The heritage of South Africans today is of a nation united in diversity. A mighty heritage of the Khoi and the San, the Nguni and the Sotho, the Somali refugee, and restless economic exiles from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, to mention but some. 

Ours is the heritage of the Great Trek and the Union Jack, colonialism and conquest, apartheid and democracy, exile and return.

Ours is that beautiful heritage of the sari-clad Indian curry merchant, lawyer and doctor whose ancestors sailed here to serve the sugar-cane farms and help develop South Africa’s exploitative sugar-plantation industry, led by English sugar barons. 

We are the children of Sekhukhuni, Moshoeshoe, Jama, Gandhi, Luthuli, Sobukwe, Dadoo, Fatima Meer, Mgijima, Campbell and Fischer.

We are descendants of Malay slaves, Zanzibaris, Chinese and many more. We celebrate Christian mass and go on pilgrimage to Mecca and other sites of religious importance. We understand our commitments to Allah, Qamatha and Mvelinqangi. 

Every December, we devotedly climb Nhlangakazi to evoke the spirits of the Shembe pathfinders and other great ancestral guardian spirits.

As avowed Jews, we fast and observe Shana Tova, so that we and our beloved ones may live exemplary lives. We observe the Sabbath, Christmas, Kwanza, Diwali, Easter and Ramadan, and pray for bread and rice. We are the rainbow people of God. We burn incense and pay homage to our ancestors via umsamo.

We are the rainbow nation of Tutu and Mandela’s noble dreams. We are the enchanting dreams born of yesterday’s nightmare. We are the ones who tamed storms and humbled hurricanes. Ours is a nation of abundant fruits of hope, love and peace. We are a living kaleidoscope of collective victory.

Look at us when we dance the pantsula, the ndlamu, the mxhenso, the langarm, the bhangra, sakkie sakkie and ballet. See us perform the umhlonyane, the thomba and umemulo ceremonies for our beloved ones. Join us when Princess Magogo Buthelezi kaDinizulu evokes Zululand of yore, as she sings her heart out in elegiwac accompaniment to umakhweyane, her ancestral one-string-bow.

Come closer as NP van Wyk Louw recites Raka, that classic poetic song of dissent and illumination. How can one forget Nadine Gordimer, Ingrid Jonker, Andre Brink, JM Coetzee, Johan van Wyk and William Plomer? We are of the stoical stock of Alan Paton and his epic cry for a beloved country. Brenda Fassie’s melancholic yet dare-devil songs are our songs too.

Enoch Sontonga sang of our collective continental pain and recited epic prayers. So did ESK Mqhayi, Peter Abrahams, E’skia Mphahlele, Nat Nakasa, BB “Nonkamfela” Ndelu, Can Themba, Lewis Nkosi, Kessie Govender and Don Mattera.

Our heritage is both tragic and joyful. Remember when Maqhawe Mkhize’s wry humour rubbed shoulders with that of that illustrious son of the Groot Marico, Herman Charles Bosman? It was in exile that Breyten Breytenbach and Mazisi Kunene forged a lasting bond. 

Exile was where Gerard Sekoto defiantly painted his rainbow freedom dreams on the cold canvas of cruel Paris. In exile, Miriam Makeba, Dollar Brand, Dorothy Masuka, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu and Jonas Gwangwa sang freedom songs - Not just for Mandela’s long walk to freedom, but for all of us to walk free.

Ours is the heritage of human rights denied and restored. One of frontier wars, the Mfecane, the Battle of Isandlwana, the South African War, the Bulhoek, Sharpeville and Langa massacres, the murders of Ruth First, Steve Biko and Hector Peterson.

Ours is a revolutionary heritage of songs sung under fire, while Cato Manor, District Six, Lady Selbourne and Sophiatown were destroyed.

Our eyes have seen and embraced injustice as an essence of our human condition. Look at the tears our people shed through the paintings of Dumile Feni and the photography of Ernest Cole, Peter Magubane, Paul Wynberg, Zanele Muholi, and Cedric Nunn. How can we forget Alf Khumalo, Ken Oosterbrook, Steven Hilton-Barber and all artists who stood for justice and peace?

Heritage cannot be reduced to a national braai day, a lousy excuse for excessive boozing and noise. As an African of Zulu descent, the callous day that emperor Shaka the Great was murdered - September 24, 1828 - is a day worthy of solemnity and reflection, and not a festival of decadence and commercial excess. Our heritage is not for sale. It is for the healing of our minds and souls.

*** Bhedlindaba “VVO” Mkhize is an African spiritual healer and philologist

Sunday Tribune