AN AFRICAN proverb says: If you do not know where you come from, you will not know where you are going and if you do not know where you are going any taxi will take you there!
It is said that if you want to give a South African a million-rand cheque and but do not want him to receive it you should put it in a book.
South Africans do not read and this has serious consequences for our sense of being - of who we are and what we want to become. If we do not read we do not learn and if we do not learn we remain ignorant of our own history.
The history we remember is the one imposed on us by those who gained hegemony over our memories. Our heritage lingers in the dark catacombs of memory.
Celebrating Heritage Month is an attempt to reconstruct our past, to find a base on which we can build a meaningful future for ourselves.
I spent a day last week at the Sibongile Primary School in Senaoane, Soweto, to witness Grade One pupils dressed in their traditional clothes indulging in a variety of dances, songs and storytelling.
The atmosphere was laced with colour, rhythm and movement and a sense of pride pervaded the corridors of the school.
I left feeling optimistic that there are still people in our communities who have learnt that there are no short cuts to the attainment of values and that an investment in our youth is an investment in the continuation of our culture, belief systems and heritage.
Many parents, mainly mothers and former teachers, turned up. Such little gestures resonate more than the big bashes that people attend merely for fun.
Who are the custodians of our heritage and how is this heritage preserved and developed?
Writer Ali Mazrui says: "The ancestors of Africa are angry. For those who believe in the power of the ancestors, the proof of their anger is all around us. For those who do not believe, the proof is given another name."
Why are they angry?
"Because the compact between Africa and the 21st century and its terms are all wrong. They involve turning Africa's back on previous centuries - an attempt to 'modernise' without consulting cultural continuities, an attempt to start the process of 'dis-Africanising' Africa. To celebrate our heritage, we first have to know it. Do we know that," Mazrui says.
South Africa is the cradle of humankind. Life began here not far from Johannesburg and in the city itself, with the Melville Koppies standing as a monument to our people who centuries ago melted iron and developed artefacts. The findings in Mapungubwe, Thulamela, Makgabeng and other sites testify to earlier civilisations that scholars have been silent about.
Artists in South Africa lament the lack of appreciation for the legacies of music. At a recent meeting with musicians it became clear that they are aware that our musical heritage, the archives, are kept in institutions in Britain and other Western capitals.
Think of names such as Mackay Davashe, Dudu Pukwana and Patience Gqcwabe to mention just a few. We honour our musicians when they are dead but do nothing to record them when they are alive!
Consider visual artists, thinkers, intellectuals. Or traditional ceremonies. which are marked more by novelty than their knowledge systems. In these celebrations universities and institutions that are supposed to be the custodians of knowledge and laboratories of ideas are characterised by deafening silence.
lProfessor Ntuli is a cultural and political commentator.