Johannesburg - It’s a long weekend, but it’s not just any long weekend, it’s the Heritage Day long weekend. National Braai Day has seamlessly morphed into a three-day fest of sizzling boerewors, steaming pap and chakalaka; definitely beer and probably brandy.
There’s a heritage match on today; the 100th test between rugby’s greatest rivals, New Zealand’s All Blacks and our no longer all-white Springboks. It will be violent and brutal – whether against us or by us remains to be seen. In a way that’s probably more a leitmotif of our heritage than anything else; the violence that is, not the rugby.
It’s difficult to think back to the accepted start of our historical continuum – 1652 – which has become the convenient rallying point for all today’s ills, real and imagined, and think of a time when one group of us wasn’t moering the hell out of the other. There’s always been either a jostle for privilege and power or a desperate attempt once one group gets to the top to stop anyone dislodging them.
In the old days, political opponents were detained without trial, tortured and killed. These days, they are assassinated. There was the Rooi Gevaar, the Swart Gevaar and Hoggenheimer. Today, there’s the Stellenbosch Mafia and White Monopoly Capital. Identity politics and racial laagers are as much our heritage as Dingaan and Piet Retief.
When we are not fighting in ethnic groups, we turn on ourselves. Two years ago, it was “Hugo bel die polisie” (Hugo phone the police), what looked like a braai gone bad, but was actually the Romeo and Juliet of the plots of Pretoria North, literally completed with a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.
South Africa’s heritage gastronome extraordinaire and social media denizen Tito “Tweeter” Mboweni, wondered on the micro blogging site if white people shouldn’t learn an African language to promote nation building rather than exclusionary behaviour.
It depends on what he believes constitutes an African language. Afrikaans is perhaps the most authentic South African language – it was created here. It’s at least as indigenous as the other nine, while English is the undisputed foreign interloper. During apartheid in an ostensibly bilingual society, everyone did speak Afrikaans – even the English speakers.
It might have been billed as the language of the oppressor, but its roots were from the enslaved communities imported here from Dutch East India. By the census of 2011, it was the third-largest home language after isiZulu and isiXhosa. You wouldn’t think so the way it is demonised on social media – or how most Afrikaans speakers aren’t white, but are just airbrushed for the sake of the identity argument.
Our heritage is unbelievably diverse; our history is equal parts appalling and inspirational; our story isn’t simple; our culture isn’t just of violence but also of kindness and unimaginable generosity. We see it in the small acts, it’s always there when our backs are against the wall.
This weekend, in the immortal Afrikaaps phrase, perhaps the best we can do is not be kak, but be lekker – together.