It’s usually said that history remembers and is written by winners. So, it suffices to say that the manner in which epoch experiences are recorded, packaged and made available to the public domain, is of critical importance. It is because documented history has a more plausible chance of being accepted as credible and therefore form a part of what we know as heritage. Our human experience is largely shaped and influenced by the traditions and norms that we inherit from our families and the greater society. It has to be noted that every generation of people that inherits something from its predecessor, has to infuse and imbue some of its experiences before it passes the baton of heritage to its successor as a means of fostering progress/regress and development or lack of it. But the baton ought not to be passed without some alteration of any sort.
So, how do we ensure, in a country as diverse as ours and with the kind of past it has, that whatever forms part of our national heritage is representative of the diversity we have and accounts for historical victories and injustices? What is the measure of worthiness and who is commissioned to collect and produce that which will be considered national heritage? These are some of the complex and contentious issues which the different political parties had to deal with at the Convention for Democratic South Africa (CODESA) which was on and off between 1990 and 1994 in Kempton Park. The out comes of the negotiated settlements did not please everyone, as expected in the realm of political compromises. And in all honesty that is the nature of concessions. Some black people, who were largely represented by the African National Congress, felt that they were made to bend their backs to much, while the white community were left with assurances that the country will not be a banana republic, so to speak. Symbols of the national unity government forged on the ‘historical compromise’ were needed and they were found in the new flag and the multi lingual National Anthem. By the close of the 20th century, South Africa had had 3 National Anthems. Namely, the colonial “God Save the Queen” up until 1957; the C.J Langenhoven composed “Die Stem” from 1957 – 1994 and the Enoch Sontonga created and later Moses Mphahlele updated “Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika” composition. The latter 2 anthems’ stanzas were combined with an English addition and were adopted in May 1996, when the final wording of the Constitution of South Africa was officially announced in Cape Town and on the day, the then deputy president, Thabo Mbeki made his famous “I am An African” speech.
Over the years there have been people, like the cricketer Jacque Kallis, who do not sing the National Anthem for reasons unknown to some of us. Others are selective in their singing of the anthem, because, they say, it does not speak to them and it has to made mention that this attitude is from all sides of the population. What was supposed to be done then? I mean as far as the creation of an anthem which is inclusive and representative of the elusive South Africa identity? Was President Nelson Mandela supposed to exclude the “Die Stem” or was he supposed to request that a non-‘terrorist’ anthem be whipped up? As things stand the National Anthem excludes other languages anyway. Those who advocate for a new one must think carefully and be in a position to accommodate the other 7 sidelined languages. The fact that our National Anthem was a compromised creations has a ‘better’ resonance as it seeks to demonstrate the ‘bigger person’ attitude and indicative of a broader national cohesion. And South Africa is not in isolation as being a society of diverse people. Those who watched the recent Fifa Confederations Cup might have noticed that the Spain’s National Anthem, the Marcha Real, does not have lyrics.
Among the many reasons for that is that in Spain the king can change the anthem to suit what he wants in it and the other being that the Spanish society is just as diverse as us. In fact some people from Catalonia, where FC Barcelona is from, do not consider themselves Spanish and have been campaigning for decades for independence from Spain. The Spanish monarchy and government have yet to come up with a workable situation for all, if ever they will. MONUMENTS & NAMES Physical heritage is also very important in the grander scheme of national consciousness. It’s through tangible heritage that we are able to feel a sense of identification is given a greater credibility. And how we view those institutions such as Freedom Park and museums that house our past is essential. Next year the seat of government – The Union Buildings- turns 100 years old. Opened in 1910 when the Transvaal, Natal, Orange Free State and Cape Province became a union and cut ties with formal colonialization. If celebrations were to be undertaken, would previously oppressed people be expected to join their white compatriots in the centenary jubilations? Some black people feel that they became recognized by the Union Buildings in May 10th when Nelson Mandela took his oath of presidency.
At the same time the institution that is the Union Buildings remains a national monument and requires the nation as a whole to recognize it regardless of the pre 1994 expereince because even then South Africa was still a nation, albeit divided. The changing of street names is another form of preserving and marking historical events, which in turn forms part of our heritage. The name changing project has been met with both emotional and logical responses. Although the former has been more prevalent, to some degree. The reason being that changing a name is in a way a removal of that person’s deeds from public memory and rendering it a surplus as far as an envisioned fresher society is concerned. Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi accused the governing ANC of ‘erasing’ from the history when it decided to rename Mangosuthu Highway to anti Apartheid human rights lawyer- Griffith Mxenge. During the CODESA negotiations it was agreed that harbours and airports will not be named after people. And so Jan Smuts Airport was renamed Johannesburg International Airport but was Johannes, who Johannesburg was named after a person? Perhaps that’s what people who mooted for the renaming of the airport to O.R. Tambo thought to themselves. Some of the names of major cities and towns in our country are named after people whose deeds represent one part of our society.
And that has to be changed through the following of the required means as prescribed in the law books of the land. Names such as Durban named after Cape Governor – Benjamin Durban; Port Elizabeth which was named after the one of the queens of England and if ever there was a Port Nandi or Nzinga in Europe it would have been removed by now; and the continent’s wealthiest metropolis – Johannesburg named after either Johannes Rissik or Johannes Joubert, who were state employees assigned to survey the land before the Gold Rush. As South Africa belongs to all who live in it, why can’t we share it as such? And Mandela can’t be the only name reactionary folks of our country choose to be comfortable with. The question should not be wether we change the names or not, but at what pace and cost are we going to change some of these King Williams and Queenstowns. A shared national heritage in South Africa will only be made manifest through thoroughly thought out arguments and premises that have a long term goal in mind and not just to appease the current establishment. Compromises from all sections of the country will be needed. And intergration does not mean the death of people’s cultural independence but cultural traditions that are prejudice oriented by their nature will have to abide or subside if we are to create a South Africa identity that goes beyond Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s cosmetic ‘Rainbow Nation’.