Someone in my family tree left out the "o" in my maiden name Russouw. I remember how for years, especially in the company of perplexed Afrikaans people, I had to try to explain the strange (mis)spelling of my surname.
It should probably be Roussouw as that is how it is traditionally spelt. There must be a French Huguenot bloodline in there somewhere.
I married a Frenchman, well, he’s Mauritian and French-speaking, so that must have made my father’s ancestors proud. But now my married surname, Bega, inspires much quizzical eyebrow-raising too.
From my mother’s side, the surname is Nortman but as both my ouma and oupa were adopted, our true roots remain somewhat of a family mystery.
So, that must make me French (up there somewhere) and of Dutch origin, though I was raised in an English-speaking home, and can only manage a pathetic version of Afrikaans.
Though I don’t identify with Afrikaans tradition or culture at all, I hold onto memories of the vetkoek that my ouma would lovingly mould for hours when I was a child.
She would put it into a large container to rise under a duvet in a sunny part of her bedroom and fry it up in batches for us to enjoy.
But there’s little other cultural heritage or tradition to cling to. I’m just another indefinable ingredient thrown into the melting pot that is South Africa.
A colleague this week referred to me as a Halfrikaaner. That seems apt enough.
There's something uniquely royal in me each time I savour the taste of mopani worms, morogo (wild spinach) and malamogodu (tripe) as well as mabele (samp), dinawa (beans) and ditlogo (groundnuts).
They are all part of the traditional cuisine that connect me to my fellow people, the BaLobedu ba GaModjadji in Limpopo.
It reminds me of my youthful days, when traversing the heavily forested fields and plucking fresh succulent berries and all sorts of wild fruit was part of our sport.
The aura and flora of the once-lush green landscape might seem extinct today, but come summertime, there’s still an abundance of marula trees yielding enough fruit to brew the marula beer.
It’s not by default that the Marula Festival has become one of the most popular cultural events in our district.
And if the marula beer dries up, as it’s made from a seasonal fruit, there’s always umqombothi to stir up, and lit up the Balobedu’s spirits.
You see, umqombothi is also the quintessential drink when we conduct those sacred rituals to pay homage to our ancestors.
And, of course, any sekgapa or dinaka (traditional dances) is incomplete without the usual gulps of umqombothi.
It is at these traditional dances where you find the men and women decked with beads and traditional attire.
And what with the streets also filled with the chatter of children playing dibeke, kgathi and diketo and other indigenous games.
This, against the backdrop of a kaleidoscope of ochre paintings shining from the huts that intersperse with the modern houses, trendy houses.
That’s Bolobedu boloba thaba, my home, my music!
I am what you may call a proverbial breyani. After all, which other dish requires more ingredients than a scrumptious pot of this yellow rice dish.
Just like breyani, with its oriental flavour, I am made up of a little of everything, Chinese, Arab, Persian, Malaysian, black and and probably even white.
But here in South Africa, I am coloured, Cape coloured. Muslim.
I couldn’t be more proud.
But I am unsure whether coloured people actually have a heritage. It just isn’t as clear as being Indian or Zulu.
I’ve lived in wonderful, cosmopolitan Joburg for 14 years of my life and, still, I don’t really identify with very many people here.
I am Capetonian. I still have that accent. You know the one.
Which other group of people would stand right across from you and utter the words “Wat lewe jy nog? (Are you still alive?). This meme I saw on Facebook made my whole week. And even more homesick.
I miss hearing things like “Wat maak jy hier? (What are you doing here?) Or unwelcome statements such as “Jy raak lekker vet, ne! Jy was anner dag so maer. (You’ve put on some weight. You used to be so skinny.)
I miss the family beach outings on Boxing Day, the Easter camping trips at Wolwekloof resort, the switching-on of the lights in Adderley Street in the city centre during the festive season, the spirit of community at Eid and Christmastime.
Hell, I even miss the Kaapse Klopse (the Cape minstrels) with their multicoloured outfits, painted faces and interesting remixes of popular tracks.
We may not have a clear-cut heritage, but we certainly do have a rich history and wonderful traditions that make us inordinately unique.
And so I will marinade the meat and make potato salad for braai day on Monday. Just as I know many of my fellow Kaapies will too.
A thousand moons ago in the 1990s at an open field in Green Village, on the distant south-western edge of Soweto, dust rose from our feet. No shoes.
Calling for the makeshift soccer ball we had crafted, we shouted each other’s names.
Some were Sotho, Zulu, Tswana and a few, including myself, Pedi.
Orange sacks made the outer layer of that ball. Its core was crumpled newspapers rolled in plastic bags. It was 1992 and I was six years old.
Most townships in Soweto were mainly populated by a specific tribe. But Green Village was new and more tribally diverse.
Families here were some of the last to move to the city of gold before the 1994 election. We all had thick accents from our respective provinces. We too began losing those accents. Our young tongues developed an obsessive attachment to the “Soweto accent”, which is how most people in the township who speak a few languages sounded.
