Of Heritage Day, Parks and Tragedies

2015-09-24 20:51

Ho-hum. Another public holiday that I identified as one of those obscure holidays we have in South Africa along with the Day of Reconciliation, Freedom day and all the other “Days”. What does it actually mean, and how are we meant to celebrate it, darn it. Being a Jew I'm used to being told how to observe holidays. Our religious holidays are oozing with do's and don'ts, musts and must nots, traditions and collective cultural experiences.  What to do to observe Heritage Day?  I didn't know so I relegated it to the part of my brain that celebrates any day where I (more or less) get to diverge from my regular activities and routines.

That said, yesterday started off as any other public holiday would for me – Up at 3.45am, a vital dose of Caffeine and on the news wires by 4am researching the big stories that I would talk about on radio between 6am and 9am. Yes. It's Heritage Day. Rah Rah!! We will engage the listener.  We will let our listeners know about heritage from A-Z, inside and out. What they can do, where they can go, how to get there and what they'll find once they are there. All very nice and tidy. But I wasn't convinced.

I was comforted that for the rest of the day I would have “me time” and get to see family. I breathed in deeply savouring the satisfying sense that the hours ahead of me spanned great and wide. When you're in radio you realise the value of 30 seconds and without a schedule, routine or deadline, there was just time.... Ah, bliss. But this wouldn't be worth writing about if the story ended there.

I had arranged for said beloved Family to meet at my neighbourhood park, which City Parks has just renovated to much celebration from the community. The park, Cheltondale park, I am told, was actually a farm many many years ago. Some very very old soul once told me that prior to it being a farm it was actually a dam. Sometime after it's farming phase, it became a public park with a swings, a merry-go-round, a rocking horse and a slide forming a playground. It was well utilised. One of the young children who loved the park was a little girl - Maria Mariotti.

In the 1990's the park Playground grew when it received additional equipment and was dedicated to “Maria Mariotti”. At the age of 3 Maria Mariotti was tragically shot and killed by hijackers. Her parents, before leaving our country for less violent climes, dedicated the new playground equipment in her name as a place where all South Africa's children could play in safety and peace. I moved to the neighbourhood about 10 years after this tragedy and the story touched my heart. Living in close proximity to the Cheltondale park I see how many children get enjoyment from using the equipment daily and attempted to contact the Mariotti Family in order to send them photos but with no success.

Move ahead to the present day. Heritage Day.

As my family and I sat enjoying lunch in the magnificent sunshine, I looked around and marvelled at the different people who were all enjoying the scenery, the newly constructed wetlands, the birdlife, the kids and dogs running through the sprinklers, the wonderful new playground that has been built (the concrete having been replaced with foam to prevent injury from falls), the kids cycling the cycle track. There were people from every walk of life, culture, religion and colour. All enjoying the park peacefully in one another's company.

I realised in a single moment all that came before; the dam, the farm, the park, the tragedy of Maria Mariotti, the excavations and hard work to build the park as it is today is our neighbourhood heritage. I look at the kids, couples, single people and families and I realise that THIS togetherness is the heritage that I want my children and grandchildren to have and it's worth fighting for. 

It also happens to be an analogy of our beloved South Africa; we have been through the the changes, the tragedies, the digging deep and the building. We are still in the building phase on so many levels but if we persevere, we will have a country that we want our children to live in, where they can prosper and thrive.

Thank you to City parks for providing the inspiration and environment that inspired me today to connect with my very special fellow South Africans on our common Heritage.

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