Deep Roots or Beat Roots?

By Paul Mabote

Bob Marley, the reggae legend from Jamaica, once said that if you do not know where you are coming from, then you will not know where you are going to. Heritage, is defined by some as the big and little things one carries from where he comes from, and passes down to the next generation so that they may do the same. Though it carries a common meaning, heritage means different things to many of us, and one might question the relevance of some of our cultural customs in today’s ever integrating world.

Is Heritage Day a front?

On the 24th of September each year, South Africans blossom as they flaunt their beautiful rainbow colours, adorned in their colourful myriad of traditional garments while merrily enjoying  their delicious assortments of traditional dishes. For the whole day this day, Mzansi celebrates Heritage Day.

When interviewed, Activator Pgel Nilongo shared his dejection for Heritage Day. He feels one day in a year is not enough to fully embrace and celebrate who we are as a nation of different people, cultures and creeds. “There are too many other days and months that we spend too ashamed to say ‘Sawubona’ to another black person in the elevator, and when writers are too ‘modern’ to tell their stories in their mother tongue. We should not have any specified period to celebrate our heritage; instead we should live our heritage, every day.” Could it be that we have melted in so complexly, that it is as hard as ever to tell apart the different ingredients inside the pot?

Streams have become taps, amaBheshu have become Levis 501 jeans and Moropotso (platted hairstyle popular in the townships) has become long, Brazilian weaves. It only seems sensible to keep up with the times. After all, a brand new BMW is better than a horse-drawn carriage on many levels. So where do we draw the line? How far is too far behind to leave our family-trusted ways and adapt to the ways of the “New World”?

What’s Gonna Happen?

Another Activator, Moedi Mokaba, boasts about the world heritage site Maropeng: The Cradle of Human Kind being in his hometown of Mogale City. He is, however, very sceptical about some of the “superstitious rules” him and his siblings were constantly reminded of by their elders while growing up.  “Why should I not sweep the floor or fetch water at night? What is going to happen if I eat standing? And why am I prohibited from eating certain foods as a child?”  It was such questions that often got him into trouble with his grandmother, he says, who would always snarl at him: “that is the way we found things, that is the way things are, and that is how they will always be!”

So what is going to happen, really, if you carry fire outside or keep your hat on inside the house as a man? According to some African traditions, a baby is not to be in the presence of anyone other than close family, until it is 3 months old. Yet today, you visit the local clinic on a good day and you will find it teeming with mothers carrying their week-old infants. Are there any concrete reasons to explain what is going to happen if these “rules” are obeyed, or if they are ignored?

What Is Your Heritage?

I asked fellow Activators what heritage means to them and what they celebrate the most about their heritage. The answers were different; from “I celebrate the unmatched humility of our Venda people” to “I celebrate the Kofifi dance and culture that was born in our streets of Soweto.”  To Matshepo Moatshe, heritage means one’s identity in the world; who you are and what makes you who you are.

I guess I can hold on dearly to my late grandmother’s thick goggles and celebrate them as part of my heritage too. She has, after all, seen more of my life through them, than I have.

Whether it be in a family, local, cultural, national, world or even personal context, everyone has a story. The props, costumes and settings of these stories all form part of our heritage. We live in a world where cultures intertwine and integration is inevitable. How we preserve our heritage is what is most important, as it is what makes it what it is. Whether it’s a pair of goggles, an unexplained commandment or a good fable told around the fire, these small things all form part of a bigger story; the story of who you are and where you come from. The young ones today, and the future generations waiting to breathe, are all relying on our stories, their heritage, in order to understand where they are coming from and most importantly, where they are going.

2 replies
  1. Lizzy_mac
    Lizzy_mac says:

    This is a wonderfully written piece. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I think, although the celebration of our heritage for one day out of the year could be considered a “sham”, times are changing at the blink of an eye and we are having to adapt to a more modernised lifestyle because of it. From my understanding, “modern” and “heritage” are very rarely mutually inclusive. And although we seem to be losing our heritage in the midst of becoming independent and financially stable grown ups in a largely Westernised society, what has become even more important is sticking to our values. Because with a highly moral value system that is based on the teachings of our elders, we may still be able to retain what little culture they try to teach and instill in us.

    These values we learn from stories told around a fire at night and ridiculous superstitions that make no sense when you’re being reprimanded. And when you really think about these superstitions you realise that they are exactly that, a way to intimidate in order to maintain discipline and respect. They teach us not to take certain things for granted and bind us in common belief making us feel connected on a deeper level.

    So, Heritage Day, although unjustly celebrated for just one day, is an opportunity to remember our roots, impart knowledge on others, learn from those willing to share, and bask in the ambiance and beauty of the culture that is prone to fill the atmosphere on the day. Until the day I can go to work in my imvunulo and not have it considered unprofessional attire, I will take that one day to wear it proudly and freely as part of my heritage. I will take the non-judgement of and interest in my African heritage, just as I take the undercurrents of discrimination of the same heritage every other day of the year in the work place, school, markets, department stores. In society, in everyday living.

    But of course…one day isn’t enough. So everyday for Heritage Day. Yes?

    • Kim
      Kim says:

      Hi there,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and for engaging with the content. If you’re an Activator, you can publish your opinions on the website too. Alternatively, you can contact me kim@localhost


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