25 September 2023 | Story by Thandekile Kunene and Mbali Shabalala | Photo Supplied
Thandekile Kunene and Mbali Shabalala
The theme for this year’s Heritage Month is “Celebrating our cultural diversity in a democratic South Africa”.

Opinion Article by Thandekile Kunene and Mbali Shabalala, third-year Anthropology students, Department of Anthropology, University of the Free State.

September 24 is a wonderful day to honour both individual and group cultural heritage. Typically, this involves participating in cultural activities such as wearing traditional cultural clothing, enjoying cultural cuisine, and more recently, participating in the popular South African tradition of braaiing.

We believe this has the potential to unite people from different backgrounds, and at these gatherings, people should discuss the intricacies of heritage in a post-conflict society. After the #RhodesMustFall movement in 2015, which called for the removal of culturally offensive statues, the concept of the Rainbow Nation, which means united in our diversity, was put to the test. It became evident that the country would need more than just a braai to embody the ideals of the constitution and fulfil the promises of the National Heritage Resources Act, 25 1999 (NHRA).

As responsible individuals, in line with the NHRA preamble, we must acknowledge the significant role heritage plays in defining our cultural identity and shaping our nation. Embracing and celebrating the rich diversity of our cultures empowers us to shape the character of our beloved country. If we agree with this statement, let’s also agree that it will not happen unless we are intent on engaging in a dialogue, or conversation regarding matters of heritage in a post-conflict society. Below are a few items that we propose to add to your Bring and Braai agenda. 

Joy for some, trauma and pain for others

The preamble of the NHRA highlights the significance of acknowledging our accomplishments, present and past, and rectifying past inequalities. As a nation, it’s vital to acknowledge the complexities of our history and recognise that what may be joyful for some can be traumatic and painful for others. This leads to the question of how we can genuinely embrace our heritage, both past and present, to move forward as a united nation with diverse backgrounds. The NHRA also emphasises the need for a more profound comprehension of society and encourages us to empathise with the experiences of others. To achieve this, we must be willing to discuss uncomfortable topics, and food can be an excellent tool to facilitate these conversations. Furthermore, how can we ensure inclusivity by acknowledging the lived realities of South Africans? We are of the view that by understanding how physical and societal spaces are utilised in public areas, we can reconfigure spaces to achieve spatial inclusion.

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