Without identifying more unsung local icons from all spheres of life, our history will be littered with falsehood and self-serving agendas, says th writer. Picture: City of Cape Town
As we celebrate Heritage Month and honour our stalwarts who left lasting legacies, and affirm sites of great historical significance, we should adopt an inclusive approach which does not particularly favour individuals of elevated political standing and their epoch-making events.

Our leaders should strive to identify more local heroes and heroines from all walks of life throughout our country, and unpack their narratives and recognise their contribution to society.

They should adopt an inclusive multi-layered approach to promote social cohesion.

To this end, I am reminded of a tap-dancer of note, affectionately and simply known as “Mad Joe” Latakgomo from Thokoza in Ekurhuleni.

He enthralled travellers with his titillating and vibey dance moves at taxi ranks such as Faraday in Johannesburg and Germiston, to eke out a living in the 70s and 80s.

Had the infirmities of old age not ruined his energy today, he could be known as the father of the quintessential South African tap-dance genre.

It would be remiss of me to forget to allude to the contribution of the late Andries Jiyane.

He was arguably one the most revolutionary and fearless student leaders of the 80s and one of the original co-founders of the East Rand People’s Organisation, who died mysteriously during the state of emergency in the 80s.

The force of my argument is that in celebrating significant historical moments, there is a need to identify more local heroes and heroines whose contributions to society are in danger of disappearing, and justify why they should be judged worthy of being remembered and preserved.

Without identifying more unsung local icons from all spheres of life, our history will be littered with falsehood and self-serving agendas.

It is indeed desirable to ensure that the country does not privilege the ruling classes such as politicians and celebrities like musicians and actors over the others, who also deserve to be recognised as national icons.

In every community it is now necessary to identify those who made significant and positive contributions in various categories such as sports, the performing arts, business, education and leadership, primarily at the grassroots level.

This view calls for the need to create ongoing dialogues between different generations, political groupings, social partners, business and worshippers of various religious persuasions.

Doing so will enable the country to enhance the much-needed process of ensuring that the most deserving citizens are duly recognised for their contribution in keeping with the values intrinsic to our Constitution.

Therefore, each local authority should engage communities in tedious but worthwhile dialogues to enhance the process of identifying the most valued local icons worthy of recognition.

Without these measures, history would have us believe that some localities do not have iconic residents who deserved to be rewarded for their sacrifices and benevolent deeds.

This is crucial because real empowerment and change in people’s lives occurs when their lived experiences and “daily transformative acts” are harnessed to create new meanings and realities central to eliminating exclusions and inequalities.

The initiative will serve a great purpose as it will unearth untold narratives about the immense contributions of forgotten heroes and heroines from all walks of life who made significant contribution to the country’s as the country contrives enrich its heritage.

It is critical to chronicle the legacy of local icons in shaping our history at the individual and the societal level.

We must introduce critical dialogues and take risks that would enable us to create new meanings and realities out of diverse lived experiences.

* Mokoena (PhD) is director for research and policy at the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent