Building our identity with Marabaraba

2013-02-07 00:00

WHEN we lost the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2013 quarter-finals match to Mali, I thought to myself: “Bafana Bafana lost, so what?” Don’t get me wrong: those who know me would tell you of my passion for soccer. But I do wonder how life might have been for our cultural heritage economy had we redirected the same passion and investment we have for soccer to our indigenous games.

Whose heritage are we really preserving by investing so much money in this game called soccer? Granted, our participation makes us relevant and civilised to the rest of the world. I also know that football accounts for a huge stake in the global social economy, and, like all other sporting codes, has a contribution to make in unifying a diverse nation like ours.

However, by placing so much value in a game, the origins of which are mostly traced to Europe, to the neglect of our own indigenous games, aren’t we still playing into the hands of our colonial masters? Are we still insecure about developing our own potentially exportable products for global consumption? Why do we seem to be content to believe that the only contribution we can make to the world is by importing the products of other nations, and not selling our own?

But when I look at the wealth and value brought by such codes as cricket, rugby and soccer to Europe, as well as baseball, basketball and American football to the United States, I struggle to understand the logic that causes us not to develop our indigenous games into exportable products.

When are we going to take pride in our own home-grown games? Our country is rich with cultural expressions and practices that easily form a body of knowledge and could potentially enrich the lives of generations of people. Our indigenous sport as living heritage could help to develop our identity and our sense of belonging as South Africans. It could accumulate intellectual capital and engender mutual respect for current and future generations.

There are two important sides to the role of living heritage in South African society. The first is safeguarding a valuable resource for future generations. The second is achieving social cohesion. Sustaining and promoting our living heritage can help promote a positive African identity within a globalising world. It will also address tensions between African tradition and modernity.

Understanding common features of cultural traditions across South Africa can also foster national unity and pride, while maintaining respect for human rights.

Over a period of time, I believe we would be able to export our games and even participate at such prestigious competitions as the Olympic Games. This, if we could just invest half the resources we do in soccer and other sports in skills development by developing sophisticated facilities, introducing competitive incentives for athletes and administrators as well as forming outreach programmes to encourage mass participation in our indigenous games.

This should begin with making living heritage more sustainable within the tourism market. This could be achieved by proper curation of performances by locals for tourists in a way that does not perpetuate stereotypes, and products should be checked for authenticity within the sociocultural environment from which they emerge. It must be ensured that quality products are sold to tourists, and community members who generate the products must be given access to market rewards. A sustainability plan for our indigenous games must be developed.

This can only be achieved through deliberate political will, over a period of time. With patience and investment, it can be done.

• Monwabisi Grootboom is a freelance writer who established what is now a national vernacular stand-up comedy programme, 99% Zulu Comedy.

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