South African Cultural Observatory

Spring into heritage – culture helps us leap ahead

BY Unathi Lutshaba - SACO Executive Director 26.09.23

KNOWING where we come from and who we are is what culture is. The repetition of rituals, beliefs, practices, and how we share knowledge is culture in motion. Our collective heritage is the memory of culture practiced in daily life and ossified into the stories we tell ourselves, the words we speak, the moments we share and celebrate.

The amazing thing is that everyone has culture, and we all have heritage. It’s something we somehow tend to forget. Especially for those of us whose cultural practices are “different” or seen as more distinctly cultural. This Heritage Month I have been thinking of how, everything we do contributes to the thickness of life, in a Max Weber/ Clifford Geertz sense. Where and how we work; where and how we play; where and how we live, go to school, relax, socialize, exercise, engage, debate all contributes to the culture of our daily lives. We are building culture – and so heritage – in every action and word.

For this we have a great responsibility – especially as a nation that wants and desperately needs social cohesion in the face of many difficult challenges. As a country, our culture and our practices have both created and solved our biggest challenges – think Apartheid versus the boycotts and resistance. As we try to recover and get past the post-COVID-19 inertia, manage rising crime, and stop despondency over many aspects we cannot control, I encourage us to turn to our culture – our habits, beliefs, practices and dreams – to come together as a nation.  

This month and on Heritage Day we come alive in a vibrant burst of colors, sounds, and stories – these are our stories, of nature, of history, of a people in collaboration and in conflict. Our national project is built on the foundation of these stories – that we tell ourselves and each other.  Heritage Month a month when our nation's cultural tapestry –complex, challenging, colourful, creative – is on full display. It showcases our past, present and importantly the future heritage we want to create through our daily action.

Our heritage is not merely a historical artifact; it is a living, breathing testament to our resilience and unity in diversity. We must not forget this.

Heritage Month, and all stories we tell ourselves, create the memory of the tales of those who walked before us, their struggles, their triumphs, and the enduring spirit that has forged our nation's identity. But our heritage is not confined to the past; it thrives in the present, shaping our culture, creativity, and sense of belonging.

As the SA Cultural Observatory, we are privileged to also map and document our country’s heritage in an effort to at once understand it, know its contours and count its value – which will often intangible, is very, very valuable.

A repository of richness

Our heritage is not a single narrative but a symphony of voices, a chorus of languages, and a gallery of artistic expressions. It encompasses tangible artifacts like historical sites and monuments, but it also embraces the intangible, from music and dance to storytelling and oral traditions. Our cultural wealth is our collective treasure, a source of pride, and a foundation for our national identity.

At the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), our research explores the vital role of arts, culture, and heritage in nation-building, shedding light on the economic impact of the creative sector, and highlighting the significance of indigenous knowledge systems.

We are proud to collaborate closely with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, aligning our efforts to support their mission of promoting and preserving South Africa's cultural and artistic heritage.

Providing a repository as a safeguard for heritage

As we immerse ourselves in the festivities of Heritage Month, let us remember that heritage preservation is not a passive act but an active responsibility. In our daily lives, to keep heritage alive, we must:

  • Engage: Attend heritage events, exhibitions, and performances in your community. Support local artists and cultural initiatives.
  • Share: Pass on your heritage stories and traditions to younger generations. Foster dialogue and understanding across different cultures.
  • Learn: Explore SACO's heritage research and insights. Educate yourself about the cultural and creative sectors' contributions to our nation.
  • Advocate: Stand up for the preservation and promotion of our heritage. Engage with policymakers to ensure heritage protection and investment in the arts and culture.
  • Celebrate: Embrace the beauty of South Africa's cultural diversity. Take pride in our heritage and its role in shaping our national identity. 

This Heritage Month, let us not only celebrate our cultural heritage but also commit to safeguarding it for future generations.

Together, we can ensure that our nation's rich tapestry remains vibrant and cherished for generations to come.

Let’s build a creative, moving Mzansi, together.

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