Whose heritage is it anyway?

By Sandla Nomvete, a viewer of Kulcha Kwest - an SABC Education programme:- PhD Candidate; Tutor: Sociology Department, University of Pretoria and Performing Artist for Arts Revelation, It’s that time of year again when you don’t really know whether to take out your traditional attire or tune into the main stream traditional radio stations like Ukhozi, Lesedi and Umhlobo Wenene FM. It’s that time of perplexity where you don’t know whether you should just prepare your old and dusty braai stand last used for this very purpose the previous year.

No one really knows what to do with this month. In the same breath, young people from different walks of life remain in the dark about the concept of heritage itself and therefore are not sure how and why they should celebrate it. What should be done has remained debatable for many years since the acknowledgement of it as Heritage Month. When I took up the challenge of writing this article my mind was boggled by other questions, that like the above, I do not necessarily have answers to. As a student of Social Science these are some of the questions I began to ask myself; whose heritage is this that we speak of, does it matter and why?

The South African view of what heritage varies from one person to another based on their life trajectories. South Africa for example has a complex history of racial division that subsequently landed people with different views of history and such creates different memories of what is valuable and what is not, what should be remembered, celebrated and what should not. The biggest controversy in South Africa in recent years as a result, has been the hosting of braais and drinking of beer as a means to celebrate heritage, especially during Heritage Month and on Heritage Day respectively. Are braais and beer part of our heritage? One may be quick to answer no, but then is food not part of our heritage. Does wearing clothing made of animal skin legitimise my celebration of heritage over the other, or does it ultimately make me look backward and uncivilised? These are the questions that we need to start posing to ourselves in our little corners, especially living under the banner of a challenged “rainbow nation” concept.

One other problem with heritage in a South African context is that it is seen and practised in its most traditional form by many and therefore almost irrelevant for modern day youth. Is heritage only for the elderly? No, it is not. Personally, as young man of a given cultural and ethnic group, I spend half of my Saturdays learning about other groups through song and dance in their most traditional and contemporary ways, given that I am a member of a performing arts group. As people of different cultural groups we need to spend time engaging with quests that help us understand ourselves and the other so that we may portray our heritage and that of others in good light. What does one then do to stay abreast with their heritage in days where there is so much contesting with the practices and appreciation of culture and heritage?

It seems like we may not yet have the full answers to these heritage questions; however our youth and possibly elders that view Kulcha Kwest, an SABC Education programme, broadcast on SABC 1 on Sundays have the programme to thank. Kulcha Kwest as a TV show is aimed at helping the young people explore their culture and heritage by taking them on a quest to understand and learn about a particular element of their culture from dance, music, clothing and food. This show has assisted a number of young people between ages of 18 - 25 to explore the question of heritage by tapping into various aspects of their cultures with the aim that once a young person goes on this cultural quest they will have insight understanding of their identity and part of their heritage. Those that watch the show will also unearth something in them that will inspire their own personal culture quests and thus fuel the fire to embrace their heritage.

Perhaps taking these quests that Kulcha Kwest is providing will be one of the means to answer the central question of heritage, what it is, who it is for. We need to make a conscious decision to learn each other; to partake in cultural issues. As we watch shows like Kulcha Kwest we may find that it’s a platform that allows us to learn the different forms of our culture through the journey that these young people take. In the process of us ‘kwesting’ we may also begin to appreciate the dynamic nature of heritage, appreciate the different forms of culture and consequently respect what is meaningful in terms heritage to the other.  

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