Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
"Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow" is the title of Fleetwood Mac’s famous hit. It seems that we South African’s "don’t stop thinking about yesterday" either. This is not a bad thing because yesterday’s lessons shine a path to the future. Last month, September we celebrated Heritage month, but, of course, we should celebrate our heritage on a daily basis. It does depress me how we, as a nation, kind of compartmentalise ‘themes of living’ into time-grids .i.e. Heritage Month, rather than be constantly renewed by their life-giving power.
Our beloved South Africa, if anyone had not noticed, is a curious mix of peoples, cultures and attitudes. Three and a half centuries of conflict, often bloody, have prompted a society scarred by the traumatic past and lopsided in development. The same period, let us not forget, was also a time of extraordinary fusion: cross-cultural, linguistic and even personal, which has created today’s melting pot of the brave Afrikaners, confident English speakers, enterprising Indians, unique coloureds and forbearing blacks who catalogue their old wounds with an air of pride.
Undoubtedly, South Africa owes most of its current success – and woes – to the period of intensive colonisation. Unlike elsewhere in Africa, the European settlers, both Dutch and British, were determined to become a permanent fixture in Southern Africa. To their credit, they developed previously unimaginable infrastructure and brought unprecedented material benefits. Christianity – and along with it Protestant ethic – was another precious gift to Africa. To their shame, the colonisers enforced equally unimagined injustices by imposing on our ancestors an alien social order in which they occupied a subordinate position. Our forefathers had to make some difficult and humiliating adjustments to the colonial rule. The transfer from green pastures to squalid urban hostels caused irreparable damage to the traditional ways of life. At the same time, it spurred on in the African people previously untapped energy, ebullience and adaptability.
Heritage is, as most things are, a mixed story of human triumph and failure.
Our heritage and ideals, our moral code and standards – the values we live by and pass onto our children – are magnified or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings. So, when we reflect upon heritage, we sing freedom’s song. In the stirring words of Abraham Lincoln: "Our defence is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors".
I, of course, speak for my heritage. Following the post-Anglo-Zulu War partition of the Zulu Kingdom and the 1913 Land Act, which deprived the majority of Zulus of their ancestral land, my nation desperately needed change. But was it to be revolutionary or evolutionary change?
How was a young aspiring Zulu politician, like me, to help transform living conditions and restore national dignity without eroding traditional values? I wished to see my nation prosper and coexist peacefully with other peoples. This is my heritage!
At the same time, I did not wish to see the resentment of the colonial era based on race transformed into envy fuelled by material advancement of the few at the expense of many. I viewed my people, the Zulus, as individuals and members of strong self-reliant communities, not as political troops in a class struggle. This is my heritage!
We are also mindful that there is insufficient regard for South Africa’s diverse linguistic and cultural heritage which traces its roots to the Dutch and British immigrants – white Africans – who first graced the shores of the Cape hundreds of years ago. The legacy of the Van der Merwes and the Mulders is my heritage, too! With this thought in mind, I would like to recall an anecdote of what happened when I attended the national celebration of Women’s Day in Vryheid in the Zululand District last month. I was invited by the Honourable Minister of Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities, Mrs Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, jointly with the Premier of KwaZulu Natal, the Honourable Dr Zweli Mkhize. The Guest of Honour and Guest Speaker was His Excellency Mr J.G. Zuma, President of the Republic.
This event starkly confronted me with the question of whether we are truly the Rainbow Nation that we market ourselves to be. I am not going to raise the argument about whether the notion of a Rainbow Nation is right or not. I wish we were a Rainbow Nation, but my own view is that we are, rather, a great nation because of our dazzling multi-cultural nation: one that is more comparable to a delectable bowl of salad!
We are rich because we are all Africans in the sense which was so elegantly stated by His Excellency President Thabo Mbeki in his memorable evocation "I am an African!" We are rich because of our diverse cultures. We own all these cultures as our own, whether we are Africans of different ethnic groups, or English or Afrikaans, or Coloured or Indian. And yet, in all the last fifteen years, I have attended all these functions – so-called national events – I have been struck by the fact that not one of them has been representative of all our people. Only Africans attended the function in Vryheid, for example. Less than ten whites were present. I saw two Indians, who were officials. There was not a single coloured present.
So, I asked myself, "Where is this Rainbow Nation?" Is it the fault of us, the African majority? Maybe we have not opened our arms wide enough to embrace the other race groups, particularly minorities. I do not know. I am groping around in the dark searching for the answer. It could be that the minority groups, so far, have not accepted that we are one nation. It could be that they simply do not feel safe in the midst of the majority. We look in a mirror dimly, but after fifteen years, we must come face to face with this brutal question.
So I boldly assert the truth that the best way to build a united South Africa is by cherishing and respecting all its constituent parts. Yes, South Africa is one country and it is building one nation, but its future will only be secured if all its constituent traditions are respected. One way to approach the process of building an authentic national consensus is with an open mind and with honesty.
The case for freedom, the case for our constitutional principles, the case for our heritage has to be made anew in each generation. The work of freedom is never done! We are also mindful that South Africa should be free to recognise our diverse religious heritage, and doing that is not the same as creating a government-sponsored religion. Our diversity is also reflected in the glory of creation. It is written in the narrative, too, of South Africa’s ecology. As we approach the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, we are mindful, as custodians of this fragile land that is the honour that you take with you, but the heritage you leave behind.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP