Last week there was a debate in the National Assembly about Heritage Day. All the heroes and heroines were mentioned except those of the PAC and to some extent BCM. There was no mention of Robert Sobukwe, Zeph Mothopeng, Urbania Mothopeng, Jeff Masemola and Onkgopotse Tiro. However, an Agang MP did mention Steve Biko.
Minister of Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, didn’t mention Anton Lembede and the 1949 Programme of Action. He mentioned African Claims and skipped the1994 Programme of Action and jumped straight to the Freedom Charter. Mthethwa mentioned the South African Native National Congress founding member, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, at whose law firm, Lembede articled as a lawyer in the mid 1940’s before his sudden death in 1947. Not only that, Lembede was the founding President of the ANCYL in 1943 and a revolutionary and intellectual par excellence. He was the brains behind the formation of the ANCYL and its leading spokesman. The mere mention of Seme and African Claims should have reminded Mthethwa of Lembede. I wonder if these MP’s know how ridiculous their speeches sound when they claim to be speaking about our heritage and deliberately omit some important aspects of that heritage.
Mthethwa mentioned Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire, but what has he read about and from these intellectuals? His speech was probably written for him because if it wasn’t then he should have known that in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon mentions the Sharpeville massacre which was organized and led by Sobukwe and the PAC. The parliament from where Mthethwa was speaking was the same one which passed The Sobukwe Clause. The first death sentences of PAC and POQO members were confirmed by that parliament despite international outcry. Surely this can’t escape the memory of Mthethwa and Speaker Baleka Mbete.
What I found interesting was when EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi rose on a point of order and asked if it was acceptable or even democratic for one DA MP to talk about Greek when there was a discussion on Heritage Day or something to that effect. Then IFP MP and leader Prince Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi also rose to remind Ndlozi that the word democracy itself came from Greek.
I wonder if Ndlozi and Buthelezi were aware that there were Greek words of African origin. Most people think that all the languages borrowed words and concepts from Greek and that it can’t be the other way round. This reminds me of an article I wrote for the Sowetan published on March 24, 1997 titled “Origin of word Africa not Greek”.
For example, habeas corpus existed in ancient Egypt long before Greece came into existence, (CA Diop: African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality). When Pythagoras went to Egypt, he carried a letter of introduction from Polycrates of Samos to King Amasis, who in turn gave him letters of introduction to the Priests of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes, (George GM James: Stolen Legacy).
When MP Ndlozi was reminded by Buthelezi that the word democracy originated from Greek he was lost for words instead of having retorted that there were also Greek words of African origin as my article mentioned above clearly demonstrates. Ancient Egyptian heritage is our heritage.
We can’t celebrate our heritage selectively by extolling the virtues of ANC heroes and heroines only. Recounting our past selectively is not history but his-story.
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).