Heritage Day in South Africa is an annual public holiday that occurs on 24th September. On this day, South Africans celebrate their Culture and the diversity of beliefs and traditions.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
As South Africans celebrate Heritage Day, Fr. Thabiso Clement Ledwaba, a lecturer in the Faculty of Philosophy at St. John Vianney National Seminary, Pretoria, reflects on the significance of the day.
The beauty and necessity of diversity
“24th September each year, South Africans celebrate the best of their Cultural diversity, it is that time of the year when a nation that has been devastated by differences is united and rejuvenated by the same differences of identity and outlook. This day is special because it communicates a message of the beauty and necessity of diversity. For a long time, this diversity seemed almost like a curse, and today, its truth as a gift is shining out so beautifully,” said Fr. Thabiso.
Fr. Thabiso emphasised that Heritage Day reminds all South Africans of the cultural beauty that resides in all of South Africa.
“We are celebrating the heritage of Culture in South Africa. The Oxford dictionary traces the etymology of Culture back to the Latin word cultura meaning to grow, to cultivate. The word agriculture is a familiar term (thanks to the whole conscious effort of producing that which would nourish and sustain life). When we speak of Cultural Heritage, therefore, we evoke that whole tradition of pursuits of sorts that tends towards growth, progress, advancement, civilisation, enlightenment, development,” said Fr. Thabiso.
Ubuntu as a spiritual milestone worthy of the name culture
Fr. Thabiso continued, “We seek to bring to our consciousness that whole heritage that housed a noble longing for the best of humanity and strives to honour those moments worthy of the name, glorious achievement -both spiritual and material. The concept of Ubuntu is one such spiritual milestone worthy of the name culture (or agri-culture) because something noble was (and could still be) growing, namely, the appreciation of the human person and the enhancement of his or her dignity as a distinctly different creature from the rest. The majestic Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, is a physical monument of such a glorious moment of human progress. When human societies embark on the path of such pursuits, (as the quest for growth, progress, development, advancement) Culture becomes the name of this endeavour,” emphasised the St. John Vianney Philosophy lecturer.
Culture contributes to what is decent and noble
Fr. Thabiso has since called for the re-enthronement of the term ‘culture’ as something decent and noble.
“In as much as a commandment ceases to be a commandment if it does not command, and the law ceases to be law if it lacks justice, or theology ceasing to be one if it does not speak well of God, anything human ceases to bear the name culture if it does not contribute towards the building, the cultivation, the growth of what is decent and noble in human society. Our honest enquiry should discard much of what we call Culture today as worthy of the name or as demanded by heritage. This understanding results in a disturbing discord between Culture and corruption. It would therefore be odd to speak of the Culture of Corruption, or the Culture of Laziness, or the Culture of Crime. Though these social maladies seem to be growing, their growth is as annoying as weeds in the Parable of the Weeds itself (Mt. 13: 24-30). It is an undesired and unintended growth-triggering revolt. We may therefore need to restore the original meaning of the term as laid bare by its heritage voluminously stored in the memorable past. Suffice it to call these sick practices as mere habits because habits mushroom like Weeds, spontaneously and at random; need no watering, needing no institution to safeguard or monitor their growth,” Fr. Thabiso said.
Restraint is an essential feature of culture
“One of the most enduring legacies of Culture is Restraint. Culture true to its mission of positive growth, progress, development and advancement imposes Restraint as a rule. It thrives on building boundaries, on preaching the gospel of limitation. It prides itself on Control. Words like discipline come natural to this legacy. Therefore any culture that is tolerant of tearing down boundaries, of broadening perspectives to a point where the clarity about right and wrong fades away and the sophistry of simplicity becomes order of the day then we are overtaken by something other than Culture. The heritage of Culture carries the blazing might of Restraint. Cynical indifference has no place in the heritage or legacy of Culture. A practice that lacks this feature (of Restraint) is found wanting as far as Culture is concerned,” admonished Fr. Thabiso.
A nation in search of its soul
According to Fr. Thabiso, notwithstanding South Africa’s history of Apartheid, racial tensions that persist, political fragmentation and xenophobia, the country and its people can still build a healthy society.
“(We) can adopt values that would enhance our worth as a people, sharpen our judgement of conduct and chastisement of clumsy habits,” Said Fr, Thabiso. He added, “The Catholic Church has a culture of her own, if she did not have one, then we would not be speaking of 2000 years of life and growth. It may well be correct to ask ourselves, what is that legacy worthy of the name Culture within the Catholic Church- that aspect worthy of praising and imitating in our present day? There is a lot to say in answer to this question: Refusing to be tamed by the World comes out shining as a definitive feature of the Culture of this Faith called, Catholic. This feature has made this Faith a friend and an enemy of the World, wedded and widowed to the World at the same time, so young and yet so old a faith, dying so many times and rising again, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” Fr. Thabiso said.