On South Africa’s Heritage Day, Cleric Calls for Healing, Acceptance of Cultural Diversity

A poster for South Africa's Heritage Day celebration.

South Africa’s past was marked with suffering that was caused by cultural differences where a section of the population was looked down upon by others. Today, however, it is the differences that once set South Africans apart that have become a strong uniting force and a cause for celebration, according to a South African Cleric who spoke to ACI Africa on the occasion of the country’s Heritage Day.

In his message on one of South Africa’s biggest celebrations, Fr. Thabiso Clement Ledwaba of the Archdiocese of Pretoria urged the people of God who had gone through a divisive apartheid regime to heal the wounds of the divisions that characterized the regime and to fully celebrate their cultural diversity.

“Our culture as South Africans was not appreciated in the past and was looked down upon and considered inferior. It was associated with a lot of suffering. Looking back, we realize that our culture is a gift to humanity which should be celebrated every day,” Fr. Clement told ACI Africa Thursday, September, 24.

The Cleric had earlier noted in a reflection penned ahead of the celebrations that the September 24 celebration was “that time of the year a nation that has been devastated by difference is united and rejuvenated by the same difference of identity and outlook.”


“This day is special because it communicates a message of the beauty and necessity of diversity. For a long time, this diversity seemed almost like a curse and today its truth as a gift is shining out so beautifully,” he wrote.

And in the September 24 interview with ACI Africa, the lecturer of Philosophy at St. John Vianney Seminary, the South African National Catholic Seminary, said, “Today’s celebration is a call to heal from past hurt that was associated with our culture, to appreciate our cultural diversity and to know that we are all children of the universe.”

In South Africa, Heritage Day is marked in public places with the showcasing of diverse cultures from the country’s indigenous people as well as citizens from foreign countries, Fr. Clement shared.

To mark the day, South Africans wear traditional outfits at workplaces, prepare traditional meals and participate in indigenous songs and dances in public places; scholars write about the country’s diverse cultures and engage people in public lectures to demonstrate the country’s appreciation of diversity.

All the celebrations notwithstanding, South Africa’s appreciation of cultural heritage and diversity is increasingly facing threats from what the Cleric refers to as “bastardized culture” such as polygamy.

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“In the past, men married many wives because they were pushed by societal gaps. A woman who had large tracts of land to till would beg her husband to marry other women to help her on the farm thus polygamy was out of necessity,” Fr. Clement told ACI Africa.

He added, “Today, polygamy is a clumsy way of practicing culture.”

The South African Cleric also addressed the issue of xenophobic attacks in his country and called for tolerance among the people. He however expressed mixed feelings about the attacks by Africans in the country against their fellow Africans from other countries.

“There is a part that legitimizes the attacks especially when we have Africans coming from other countries and behaving as if they don’t belong in South Africa,” he said.


He explained in reference to Africans from other countries, “They see themselves as outsiders and engage in all manner of crime including drug trafficking, prostitution and many other ills. They don’t see themselves first as children of Africa.”

“Africa has taught her children the value of honesty, kindness and respect to human life. But it appears that when some people come to South Africa, they abandon all these good qualities in their home countries,” Fr. Clement regretted.

However, straightforward people including those genuinely coming to pursue their studies, to practice work in health facilities and education institutions and to generally contribute to the growth of South Africa are usually caught up in the attacks, according to the Cleric who condemns cultural intolerance, saying that xenophobic attacks should be a thing of the past.

Similar intolerance, he said, has been observed in Nigeria where locals try to push out Ghanaians and those from many other African countries because of intolerance.

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He said that some African countries have held onto a culture set by colonial governments that set tribes against each other, leaving behind deep rooted tribal dominance over others.

He urged Africans to rid themselves off tribal pride since all are children of God “with an obligation to re-write our stories.”

“Let us celebrate our diversity as an enrichment to our very human lives. It is important to understand that your culture is only the beginning, not the end and other cultures add a perspective to your life as well. At the end, we all realize that we are citizens of one whole universe,” he said.

Also threatening South Africa’s cultural diversity is corruption, which Fr. Clement said, is “an illusion that creates few bad guys while a majority are left to languish in poverty.”

“Many people lost jobs; roads, hospitals and schools have not been constructed because of corruption. This means that children will be born in a very dilapidated economy,” the Cleric told ACI Africa September 24.

He added in conclusion, “We have not inherited our land from our ancestors but borrowed it from our future. We owe everything to the future. Corruption steals from the future of our children.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.