This year, Heritage Month is themed around Nelson Mandela’s centenary.
On September 24, as per the schedule on the nation’s commemorative calendar, the national Heritage Day celebration will be hosted in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal.

While it is common cause that the national celebrations and commemorations be rotated equitably across the country, the choice of Kokstad is significant in many ways.

Firstly, it is our way of reaffirming our commitment and reassuring the Griqua community of our appreciation of the contribution they have made in shaping the history and socio-political landscape of our country.

In that regard, it may also be opportune and apt that we pay tribute to Adam Kok, his reigning dynasty and the Griqua community at large for their courage, determination and fortitude in resisting colonial occupation.

It is quite apparent that by the turn of the 20th century, when the Native Congress burst on to the political scene, they would have been inspired by the fearlessness and intrepidity of their forebears, such as the Griquas of Adam Kok.

This year, Heritage Month is themed around Nelson Mandela’s centenary.

He himself made a cogent case for arts, culture and heritage being critical to the success of the social cohesion and nation-building project. The theme is “The year of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: Advancing transformation of South Africa’s heritage landscape”. A lot has happened in terms of advancing the heritage transformation agenda.

The transformation objective here is important, given that the collective symbolism - statues, names of places and spaces, artefacts, arts collections, and stories - reflected an era of civil strife and deep societal divisions, often along the contours of race, class, culture, gender and language.

During the difficult period of #RhodesMustFall, we took the initiative and engaged with various institutions of higher learning in terms of their heritage landscape and transformation thereof.

This month we will be providing feedback to three universities in terms of the findings of the ministerial task team and the recommendations thereof. The purpose of the feedback is to provide a platform for open dialogue in these institutions in advancing transformation.

Mandela’s views on the role of arts, culture and heritage in the social cohesion and nation-building on the occasion of the unveiling of the Enoch Sontonga monument, on September 23, 1996, is perhaps the most pointed in this regard.

He is aptly cited as having said that when the new government took over at the dawn of democracy in 1994, it was decided to make Heritage Day one of the national days because the leadership coterie at the time was acutely aware and conscious of the rich and varied cultural heritage of this country, and the profound power to promote social cohesion and national unity.

In keeping with the ideals of Madiba, we look to the national days as levers to bring about cohesion and national unity. Heritage and culture have the potential to bridge socio-historic divisions engendered over many decades of racist colonial and apartheid administrations. It is an indisputable fact that colonialism and apartheid employed heritage and culture in more subversive ways.

Colonialism and apartheid accentuated perceivable differences in terms of our culture and heritage as scientifically distinguishable markers that proved that, as black people, we were a hodgepodge of nations, totally distinct and unrelated to one another and, as such, we shared no common heritage and culture.

In this way, the colonial and apartheid masters ensured that black people remain divided.

To keep the oppressed masses, particularly Africans, divided and at odds with one another, the colonialism and apartheid machinery had to reify their differences.

Heritage and culture were essential factors in doing this.

Since 1994, the government has been committed to setting the country on a different path - standing in contrast to what had hitherto been the reality under colonialism and apartheid.

Our aim now is to use our culture and heritage as the glue that holds South African society together. The national celebration being planned in Kokstad is meant to assist us in that regard.

This is in keeping with the vision of the NDP and the promise of the Constitution that South Africa must become a just and equal society, where life chances are not apportioned and predetermined by social constructs such as race, class, culture, language, gender and one’s heritage.

Mthethwa is the minister of Arts and Culture