In celebration of Heritage Day in South Africa, my cousins had Heritage Day civvies at school last week. We found ourselves debating what clothes they should wear to celebrate our heritage. Should they wear South African national teams t-shirts? No, because is that really our heritage? and let’s be honest Bafana Bafana made us all feel soccer pride for a whole two minutes before they lost against Morocco in AFCON 2019 and let’s not even mention the Proteas performance in the Cricket World Cup. Should they wear an abayah? No, that’s part of Arab culture. We even went as far as debating whether my cousin should wear her Halime Sultan from Ertugrul outfit.
Heritage as defined by the Cambridge dictionary is defined as “features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historical importance.” As South Africans, we are described as the Rainbow Nation. Our country is rich with history, traditions and norms from many different cultures.
In South Africa, you’ll find brown people eating grills, white people eating pap and vleis and black people eating spicy curries. Our food ranges from milktart, koeksisters, bunny chows and biltong to Chakalaka, potjie, rusks and mile-meal. Our clothes range from people adopting arab culture and wearing abayahs to people adopting eastern culture and wearing sari’s to people adopting western culture and wearing jeans and t-shirts to people adopting traditional African culture and wearing leopard print shirts. Our festivals range from Eid and Christmas to Diwili and Hanukkah and our events range from the Rand Show, the Sultan Bahu fete and the Two Oceans Marathon to the Comrades, ComicCon and Joburg Day. You’ll find a person speaking Afrikaans in the Cape Flats, a person speaking English in downtown Joburg, a person speaking Zulu in a remote village on the way to Durban, a person speaking Portuguese in Eldorado Park and even a person speaking Chinese in Fordsburg. South African slang includes words such as “lekker” meaning anything from good to tasty to cool, “bru” which means bro, “howzit” which could work as a greeting or the question “how are you?” and “min” (a favourite of mine) which means something like I’m unbothered or it’s cool. A brown boy once said: “Haaai bra, me I’m min.”
I am a fifth-generation South African. I think it’s really cool that my great-great-grandfather, Fakir Saleh Laher, decided to get on a ship one day and relocate his family to South Africa. Just think about it for a second. A man decided to leave his homeland of Alipore, Gujrat, India, Asia and relocate to End Street, Johannesburg, South Africa, Africa. My great-great-grandfather must’ve been really brave because as I know from experience how difficult it is to move towns, I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must’ve been to move continents. A new climate (though I must admit that our South African climate is one of our greatest blessings), a new language (going from speaking Gujrati to learning English couldn’t have been easy), new people (I remember when we landed in Mumbai, we were astounded by the fact that there were only Indians, it was a reminder of how our nation truly is the rainbow nation because we have people of all colours). I wonder what my made my great-great-grandfather choose South Africa and I wonder how different my life would’ve been if he had chosen a different country.
There are three parts to my identity and these three parts are what makes my heritage.
- I am Muslim: I am identified by my Arabic name, Radhiyyah, which means pleased and contented. I am also identified by the scarf on my head.
- I am South African: My history is tainted with that of Apartheid, though I am part of a generation that didn’t live under it. I am told of stories of the struggle to freedom and how once, Nelson Mandela waved to my mother while he was sitting in a car outside in Actonville, Benoni. To this day, my mum says that one of her regrets include not inviting Madiba in for some tea and samoosas. I speak English which is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa.
- I am Indian: The colour of my skin is brown and the aromas that fill my mum’s kitchen in the morning is that of Indian spices. When I get home from campus, there’s biryani or chicken “tarkari” (as how us Alipores say curry) or dhal and rice (which is compulsory to be served on a Friday for lunch). As far as languages go, I know nothing beyond “Kemcho” “Haara che” in Gujrati and every Hindi word I know comes from Bollywood.
Our country may have a lot of problems, but I choose to believe that there is a promise of a better tomorrow in our country. They call it South Africa but I call it home.