So Heritage Day rolled around recently, while I was 10 000kms away from my home, and left this Saffa-in-the-UK feeling more than a little homesick (which I guess is natural), and somewhat bewildered.
Firstly, “what was my heritage?” I pondered, and am still unable to find an answer that fits 100%. I am a white, English speaking South African. Technically, I am of European extraction (English, Dutch and French), but my family have been in the Eastern Cape of South Africa since around 1800. There’s even a book about them. It’s called The Frontier Family. I wish I could tell you where to find this book, but Google has failed me. My entire family tree, however, is in it [excluding me as it was published about five years before I was born] tracing my lineage back to a settler family called Miles.
Now if you’re an Eastern Cape local, you’ll understand if a Thompson, a Cloete or Miles says they couldn’t reproduce with anyone born in the Eastern Cape, but suffice to say there’re a lot of us about.
And here I am in the UK, never been closer to my ancestral home, and I feel no link, no attachment. This place and its people, and their ways, bear very little resemblance to my South African life and values. Is this my heritage? And if not, what is?
A friend said to me this weekend that it must be hard being Afrikaans in South Africa on Heritage Day, and when prompted went on to say that she sees a lot of people conflating proud Afrikaaners with racists. I think she has a point.
We are so keen to be PC and be recognised as “proudly South African”, but can you not be if you went to Stellenbosch Uni and count “De la Rey” among your favourite songs? Sometimes I think that is the message politicians are sending out. Surely, the best move forward for our country is to be as inclusive as possible now? No, we don’t want racist afro-pessimists, but you cannot label an entire group under that heading because the nationalist government of our ugly past was largely Afrikaans.
Moving on, I feel disconnected from my European heritage. It is too far removed from me and my experience and even my grandparents’ lives to have any daily significance. I feel that I am South African, and take offence when the implication is made that I am not because of the colour of my skin.
So what is heritage? I think it is the answer to this question: What of my past do I carry with me into the future? I carry knowledge, not just from my grandmother, but from news, history and friends. I carry hurt, for my once divided nation. I carry hope, to live in a safe, equal society with majority rule and minority protection. In this way, I claim a South African heritage – and one you cant take from me.
“It’s my home it’s where I’ll stay and where I belong
I didn’t choose to be here I was born I might seem out of place
but everything I hold dear is under the African sun”
-Hog Hoggidy Hog.
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