Originally a day of commemoration of the legendary Shaka Zulu (1787-1828) – king of the Zulus – in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the Heritage Day in South Africa celebrated each year on September 24 has been everyone’s since 1996. South Africans. Honoring their cultural and linguistic diversity, it also symbolizes reconciliation as well as recognition for all those who were committed, during the dark years of its history, to making South Africa a democratic, non-racial country. , free from all injustice and iniquity. This year, the party has obviously been ruined because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, South Africa is the most affected country on the African continent. Heritage Day was therefore combined with the specter of an unprecedented socio-economic crisis for the entire South African population: the IMF forecasts a decline of 7% of its GDP. The social consequence is already visible with a sharp increase in inequalities mainly affecting the black population. However, does this pessimistic picture undermine the entire legacy of Heritage Day, adopted two years after the first democratic elections in South Africa?
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Heritage Day faces the evils of South Africa
On the political and symbolic level, the celebration was indeed spoiled. Julius Malema’s populist party – The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), les Combattants pour la liberté économique -, known for its punches specifically targeting the white minority, has decided to attack Heritage Day in its very foundations. “There is no legacy to celebrate as long as black people are landless and excluded from the economy,” said Malema. If the discourse has not changed, the movement seems on the other hand to have become a little more radicalized. Unlike previous years, restrictive measures did not allow large gatherings, so it is via social networks, with the #PutSouthAfricanFirst movement, organized in particular by a former member of the South African Defense Force (SADF) and calling for an anti-migrant march in front of the Nigerian High Commissioner that the EFF has illustrated. Already in the grip of afrophobia, whose “privileged” targets are Nigerians and Zimbabweans accused of illegal trafficking of all kinds and of taking work from South Africans, the country with the current crisis could experience new episodes like those observed last September.
An explosive economic and social context, the rise of populism and xenophobia, the government and the ANC in particular were asked to reflect on the real meaning of the values of Heritage Day. It should be noted that the historic party has always appropriated this celebration and all the heritage associated with it. The African National Congress has long fought the misconception that South Africa’s cultural diversity is a barrier to nation building. What about today ? The question deserves to be asked when this former national liberation movement in power for 26 years has very recently seen the disappearance of the last great figures of the first generation of politicians who have distinguished themselves in the anti-apartheid struggle and in defense. human rights.
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Heritage Day: a return to values for the ANC?
See the disappearance of the last two defendants of the Rivonia Trial (1964) – Denis Golberg in May and Andrew Mlangeni last July – and very recently Georges Bizos, the defender of human rights, lawyer for Nelson Mandela should push the ANC to an introspection on what these represent in the historical heritage of South Africa. It is no longer just a question of cultural and linguistic wealth, but of a historical heritage on which the new South Africa was founded and which the ANC government must protect for future generations.
The last two Rivonia veterans have been the collective memory of those of their generation. They developed and adopted the Freedom Charter on which the South African Constitution is today based. Although imperfect, this historic document was the bedrock of the ANC for over 30 years to address injustices and promote fairness. However, today, we see that in a context of pandemic which undermines the economic and social context with more and more inequalities within the South African population, a huge debt, a loan unemployment of 30%, the ANC in no way does honor to these “historical heritages” which are the veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle and of human rights.
The ANC betrays these historical legacies all the more because since coming to power, the government has been regularly indexed for acts of corruption, which have taken on a scale all the more staggering because it was supposed to break with the governance of the ex-President Zuma and stay away from the State Capture scandals. Despite the health crisis, facts of corruption have been revealed, for many they would be the result of close to the government or the party and this to the detriment of the promises made by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
While there is no doubt that Heritage Day should be a time of communion among all South Africans (and not just the South Africans who live there), it would be urgent, in the name of “historical heritages” that the missing veterans represent, that the actions of the government / ANC can convey a positive renewal, as South African democracy needs to be consolidated in the face of the challenges it faces.
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* Marianne Séverin is an associate researcher at the Laboratory for Africa in the World (LAM), Sciences Po Bordeaux.