A South African flag waved on Heritage Day
41401076 - group of people waving south african flags in back lit

Heritage Day – What heritage are we celebrating?

When last he addressed the nation President Cyril Ramaphosa was upbeat. In addition to announcing a loosening of the national lockdown, he said, “There can be no better celebration  of our South African-ness than joining the global phenomenon that is the Jerusalema dance  challenge.” He urged us all to take on this challenge on Heritage Day and show what we are  capable of. Like many of the ANC’s fairy-tale stories, this dance serves the delusion of  democracy and freedom, of a ‘dreamt’ liberation. Entertainment is a distraction. 

I say distraction because South Africans still seem confused. Although there are visible  changes that have been experienced in South Africa post-1994, these changes indicate that socio-economic conditions and the implementation of justice have remained skewed in  favour of white people. Let’s be honest, these changes are not substantive because they do  not affect the structure of neo-apartheid. Which made me consider the slogan of Black House  Kollective (BHK). It is a signature stance – stating simply that “1994 changed fokol.” BHK’s  posture came after interrogating the racial, economic, and power relations of South Africa’s  transition to democracy. They concluded that post- ‘94 South Africa still manifests with  apartheid and colonialist structures. Also, BHK understood that post- ‘94 South African state  is still a white supremacist state, perpetuated by the constitution and elite negotiated  settlement of CODESA. Based in Soweto, a locality created by the group areas Act 41 of 1950,  the group’s base is what Madlingozi terms “a quintessential locality of the other side where a  human voice and life does not count”. Citing the racial degradation experiences of both their  parents and themselves in post-apartheid South Africa, these experiences serve as empirical  evidence for BHK that 1994 changed fokol. Soweto like other kasis in South Africa are spaces  which the colonial cartographic imagination have ‘confirmed’ as spaces for ‘the Other’. Post- ‘94 continued this trajectory of racialism through the negotiated settlement.  

As complex as post-94 South Africa is, it has become dominated by judicial  supremacy. The constitution has been converted to an all-encompassing narrative of South Africa.  This constitutional democracy has been overridden by a human rights culture, a hegemonising social justice discourse. This culture confuses us into believing that racialised injustice cannot  be addressed through racializing justice. The over-emphasis on “human  rights” is as a result of the triumph of democratisation over decolonisation since the former is  premised on Bishop Tutu’s “rainbow nation of God”. As President Zuma of ANC said in 2016,  “We defeated racism when we pursued a non-racial society; our society is a rainbow nation.”  Paradoxically, the very ANC would march against racism, yet they claim to have defeated  racism. Oops, another Nyaope.  

The deliberate obfuscation by the ruling elites of post-94 to address economic and  racial injustice by racializing justice continues the white power structure. It is a continuous  trajectory of prioritising transformation over decolonisation. Decolonisation, a process which  Sobukwe and Biko envisioned as a new polity created by Africans, that recognises and  incorporates settlers. In this polity, racial injustice would be addressed through racial justice since the Africans/Blacks were the recipients of racial oppression by a white supremacist  colonial and its progeny apartheid regime.  

In this democracy, justice is determined from white to black. In the case of the 2016  University of Free State (UFS) student protests where black students disrupted a rugby match  to bring the plight of black students and workers in the fore, the black students were punished  while the white ones were pardoned. The value of black life is still de-valued as under  apartheid and colonialism; remember Marikana

Consider “one settler one bullet”, a critique and political statement of the Pan  Africanist Congress of Azania against settler colonialism, it has been cited by AfriForum as a  “problematic phrase fraught with racial tension where a case has been registered in terms of  Section 18 of the Riotous Meetings Act 17 of 1956. Notably, the act cited is an apartheid act  being implemented in “post-apartheid” era. On the opposite side, the statues of colonial  soldiers carrying rifles are displayed in almost all cities of post-94 South Africa. The political  elites and legal protectors of the status quo find no problematic racial tensions with these  statues. This political dynamic reflects the miscarriage of justice and leads us back where we  started, 1994 changed fokol. Voting rights mean nothing if colonial structures remain intact. 

The people are coerced to celebrate with the Jerusalema dance challenge, the reality is, the  dance serves as ‘Nyaope’, making the people high on empty rhythms that would not change  the situation of the majority of our people.

Thand’Olwethu Dlanga is a student in the department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria.