Heritage Day – A Pondering Coloured

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.

The Handshake – An intentional African

Upon entering the church yesterday morning, the steward at the door shook my hand. But the handshake was not the “normal” or “traditional” handshake, instead, he gave me an African handshake.

So what? Well, the guy was White and I am a Coloured. What makes that interesting is that the guy did not take it for granted that I subscribe to a “western” way of doing things, although he assumed that I shake hands the African way. My point is, it was good to experience that there was an intentionality in his actions. Whilst culturally, I do not shake hands that way, I also recognised that I am African and we have to begin doing things the African way and not attempt to replicate what is done according to the West. Whilst a handshake does not make you an African, but at that point, the white man was more of an African than I was (I’m sure that would be way too simplistic and naive for many people). In this beautiful country of ours, we have to be intentional about our actions and know that every small gesture matters.

While I do believe that God is sovereign and can be trusted with everything, I believe that God is an intentional God who has created humans also to be intentional. What would the implications be for our young people in South Africa?

I have to intentionally know that the colour of one’s skin does not make the person.

Whilst there may be lots of truth in that statement, in a place like South Africa, we have to talk through our history and work our way constructively and critically through racial matters. It is only once we are able to do that can the colour of our skin not matter. I am proudly Coloured, while being a Coloured does not make or unmake me as a person (I know that there are those who reject colourdeness politically), however, it is who I am. I can only be okay with me and others when I accept all of me, warts and all.

I have to live life intentionally.

Whilst one does not want to be a killjoy and plan everything in life and risk killing spontaneity, one has to be intentional about life. Intentionality in life does not necessarily imply that life should be boring, instead, an intentional life could be so much more fulfilling. As a Coloured guy, growing up could not always be intentional. I had to learn to survive and survival is usually instinctual and spontaneous, grabbing opportunities as they arise. There are too many young people that do not have the luxury to live their lives intentionally, and ultimately, we can only have ourselves as adults to blame for a generation that lives a knee-jerk reaction.

We should intentionally create our meanings in the midst of discovery.

I’m not always one for experience trumps all. As a matter of fact, I always argue that it is not necessary to experience everything in life as one merely has to look around at the many lives lived and know what the outcome of certain actions may be. But, in South Africa, we need to re-create meaning as citizens of this country. As adults, we need to create opportunities for our young people that will allow them to experience life that is different to what we have had. There are too many defensive adults standing in the way of our youth. We need to re-write our narrative, yet, being cognizant of our past. Like the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

The decisions I make as an adult today shapes the future my daughter has to face tomorrow.