President Cyril Ramaphosa noted on Monday that with so many countries and societies beset by conflict, South Africa is fortunate that the project of national reconciliation is ongoing and has not been abandoned.
Ramaphosa pointed out in his weekly letter to the nation that artists and cultural workers are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression in how they chronicle the past and the present, and do so without fear of censure, banning or imprisonment.
He explained that these are the fruits of freedom, but also the fruits of peace.
Ramaphosa called on the country’s creative practitioners to play a more prominent role in nation-building through work that highlights the uplifting, inspiring and enduring aspects of the society and its history.
He explained that contributing to maintaining peace and to advancing reconciliation is the country’s collective responsibility. “It is the greatest gift we can bestow on the generations to come,” he said.
He said one of the most remarkable aspects of South African society today is its common commitment to maintain peace and prevent tribalism and ethnic chauvinism from sowing discord between citizens.
Ramaphosa added that even when acts of racism occur, these provocations are rejected by South Africans.
Later this week, South Africa will celebrate Heritage Day, which aims to showcase the great diversity of culture, language and history in the country.
“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,” he said.
He added that as citizens celebrate their roots with art, dance, cuisine and music, they must remember that the struggle for peace and reconciliation is a vital part of South African 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,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa said that South Africa has come a long way from the State broadcasting of the apartheid era, when the rich cultural heritage of South Africa and lived realities of the South African people were marginalised.
He highlighted that today, 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,” he said.
Ramaphosa noted that 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.