Make South Africa great?
When Donald Trump runs a campaign with the slogan, “Make Americaland great again!” a large majority of white Americans cheer, because they have grown up with the notion that America is the greatest country on earth and with crime and unemployment and some other issues on the rise, we clearly just need to get it back to where it was.
Black America is not so sure. “Great again” like when Jim Crow was in full force and we didn’t have the vote and were treated as inferior in every possible way? “Great again” when the Ku Klux Klan were in full force and you could be victimised, terrorised and lynched just for being black? “Great again” when slavery was a thing? Americaland has never been particularly great for black people and certainly isn’t now at a time where #BlackLivesMatter had to become a movement just to remind other people that this is true and where incarceration of black young men is at an all-time out-of-proportion high.
Native/First Nation American is not convinced. i don’t think i need to join too many dots for us to realise why Americaland has never been particularly great for them. Or at least not since the Europeans arrived. Making Americaland great for the Native Americans might look a whole lot like everyone else just leaving.
Latin Americans aren’t convinced. Women are not convinced [not as long as grab-a-woman-by-the Trump is in control.]
i’m pretty sure that the majority of people in countries outside of Americaland are not hugely convinced either. We were fed the slogan and the idea that Americaland is the greatest country in the world. And the media and entertainment industry has been backing up that brainwashing of other nations for years, and so you still will find many people outside of the country that do say that, but i don’t think from a place of knowledge so much as big-screen-flickering-ideal.
Make South Africa great!
We can go through the same process with South Africa. Anyone speaking about “the good old days” tends to be white and talking about a time when the days were not good for the majority of people in this country.
So where does that leave us on heritage day? When i hear the word heritage, my mind goes to identity and culture and nation culture, the idea of the good things that have carried down through the ages. But when i cast my mind backwards down South Africa’s recent and not-so-recent history, it is hard for me to come up with a lot of stuff. Certainly 1994 is a moment that flawed-as-it-was [and to some much more flawed than others] created a fundamental shift that i am grateful for, even though there is still much work to be done.
Some sporting events come to mind, especially in the uniting of the nation that happened in the moment, so winning the African Cup of Nations first time round and the Rugby World Cup and winning the Soccer World Cup bid and a lot of agonising moments in cricket and individual successes like Wayde van Niekerk and others. Many will argue they papered over the cracks of the reality that many still live in, which is likely true. But i prefer to see them as a telescopic glimpse into a future that South Africa can become.
Just watching a Kaizer Chiefs vs Cape Town City match at the stadium a week or so ago and one of the most representative-of-the-nation crowds i have been part of and wondering how it would be possible to translate and transport the vibe from that event to the day-to-day lives of everyone in the country. In those moments, for some brief moments, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or black or white or indian or coloured, or christian or muslim or agnostic or rasta…
Beyond those brief glimpses though, i struggle to think of much in the way of heritage when so much feels like it needs to be dismantled, unlearned, broken down, rebuilt and that we need to be highly creative about solutions going forward.
In Collins Dictionary i found this definition of ‘heritage’
A country’s heritage is all the qualities, traditions, or features of life there that have continued over many years and have been passed on from one generation to another.
The first word that comes to mind is ‘ubuntu’. Because it has been used so much it feels like the word has become a bit of a slogan and lost a little of its power, but i don’t think that should ever be allowed to happen. Because the idea of ubuntu – of being a person through other people – combined with the African proverb that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ tells me that we shouldn’t just throw out everything, because there is richness, quite possibly in every different people group and culture, for us to share and learn from and embrace.
If i’d woken up on this idea a little bit earlier, i think i would have tried to arrange a time of story-telling, because perhaps that is one of the strongest ways in which we learn from each other – in which we truly begin to see each other and start to know the steps that another person has walked. And in stories of family and village and people group, i suspect we might find some aspects of heritage worth clinging to and celebrating.
But then i came across Mirriam Webster’s definition of ‘heritage’ and it was not as easy to stomach:
1: property that descends to an heir
2a : something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor :legacy, inheritanceb: tradition
3: something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth :birthright
Land is a big stumbling block in South Africa. Not so much for white people, because we tend to have it, with our holiday houses and our rented out houses paying the mortgages on our other house, and our golf courses, and our Constantias and farms and estates.
This is an area i have tried to understand as the call to “Give back the land!” is loud from some quarters, particularly the young black population.
i have tried to become informed about the HOW of the process of giving back the land if there was such a time as everyone who owned land said, “Cool, let’s do this thing. How do we give the land back?” But i have yet to receive any kind of adequate practical type of answer, or really any answer at all. And i believe this is such a complicated and complex idea and process.
This is not ‘Person A stole person B’s bike’ where the solution is quite clear: Person A gives the bike back. Because generations have passed since forced land removals and so even just for starters, there are a lot more people wanting land now than when the land that was taken away, was taken away from. Mathematically i don’t understand how it works.
