Celebrating our Heritage

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Celebrating our Heritage

The National Heritage Day celebrations will be held on September 24, 2016 in the Northern Cape Province, Kimberly. Other province will be hosting celebrations throughout the country.

See the activities that National Heritage Council will be contributing to celebrate and develop heritage under events. The theme to celebrate this year is “Human Treasures and Legends:  our Living Heritage”.

Definition of Heritage by the National Heritage Council

Heritage is what is preserved from the past as the living collective memory of a people not only to inform the present about the past but also to equip successive generations to fashion their future. It is what creates a sense of identity and assures rootedness and continuity, so that what is brought out by dynamism of culture is not changed for its own sake, but it is a result of people’s conscious choice to create a better life.

Definition of Culture by the National Heritage Council

“Culture is the sum total of what is produced collectively by a people’s creative genius. It is dynamic and it is always in motion. It is, therefore, always developing as a result of human action and interaction. Every society has a culture and at times a heterogeneous society like ours has several cultures. Some of these cultures are exploitive while others are liberating. All cultures have a material base and values which are reflective of a people’s creativity and uniqueness. They include tangible and the intangible”.

Types of heritages

Heritage can be determined by any group or community. For example a house of a Great Parent may have valuable memories to the heir family (inheriting family) that wish to keep those memories alive. This house can be the heritage object that also represents the features of life that are/were valuable to that family.

In the same way can a community of a particular interest (be it religious, cultural, professional, etc.) decide to preserve an object or tradition that is valuable to them.

The determination of a country’s heritage is guided by legal instruments because we cannot leave it the varied public interests. Hence we have the following types of heritage recognised:


  • Monuments
  • Sites
  • Buildings
  • Graves
  • Wrackages (especially under water)


  • Orality and performances – incorporating dance and music
  • Rituals and festivals
  • Memory
  • Skills and techniques
  • Indigenous knowledge systems
  • Cultural traditions
  • Holistic approach to nature
  • Society/social relationships/Ubuntu.

Heritage Day

After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, a Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed. Government agreed that prior to the 1994 elections, there were important historical days that the apartheid government did not recognise. These days were “unofficially” commemorated or celebrated but not part of the public holidays’ calendar. The Cabinet decided that there should be a day (24 September) on which South Africans commemorate their heritage. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST), as the custodian of South Africa’s culture at that time, was given the responsibility to plan and manage annual events for Heritage Day at a national level.

The first Heritage Day commemoration took place on 24 September 1995. Its significance rests in recognising aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live.

Within a broader social and political context, the Heritage Day celebrations are a powerful agent for promulgating a South African identity, fostering reconciliation and promoting the notion that variety is a national asset as opposed to igniting conflict.

This day recognises that although South Africans have diverse cultures, elements of national unity, nation building, reconciliation and national patriotism should be emphasised. The ideal is to preserve, exhibit and promote our diverse but connected cultures. Heritage Day should encourage the youth, in particular, to embrace South Africa’s common heritage.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, (former) President 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. 

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”

Other Heritage Definitions

The Task Team also noted different legal instruments, scholars including some dictionaries define heritage in different ways. Below are some of the definitions that the Task Team had noted:

Heritage definitions:

Heritage refers to that which human beings inherit and transmit from generation to generation. Heritage manifests itself in tangible forms such as heritage objects, memorials and sites; and intangible forms, popularly known as living heritage, such as cultural tradition, oral history, performance, ritual, popular memory, and indigenous knowledge as well as a certain approach to nature, society and social relationships”. (Draft Heritage Transformation Charter, 2009).

Heritage is that which is constructed in the present from remains of the past(Ashworth and Turnbridge: 2001), rather than that which has been passed on from generation to generation;

Heritage is the sum total of wildlife and scenic parks, sites of scientific and historical importance, national monuments, historical buildings, works of art, literature and music, oral traditions and museum collections and their documentation which provides the basis for a shared culture and creativity in the arts(Oxford Dictionary); It is important to note that this is the definition that has been adopted in the White Paper on Arts and Culture, 1996.

Living Heritage definitions in the South African Legislation:

The NHC Act does not define Heritage let alone makes a distinction between natural and cultural heritage as such but provides a definition of Living Heritage instead. Section 2 of the Act provides that: “Living Heritage means the intangible aspects of inherited culture, and may include, 

  • Cultural traditions;
  • Oral history;
  • Performance;
  • Ritual;
  • Popular memory;
  • Skills and technology;
  • Indigenous knowledge system; and
  • The holistic approach to nature, society, and social relationships.

The National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 (Act No. 25 of 1999) equally defines Living Heritage the same way the NHC Act, 1999 does.

The White Paper on Arts and Culture does not define Living Heritage and makes no distinction between cultural and natural heritage.

Living Heritage also known as Intangible Cultural Heritage defined from an International perspective:

The following definitions are given:

Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to people’s learned processes along with the knowledge, skills and creativity and skills that inform and are developed by them, the products they create, and the resources, spaces and other aspects of social and natural context necessary to their sustainability; these processes provide living communities with a sense of continuity with previous generations and are important to cultural identity, as well to the safeguarding of cultural diversity and creativity of humanity” (UNESCO, 2001).

Article 2.2 of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO, 2003) defines is as: “The practices, representations, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identify and continuity and human creativity. (This includes oral traditions and expressions, language, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events and traditional craftsmanship)

Other emerging definitions

The following emerging definitions that seek to transform old paradigms are equally important:

Liberation Heritage refers to bodies of ideas and concepts, works, sites, routes, landscapes as well as memories and experiences associated with men and women and movements of significance in all phases of the struggle for liberation(Draft Heritage Transformation Charter, 2009).

Geological heritage: The Geological Society of South Africa defines geo-heritage as being “places and sites of geological importance [that] are recognized and preserved as outstanding natural sites. These sites are in many cases, localities, the study of which has led to fundamental breakthroughs in the understanding of the Earth, its life forms and its history through ‘deep time’…. In South Africa, geo-heritage is not complete without including the vast and unique mineral deposits which have been instrumental in fuelling the economic development of the country.”



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