both Princes. Their presence will be greatly missed. May their souls rest in peace.

I would like to preface my debate with the following relevant quotation by Ali Abu-Talib :

“There is not greater wealth than wisdom, no greater poverty than ignorance, no greater heritage than culture and no greater support than consultation.”

In keeping with these words of wisdom the Inkatha Freedom Party laments the fact that this Government no longer celebrates Heritage Day as an event that is inclusive of South Africans of all races and cultures. In other words there is no consultation and no input from all the race groups that make up the citizenry of our province. This government appears to be embarking on the Heritage Day event in a robotic manner either for the sake of ticking the box or to gain political mileage for the ANC.

The citizens of KwaZulu-Natal remember that when the IFP was in control of the province, Heritage Day was celebrated in such a manner that it included people of all races. The IFP government of the day ensured that all cultures and languages were part of a programme that made all citizens feel a part of the celebration. Apart from music and dance, the programme would include the traditional dress and culinary delights of the African, Indian, Chinese, French, Portuguese and other cultural groupings that make up the rich tapestry of KwaZulu-Natal. It is unfortunate that the present government does not see Heritage Day as a day to celebrate the contributions that the diverse cultures make towards KZN being such a vibrant melting pot of peoples from around the world. This is a clear indication of the disconnect between the present government and the peoples of the province.

Although King Shaka is still celebrated, this day should continue to have greater relevance in promoting race relations and highlighting unity in diversity. At a time when we have many reports of racial slurs and attacks on people just because of their racial or linguistic backgrounds, Heritage Day must be seen as an ideal occasion to unite people of all race groups. The day’s events must serve as an opportunity to unify all of our citizens. People of different race and cultural groups must be brought together in order to get to know each other’s cultures and traditions so as to foster better understanding that will lead to tolerance, social cohesion and peaceful co-existence. Social cohesion lies in protecting the cultural rights of all groupings that exist in KZN while promoting understanding and acceptance of each other’s uniqueness. This will result in us achieving peaceful co-existence through unity in diversity. We need to engage in a cultural discourse that is inclusive and that acknowledges the heritage, customs and traditions of the multi-cultural population that makes up KwaZulu-Natal. In order for this to happen there has to be wide consultation among all cultural groupings that make up our province.

Heritage Day must serve a more lofty purpose and should not be just about song and dance.

The month of September should not only mark the beginning of Spring – the season of new beginnings – but it should be a springboard to promote unity in diversity in a more tangible way. Heritage sites reflect our history, culture and civilisation and it’s not the responsibility of the government alone but of everybody to jealously preserve and protect them. Our children and those who will come after them need to be educated about the value of their heritage and the need for its preservation.

Preserving our heritage as a nation should not be a one-month project. It has to be ongoing, every day of the year and it must serve as a rallying point for all South Africans to stand tall in acknowledging their heritage. It is this shared heritage that should be the cement that holds us as citizens together with a spirit of unity and pride.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that cultural diversity plays a vital role in today’s globalized world, and that culture is an essential element of sustainable development. This can be achieved if we use every opportunity to showcase our heritage and cultural diversity. When we host international delegations, sporting events, conferences, pageants and other events that attract international attention, we must ensure that the KZN heritage occupies pride of place. Even when we hold provincial and district events, our heritage and cultural diversity must be showcased with pride. All race, linguistic and cultural groupings must be given an opportunity to make a contribution if not on the main stage but on the side lines of such major events. This will serve as a constant reminder that KwaZulu-Natal is a multicultural province that is proud of its heritage.

The heritage of a nation is preserved in tangible forms through statues, museums, resource centres and heritage sites. It is unfortunate that urban expansion and a lack of appreciation of heritage sites have placed them at great risk of destruction. Whilst the IFP acknowledges the need for constant expansion, we also stress the need to preserve these heritage sites, museums and statues or we could end up losing them forever thereby depriving future generations of their heritage and sense of belonging. Whilst there is legislation to protect heritage sites, funding must be made available to maintain and constantly upgrade infrastructure.

In this regard the Inkatha Freedom Party takes this opportunity to applaud the MEC for Arts, Culture, Sports and Recreation, Hon Mrs Bongi MaSithole-Moloi for her wise decision to involve this government in preserving the immense contributions of His Royal Highness Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Setting aside politics, the MEC shows true leadership and a genuine concern to preserve the decades of visionary leadership and vast contributions that Prince Buthelezi has made in all facets of community life. His life’s work and dedication to the country has rightfully earned him the title of “Statesman”. Thank you, MEC Sithole-Moloi.

In keeping with inclusivity, the IFP would like to know what has become of the statue that was to be erected to honour Indentured Indians who arrived on our shores in 1860. Money was set aside for this statue to be erected on a site that was identified in Durban near the Point area, but to date the statue has not seen the light of day.

The IFP notes with sadness that the grave site of King Shaka who is internationally recognised as an African leader and great Zulu warrior is neglected and not accorded the kind of respect that is due to someone of his stature. King Shaka’s gravesite attracts visitors from across the globe thereby giving a tangible boost to our tourism industry but it is not well-maintained and preserved in the manner that it should. The IFP would like to see that King Shaka’s grave site is afforded the same status as those of Albert Luthuli, O R Tambo and Steve Biko. King Shaka and many others, contributed to the history and heritage of our nation and must rightfully be accorded pride of place in our heritage celebrations. The IFP hopes that something tangible will be done in this regard.