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28/03/2018 05:31 SAST | Updated 28/03/2018 05:31 SAST

To Build A South African Identity We Will Need Activism Mentality

There are established practices which must serve as a foundation for the construction of a common South African identity.

Ronen Zvulun/ TPX/ Reuters

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Questions about what is South African heritage don't always have easy, straightforward answers. Any opportunity to guide us on what an inclusive South African look and feel should be must be fully utilised; more so considering the fragility of our population's shared definition of what constitutes exemplary South Africanness.

Even though it probably happened by chance and in a knotty context, on August 31, 2017, Parliament missed an opportunity to embrace our African heritage and teach us all a thing or two about African values and practices.

It was on that day that news broke that the EFF intended to end its self-imposed boycott of the president's parliamentary question-and-answer session set down for the day. For lovers of soapies and dramatics, this suggested prospects of another episode of the live television series called "South Africa's Parliament", and it did not disappoint. Well, at least for the first twenty minutes or so, until the EFF's disruptive commonality saw it exiting the session yet again.

At issue was EFF's insistence on interchangeably referring to the state president as "Baba ka Duduzane" – "Duduzane's Father" – a ploy intended to satirically associate the president with allegations of corruption and wrongdoing linked to his son, Duduzane Zuma.

Insisting that such utterances were ill-mannered and upsetting the decorum of the house, speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete told the leader of EFF: "No, honourable Malema. You have now abused even the right I am giving you now, by calling an honourable member in the house by a private reference. And I am saying, here you address other honourable members as honourable."

The Times via Getty Images
EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi poses a question in Parliament.

In what he branded a passionate rebuttal to the speaker's ruling on this characterisation of the president, EFF spin doctor Mbuyiseni Ndlozi contended that "we reject that Eurocentric ruling that promotes European culture in a South African, African parliament".

The EFF and the speaker were both wrong. The former opportunistically sought to misuse African practices for political point scoring, while the latter missed a golden opportunity to enlighten South Africans and encourage Parliament to take a step closer towards integration of African culture in how the institution conducts its business.

Author and communication specialist Chabobye Pilusa explains: "The custom across African communities is certainly to refer to a parent by the name of their child. But it is the name of the firstborn child that must be used, even if they have passed on. This is an honourable attribute which affirms the responsibility of the eldest as an inheritor of leadership responsibilities in the family."

According to Parent24.com, Jacob Zuma has 22 children, of whom the oldest is Mziwoxolo Edward Zuma, who was born in 1977. Duduzane Zuma, who is a twin to Duduzile Zuma, was born in 1984 and stands at child number four down the ladder.

This is just one incident among many that demonstrates the non-existence of an attitude of activism among institutions expected to facilitate an equitable embrace of all communities' value systems in the makings of a combined South African identity. Considering levels of public interest in this particular sitting of Parliament, the occasion cannot have missed the attention of bodies like South African Heritage Resources Agency, National Heritage Council or House of Traditional Leadership.

At the very least, they should have issued media statements, conducted media interviews and approached Parliament to explain and promote the use of a reference to the firstborn child by MPs. It certainly would have been rewarding to those South Africans not exposed to African customs and value systems.

There defiantly remains a tapestry of phenomena that can identifiably and unambiguously be termed 'South Africa'...

A starting point for institutions committed to supporting and embracing African value systems and practices could be a major campaign to review legislation that effectively dictates the makings of a South African identity.

South African History Online correctly states that "South Africa is heir to a legacy of autochthonous livelihoods as well as Bantu immigration; colonisation; settler economies; and liberation movements. These histories have all had a drastic effect on the make-up of South Africa's population. Yet somehow through the interchange of cultures and sharing of cultural influences in the age of globalisation, there defiantly remains a tapestry of phenomena which can identifiably and unambiguously be termed 'South Africa'."

This identity will, though, remain meaningless unless it fully encompasses the values of being African.