What we think and do is informed by our past, impacts on the world today, and establishes where we are going and how we will be viewed by historians tomorrow.
We don’t just commemorate our heritage; we also learn from it and process it, while contributing to the next chapter. It is a constantly evolving cycle in which all are participants.
Cynics point out that humans have a propensity to repeat their mistakes – and therefore not to learn from history.
Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic will change some of that. It has exposed levels of human, economic and environmental vulnerability, and a critical need for common purpose, that even the world’s richest nations have struggled to comprehend or mitigate.
Under the pressures of an unprecedented global lockdown, the challenges of our time have emerged in eye-withering detail.
Continuing to disrespect nature will lead to another health disaster;
Failing to address climate injustice puts us on a collision course with an increasing occurrence of radical weather events, from droughts to floods to fires;
Systemic race, gender, social, spatial, geographic and economic inequalities are unsustainable; and
We can no longer afford to exclude tech-savvy young people, who have grown up with an understanding of the implications of globalisation, from plotting our way through the mess.
In South Africa, after the looting of our pandemic defences by officials and members of the politically-connected class, we add the scourge of corruption to the list.
These are not the type of challenges that disappear when money is thrown at them. They require stronger medicine: Morality, clarity and courage.
History doesn’t go away. When under-acknowledged and unredressed injustices reverberate in our time, even if not entirely of our making there is an onus on us to address them. How we respond will inform our descendants view of their heritage tomorrow…
We don’t, therefore, just commemorate our heritage; we are heritage-makers.
* On 7 October, Archbishop Tutu’s 89th birthday, climate justice activists Greta Thunberg, 17, and Vanessa Nakate, 23, will address the 10 Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on the subject: Climate Justice Globally, Now and for the Future. They will be introduced by Cape Town’s own Ayakha Melithafa, 18. To register, visit https://bit.ly/3aUeWtL.