Minister Meyer's Letter to the Editor on Heritage Day 2013
What we need in South Africa at this time is cultural warmth. Cultural warmth is the creation of space for other cultures which will inspire (not criticise), respect (not label), value (not eliminate) and dignify (not diminish). Cultural warmth is generated when we stand back for a moment and make space for other cultures.
To be ethnocentric is to put my culture, my belief and my language first. This is counter-productive because it creates mistrust, is arrogant and implies the superiority of one culture over another. This is too reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” ideology. Ethnocentrism continues to be a contributing factor to wars and conflicts today. Red lights go on whenever people are fanatical about language, culture or faith. Fundamentalism, ethnocentrism and even our President’s ethnic nationalism is a breeding group for conflict, anarchy and social disharmony. Our history tells the story of Afrikaans nationalism, African nationalism and, more recently, ethnic nationalism. This road is a dead end.
There is another way, an alternative. Former President Mandela walked this path. We should celebrate our public holidays in a way that makes all cultures feel welcome, so that people can experience cultural warmth and offer cultural warmth to others. The political sphere is seldom the best vehicle for the creation of cultural warmth. For that reason, government cannot be the driving force behind the social cohesion project. Civil society is strategically better placed to drive the social cohesion project.
Government is simply one of the actors. This dialogue and debate will require great political maturity. We will have to do away with groups hurling political insults at other cultural groups simply because they happen to be the political majority at a particular time. We know that the wheel turns in politics. We must avoid ethnic nationalism and its agenda (“it is our turn to eat”) because it does not promote social cohesion.
Public holidays must be celebrated in a way that radiates cultural warmth. Former President Mandela was the architect of cultural warmth because he understood that it is of strategic value in our complex plural society. In 1995 when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup he wore the jersey of Francois Pienaar. In that one gesture he radiated cultural warmth.
Cultural warmth has great symbolic value for reconciliation. This is so beautifully demonstrated by Nomfundo Lungisa and Kamvalethu Goeveni from Khayelitsha. As members of the Western Cape jukskei team, they will representing the Western Cape at the National Indigenous Games Festival in Bloemfontein over this upcoming heritage weekend. For the uninformed, jukskei is a target game that originated in the Cape as an indigenous game among the Voortrekkers around 1734. These two have certainly moved from their comfort zone. So too have Shimany and Felencia Weilbacht from Elsies River who have taken to the morabaraba – a traditional board game played extensively throughout Africa. Brian Johnson, who will be representing the Western Cape in intonga, a stick fighting game which is one of the oldest traditions in African society, joins them as another example of someone who has broken down cultural barriers by embracing our common heritage.
Cultural warmth is manifested when we stand back for a moment to allow other cultures into our personal space These young people have clearly demonstrated that once you do so, you create the opportunity for cultural enrichment and a keener understanding of our common heritage. Heritage Day 2013 is the opportunity for ordinary South Africans to extend cultural warmth and embrace a common vision of your culture, my culture, our heritage.
Dr Ivan Meyer
Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport
Western Cape Government