As the country celebrates Heritage Day, youth and skills development non-profit organisation (NPO) Afrika Tikkun Services urges young people not to leave their identities behind as they progress and assimilate a global village that is becoming smaller and more homogeneous.
Are digital communities breeding cultural assimilation or diversity?
Don’t leave cultural diversity behind in the digital age, says Nwaneri. “The youth of South Africa risk losing touch with the value of their own unique cultural identity if it is not given space to learn, communicate and express itself in ways that celebrate and acknowledge it” says ATS CEO, Onyi Nwaneri.
“One of the legacies of our painful past that we need to reckon with is that there is still much to be undone when it comes to pride in one’s cultural and ethnic identity,” says Nwaneri. Young leaders in business and community development have shown how embracing unique skills and talents can empower and move the nation forward.
Online influencers who are traditional healers for instance, teach their audiences that despite reaching the heights of western education, indigenous knowledge and culture is still relevant to their identity.
Monarchs and cultural identity
The recent deaths of two globally recognised monarchs over the last year has highlighted the invaluable role of cultural identity in the modern world. The late Queen Elizabeth II and King Goodwill Zweletini’s deaths inspired robust and often polarising public discourse about the cultural relevance of royalty and monarchies.
The strongest arguments supporting these monarchies have been those suggesting that they represented heritage, cultural identity and pride for even their most casual supporters.
“By highlighting the strong connections some people still have with ancient traditions and values connected to the royal families of Britain as well as the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa, these deaths have acted as a reminder that even in the digital age where cultures are being diluted by globalisation and urbanisation, societies are still heavily rooted in their heritage,” says Nwaneri.
Diversity in the workplace
As the place where employees spend most of their time, the workplace can either be the most welcoming or the most isolating place depending on the environment created by the employer. Work environments that encourage and respect cultural diversity are known to be more conducive to innovation and productivity.
A study by Boston Consulting Group found employers with more culturally diverse management teams have made up to 19% more revenue. Diversity is not just a nice-to-have, it is an absolute necessity in creating productive innovative workplaces.
Cultural diversity must be embraced in the education system
Cultural hegemony is a relic of the undesirable past that must be undone, she adds. The gradual acceptance of traditional African hairstyles at former Model C schools in South Africa represents one such way young people are fighting the erasure of their heritage in the formal education system. This movement towards a truly diverse and representative society should also be supported by government efforts toward nation building.
The inclusion of all 11 official languages in the formal education system has been a slow but worthy process. Studies have shown the benefits of children being read to and being taught in their own language, a University of Cape Town’s study on languages found a correlation between learners’ excellence in mathematics and being knowing more than one language.
Language erasure is just one of the ways that cultural identity stands the risk of depletion in this stage of globalisation. For example, Khoekhoe, a native South African language which predates Nguni and colonial occupation in the country, is on the brink of extinction thanks to hundreds of years of cultural erasure.
A shared South African Identity
Nothing gets people together in shared national pride quite like seeing one of their own representing them on the global stage. These are unique opportunities for people of a nation to remember what they have in common. From hearing a uniquely South African accent on a Hollywood film production, to seeing markers of our culture in global fashion events, and successful business speakers at international conferences, all representation matters.
“These need not be the only ways we validate the value of our identity. There should be a daily effort to unlearn the shame of the past and embrace the languages, accents and aesthetics that make us uniquely ourselves,” concludes Nwaneri.”