What does nationhood and culture mean for South Africans in these times?

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

We can all agree that lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus has shifted a lot of things in everyone and changed the way we do things. Lockdown basically took away the things that people embrace under heritage and culture; like the essence of people coming together and celebrating our various cultures, family, our memories. Lockdown confined us to our own small spaces. In the context of African culture, a lot of things that are held dear – the essence of worshipping, revering our ancestors, funerals, celebrations, and so on, was not allowed.

Lockdown has forced us to reimagine a world with the coronavirus. It has brought economic challenges and discomfort and saw us divided as a nation. But even as it almost destroyed us, it also brought us together. For the first time in the history of South Africa, we have one crisis that we have faced as a nation. We have had many wars and strife in South Africa, but we have never had one common enemy before. This brought us together as we had to depend on the person next to us. For the first time, we had to stand together to help each other. It was not about race or nationalism. Compassion was the glue that brought South Africans together to make it through these tough times.

Perhaps, around Heritage Day, this is a time to reflect and what it is we take with us in our different cultural practices. The way we culturally, as an African continent, respect the process of saying goodbye to our loved ones. The way we connect and celebrate milestones. It is incredibly sad as Covid-19 has stripped us of some of our cultures. In the context of Heritage Month in South Africa – and in Africa – we are missing a big opportunity as we are not tapping into our cultural economy.

Like we have our commercial economy, we also have a heritage and cultural economy; and we need to celebrate our culture more and our homegrown brands and talent; as well as food that is culturally significant and products of South African origin. We need to create new markets for our goods and products. There are opportunities for us to build our own brands and serve our communities, but we need the Government and the private sector and civil society to pull together to revitalise our economy. It is not an easy thing to shift us out of this economic depression – we also need to humanise the different professions in society, so that all sectors come together to take our country forward and solve our educational and poverty challenges.

At Activate Change Drivers, we are giving our network of 4,500 young people the tools to improve their own businesses and we expose them to business and thought leaders across various sectors. Through our 70 Activate Youth Hubs nationwide, we assist young people with incubating their businesses; accessing the internet; helping their communities – during the lockdown, our youth distributed food parcels from our Youth Hubs and helped people apply for TERS and UIF. They are true spaces to foster social entrepreneurship and exciting spaces for the youth to grow. We need business support to support our young people.

We have always had the answers with us as a nation: in past years and engraved in our constitution is the concept of ubuntu. If we draw our strengths and moral compass from ubuntu – which shouldn’t just be a concept, but something we internalise and build on – it teaches us how to uproot the ill of corruption which strips away and steals away from ubuntu. If we got back to the basics of what holds us together: family, our culture, our heritage, our compassion, ‘You are because I am…’It is about helping each other because we all matter, as human beings. You exist because I exist. Corruption has stolen away what matters to people; it has stolen quality of life from people. We need to go back to the basics of ubuntu.

Covid-19 has brought us an opportunity to foster unity. We were never intentional about any outcome. We need to start building from the ground up. We need to invest a lot on the upcoming generation. If there is any transformation or any change, it will happen from the ground up. We need a new wave of young leaders who will take the baton from the current leadership and make things work. We know how to. We need to bring the youth – the bulk of our population – on board and that is where we need to focus attention on. The youth will take our continent forward. And we need to speak with one voice in building unity not just in South Africa, but across the continent.

About ACTIVATE! Change Drivers:

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.

By Malusi Mazibuko, Network Support Manager, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers.