Holidays don’t honour our past


As we go deep into the postapartheid period, the significant moments that meant so much to who we are as a people and their value to us are all beginning to be meaningless.A large part of this sad state of affairs is the commercialisation of our history, and the converting of our historical organisations and symbols into quick transactions.The current Youth Month generally and Youth Day specifically are cases in point.The first transaction is the naming.Our public holidays are all named in English, a language that is not spoken by 80.9% of the population in their homes.The names chosen to be placed on the specific holidays epistemologically have nothing to do with the historical events that characterised the specific day in question.June 16 in 1976 was the moment when the dominant language of learning, teaching and research was being challenged by high school pupils, calling for its democratisation – a question which still stands unattended today.Therefore, to call such a day “Youth Day” is a deliberate attempt to erase these specifics of history that at present deserve our full attention.The second transaction is the psychosocial histography of the story behind each historical date.Each public holiday carries a story of how black people died at the hands of whites.On Human Rights Day, March 21, more than 69 people were shot dead by white police.On Youth Day, June 16, black pupils were shot dead by white police.The underlying message that this histography sends to the mind of a young black child is that all that her people did in history was cry, sing, scream, surrender and die – an ugly history that is also pretty recent.The real history of the indigenous people of this land, who trace their livelihood back to a thousand years before they had any contact with Europeans, is untold.The old, beautiful African history of science and technology, innovation and medicine is not made a historical moment for the African child to pause, celebrate, learn from and critically reflect on to inspire her own African identity of self-worth outside of the current norm which presents her people as lacking and inferior.Also, the current “Disneyland approach” of telling our history as a competition between good and evil erases the more philosophical complexities of the depth of our African humanity which the African child can learn so much more from about who Africans are and their true capabilities.The third transaction is the charitarisation and financialisation of our historical days for purposes of personal instant accumulation.The important days of our history have been used by private corporations to present themselves as caring institutions who respect the code of corporate social responsibility.However, this remains a public relations exercise that is not sustained by any significant project to truly change the lives of the people they take photos of on Mandela Day.The Lonmin mining company had a 67 minutes charity project, yet it remains one of the most exploitative companies in SA, which was responsible for the killing of its workers.Government officials have also fallen on the same bandwagon where they use public funds to host meaningless concerts and beauty pageants on “Youth Day”.Such days in the government calendar are a great opportunity for fiscus dumping, largely targeted at the short-term profiteering of service providers linked to politicians to whom must give kickbacks.All these activities have nothing to do with preserving the integrity of our history for future generations and creating value.Rather, they are all geared towards quick transactions to create overnight millionaires.The obsession of our business leaders and government leaders with instant accumulation has devalued people’s inherent respect and honour of these institutions.People have observed for so long that positions of authority have been utilised by people to enrich themselves first and worry about their responsibilities later.Young people also know that Youth Month does not add value to them.Hence, they do not see any significance in attending events because they know it is just another transaction for its hosts to tick corporate boxes and justify expenditure at the end of the financial year.What SA is yearning for are the few people who will add value to society.Cutting-edge management literature shows that most people in our workplaces and in our most reliable institutions are involved in wastage.The people who have the skills to add real value are very few.This is because creating value takes time and it is difficult.A large part of it requires solving of complex problems.This is why people with such capabilities serve in the top leadership positions of organisations.Therefore, preserving our history and maintaining valuable contributions to our society would require from each of us to resist the temptations of transactional thinking and we must avoid the consumption habits it comes with.This begins with the basics such as taking our national consciousness seriously and respecting the treasure of our hard-earned resources.● Pedro Mzileni is a PhD sociology candidate at NMU.

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