Celebrating Heritage Day in South Africa: Unity in Diversity
Heritage Day epitomizes the cultural and ethnic diversity of South Africa. It serves as a reminder to South Africans to embrace the spirit of uBuntu (humanity) and show love for one another—because indeed, there is Unity In Diversity.
South Africa, a country rich in culture and natural beauty. Dubbed the “Rainbow Nation” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa has been home to many races and ethnic groups. The 24th of September, otherwise known as Heritage Day, encourages all South Africans to celebrate and honor the diversity of their cultures and traditions, to celebrate being a part of something unique—a truly diverse nation. In a wider context, South Africa is a nation that belongs to its people.
In the spirit of celebrating diversity and embracing our differences, this blog reflects the thoughts of authors from different cultural roots to show that although our beliefs may be different, the lessons behind them are similar and equally important.
What Heritage Day means to us
Unlike other South African holidays, which commemorate struggles of the past, Heritage Day is a joyous occasion where the nation comes together to celebrate our differences. We learn to embrace each other’s cultures and traditions. On our national coat of arms, there is a phrase from the Khoisan language which reads “!ke e: /xarra //ke” which translates to “Diverse people unite”. This motto serves as a code by which we live. We set aside our differences and stand together united, and that is who we are as a nation.
Heritage Day is all about unity. As a nation, we come from a long history of using our differences as a basis for separation. Heritage Day is an attempt, not only to remind us to celebrate and preserve our cultural heritage but to encourage harmony and a sense of belonging for every South African.
It is about celebrating our country’s cultural wealth through sharing who we are. Recognizing one another and embracing our differences. It is about appreciating the diversity within and seizing the opportunity to learn from the multiplicity of cultures among which we exist. As much as it is about diversity, I believe that it is also about unity.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Heritage Day is that everyone attempts to learn and greet others in their languages. In my language, isiZulu, our greeting “Sawubona” or “Sanibonani” (plural), translates to “I see you”. For me, our greeting is an important part of our culture of humility which assumes no position of superiority for anyone. It is an acknowledgment that suggests that we all matter and are deserving of being seen, heard, and respected.
Similarly in Islam, we greet each other by wishing peace upon the person—“As salaamu alaykum” (may peace be with you). The Hindu cultural greeting of “Namaste” is also a way of portraying respect and humility, acknowledging the person as an equal. We speak different languages and have different ways of doing things, but one thing is for sure, you will always be greeted with a smile.
Heritage Day is an attempt, not only to remind us to celebrate and preserve our cultural heritage but to encourage harmony and a sense of belonging for every South African.
Celebrate Heritage Day with us
Traditionally, Heritage Day is celebrated with family and friends by having a braai (barbeque). Nothing brings people together like a big cookout with some fun activities. However, given that we are currently going through a pandemic, there are other ways to celebrate being a part of a diverse nation. One is by learning about the different cultures that South Africa is home to and encouraging others to do so.
Diversity and inclusion have been hot topics over the past few years. We are all trying to find ways to improve our standings and implement better practices. We as the Rainbow Nation exude diversity, and I feel we set a good example through the uBuntu philosophy, which aims to promote equality and respect for all. Despite the many differences that we have culturally, the strong sense of unity embedded in us will always shine through, and that is what uBuntu tries to teach us.
It is believed that a person’s identity is made up of their character combined with their family traditions and social roots. And being born into a country that has a multitude of vibrant cultures all living as one, in perfect coherence, makes us proud to say that we are South Africans!
Happy Heritage Day, our South Africa!
Check out our other amazing blogs on celebrating DEI!