Heritage Day, hmmm…. Walking through a mall in Pretoria and looking at how people dress in traditional wear, I turn to my spouse and ask, “why are you not dressed as a coon (Kaapse klopse)?” She responds by saying it’s in shipment and Isabella will be our “voorloepertjie”. We both laugh. At first with gusto. Then, more soberly, with a sense of indignation.
In light of National Heritage Day, I wonder what my heritage as a Coloured is and I how I am able to contribute to the national heritage expression of our country? Should I don on a klopse costume, paint my face in colours to hide who I am in celebration of “a day off” from slavery out of the goodwill of my masters? How do I celebrate the slavery and subjugation that the Coloured people have endured? I mean, what is Coloured? Did van Riebeeck really “make” me? Am I a mixture of different ethnic groups, thrown into an oven, and walaahh, we have a Coloured? Am I merely a political creation to keep me separated from the rest of South Africa and a means to undermine my identity as a person? How do I reconcile the unjust history and the present context of not being politically enough and acceptable?
Do I extract my front teeth? Join a gang? Become an alcoholic? “Sit op die yard”? You know, all those stereotypes that define being Coloured in contemporary South Africa. Or should I eat a gatsby and “down” it with a coke? Maybe then I can identify with a heritage, albeit a stereotypical heritage that has yet again been forced on me? Yet, one so often misses the greatness that has come from the Coloured community (even though you might not add them to your list) – politicians, sportspeople, comdeians, business people, clergy, ordinary people who has never and probably will never receive an entry in the history books.
Should one’s heritage, therefore, be tied with one’s past – history – or can it be created anew? Can one re-write one’s heritage and as such give the new generations something that they can identify with and be proud of? How can I inform her of the many successful Coloured folk who have liberated themselves from the shackles of our history, whether real o percieved? How do I teach her that it is her duty and privilege to give back to the community that she comes from even when she does not identify with such a community? How do I let my daughter know that she is uniquely a South African Coloured, something that she can be proud of? How do I teach her that she is because we are?
Oh well, in the spirit of our new national heritage tradition, let me get the fire going… Happy Heritage Day, South Africa.