Cyril Ramaphosa

Johannesburg - As President Cyril Ramaphosa led the Heritage Day celebrations in Upington on Tuesday, the EFF dubbed the holiday as meaningless without the return of the land.

The DA, meanwhile, slated Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi for his “open hatred towards Afrikaans”.

“The foundation of African people’s claim to any heritage is the land. Without the land all else is meaningless,” the EFF said. The red berets also called for the removal of apartheid and colonial public signs, including statues, streets and public property names.

Speaking outside the Nelson Mandela Museum in Soweto where the DA held its own event, party leader Mmusi Maimane said a shared heritage and reconciliation from the division of the past did not mean people had to surrender their diversity.

“It doesn’t mean we must give up our identity or apologise for our race, culture or language.

“It is an acknowledgement and a celebration of our diversity and recognition that this diversity is what makes us strong and resilient. Black and white, young and old, Xhosa, Zulu or Afrikaans, we are better and stronger together,” Maimane said.

On Lesufi’s opposition against the planned construction of an Afrikaans-only university by Solidarity in Tshwane, Maimane said: “When Panyaza Lesufi displays his open hatred towards Afrikaans and tries to shut the language down, tell him he’s alone in that fight. Every South African language has the right to belong and to thrive.”

Lesufi has openly slammed the plan as a disgrace to the Constitution and an attempt to use Afrikaans for exclusion. But Maimane said the government had to fix the education to prepare the youth for the future instead of dwelling on the past.

In the Northern Cape under the theme Celebrating South Africa’s literacy classics in the year of indigenous languages, Ramaphosa lamented the recent acts of intolerance by some South Africans, which he said damaged the country’s sense of solidarity and social cohesion.

He had previously complained about how he was booed while addressing residents in Ekurhuleni when he spoke in Tshivenda and Xitsonga. “There is no language in this country that is superior to another. When we were negotiating the Constitution and when we were finalising our journey into democracy, language became one of the most important issues that we had to deal with.

“Every single language spoken in this country has equal value and it has equal worth and today we are saying we must embrace every language and we must see the beauty in every language.”

Ramaphosa further called on South Africans to use recent events of violence in the country to rekindle a culture centred on values of unity, dignity, respect and equality. 

“There is nothing in any of our traditions and cultures that supports acts of violence against others, that allows the abuse of women and children, or that promotes racism, tribalism and other forms of intolerance,” he said.

The Human Rights Commission said in a statement that the preamble of the Constitution notes that South Africa belongs to all who live in it and that we should all be “united in our diversity”.

“Heritage Day gives all within South Africa the opportunity to celebrate our diverse backgrounds while accepting backgrounds which are different from our own. The diversity we are gifted with gives us an opportunity to learn from each other.”

The commission said it was deeply concerned that the diversity in the country had become the source for division and conflict. “These divisions are observed through the commission’s exercise of its constitutional mandate to protect, promote and monitor the attainment of human rights as set out in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights,” it said. 

Additional reporting by African News Agency (ANA)

Political Bureau