The “Unity in our Heritage” event was held at the Isivivana Centre, in Khayelitsha on the 30th of September by the Kagisano Khayelitsha Steering Committee in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Isivivana Centre to mark the end of heritage month in South Africa. The aim of this event was to strengthen social cohesion by creating a safe space and bringing together different cultures to appreciate each other’s diversity and find unity in each other’s heritage.
The event was attended by over 150 Khayelitsha community members, local NGOs, refugee organisations, community-based organisations, Western Cape provincial government departments, and many more.
The day kicked off with a performance by the Ikamva Marimba band and community members singing and dancing together in a celebratory mood. Afesis-corplan’s Executive Director, Nontando Ngamlana officially opened the event by highlighting the purpose of the event: to promote social cohesion by bringing together multi-nationalities and cultures to celebrate our heritage diversity. The day was also meant to create space for a rich discussion on how to find unity in our heritage. This was followed by one of the Kagisano Khayelitsha Steering Committee members introducing the steering committee.
At the crux of the social cohesion event was a 2-hour blended dialogue led by panellists, Nontando Ngamlana from Afesis-corplan, Patricia Mudyayi from Kwesu, Bulelwa Ndibongo from Isivivana Centre, and Kagisano steering committee member Nozuko Kohli. The robust discussion, which included commentary from community stakeholders, described African heritage as consisting of a rich multifaceted culture that stems from ancient African history that is passed on from one generation to another. Elders have been viewed as the custodians of transferring this heritage.
This sentiment of elders being custodians of heritage was shared by one of the community members, who said, “building communities starts with the family unit… we don’t invest time in building strong relationships with our kids… inkcubeko iqala engqondweni (knowledge/culture starts in the mind). We must make sure our kids know their culture – that starts at home.”
In many African homes, Ubuntu was a core value that was taught. According to the scholar, James Kamwachale Khomba, Ubuntu is “the capacity in an African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity, and mutuality in the interests of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring”. In South Africa, this phrase is popularly known in IsiZulu as “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which simply means “a person is a person through other people”. Although Ubuntu still exists in African cultures, it has been on the decline and losing its value.
This concern was also shared by one of the community members in attendance who said, “ookhokho bethu noomakhulu bethu babenoxolo, babethandana (our great-grandmothers and fathers used to have peace and loved each other)”. Which prompted another community member to ponder, “what went wrong in our communities? We have lost the essence of what it means to be in community. We must go back to the principles of ubuntu”.
The event ended with a lively Congolese traditional live band performance, that saw people join in to dance and share memorable experiences.
This social cohesion event brought to the forefront self-introspection and reminded people of the essence of African culture: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”.
This is a start of a series of discussions that the Kagisano Programme would like to curate, to create safe and healing spaces that foster the spirit of social cohesion. Complex as it is, the community of Khayelitsha will need to rise to the occasion and utilise the Kagisano programme as a catalyst for building unified and peaceful communities.