Heritage Day weekend has started, it is time to reflect on my personal heritage and what I will be celebrating.
The past eighteen years of our New Democracy has been good, it has given me the opportunity to develop and understand that much of my guilt that I believed I should feel about my heritage, was unfounded.
I personally never did anything wrong, never hurt anyone, never stole anything, never voted for the N.P., always treated my employees well.
It was only a very small band of white people who were privileged, the rest of us were also made to work hard for everything that we own, and it is still only this small band, plus a few blacks, who are privileged.
Hell, I was born into a family who lived in tin-shack in my grand-father’s back-yard, when my parents, who both worked, could afford it, they bought a two-room in Westdene, we bathed in a zinc bath, we use the bucket system, and on a Friday my father brought a liter cold-drink and a packet of sweets home for the six of us to share.
My father was a shift-supervisor at the Gas Works all his life, I visited him often, working in the black coal-dust and soot, the dirty white coat was all the separated him from the black males shoveling coal into the furnaces. My father worked in those conditions all his life, he died at an early age, the conditions plus the many double shifts that he needed to work, contributing.
At the age of sixteen I was sent to the municipality to find an office job, and before the end of the day, I was already in the filing room of the HR section, those days called ‘Staff House’ or something similar.
Nearly fifty years later, I have not stopped working, still battling to survive. I can rightly claim that I am not guilty, that I worked for everything in my life, and that I am not part of the small band of privileged whites in the country.
“What heritage do I have to celebrate?” I ask myself, could my heritage have been different if I was one of the small band of privileged?
I look back at my life, what could have been different?
What if my father was not white? He would have been shoveling coal.
Lucky I am white, model C school education, and access to a clerical job-reservation position with the City Council.
Shit, if my father was black, I would be shoveling shit today.
I am relieved, I smile, yes, I have a lot to celebrate, for the first time I realize who the whites are referring to when they describe the small band of privileged whites, it is me, my family, all my peers, we are the small band of privileged whites.
Today I find reason to celebrate heritage, but it will not be with a braai, no, today I will get out of my comfort zone, and help build South Africa’s legacy.
Cedric de la Harpe
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