SA 'one big family'

2004-09-20 08:42

Johannesburg - Former president Nelson Mandela is of Khoisan origin via his direct maternal line, just like Hannelie de Beer, a young white Afrikaner woman from Pretoria.

This is one of the surprising findings of genetic tests revealed on M-Net in the documentary programme So, where do we come from?

Various well-known and unknown South Africans underwent genetic tests and the results are enough to totally confuse any stereotypical view about South Africans' origins.

Satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys's direct maternal line, for instance, runs back to Central Africa, to his great surprise.

The comedian Marc Lottering's direct maternal and paternal lines can be taken back to Europe, while programme presenter Tim Modise's paternal line can also be traced back to a gene pool concentrated in Europe and running into Asia.

The genetic tests on which these findings rest, are done according to two kinds of DNA.

The one is mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed from mothers to their children and through which characteristics of someone's direct maternal line of ancestors can be determined.

Y-chromosomes, passed from father to son, are also tested.

The man's Y-chromosomes can reveal traits of his line of ancestors that run through his father, his grandfather and further through his male forbearers.

Taken by surprise

The reactions of the people tested were very diverse.

Mandela immediately referred to "Herrie die strandloper" and said his real name was in actual fact Autshamao.

Mandela called him the first freedom fighter to find himself on Robben Island.

De Beer said her mother mentioned something about Khoisan ancestors, but she was nevertheless surprised and described it as "something of a shock".

By contrast, soccer boss Irvin Khoza threw his hands triumphantly in the air when he heard of his Khoisan genes and said: "I am part of the original people."

Uys, who joked before the tests that he would have liked to trace a wonderful Matabele princess as aunt, was totally taken aback when he heard that his direct maternal-line forbears indeed go back to Africa.

As far as he could establish, they were "very Eastern European, Jewish, Orthodox".

However, he declared that the news was quite pleasant.

"I am an African," he said, adding that no one with a black skin can now come and wag a finger at him.

In comparison, singer David Kramer was clearly disappointed that his DNA only pointed to European ancestors.

Naas Botha, whose DNA also points to European descent, remarked with a twinkle in the eye that he was hoping to become sport minister one day, but now he knows he has no chance.

Modise was also very surprised that his genes pointed to an European great-grandfather.

He was, nevertheless, comfortable with the new-found knowledge and said he always saw humankind as one big fighting family.