Let’s celebrate Heritage Day and Month
by Lathasha Subban
In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated:
“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
This powerful proclamation defines the importance of recognition for the different heritages of South Africa. National Heritage Day is the celebration of diversity and embracing the variances of culture, ethnicity, and traditions by all citizens of South Africa. In 1996 as the day was marked as a public holiday, that in itself was an indicator of how important heritage is within the country.
Heritage is a colourful canvas of diversity but it links strongly with transformation, tolerance and acceptance of one another for our uniqueness. Why is it so important to South Africans, is based on the history of a forgiving nation. In 1996, President Nelson Mandela recognised that in order to move away from the repercussions of the past, a future of forgiveness must be the vision for the country. From a time where heritage was perceived and treated as a weakness, it is now a pride and strength for the country, and in order to achieve forgiveness, we had to familiarise ourselves with each other.
Our traditions, religion, dress, food, and practices define our rainbow nation, and creates our uniqueness as a global example of democracy. One popular practice of Heritage Day is the South African braai, which has become the norm on the 24 September. A proudly South African practice that brings friends and family together to celebrate their backgrounds and share it with others on common culture.
HR practitioners can use Heritage Month to drive their diversity plans and culture programmes. It is vital to ensure that companies promote and welcome their employees’ heritage by encouraging them to dress up in ethnic wear, share traditional food, and recognise their pride for their backgrounds. As professionals that manage the people strategy of a company, it is therefore a bigger responsibility to hold in creating diversity and tolerance within the workforce. It is not diversity or heritage that has to be created, it is the understanding and respect that has to embrace diversity and heritage in all aspects of its existence.
So even if you did not want to celebrate National Heritage Day this year, I challenge you to change your mind. As we are not just celebrating diversity and heritage in the present, we are remembering that at one time it was not there to celebrate, and by celebrating it now, we will always ensure that it remains our heritage to celebrate…. Happy National Heritage Day 2016.
Lathasha Subban is Head: Knowledge & Innovation at the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).