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Dear Fellow South African,
Later this week, South Africa will mark Heritage Day, in which we celebrate the great diversity of culture, language and history in our country.
Like many South Africans, I am an avid viewer of the television series Shaka iLembe, which premiered locally in June. This spectacular and ambitious epic based on the history of King Shaka and the formation of the Zulu kingdom has become one of the most successful South African productions. It has supported skills development, job creation and localisation during six years of production.
Shaka iLembe forms part of a growing movement within the local creative industries to craft stories and histories about South Africa’s people from their perspective and through their eyes.
We have come a long way from the state broadcasting of the apartheid era, when the rich and cultural heritage of South Africa and lived realities of the South African people were marginalised.
Today, our storytellers, artists, filmmakers and other creative professionals are telling the stories of the South African people. These stories are cultural endowments for the benefit of future generations, and are integral to the ongoing task of forging national unity, inculcating national pride and promoting respect for diversity.
The success of Shaka iLembe and many other local productions should encourage creative professionals to apply their talents to the production of more such work. There are so many stories to be told, both of the past and the present.
One part of our country’s story that has not been fully told is our peaceful transition to democracy. It is a complex story with many different perspectives and competing narratives.
This past weekend, speaking at the funeral service for Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I told mourners that the commitment of leaders like Prince Buthelezi and President Nelson Mandela to put aside their differences and work for peace was a legacy we must all strive to uphold and emulate.
One of the most remarkable aspects of South African society today is our common commitment to maintain peace amongst ourselves and our neighbours, and to preventing tribalism and ethnic chauvinism from sowing discord between us. Even when acts of racism occur, these provocations are rejected by South Africans, who won’t let them be used to exacerbate tensions in communities.
This eternal vigilance is born of bitter experience that has its roots in the political violence of the 1980s and early-1990s, and how South Africans worked together to overcome differences, pull our country back from the brink and achieve peace.
As we revel in our cultural pride and celebrate our roots with art, dance, cuisine and music, we must remember that the struggle for peace and reconciliation is a vital part of our heritage.
We remember that the children born into democracy are able to take pride in their heritage today because of the peaceful democratic transition, which produced a Constitution that guarantees rights and freedoms for all, including the right to express one’s language and culture.
Today our artists and cultural workers are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression in how they chronicle both the past and the present, and to do so without fear of censure, banning or imprisonment.
These are the fruits of freedom, but also the fruits of peace. With so many countries and societies around the world today beset by conflict, we are fortunate that the project of national reconciliation is ongoing and has not been abandoned.
I call on all our creative practitioners to play a more prominent role in nation-building through work that highlights the uplifting, inspiring and enduring aspects of our society and its history.
Contributing to maintaining peace and to advancing reconciliation is our collective responsibility as South Africans. It is the greatest gift we can bestow on the generations to come.
With best regards,
Issued by President Cyril Ramaphosa