“There is discord between culture and corruption”, Fr Thabiso Ledwaba as South Africa celebrates Heritage Day


24th September each year South Africans celebrate the best of her Cultural diversity, it is that time of the year a nation that has been devastated by difference is united and rejuvenated by the same difference of identity and outlook.  This day is special because it communicates a message of the beauty and necessity of diversity.  For a long time this diversity seemed almost like a curse and today its truth as gift is shining out so beautifully.

This day is known as Heritage Day, where we celebrate all cultural beauties of South Africa.  We are celebrating the heritage of culture in South Africa.  In this reflection I would like to tease out this term Culture: the Oxford dictionary traces its etymology back to the Latin word cultura meaning to grow, to cultivate.  And the word agricultureis a family word here (thanks to the whole conscious effort of producing that which would nourish and sustain life).  When we speak of Cultural Heritage, therefore, we evoke that whole tradition of pursuits of sorts that tends towards growth, progress, advancement, civilization, enlightenment, development. 

We seek to bring to our consciousness that whole heritage that housed a noble longing for the best of humanity and strive to honor those moments worthy  of the name glorious achievement both spiritual and material: the concept of Ubuntu is such a spiritual milestone worthy of the name culture (or agriculture) because something noble was (and could still be) able to grow namely the appreciation of the human person and the enhancement of his dignity as a distinctly different creature from the rest.  The majestic pyramid of Giza, Egypt, is a physical monument of such a glorious moment of human progress. When human societies embark on the path of such pursuit (namely quest for growth, progress, development, advancement) Culture became the name of this endeavor.

In as much as a commandment ceases to be a commandment if it does not command, and law ceases to be law if it lacks justice, or theology ceasing to be one if it does not speak well of God, anything human ceases to bear the name culture if it does not contribute towards the building, the cultivation, the growth of what is decent and noble in human society.  Our honest enquiry will discard much of what we call culture today as worthy of the name as demanded by heritage. This understanding will result in sensing a disturbing discord between culture and corruption.  It would therefore be odd to speak of the Culture of Corruption, or the Culture of Laziness, or the Culture of Crime.  Though these social maladies seem to be growing but their growth is as annoying as that of the weeds in the parable of the Wheat (Mt. 13:24-30).  It is an undesired and unintended growth triggering revolt. We may therefore need to restore the original meaning of the term as laid bare by its own heritage volumously stored is the memorable past.  Suffice to call these sick practices as mere habits because habits mushroom like weed, spontaneous and random, need no watering, needing no institution to safeguard and monitor its growth.

One of the most enduring legacies of Culture is Restraint.  Culture true to its mission of positive growth, progress, development and advancement imposes Restraint as a rule.  It thrives on building boundaries, on preaching the gospel of limitation.  It prides itself on Control.  Words like discipline become natural to this legacy.  Therefore any culture that is tolerant of tearing down boundaries, of broadening perspectives to a point where the clarity about the right and wrong fades away and the sophistry of simplicity becomes the order of life then we are overtaken by something other than Culture.  The heritage of culture carries the blazing might of restraint.  Cynical indifference has no place in the heritage or legacy of Culture.  A practice that lacks this feature (of restraint) is found wanting as far as Culture is concerned.

I think in a day like this, a reflection of this kind may help us build a healthy society, adopt values that would enhance our value as people, sharpen our judgement of conduct and chastisement of clumsy habits.  The Catholic Church has a culture of her own, if she did not have one then we would not be speaking of 2000 years of life and growth.  It may well be correct to ask ourselves, what is that legacy worthy of the name culture within the Catholic Church- that aspect worthy of praising and imitating in our present day?  There is a lot to say in answer to this question.  Time fails me, but this should be mentioned: Refusing to be tamed by the world comes out shining as a definitive feature of the Culture of this Faith called Catholic.  This feature has made this Faith a friend and an enemy of the World, wedded and widowed to the world at the same time, so young and yet so old a faith, dying so many times and rising again, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  

I, therefore, submit that Growth and Restraint are the outstanding features of Culture according to the Heritage of Culture and any practice that does not hold these two ideas is not worthy of the name.

By Fr Thabiso Clement Ledwaba
Catholic Archdiocese of Pretoria
South Africa
24th September, 2020
For more information kindly contact Fr Thabiso: +27 (0) 83669 7329