This also a question of how far back do we look, because if we are just talking apartheid, then that is one thing, but do we go back further to when colonialism set foot on these shores? Do we go even further back than that when rivalling tribes would be in contention for different areas of land?
The slogan is easy, but even if everyone came to the table [can not see that happening by choice] and wanted to do just that, i don’t think there would be any easy solutions.
So maybe instead of ‘Give back the land’ we need to be looking at something that looks a little bit more like ‘Share the land’?
When i look at some of the properties in Camps Bay or Constantia, it is sickening to me how much space is given to one family, especially when we contrast it with how many families are living in the townships. Cue the cries of ‘But they deserve it! They have worked hard for it!’ which themselves make me sick as if wealth gain happened in a vacuum where those who worked hard got the money and those who were lazy and did nothing got the townships – just not true!
The idea of sprawling golf courses to me [as a means of entertainment for the rich] when families are living in cramped unsanitary conditions is an absolute mockery.
We need to figure out something that looks a lot more like sharing the land. Sharing the resources [in terms of services, police protection, food availability, quality education] that go with that land.
And i don’t know enough about it, but this inner-city project of housing in Cape Town at least looks like it might be a step in the right direction. For 400 households at least, although the cynic in me wonders about who is going to get those homes and what kind of political wheelings and dealings and manipulations might be taking place behind the scenes. But the idea is a step in the right direction. May it spark many more.
Maybe we just need to lose the ‘again’?
i offer the same solution that i offer to Americaland – let’s move completely away from the idea that our country has ever been great – at least for all people – and let’s dream and work together and get creative about finding ways where it can become great for the very first time.
As we share stories and find gems that we can hold on to and as we learn from and are informed by other people’s painful journeys, can we commit to being part of creating something better together.
Can we become a nation that commits itself to a #NotOnOurWatch mentality and activism that says when someone tries to attack a mother in a Spur, or bury a young man alive in a wooden box, or tweet something offensive about another person or group, or force the staff at a university to do some degrading dehumanising tasks, or even when someone calls the fifty-year-old who works in their garden ‘boy’ or wolf whistles at a woman across the street or treats children or old people as less-than people, and a whole host of other areas of sexism, discrimination, racism, corruption, that we collectively join together and boldly say, “THAT IS NOT OKAY!”
That we will speak up and step in and intervene and confront and challenge ideas and actions and words that break down and minimise and dehumanise and crush the identity of another?
Can we start by looking in the mirror, this Heritage Day, and asking, ‘Where is my fault in all of this?’ What do i need to change? How can i be different? Is there a wrong i need to right? An apology i need to make? A relationship i need to restore? An action i need to stop doing? A word i need to stop saying? A language i need to learn?
A book i need to read so that i can become more informed about my country? A bridge i need to start building? A family i need to walk alongside? A child i need to adopt? An organisation i need to sponsor or volunteer at?
Prioritise your friendships
For me any greatness our country is ever going to achieve is going to come through relationships. Friendships. Real and genuine ones.
So the question from me to you is, ‘What friendships are you prioritising?’ i think if you’re black and living in South Africa and only have black friends, that is not the worst thing in the world – i think diversity is amazing and especially in a friendship group, but when you make up 75% of the population or so, it should be more likely that their will be communities of black people.
But if you’re white and only hang with white people [and i might extend this to coloured and indian folks as well] then i would suggest that you can do better.
i’ve spoken about this a bunch, but one thing my wife tbV [the beautiful Val] and i intentionally try and avoid are white spaces – in terms of church or restaurant or dinner tables we end up around or holiday spots or entertainment vibes, we try to be intentional as much as possible in terms of seeking out places and gatherings where everyone does not look like us.
The Heritage Day braai we attended with the community of St Johns church yesterday being a fine example. i think white people were in the minority. And it was just a buzz of activity and humour and family as we all just hung together and shared food and stories and conversation. What do your spaces look like?
The way i see Heritage Day
In conclude-sion i think we HAVE to figure out the land thing somehow. Small families living on super large properties feels like something that needs to be addressed. People living in squalor without services or sanitation definitely needs to be addressed. i personally believe the time for golf courses is long gone [given our people and our water situation in Cape Town].
i think when it comes to heritage, that our best bet as South Africans is to focus on the heritage we are busy creating now that we will pass on to future generations. So while there are some things we can learn and grab and share from each other’s cultures and history, how do we collectively create something South African and beautiful that builds up, encourages and benefits all of us that we can be proud to pass on to future generations and show off to the rest of the world.
And lots of breaking bread together. Telling stories. Listening to tragedies. Sharing resources. Dreaming of what might be and working together to make it so.
May the heritage days of the future be more meaningful because of the lives we choose to live each day. Happy Heritage Day!