Reflections of heritage and Heritage Day

Posted on November 15, 2011
In KwaZulu-Natal, the 24th of September was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King, Shaka.Shaka was the legendary Zulu King who played an important role in uniting disparate Zulu clans into a cohesive nation.

The Public Holidays Bill presented to the Parliament of South Africa at the time did not have the 24th of September included on the list of proposed public holidays. As a result of this exclusion, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill. Parliament and the IFP reached a compromise and the day was given its present title and seen as a public holiday.

For days preceding 24th September (South Africa's heritage day) I was asking myself what the significance of 24th September is to acquire the respectful bow to commemorate Heritage day on?

I asked a number of knowledgeable and open minded conscious people, none of them could remember. Then in an attempt to research the birth of this day; I went to Google, she told me, hence the clip above. I thought it necessary to include it just to remind others who had forgotten and bring to awareness to those who never knew that 24 September, now Heritage day is(was) Shaka's day.

On the 23rd of September I was traveling from Durban to Bizana( Wild Coast, Eastern Cape) in a public taxi. A friendly lady in her 30's told me she had forgotten that its heritage day, my dress sense is reminding her. I reckoned with her that the 24th was only the following day, she then told me, 'we are already in the spirit of celebrating'.

About a month ago in Johannesburg; there's a lovely fruit and veg in Blairgowrie that a friend of mine and myself have started visiting together whenever I am in Johannesburg. We've been there twice together in a space of 6 months. On the second visit,the lady attending to the store asked me if there's a cultural occasion that I'm going to, before I reply my friend bursts out saying, 'What is your culture?', the lady agrees fast, 'Yes, What is your culture?'. At this we both burst out laughing, for that is the question she had asked me about 3 months ago. She also questions my ethnicity, am I Zulu? I tell her there's truth in that and I also tell her of Uxhosa. I tell her, this is me, this is how I dress and I also tell her that I am a Sangoma. She tells me I'm very beautiful. What I'm usually dressed in is cloths and I am daily adorned with beads and skins, known as ingqwamba in isiXhosa.

My trip to Bizana is to be part of a first initiation bead ceremony of a friend of mine. He is becoming a twasa, a sangoma initiate. Aha, this makes a lot of sense to me to be at such an event on South Africa's heritage day. It says to me, here we are archiving the root of my/our heritage. The nature of Sangoma's is such that they are custodians of culture, tradition & heritage and they uphold the true values of Ubuntu, simplicity, synchronicity & connectedness in living, values of love. Sangomas or amaqgirha have held a high value in our African cultural society for time immemorial for the support and healing role they fill in society.

I also get to reflect on the diverse cultural heritages that form part of my experiences. Suddenly my heritage is blown up to be bigger that Xhosa culture nor being just South African. I remember my Afrikaans heritage, of having gone to a high school that had inherent Afrikaans values and so was the University I went to. I reflect on the great memories of both these spaces with lots of culture, music, and warmth (though they both were very cold places in Winter). I also notice how my heart is so Kenyan currently, sourcing and acquiring Kenyan beads, making friendship deals to acquire lots of Kenyan fabrics, wanting to cut and do my hair the way rural Kenyan women do their hair.

I also get to appreciate this day as it reminds us to ponder on who we are, to archive stories of our nation.

Last year I attended the AmaBhaca heritage day celebrations. The morning session was characterized with learners in school uniforms, a class setup where lectures on the history of AmaBhaca were given and the learners were jotting down notes and asking questions.

After that session, there was dancing in between the speeches and there I met umasengwana, a traditional musical instrument that is old within the Amabhaca nation, I hadn't known what masengwana is though the term was familiar and was I was mesmerised by the sound that resonated an old knowing within me, at home with this sound.

The speech that struck me was by a young King of one of the Xhosa tribes. He reminded us of poems by S.E.K.Mqhayi, Samuel Edward Krune was one of the greatest African intellectuals and composed some of the versus of South Africa's national anthem.

Towards the end of the poem called 'Aah Zweliyazuza Itshawe lamaBhilitane' he makes comparison by juxtaposing the contradicting elements that Britain had endowed upon Africa.

Hail, Great Britain
You come with a bottle in the one hand and a Bible in the other;
You come with a preacher assisted by a soldier;
You come with gunpowder and bullets;
You come with cannons and guns-which-bend-like-knees.
Please forgive me o God, but whom should we obey?
Go past, Calf-of-the-big-animal,
Trasher-with-the-feet, trashing us for a long time already!
Come past us and go nicely back,
You who feast on the inheritance of my country.
Long live the King!
Enough about him, I have nothing to add!!
Like that star with the tail, I disappear!!

What this young king was attempting to do was to challenge young South Africans to question and be conscious of their pleasures and how we celebrate our heritage and be cautious of things that detract us from holding on to what is relevant to our living.

He also made a reference to a question and answer prose that I learnt early in my life and is commonly known by many who grew up in the Eastern Cape. These proses were intended to spark reasoning for the young minds as one gets personally involved with the prose and to inspire them to remember things they have learnt.

'Ngubani lo?'
'Ngu Yeye'
'Uhamba nobani?'
'Umphathele ntoni?'
'Ngendebe enjani?'
'Uwabeka phi?'
'Hi Mayisele- zizidenge zodwa'
'Hi mayisele- zizidenge zodwa'

With sharing this prose, the young King's intention is to awaken new thinking about how young South African's celebrate; that alcohol should not be the key element of our fun in our celebrations. That if it so the result of that is stupidity and no growth to achieve the visions our true selves aspire for.

On the 30th of September in Berlin Eastern Cape, a monument to honour Xhosa literature pioneer SEK Mqhayi was unveiled, this was part of the Heritage month initiatives by the Eastern Cape MEC for sports, recreation, arts and culture, Xoliswa Tom.

For me, heritage is to be celebrated daily, a lifestyle of appreciation. Learning from all cultures and collaborating with what one already knows so we can elevate to be higher minded beings. It is also about teaching and taking pride in who I am.

Heritage is dynamic and constantly being added on, it is the sum of our experiences and one can choose to have experiences that advance her/his own living so they can can inherit wisdom in their live, creating a wiser way of living for ourselves and for those who come after us.

Nokhanyo Mhlana is an Archival Platform correspondent based in Mthatha, Eastern Cape