Use the Past to Build a Better Future


DA Northern Cape Legislature

Speech delivered during heritage day debate.

On Heritage Day, we should remember the past but not dwell on it. Instead, we should use the foundations of the past to build a better future.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated: “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

Heritage is one of the primary sources of identity, imparting to communities a sense of belonging, a sense of who they are and where they come from. Less evident is the role that heritage can play in nurturing our national identity, social cohesion, conflict prevention and promoting human security. Our humanity is affirmed in the recognition of the humanity of others. When we talk about heritage, we need to know it is not about us. It is not about anybody. It is about what we chose to leave behind for other generations.

South African history is rich with individuals and groups who contributed with their lives and skills to create a legacy, a heritage for future generations. Although we have national heroes and heroines, we also need to celebrate how legacies were built in this province. Added to that, our present government should not follow the road of their apartheid puppet masters and give a skewed view of our cultural heritage, as if only one group of people or organization fought for basic human rights and liberation from oppression. You can never be selective in honoring those who contributed in no small way for the democracy we are enjoying.

When the Rivonia Trialists names are mentioned, the name of Nolan is omitted, as if people of other cultural groups were never part of this struggle for liberation.

We do not hear the name of Frank Anthony who, alongside Sisulu, Mandela, and Kathrada, spent most of their lives on Robben Island. Two weeks ago, a struggle hero who, to a different note, was laid to rest. Neville Alexander will never be forgotten for the role he played in the liberation struggle.

At the beginning of the colonial era, a man by the name of Autshumato, aka Harry die Strandloper, was incarcerated on Robben Island or the Island of Makana, as it was also duped. This was the only known person who escaped from the island and he did it twice!

We know about Abraham Esau, who fought against the injustices perpetrated against his people. He died a martyr!

Let us not be selective about our collective past, let us not be selective about our heritage. Let us not make the same mistakes of the past.

When celebrating the Bambatha Revolt of Port Natal, we should celebrate the Bondel Swarts uprising in Namaqua. When we celebrate the Upington 26, we should celebrate the revolt of Kanon Eiland in Keimoes. And when we celebrate the heritage left by Steve Bantu Biko, we should not forget about a young man named George Botha, who died a violent death in the same notorious prison just a few short years before Biko, also at the hands of security police. The legacy of Steve Banto Biko, his unwavering stance against the system of apartheid, is caught up in the words, it is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.

As I stand here, I think about the Soweto uprising of 1976 and the Cape Flats student uprising of 1980 and the Trojan Horse shooting in Thornton Road, Athlone, in the same mind frame. Like Hector Petersen shot in the school uprising in Soweto, we know little about Bernard Fortuin, a 13-year old who was shot in cold blood for daring to pick up a stone in the Cape Flats school uprising. The students of Turfloop, Fort Hare and UWC, you kept the freedom struggle alive while all freedom movements were banned. I salute you!

In creating a future legacy, we should remember that it is the people, not the politicians, who have the power to shape the future they want – that is what democracy is all about. It will be one of history’s greatest tragedies that the once proud legacy of a freedom movement curtails the very same freedom they fought for. In the same way, we remember the Sharpeville massacre, the Boipatong massacre and now the Marikana massacre – these will remain a stain in our shared heritage that we would like to erase from memory.

In closing, allow me to end with a quote from former President Nelson Mandela, whose legacy of non-racism we should commemorate on this Heritage Day.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

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