As a child at an English boarding school, cultural heritage day was a nightmare for me. My DNA includes Scotland, Holland and Ireland. My heritage includes South Africa and my country of birth is Zambia. There isn’t a flag, a dress, a language or a ‘dish’ that covers that.
It was worse in Australia, where you were either ‘in’ or ‘out’. You’re either ‘one of us’, or a foreigner – and no one is interested in foreigners.
So my time in South Africa has been refreshing for here I find a country that embraces diversity in a way unheard of in many other countries. Generally, we are open and friendly to others. We greet each other in the street and enjoy hearing about the quirks of different cultures, and have a South African humour that survives by poking fun at ourselves, and our confusions.
One of the best Facebook posts EVER has to be the page that asked: “So what question have you really wanted to ask white people? Now is your chance”. The answers were as varied as the people asking and answering them. But the one that sticks in my mind is “do you also have that drunk uncle who always turns up to weddings and funerals?”. The comments were open, honest and inclusive, and gently crossed racial and cultural barriers.
You see, at heart we South Africans understand that we are in this together. And despite that drunk uncle, this is a great country to live in.
So, on this Heritage Day, I shall do what South Africa does best – and that is to just be myself. I shall do this while feeling grateful that I live in a country where it’s ok to be different. It’s called the heritage of diversity.
In this month’s issue of Catalyst, we celebrate all kinds of South African heritage ranging from the Rieldans; a small business called Boesmanrus deep in the Northern Cape, and we review Sylvia Vollenhoven’s book Keeper of the Kumm.