Heritage Month is Meaningless to the Landless

In his last address to the nation, the President called on South Afrikans to gather on Heritage Day and do the “Jerusalem Dance Challenge”. This is following the hit song by local DJ, Master KG which has inspired a global dance fiesta.

The President, in the midst of all the challenges facing the country and in particular the arts, chooses the 24th of September otherwise known as Heritage Day for this dance challenge. What reason do Black people in this country have to be celebrating on a day they should be reminded of their landlessness and how this affects their heritage?

The true heritage of this country is at risk and has been for many years. There has been a violent colonial invasion of our heritage following the brutality of our invaders who did so much to erase everything that resembles us.

This was followed by another brutal system of apartheid that established institutions of colonial heritage at the expense of the heritage of the natives. These institutions were filled with collections that are everything other than who we are.

We are not in what is supposedly a democratic era and even then our heritage is at risk not only from the effects of coloniality and apartheid as an extension colonialism, but from the Mandelafication and ANCfication of our heritage. The symbols of heritage and commemorations that are created in this era are highly favourable towards certain leaders of the ANC and in particular Mandela.

The streets and places that are named, the monuments and statues that are unveiled, the commemorative days throughout the years have been skewed towards the ANC. It is this practice that I term the Mandelafication and ANCfication of our history. There is no balanced portrayal of our political history let alone our history in its totality.

Even institutions that are supposed to be centres of research and archival repositories are not playing a role in presenting history as it unfolded. These institutions are still conforming to the colonial and apartheid systems in terms of the collection, protection, preservation and promotion of heritage.

Even the new institutions that are created are either not adequately resourced to perform a function that seeks to radically transform the cultural heritage of this country. For example, does the Sol-Plaatje University have a centre that looks at researching the history of warriors like Kgosi Luka Jantjie, Kgosi Galemidiwi Galeshewe, Kgosi Toto? If not, why not?

How many museums in this country (apart from the Phansi Museum eThekwini) do you walk into and get the sense that as a Black person you are adequately and accurately represented. A space that your children can leave with a greater appreciation for the history and heritage of Black people.

Currently there are so many people who are walking repositories of our history and heritage and there is little or no effort to archive their oral accounts of history and sacred cultural practices that are essential to our heritage.

Heritage Day is Meaningless to the Landless

Black people are still landless and as a result almost totally disconnected to their heritage. How does a day like this find meaning in our lived experience when we continue to be a landless, traumatized and dominated people?

Milk and Honey

The solution proposed for Heritage Day is that we must dance to Jerusalem? For how long are we as Black people going to hold on to the idea of Jerusalem, Jerusalem ikhaya lam. How can we live a life of poverty, enslavement and dispossession in the land of our abode with the false hope that we shall attain a better life after we die and walk in streets made of gold, indulging in milk and honey?

It is no surprise that whites in this country feel entitled to trivialize the 24th of September when we should be remembering the death of a Warrior King, iNkosi uShaka, uNodumehlezi kaMenzi, Ilembe elileqa amanye amalembe ngokukhalipha! They feel entitled to call this day Braai Day along with their mascot uMkhulu Desmond Tutu who was advocating for such. It is because we have a president that thinks we should be dancing instead of confronting the root of our problems.

If the President truly believes in the power of dance to heal and unite the nation, why is he not prioritizing the many dancers that are reeling in poverty and landlessness. Why is it that dancers are struggling to find rehearsal and performance spaces? Why is it that dancers and choreographers are not getting enough opportunities to monetize their craft?

This practice of using the arts as an instrument of escapism and not investing in the creative and cultural capital of this country is as much an insult as it is an injury to the creators of artistic content in this country.

If the President wishes to dance he can do so but there are more important things and more pressing challenges that this country must respond to insofar as heritage is concerned other than dancing.