But I was not born in Soweto. I don’t quite remember the name, but the clinic was in Seshego, Limpopo, in 1986 when I was born to a Mopedi father and mother. it wasn’t too long after I was born that my parents separated.
On a quest for his share of the gold from the city that bore it, dad lived and worked in Joburg while periodically visiting us in then-Polokwane.
I was four years old when he brought me to live with him in Green Village in 1990.
Three years later my mother passed away and we went to her funeral. This was the first time I went back to Limpopo in as many years.
I remember being told, “you sound different”. It was that “Soweto accent”.
Dad remarried my Zulu stepmother and my half-sister was born in 1996. A new tribal chapter begun in the household. Its originator did not live long enough to see it flourish. Four years later my stepmother died of pneumonia.
My sister and I never forgot our Zulu heritage, nor did our Pedi heritage become sidelined.
In 2001, we moved to Krugersdorp.
There had been a tribal shift or adaptation in my family before. Over 100 years ago, the Serumulas lived in Botswana. My great-grandfather and his brothers moved to Polokwane. I would imagine for the same reason my father moved to Joburg, the “gold”.
I don’t have a strong accent in any of the languages I speak. But I have admiration for those that came to Joburg later in their lives when their accents were too thick to be broken. They, too, can speak a few languages and you just have to hear them greet you to know their tradition.
My mother would tell me a story and I was sure it wasn’t true. It went like this: Her great-great-grandmother had seven sons. When the Anglo-Boer War broke out, six of them went to fight for the British, while the seventh took up arms for the Boers. The story my mother told was that the seventh son was captured and was to be hanged for treason.
In desperation, his mother wrote to Queen Victoria in a plea for clemency and her son was spared.
Not long ago I discovered that my mother’s story was true. Well, sort of.
One evening I encountered the no-nonsense stare of Eliza Cheney, the mother of seven sons and my great-great-great grandma.
Along with the photograph on the web page was a story. The seventh son’s name was William Cheney and he was tried for high treason for fighting for the Boers.
A genealogical website told of how he was fined £3 in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court, but there was no threatening hangman’s noose.
As for that letter? It wasn’t a letter to the queen, it was that photograph of grandma Eliza and her spooky gaze. William’s mother Eliza was so proud of her six boys fighting for the British she had a portrait taken of herself with her sons and sent it to the queen. In return, the story goes, she was sent a signed photograph of Queen Victoria.
We don’t know if she ever forgave William.
My heritage, on my mother’s side, is of pioneering families who arrived in what was then Natal.
They stayed and along the way they were moulded by the historical events of this great country.
And this story, twisted a little by time, tells of a South African family fractured by ideology, and hey, can we relate to that today.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have parents of the same religion. Would it have changed the person I am today? Would it have made me a better or a worse person? Would it have changed the course of my life?
But when I have this bizarre thought, I always come to the same conclusion: I wouldn’t change my background for anything in this world.
You see, I come from a very unique home; my mother is a proud Indian Muslim woman and my father is a proud Indian Hindu man. Marriage between Muslims and Hindus is frowned upon. Back in the day it was almost unheard of. It was unacceptable.
But these days, I have noticed a few more of us “mixed breeds” pop up here and there. Let’s be clear though, coming from a mixed background has its challenge just like any other family dynamic, but the good has always outweighed the bad, and always will.
If anything, I have always felt that I am fortunate to be guided by parents with different religions. My parents have taught me to be open-minded, to be respectful of all religions and races, and to see everyone as equal.
It’s been drummed into mine and my siblings’ heads ever since we were little kids.
I am proud of my Indian heritage, proud of my Hindu and Muslim heritage, and incredibly proud of my South African heritage. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I Googled “Turkish male traditional wear”. Not the most elegant search criteria of my life, but it did the job. You should try it too. I’ll wait. Fezes (no, not “feces”, Google) and waistcoats everywhere. The occasional turban. Some less than fashionable facial hair. If I was going to listen to that company e-mail suggesting I dress up for Heritage Day, these were my only options.
When you’ve lived in South Africa for your whole life, how are you supposed to identify with a country that was never your home for longer than a few months? Right now, Turkey is in the news for all the wrong reasons. It’s borderline embarassing being a Turk today. A once proudly secular Islamic country is now in the grips of a warmongering, conservative president. This week the school system just dropped the theory of evolution from its curriculum. Human rights lawyers and journalists face persecution from a government that labels them as terrorists and dissenters.
South Africa looks positively enlightened by comparison, so why not cling to the fact that my mother was raised in Benoni? Being a Turkish/Afrikaans/English mutt at least gives me a selection of cultures to choose from this Heritage Day, but “South African” will do just fine.
It also gives me the perfect opportunity not to have to dress up in front of my colleagues. I’ve already been mocked enough for my terrible fashion sense.
Despite South Africa’s serious political problems - but who wants to get into that right now? - let’s be grateful for our Constitution and diversity of culture.