The following is nothing more than speculation and opinion based on my personal observation. But I don't think it is entirely devoid of any truth. Today is National Heritage Day, and I have some things to say about it.
A week or so ago, on News24, I read a piece by an aggrieved Zulu man. He was concerned about the fact that Heritage Day has popularly become known as National Braai Day. National Heritage day was once (and still is by some) celebrated as "Shaka Day" in celebration of king Shaka and all things Zulu. He felt that this development is an insult to Zulu culture; that the celebration of his culture is being degraded and being replaced by something as silly as a braai. His sentiments mirrored those of Afrikaners concerned by the changing of what they celebrated as "Gelofte Dag" (Day of the Vow), to Day of Reconciliation celebrated on 16 December. The Afrikaners on that day used to celebrate (and many still do) the triumph of the Voortrekkers over hordes of Zulu Impis at the Battle of Blood River. His sentiments were thus not new to me, being an Afrikaner myself and knowing many Afrikaners who still feel that way. It was interesting to realise that there are two groups of people in one country, wishing to celebrate nearly opposite views of history and culture, and both wanting such celebrations to have national support. Extraordinary, maybe even absurd.
On our Coat of Arms the motto reads !ke e: |xarra ?ke\; we are taught that it means “Unity in Diversity”- an impossible paradox that our country strives to make a reality. The previous motto read Ex unitate vires which meant “unity is strength”. The Afrikaners took great pride in the Afrikaans version, “Eendrag Maak Mag” Those words would apparently instantly inspire Afrikaner nationalism in even the meekest of individuals. Unfortunately only the Afrikaners were inspired and they sought only to inspire themselves, leaving the rest of the country rather uninspired. But one thing they got right: they inspired nationalism! And that is exactly the problem with South Africa today, a lack of South African nationalism. And that is why I don’t care about Shaka Day or Gelofte Dag or even Heritage Day, but that is also why I do care about a national braai day – because we can all share a braai. As ridiculous as this may sound, I believe that the braai is at least a step closer, albeit a small one, towards a society of people who realize that they have more things in common than they differ. Far more. And that is essential for South African national unity. “Unity in diversity” makes for a cool sounding slogan, but it’s an unrealistic ideal.
National unity is something that, if it can be achieved and maintained, will give us an enduring 2010 FIFA World Cup feeling. Maybe that is a high hope, but even a small step closer to that ideal of unity will make the effort towards achieving it worthwhile.
IMMAGINARY CULTURE CLASH
What separates us the furthest from each other in South Africa may very well be culture and socio-economic differences. Socio-economic inequality is a topic for another day, but the culture factor is equally much a problem. I would like to go further and say that is maybe rather the perception of culture that is the issue. You may ask why I call it a perception and I shall explain; I call it a perception because I believe that most of us consider certain things as “part of our culture” while we don’t in fact practise those things to the extent that we can call it our culture anymore. For instance, you see ladies wearing cultural dress only on heritage day, while on all other days they wear jeans and t-shirts. You may ask an Afrikaner if there is an Afrikaner cultural dance and he may refer you to “volkspele” (think dancing to “Jan Pierewiet”, moving from partner to partner in a huge circle, curtsying and what not). But truth be told, these “cultural” things are practised by so few people, or on such rare occasions, that they can hardly be said to be culture anymore. I realised the silliness of it when I once saw a white, presumably Afrikaner lady show up at one of these “celebration of culture” events with Voortrekker dress. Afrikaners haven’t worn such clothes for probably a good hundred or more years. So can we really call that Afrikaner cultural dress? Do we need an Afrikaner cultural dress? Why? In my view the only truly cultural differences pertain to our views on marriage, the consummation thereof, and initiation schools. And much of the "cultural" practises are practised by the ever decreasing rural population. Most South Africans over the whole cultural and racial spectrum and particularly in the urban areas already have far more in common than they differ, yet we are always told to remember where we come from and not to let our cultural heritage die, trying to prop up the cultural corpse as though it was alive in the aspiration of an impossible ideal - the ideal of achieving “unity through diversity”. And we do this to our own detriment.
LEARNING FROM THE PROUD
After matric, and being from the class of people who have medical aid at home (as the comedian Mongezi Solomzi Ngcobondwana a.k.a. “Tall Ass Mo” once put it) I was fortunate to take two years off during which I worked and travelled in the UK. I can remember that the British people are very proud to be British. They have a healthy sense of humour and may mock each other on everything, including the various parts of the UK that they hail from, and on the various different accents that they speak with. But even though they recognised some differences between them, what mattered was that they were British. It didn’t matter that the “Northeners” were one way and the “cockneys” of London were another. And that was the attitude found even so with British Indians and black British people. I’ve never been to America, but it seems like it is the same over there. From what I can gather from Americans I’ve spoken with and from what the media has shown me on TV and Time Magazine, Americans are quite proud to be American. Like white Americans, African Americans seem to consider themselves primarily American, and it seems to be the case with Latin Americans as well, especially when they have been in America for a few generations. Their pride lies in what they share, not in what distinguishes them from each other. Sure, their differences make good material for a stand-up comedy show and may also be celebrated on certain occasions, but it isn’t done to the detriment of national unity. That is why millions of white Americans can vote for a black (or brown… brownish… coloured?) president – because he is an American and stands for America, regardless of the colour of his skin or where his father was born. We can learn from that.
SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONALISM
We as South Africans need to start celebrating the goals that we all share. We need to start pursuing the same goals and move towards a united South Africa. We must start to figure out what values a true South African stands for and we need to drill it into our heads and our children’s heads. We must, just for now, forget about Africa (if we’re black) or our European ancestry (if we’re white), and focus on South Africa, because before we are African or European, we should be South African. Before we are Venda, Zulu or Afrikaans, we should be South African. We whites haven’t been part of Europe for over three-hundred and fifty years now, and blacks haven’t been part of their previous African nations for even longer (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go look up the history of the Bantu migrations). We have all been South Africans for centuries now and it’s time we put South Africa first. Let’s leave what separates us and move closer to each other, let’s promote what binds us and let’s start with a braai. You’ve been doing it for centuries and so have we. Go get the Mazibuko’s, the Magoda’s, the Van der Merwes and the Windvogels, go get the Smiths and the Govenders and since they are here now, sommer go get the Sibanda’s and the Oguchukwus also and let’s braai. After that we’ll go watch some rugby or soccer or maybe the Govenders can stick us for some Pro20 cricket in their uncle’s “losie”. We’ll do the same things we always do and we’ll do it together because we want and do the same things anyway, our cultures being shaped by the 21st century that we live in.
I read that the long term goal for Gauteng is more racially integrated neighbourhoods. Bravo! You’ve got my vote. Untill then, let’s braai.
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