Opinionista Tokelo Nhlapo 22 September 2016

No heritage without land

September 24 is celebrated each year as Heritage Day but it is unclear exactly what the public holiday is intended to celebrate. The dominant discourse around the day is our supposed shared culture, diversity and traditions in context of a nation that belongs to all.

The repeated message during the costly public celebrations is often about building the rainbow nation and uniting in our diversity. Whatever that means. This is done so as to avoid the primary contradiction of heritage without land, 79% of which is privately owned by a minority settler. In order words, the landless and those that own it should unite, sit around the fire and braai meat when the braai is done, the blacks must return to the spaceless spaces they call home.

There is no heritage without land. Land is our master heritage for any art, culture or language to find expression. Until it is returned, our heritage will continue to be a flux to be cheated into a braai day. The dangerous illusion that our heritage is to wear “traditional gear”, dance, sing and braai is absurd.

About four generations of my lineages can be traced to what is now in the Eastern Free State called Dihlabeng municipality, in a small town now called Fouriesburg, named after a white of Huguenot descent from France, Christoffel Fourie, who donated the land to use as a temporary capital during the Second Boer War.

Since the forced removals I returned in 2014 to do diteboho (thanksgiving) to my ancestors as tradition, a part of which has to be a respectful visit to where they last rest. In order to perform this simple tradition, my family had to ask permission from the white owner to allow us to see their graves. My ancestors even in their death remain guests in the country of their birth.

The heritage of the South African arts flows from the rock art of the Khoi and San people to the Tsonga nwana dolls that are used in initiation, the colourful wall painting of the Ndebele, with their rainbow beads making bracelets to the exquisite dance of Batswana.

Our heritage cannot simply be reduced to the Tshivenda minwenda or to the Sesotho Modianyewe or Xitsonga xibelani. Our heritage is our shared historical existence to the only corner of the world that we and our ancestors find ourselves and our right to self-determination.

The colonial subjugation of black people was sealed through violent conquest and the resistance from Khoi-San against Dutch colonial authorities, to the Godongwana, son of Jobe the King of the AmaMthethwa to King Moshoeshoe of Basotho and others has always been about land, our master heritage. Land for defeated people like us, Fanon teaches us, gives us bread and more notably dignity.

Under Christian idealism, we know that God created us out of the dust of the earth and when we die we return to the land from which we were made.

Land is our identity, it enables us to belong, to express our culture and produce bread. Land is our heritage, everything that is beneath – the mineral wealth, the seas, the animals, including the skies. The land is the only thing that connects us in this corner of the earth; it is worth working for, worth fighting for, and worth dying for because that is the only thing that lasts for ourselves and our descendants.

It is only through the collective ownership of land that we would truly share a collective identity, self-worth and become a truly reconciled society. DM


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