A year or two ago, the South Afrikan government set up a commission to convene public hearings on the question of public holidays in the country. At issue was whether or not religious public holidays such as Easter and Christmas were indeed acceptable in a multicultural country where all religions (including Satanism) were protected under the country’s constitution. I remember a Hindu adherent former colleague complaining that whenever he needed to observe his religious holidays he had to apply for leave and yet holidays related to the Christian faith were declared public holidays. This, he felt discriminated against his own religion.
Well, the issue was quite emotive as South Afrika is said to be 74% Christian (really?). As a matter of fact, such matters usually draw quite emotional responses in our country. Sometime ago, leading retailer, Woolworths, was made to rue their decision to withdraw Christian magazines from their stores when the Christian lobby, under the auspices of the conservative Family Institute mounted a serious campaign to have those titles put back on the stores’ shelves. The commission is yet to make known its recommendations, but it’s unlikely that a change will be seen on the country’s public holiday scene.
The thing that is an issue for me though is that there is no talk about indigenous Afrikan holidays and a heroes’ day in our country. All the minorities have their holidays (whether those are public holidays or not is not at issue), but Afrikans, as the majority do not have theirs. Also absent from our calendar is a day dedicated to the heroes of our liberation struggle. I do admit that attempts have been made to honour those who played a role in bringing about freedom (what passes for it) in this country. Cities, streets, etc. have been named after some of them for example, but in my view, we still need a day dedicated to our heroes in this country.
We need to honour our heroes so that our young can know what it took to bring about the freedom they enjoy and in some instances take for granted. This is important for them to know their history and culture. The honourable Marcus Garvey once said; “A people without knowledge of their past, history, culture and traditions, is like a tree without roots.” It isn’t any wonder that a few years back, a picture mocking that of Zolile Hector Peterson (the world famous picture shot by Sam Nzima), the first victim of police shootings during the June 16 1976 uprising was circulated on social media. The said picture showed youngsters in school uniform carrying beers and smoking and laughing, basically making a mockery of such a somber and historical event. But who could blame them as they did know any better? When people know better, they do better. That is why there’s an old Afrikan proverb that says; “Lack of knowledge is darker than the darkness.”
One of the reasons advanced for our slavery and later on, colonization was that we were a people without any history or civilization (former French president, Nicholas Sarkozy said very much when delivering a lecture at a University named after someone considered, ironically, a doyen of Afrikan history, in Senegal), and so, the narrative went, it was necessary to colonise us so we could be civilized. In other words, slavery and colonization were humanitarian efforts on the part of the good Europeans (how altruistic of them!). Terms like ours being the Dark Continent was bandied about. This lie was told long enough that it ended up being believable. After the process of decolonization had taken place, little was done to correct this and as result it isn’t uncommon to hear people say things like; “it was better under apartheid because we had jobs! And umlungu m’dala meaning the white man is old and wise.” Lost to those who hold such views is that they were slaves under apartheid and there is no white man who came to Afrika with honest intentions. Need and greed brought them to our continent; and need and need and greed kept them on our continent.
But our history shows that we are people of well-structured and organized institutions and civilisations. We have built the world’s first and enduring civilisations. Things which many in the world today take for granted were in actual fact invented by our people. History is presented in such a way that one would be forgiven for believing that the invasion of our continent by marauding and predatory foreigners was never resisted. That is because the heroic wars of resistance our forebears engaged in are never taught. And the heroes of those wars are nowhere mentioned. Instead we are told about the men who died with the sinking of the Mendi ship during the inappropriately-called WWII. While the death of our fellow beings has to be lamented, it is equally important to note those died not in service to our cause but to the cause of the ones who violently and inhumanly took possession of our land and resources therein. They can’t therefore be our heroes.
Our heroes are the Khoi warriors who, armed with spears charged at the Portuguese invaders in 1510, which war went in their favour. This was the first recorded war between the people of Azania (South Afrika) and European invaders. Our heroes are the many men and women who resisted colonial invasion and apartheid aggression during our people’s long walk to freedom. And like in any other country that attained its freedom through a fierce and bitter struggle, those heroes need to be honoured by having a day proclaimed in their memory and honour. This will enable us, the populace, to have role models to look up to and whose example will inspire us to strive to be more.
South Afrika is an Afrikan country; the majority of its citizens are Afrikans. The country therefore has to exhibit Afrikan features. Our holidays have to pay homage to the Afrikan character of the country. After all, ours is the only country that has the name of our continent in its name.