Heritage Day: A manufactured holiday

Sara Gon says today's public holiday is a product of typically grubby, political South African compromise

About a year ago, David Bullard wrote an article for Politicsweb entitled What's happened to Radion 702? Bullard said that listening to 702 now gave him the same feeling he got from listening to the SABC back in the ‘80s. Was it really as "in touch, in tune and independent" as it use to be?

Of Jenny Crwys-Williams he said:

"...has now dumbed down her afternoon offering so much that it is known as the Jenny Crass-Williams show in some circles. Perhaps she is    the Bea Read of 702...a reassuring English accent that's only there to convince us that all will be well if we leave our headlights on and don't think nasty thoughts about   our fellow countrymen. Whatever her raison d'etre her presentation day after day suggests that she is utterly bored with her job after all these years and would love to break free if only she could afford to."

Bullard went on to say that while 702 may claim that it welcomes debate the reality is that it stifles any argument that doesn't accord with the station's views.

Well I have just had my brush with Oprah Crwys-Williams and the political correctness of "she who shall be obeyed".

On 23 September 2013 Crwys-Williams was having a phone-in about the importance of Heritage Day and that it shouldn't be reduced to a frivolity such as National Braai Day (now rechristened Braai4Heritage).

She even had the jingoistic crassness to compare it to Independence Day in America! "Duh!" to quote a favourite American son.

Her view was that Braai Day sullied the seriousness of Heritage Day and it should be celebrated by studying our common heritage navels All the good folks of 702-land phoned in to say what wonderful things they were going to do like visit the apartheid museum and picnic in Soweto.

So I phoned in to inject a little difference into the debate. Well, did I displease "she who must be obeyed". At the end of my contribution she said "Well that was Sara! And I must say that I totally disagree with her!" With that my view was dispatched, killed off and buried.

What did I say that caused such grave offence? I said that Heritage Day did not warrant as a paid public holiday. It is a manufactured holiday brokered in timeless, grubby, political South African fashion.

In 1994 (note how early in our dispensation public holidays were dealt with by parliament) the ANC published the Public Holidays Bill. 24 September was not mentioned at all, so the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) threatened not to support the bill. 24 September is Shaka Day, the date when Zulu dignitaries commemorate the reign of King Shaka at his graveside in Stanger.

So in order to get this most crucial pieces of legislation through the ANC and IFP compromised. 24 September would become a national, paid, public holiday and be called Heritage Day. A messy, ill-defined, typically South African compromise guaranteed to stuff around the economy particularly when it falls on a Tuesday or Thursday.

To demand that it some how warrants elevation to a national holiday to be observed in a prescribed manner by all, is fascistic and hypocritical. Maybe a day of commemoration, but not a paid holiday.

Much of our heritage is not common and what is common is often bitter and contested.

There are days in our holiday calendar that have real meaning: 27 April (Freedom Day), 21 March (Sharpeville/Human Rights Day) and June 16 (Youth Day).

If we want to create a day that has any national spirit let's recognise what is rich about our diversity and enjoy the one thing we do share - a love of braaing with friends, family and food. 

Heritage Day has become a politically correct and meaningless sop.

So let the debate begin! But no! That's not what Oprah Crwys-Williams intended. My view was not to be challenged, questioned or debated. It was only to be disagreed with. And there was I, just thinking that the progenitor of talk radio in South Africa actually wanted a discussion. Political correctness is drowning us all. If everything has meaning, nothing has meaning.

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