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By: Sizwe Alhajra Zingitwa
Today, on the 6th of June 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted a State Visit by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. As expected, the ceremonial welcome was done with military precision and pomp, a standard practice in receiving Heads of States visiting South Africa.
However, as South Africa continues to grapple with the legacy of colonialism of a special type and strives towards a more inclusive and equitable society, it is worth questioning whether such ceremonies should be decolonized to better reflect the values and aspirations of the New South Africa. This raises important discussions on the role of symbols, traditions, and practices in shaping national identity and the need for continuous reflection and evolution in the quest for a truly free and equal society.
The Republic of South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural heritage that has been shaped by a long history of colonialism, slavery, apartheid, and struggle for freedom. The country has made significant progress towards building a more inclusive and democratic society since the fall of apartheid, but there is still much work to be done to decolonize its institutions and practices.
One area that requires attention is the ceremony for visiting Head of State, which carries a legacy of colonialism and cultural imposition.
This paper argues that the ceremony for visiting Head of State should be decolonized and replaced with a culturally relevant practice that reflects the diversity and heritage of South Africa.
Why Decolonization is an Important Conversation to Have in South Africa
The idea of decolonization has been a hotly debated topic in South Africa over the years, with people holding different views on why it is a necessary conversation to have in the country. As a country that has a painful history of colonization and apartheid, decolonization is a crucial process in building a more inclusive society that celebrates diversity and recognizes the humanity of all its citizens.
Firstly, decolonization seeks to challenge and undo the harmful legacy of colonialism and apartheid in the country. South Africa’s history is characterized by systematic discrimination, oppression, and injustices against black and indigenous people, who were subjected to forced removals, land dispossession, and other forms of violence.
Decolonization seeks to address these injustices by dismantling the systems, structures, and narratives that perpetuate inequalities and promoting an equal society where all people have equal opportunities to thrive.
Secondly, decolonization aims to restore dignity and a sense of pride to historically marginalized and oppressed communities. The legacy of colonialism and apartheid has left many people of color in South Africa feeling ashamed, inferior, and dislocated from their heritage. Decolonization seeks to reclaim and celebrate the cultures, languages, and identities of these communities, recognizing them as valuable and integral parts of the country’s history and future.
Moreover, decolonization is about promoting a more holistic and inclusive form of education that recognizes multiple ways of knowing and being. South Africa’s education system has been criticized for perpetuating colonial and Western knowledge systems while neglecting traditional African knowledge, languages, and perspectives.
Decolonization seeks to decolonize education by recognizing local knowledge, cultures, and languages as important sources of knowledge and promoting a more equitable and diverse education system.
Lastly, decolonization seeks to promote a more global and interconnected understanding of history and society. Decolonization recognizes that colonialism was not a South African phenomenon alone but a global one that had far-reaching effects on the world. Therefore, decolonization seeks to promote a more cosmopolitan and inclusive understanding of history and society that recognizes diverse viewpoints and experiences.
Therefore, decolonization is an important conversation to have in South Africa as it seeks to challenge and undo the harmful legacy of colonialism and promote a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse society. Decolonization is a continuous process that requires constant reflection, dialogue, and action towards building a better future for all South Africans.
Westminster Military Procession
The Westminster Process of Inspecting a Guard of Honor and 21 gun salute is a longstanding tradition that originates from the United Kingdom. This military and british royal ceremony dates back to the 17th century and is still performed at important events to this day. The ceremony involves a member of royalty, a head of state, or a high-ranking dignitary inspecting a formation of soldiers standing at attention, known as the Guard of Honor.
The inspection ensures that the soldiers are properly dressed, equipped, and ready to perform their ceremonial duties. After the inspection, a 21 gun salute is fired as a mark of respect and honor for the visiting dignitary. This tradition of firing gun salutes goes back hundreds of years and is an important part of military and royal history.
The first recorded use of the Westminster Process of Inspecting a Guard of Honor and 21 gun salute in South Africa was during the opening ceremony of the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1910, when the Duke of Connaught inspected the Guard of Honor and a 21 gun salute was fired.
Since then, the Westminster Process of Inspecting a Guard of Honor and 21 gun salute has been performed at various events in South Africa, including state visits and military parades. It is seen as an important tradition that demonstrates the country’s respect for visiting dignitaries and its commitment to preserving military and royal history.
Westminster Process of Inspecting a Guard of Honor and 21 gun salute is a longstanding tradition that has been adopted by many countries, including South Africa. It is an important part of military and royal history and is used to show respect and honor to visiting dignitaries.
