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South Africa must return to its deep activist heritage of progressive values and social justice

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Mandla Nkomfe is the Deputy Chairperson of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

Although our country has come to be marred by a shameful and unapologetic heritage of corruption, State Capture, gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia, it is a misrepresentation of who we are and what we are capable of.

Nationally, September is the month in which South Africans celebrate our heritage as a people. The post-apartheid dispensation sought to cultivate a positive disposition among people towards the future of South Africa. In celebrating our traditions, culture (material and spiritual), and in commemorating achievements and heroic deeds from our diverse backgrounds, we contribute to forging a common national identity. Inscribed in our quest for a common national identity are our hopes and aspirations.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Bill of Rights, which are the cornerstone of our democracy, provide the principles and values that should underpin our approach to heritage. In this regard, emphasis is placed on recognising our unity in diversity, healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

A social justice dimension to our understanding of heritage is required. One that is inspired by yearnings for solidarity and inclusive prosperity. A values-based approach to our common understanding of culture and heritage is required. Our Constitution provides a framework for how we should understand heritage and what it should mean for South Africans.

Sadly, South Africa has come to be marred, tainted by a shameful heritage of corruption, State Capture, gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia. These are misrepresentations of who we are, what we are capable of and where we are going.

We have a deep heritage of progressive values, such as fighting oppression and domination in whatever guise it presents itself. The anti-apartheid struggle was inherently a movement to promote social justice, non-racialism, solidarity and common humanity. Our Constitution obliges the state in its various permutations to act morally and ethically towards its people.

The experience of corruption in the handling of personal protective equipment (PPE) and misappropriation of Covid-19 funds demonstrates a loss of humanity or ubuntu among public servants. This represents state failure, which seems to move further and further away from its moral and ethical basis.

It is a rupture of the RDP of the soul. We can still go back to the basis of our social contract and accordingly locate our conceptions of heritage in the struggle to create a more humane society. We have an obligation to build and leave a values-based heritage for generations to come after us.

The Constitution enjoins us to build a heritage of anti-corruption, institution-building and commitment to eradicating poverty in our communities.  

In this regard, we require compatriots who have a passion to make our country a better place to live in while rebuilding the interest of so many who have lost hope.  

Part of the commitment to a values-based approach to heritage should see us going back to activism that prioritises the work needed to achieve the common good. This requires that we all reignite the passion and responsibility to work for national and personal interests. 

In celebrating our heritage, we must not forget where we come from and work towards fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. DM

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  • If I read your piece one year ago, I would have tipped my watering can to water your garden of goodwill in celebration of heritage day. Alas, my watering can of hope is low and the garden of promise you display looks dead.