Today, we celebrate Heritage Day in South Africa. It’s a day to both honour the rich cultural diversity of our nation, and to consider and celebrate the family and societal influences that have shaped us as individuals.
Many of my fellow South Africans speak of it as “Braai-Day”, a braai (or barbeque) being a common culinary event in our warm, outdoor lifestyle, and a big part of our shared cultural heritage (a township style braai is called a shisanyama, the word literally meaning ‘hot meat’).
But I chose to make today about more than just ‘pap, chops and wors’. I used it as a time for reflection. I looked backwards at the heritage passed down to me as a child of immigrants from the Netherlands. I also looked forwards, reflecting on the heritage I hope to leave my children and grandchildren. Then I dreamed bigger still, and envisioned the legacy I hope we South Africans can collectively leave to the generations that follow us.
Raised in two cultures
I grew up on a Flower Farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg. We lived simply but with great freedom. As kids we roamed the farm and played on old broken tractors, or spent afternoons at the pool of the adjoining resort. Our small community was predominantly people of Dutch heritage, and by the time I walked down the dusty road to catch the bus to the English primary school, the only language I really knew was Dutch. The best month of the year was December, when a set of grandparents would usually arrive from the Netherlands, laden with treats such as paling (smoked eel), drop (salt liquorice) and hagel slag (chocolate sprinkles).
You might think that growing up surrounded by Dutch culture, my roots would not go down deeply into the South African soil, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am as proudly South African as they come (albeit with some strange tastes in food) and I also nurture a growing sense of connection to the African continent.
Yet, I have some Dutch mindsets for sure. I like directness in speech and am pragmatic in outlook. I have the Dutch ‘live and let live’ approach that sometimes (negatively) hinders me from greater involvement in people’s lives. I love gatherings that are ‘gezellig’ – a word that translates rather poorly into cosy or inviting. It’s that warm fuzzy feeling of being with people you enjoy, and it’s something the Dutch value above almost everything else.
A heritage for my children
Heritage is not something we consciously pass on to our children. Instead, it’s infused into their lives by all they are exposed to on a daily basis. Perhaps that’s why Ashlyn makes me go to the Dutch shop to buy hagel slag, and Nicole’s primary happiest feeling is times of ‘gezelligheid’ with family.
But there’s one thing I do want to consciously pass on to my children, and that is the heritage of my Christian faith. My faith is the core of my life—my anchor and compass—and therefore I do all I can to live it out courageously and consistently before the world (and especially my children).
We will not hide these truths from our children but will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord…so each generation can set its hope anew on God (Psalm 78: 4, 7a)
My dream legacy for South Africa
For too long the legacy passed down, generation to generation in South Africa, was one of racism and division. Even since our first democratic elections more than 25 years ago, we are still a divided society. We are divided by class, by political outlooks and all too often, by race. THIS is the legacy I dream would change in my lifetime. I dream of a unified and equitable society, led by men and women of integrity, where poverty and division is steadily being eradicated. Where every life is valued and celebrated. It’s a big dream and even as I type it, my treacherous heart whispers, impossible.
But perhaps—just perhaps—if enough of us dream it, and enough of us take the small steps we can to bring about change, we can leave a legacy of hope, peace and unity for the generations to follow. So, this Heritage Day let’s dream together and let’s talk about how we can fulfil those dreams. And then let’s take every little step forward that we can, to make future Heritage Days celebrations of this dream legacy.
Here is just one book and one organisation that I believe move us closer to achieving that dream legacy in South Africa. I know there are many more, so please add other links and information into the comments below.
In We Need More Tables, Norma Young provides guidance on how to find a balance between alleviating poverty and yet maintaining a measure of the privilege one may have been born with. Norma Young’s insightful book provides us with realistic and practical ways of moving towards eradicating poverty in South Africa.
Rays of Hope is a network of seven community-based projects in Alexandria, focusing on education, orphaned & vulnerable children, and work readiness. The organisation is hands-on in Alex, having developed close relationships with community leaders, the police, high schools, the Alexandra Clinic and the Department of Social Development, which has enabled it to leverage appropriate assistance when available and necessary. Through developing long-term sustainable relationships, Rays of Hope partners with the community to bring about lasting change.