Lessons from the Changing National Symbol, Flags etc
Changing national symbols such as the anthem and flag holds particular significance given the country’s history of apartheid and the struggle for equality and democracy. The symbols of the apartheid regime represented the oppression of the black majority and are therefore viewed with disdain and seen as a symbol of past injustices. Changing these symbols can therefore be seen as an integral step towards building a more unified and inclusive nation.
The Constitution of South Africa, adopted in 1996, recognizes the importance of symbols as unifying and reflective of the country’s diverse society. In Chapter 2, Section 15, the Constitution states that “everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, and opinion.” It goes on to say that “cultural, religious, and linguistic communities may not be unfairly discriminated against, and the state may not unfairly promote any one culture, language, or religion.”
This constitutional provision recognizes that symbols such as national anthems and flags can have a significant impact on the sense of belonging and identity of different communities. Therefore, changing these symbols must be done in a manner that is respectful of the country’s diverse cultures and religions.
The changing of national symbols, including the national anthem and flag, has been an ongoing process in South Africa. In 1994, following the end of apartheid, the democratic government introduced a new national anthem, combining the former apartheid-era anthem with an African liberation song. This new anthem reflects the country’s diverse cultural heritage while acknowledging the past injustices.
The South African flag also underwent a major redesign in 1994, with the new design reflecting the country’s multi-racial and multi-cultural makeup. The flag incorporates six colors, representing different aspects of South African life, and is considered a symbol of unity and reconciliation.
In the same spirit, we should change the old Apartheid ways of welcoming distinguished guests and dignitaries to welcome them in a unique South Africa way that embrace the our cultural uniqueness.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement is a student-led movement that started at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in 2015. The movement, whichwas named after British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, called for the removal of a statue of Rhodes from the university campus. The movement highlighted the need to confront the legacy of colonialism and racism and to decolonize education.
Inspiration from the Rhodes Must Fall Movement
The Rhodes Must Fall movement quickly gained momentum and spread to other universities, both in South Africa and internationally. The movement ignited conversations about the importance of recognizing and challenging the harmful legacies of colonialism and systems of oppression. It encouraged people to question the statues, monuments, and symbols that glorify historical figures who caused immense suffering for marginalized groups.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement inspired a broader movement for decolonization, which encompasses not only the removal of colonial symbols but also the recognition and centering of marginalized voices in education, academic research, and policymaking. The movement encourages universities to re-examine their curricula, modes of teaching, and even hiring practices, with the aim of promoting a more inclusive and equitable learning environment.
In contrast to earlier movements that focused purely on political and legal change, the Rhodes
Must Fall movement sparked a deeper, more nuanced conversation about what it means to decolonize education and what it takes to build more inclusive and just societies. It helped to start a conversation about what kind of national symbols can truly represent all citizens, rather than just the dominant groups.
Overall, the Rhodes Must Fall movement serves as a powerful reminder that symbols matter and can perpetuate systems of oppression if not scrutinized and re-evaluated. By inspiring a renewed focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, the movement serves as an inspiration for ongoing efforts to create more equitable and just societies worldwide.
The current protocol for visiting Heads of State in South Africa includes a highly formal and westernized ceremony, which is not necessarily reflective of the diverse cultures and identity of the country. The ceremony includes marching bands, military parades, and flag-raising protocols that do not fully encapsulate the richness and depth of the country’s indigenous cultures.
Furthermore, these practices are rooted in the colonial legacy of the country and often only serve to reinforce the importance of colonial symbols and institutions.
To decolonize and replace the current protocol, South Africa should look towards creating a culturally relevant and inclusive ceremony that truly reflects all the diverse cultures and histories of the country. This could include incorporating more traditional music, dance, and costume, as well as inviting indigenous speakers to address the visiting Head of State in their native languages.
Additionally, prioritizing language diversity and inclusivity can also be a significant aspect of decolonization. This can be achieved by creating multilingual protocols and distributing official documents in the country’s many languages, recognizing and promoting different cultures and histories.
It is also important to ensure that the voices of indigenous and marginalized communities are heard and represented, especially given the long history of systemic oppression and exclusion in South Africa. By actively promoting inclusivity and diversity, South Africa can move towards a more equitable and reconciliatory society.
In conclusion, decolonization is necessary in all aspects of society, including ceremonial practices. By replacing the current protocol for visiting Heads of State with a more culturally relevant and inclusive one, South Africa can honor and celebrate the diverse heritage and identities of its citizens. Decolonization is an ongoing conversation and process, but it is essential to acknowledging past discrimination, promoting equity and ensuring that all voices are heard and valued.
Sizwe Alhajra Zingitwa is the Spokesperson of the ANC Free State Parliamentary Caucus but writes in his personal capacity