Heritage Day was established to give respect to South Africa’s rich and diverse linguistic, religious and cultural heritage, but many believe the day is slowly losing its significance.
Busie Nkosi from Katlehong said although South Africa was a proud and solid rainbow nation which prided itself “with imvelaphi yethu (our origins)”, people were battered by the difficulties they faced daily.
“Especially us who are poor. This time, this day has been just normal, like any other day and there is nothing significant about it anymore,” she said.
“How would you celebrate something that you are not part of? When you cannot access basic needs like healthcare, water, food and electricity – there is nothing to celebrate. “We hope in the future, our kids will be able to commemorate this day in true meaning.”
‘Nothing to cheer or celebrate’
David Mkhize from Thokoza said the dire situation in the country had resulted in a memorial day such as Heritage Day being irrelevant because people were destitute and found themselves stuck indoors with nothing to cheer or celebrate.
“It’s only the few who find themselves able to cherish such a day, as they can afford to mingle, but if your stomach is empty, you cannot even have a smile on your face,” he said.
“To be honest I have lost track of such prestigious days we used to celebrate years back in the black community, except for the political parties which use such to campaign and attempt to garner for votes.”
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The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) said although South Africa was still functioning, despite 30 years of ANC rule “including nine long years of state capture, the heritage of the last 30 years was poor service delivery, deplorable public health and education systems, load shedding, critical water shortages, unemployment and sky-high crime rates”.
FF+ MP Heloïse Denner said South Africa was one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with the most interesting societies, with its 12 official languages (including signing) and its varied cultures, races and religions, but the ANC government had no regard for anyone’s cultural heritage, not even its own.
“That is certainly not something to celebrate,” she said.
North-West University political analyst Professor André Duvenhage said to the majority of South Africans, Heritage Day had become an ordinary holiday.
There was no national consensus about a common heritage, quite the opposite.
“I’m seeing a hugely divided South Africa in terms of race, colour and identity. And it has nothing to do with apartheid. It has to do with post-apartheid and legislation,” he said.
Duvenhage said in terms of national identity and national interest, the lack of social cohesion was concerning.
“There is a big need for it. I think ordinary citizens can cooperate, work together. [We] have a common history so we can build a common identity,” he said.
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“But what I am picking up is the ANC is losing support; everything is becoming more racially orientated and dividing society.
“We have a lot we can celebrate in South Africa, but unfortunately, the conduct of government and a huge part of the legacy of the last 30 years has to do with poor service delivery, institutional decay and electricity shortages.
“I’m hearing more people arguing the viewpoint that the period before 1994 was better than the situation we are in. “In that sense, I think it is negative. But I think we need leadership to take us forward. We need a new consensus. We need us South Africans to come together again and try to rebuild the country.”
‘Beginning of the end of the ANC’
Chief economist at Efficient Group Dawie Roodt said in South Africa there was certainly much to celebrate, but people mostly celebrated “what we could have been and if we could have been so much more”.
“If you look at just about everything in South Africa, all the institutions, starting at the local authorities, state-owned enterprises, the national accounts; everything has been mostly mismanaged by the ANC government,” he said.
“The past 30 years, things started off not too badly, but now the ANC government has squandered most of everything.”
Roodt said the good part was that South Africa was in a second transition.
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“I think we are moving and starting. This is the beginning of the end of the ANC. The next five years will still be an ANC government or dominated by an ANC government, but then we’re going to become something else.
“So we had a chance 30 years ago to become something else. We nearly succeeded.”
Independent economist Bonke Dumisa said Heritage Day meant South Africans celebrated and embraced diversity.
He said it was more about “who we are”, which was what diversity was all about.
“That is what was being celebrated. It has absolutely nothing to do with other [issues]. Those things we can talk about when people are campaigning for the elections. Heritage Day is really a politically neutral celebration,” said Dumisa.
“It is sad that political opportunism is making people see everything as a platform to score cheap political points.”