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We are custodians of our heritage

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Picture:Tumi Pakkies/African News Agency (ANA) – To be good custodians or faithful stewards of what has been entrusted to us, we must know the nature and content, the value of that which has been left in our care, otherwise we will be poor custodians or stewards, the writer says.

By Dr Wallace Mgoqi

If by heritage is meant something that is transmitted from a predecessor, like a legacy or inheritance, then it means that we become custodians and stewards of that which has been left us, by those before us. In order to be good custodians or faithful stewards of that which has been entrusted to us, we must know the nature and content, and value of what has been left in our care, otherwise we will be poor custodians or stewards.

History is replete with examples of people who were left with a heritage, but precisely because they did not understand the nature and value of what they had inherited, they put it to waste and destruction. See it in children who were never inducted in how money is earned, when their parents leave their estates in their hands, they gather friends and hold parties and have spending sprees until the inheritance is exhausted, and they are not to blame for it.

But those who worked along their parents, when they were building the estate, have a good sense of what it takes to build a legacy or inheritance, and when it is their turn, they simply fit into the shoes of their predecessor seamlessly, and continue the tradition.

My wife and I made friends with a family which started a shoe repair business, Rock Sole Shoe Repairs business , started in 1936, in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town and watched over years how the patriarch inducted his sons and their uncles and cousins into the business, such that the “old man“ in his late eighties now has left the business in their care, and it is running like a kite in the air on a windy day. No doubt such children, will only take such business, from glory to glory, precisely because they were properly inducted.

There is an ancient book that says: “Teach your children when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie these commandments, as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.“

Those who do this to their children reap a good harvest when their children grow up, they become like trees, planted on a stream of waters, and give their fruit in due season. As parent who failed to do this to your children you stand in awe, mixed with envy when you watch how these children have been prepared, through years of blood, sweat and tears by their parents, to be good custodians or stewards of their parents‘ heritage.

We must ask ourselves, especially as parents: do we really invest in preparing and inducting our children to be good custodians or stewards of what we will leave them? Properly inducted they will look well after it, but neglected, they will put to it waste.

As a nation, as in families, we have been left with a legacy, a heritage by those who came before us. History books have biographies in our lifetime of men and women, who used their lives, as examples. In the book: “They Are Africans, (by Dudley Thompson, and paintings by Barrington Watson, with a Foreword by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General ) , there is a list of names like:

1. Frederick Douglas, one of the most prominent activists against American slavery, was an exceptional and inspiring orator, he went on to become one of the most important Afro-American leaders in the 19th century;

2. Harriet Tubman, born a slave, her real name was Aramina Ross, but at an early age people began to call her by mother’s name, Harriet. She was ruthless when it came to her expeditions, she carried a pistol on her freedom raids and was heard to offer those who had second thoughts about escaping a choice : “ You will be free or die”;

3. WEB Dubois, was a trailblazer in every sense. The first Black American to receive a doctoral degree, he became a scholar and highly influential writer, as well as Marcus one of the most important founders of the pan-Africanist movement, he was not allowed to stay on the segregated campus at the University of Pennsylvania , even though he taught classes there;

4. Marcus Garvey, probably had more worldwide impact than any other person from the Caribbean in the 20th century. He was an inspirational leader, the founder of an organisation with two million members across forty countries, and one of first and greatest pan-Africanists;

5.George Padmore, baptised “the father of Pan- Africanism“ was one of the most influential of Black intellectuals and activists in the twentieth century. He acted as a catalyst, putting into contact leaders and thinkers from around the world, he remained committed to the vision of a free and independent Africa, liberated from European colonialism and internal divisions;

6. CRL James, historian, novelist, critic, political activist and cricket enthusiast, a prolific writer of plays and a collection of political and cricket writing, revealing a deep love of sport, also using cricket as a way of explaining Caribbean history and society;

7. Kwame Nkrumah, is considered by many today to have been one of the brightest and most committed leaders ever produced by the African continent. “No race, no people, no nation can exist freely or be respected at home or abroad without political freedom“.

He developed the concept of neo-colonialism, meaning the relationship of inequality that exists after a country has granted political independence to a colony, but continues to dominate its economy.

8. Julius Nyerere, is a man of unusual sincerity and integrity-qualities which earned him the trust of his people throughout his long political career. He believed that equality lay at the heart of a just and harmonious society and worked hard to create the conditions for an original, African-based form of socialism. He championed Black African unity. Under Nyerere, Tanzania became the first country on the continent with a native African official language – Swahili, he also translated the works of Shakespeare into Swahili.

9. Jomo Kenyatta, was a Kenyan patriot, who through his courage and political leadership helped his country to obtain independence from Britain on 12 December, 1963. His bravery and outspoken manner earned the title “Mr Africa” His name means “burning spear“. He led the “Mau-Mau“ rebellion against Britain with success.

10. Haile Selasie, the Emperor Hale Selassie 1 of Ethiopia occupies an important place in the history of Black people, not only for what he was – the head of a great African country – but also for the legacy he has left behind. He is regarded as the head of the Rastafarian movement.

11. Paul Robeson – a man of extraordinary conviction and courage, a multi-lingual individual, sportsman, actor, singer and political activist. He could write and speak in twenty languages, including Chinese, Russian, Arabic and several African languages.

12. Rosa Parks, her courageous act in December, 1955, unleashed a series of events that had a profound impact in the southern states of the US and America as a whole. She resisted an order by a white man who ordered her and other black passengers to go and sit at the back of the bus, in a segregated bus in the South, others obeyed, but she did not – this resulted in a campaign being organised against segregation. She received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by the US Congress together with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.

13. Martin Luther King Jr, probably the most famous and inspiring Black American leader of the 20th century, who was directly responsible for important changes, in US politics and society, bringing to an end the segregation laws that existed in some southern states and pressing for equality of voting rights between Blacks and whites. He paid for his dream of racial and social equality with his own life. Muhammad Ali, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, and Langalibelele Dube, Sefako Mapogo Makgatho, Zacharias Richard Mahabane, Josiah Tshangana Gumede, Pixley Isaka Seme, Alfred Bitini Xuma, James Sebe Moroka, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Zanele Mbeki, Robert Mangaliso and Victoria Sobukhwe, Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, Thomas Sankara, Steve Bantu Biko, and many others who have followed them, to this day, whose lives serve as role models for us to emulate and follow. They are shining stars on the firmament, for us to look up to.

It takes a lot of hard-work to build such a reputation over a lifetime, short or long. Some of these people did not enjoy longevity, they lived over a short period of time, yet they left their mark, contemporary examples are the likes of Thomas Sankara and Steve Bantu Biko.

Our heritage is a democracy which was hard and bitterly fought for and won, when many had given up hope that ever change would come, through the very dark years of Apartheid, and its antecedent colonialism, yet at the appointed time, though it tarried, it came , our freedom was born, that was what they sacrificed their lives for.

That is what we have a duty to preserve, for our generation and generations to come, a duty to improve upon what was entrusted to us that is true custodianship, true stewardship.

Mgoqi is the chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.

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