Heritage Day: Let’s celebrate our heritage.
Heritage Day. It’s a special day in our calendar. It’s a reminder of the shared history we have that ties us together. For many people, this means the traditional South African meals. Like the braai. Braaiing is our version of the barbecue, though we tend to cook our meat more thoroughly through. And, no where else in the world has boerewors (unless they’re an enclave of expats).
Heritage Day is more than just the braai though. It’s a reminder of where we come from. The most important part of our heritage must be our Constitution. It’s the founding document that forms the basis of law for our democratic South Africa. And we have the privilege of having a president in office who was one of the original authors. It has protected the rights of millions of South Africans for over two decades now. It has enabled us all to have equal standing.
But there are different types of heritages. Let’s look at some obvious, and not so obvious, ones.
Pap. Umayum! And other South African foods.
This traditional meal for millions of South Africans actually has a far distant origin. Until the ‘New World’ met the ‘Old World’, maize was only found in the Americas. Specifically, where Mexico stands today. However, it was popular with the Europeans who “discovered” (for themselves) the New World, and they spread it around the globe. It came to Africa in the 1500s, and within 500 years it became one of our continent’s most popular and most important crops. It was brought here by the Portuguese.
Pap, also called mielie meal, is a southern African food. And in South Africa, it pretty much goes with everything. We love it. With braais, with chicken, oh it’s great with curry on top, and next – maybe, just maybe – we’ll try it with our melktert. Oh, and that’s another wonderful South African heritage to celebrate on Heritage Day. Melktert! Lots of it!
There are so many food heritages to list here. Biltong, the specially dried meat developed by necessary technique so the Dutch could migrate through the land. Or Bunny Chow, our Durban Indian dish, which is a lot of curry in hollowed out bread – though you may need to diet for a week following it. Then there’s mampoer… it is what happens when you take peaches, weaponize them all the way up to 80% alc/vol, and bottle them. It will heritage the heck out of your liver – be warned. Not to forget Umqombothi, a traditional African beer, which is made with maize – another fine use for the crop!
The coelacanth find.
The coelacanth isn’t just any old fish. It certainly isn’t just a fish that has a terribly difficult name to spell. It’s a fossil. A living fossil. The coelacanth is an ancient, rare order of fish that evolved almost exactly as it is today hundreds of millions of years ago. It is more closely related to tetrapods than to ray-finned fish. Tetrapods are all vertebrate creatures with legs. Meaning every land animal with a backbone. Ray-finned fish are almost all existing fish swimming around with gills and scales. That means the coelacanth is closer to us than to kingklip.
What makes it part of our heritage is it was believed to be long extinct (about sixty million years extinct at that) – but in 1938, a South African naturalist discovered a fresh specimen among a fisherman’s catch. It was caught off the east coast of our country. As one can imagine, it made massive news. It would have been like finding dinosaurs in a hidden valley in the Drakensberg mountains.
It helped put Rhodes University’s Ichthyology Department, and thus the university itself, on the global map – a serviceable heritage indeed!
Mandela. Our human heritage.
No list about heritages on Heritage Day can be complete without Madiba. His magic helped keep this country together during a very trying period. He was one of many heroes of the Struggle, and suffered 27 years imprisonment as a result of his beliefs and his cause: to liberate the country. Our first democratically elected president, what was so amazing about him was how he connected us to the world. Everyone wanted to meet him, to experience his wisdom. And he left us a legacy too: not just books containing his thoughts and insights about the world and humanity. But many others, including a special children’s hospital with some of the best pediatric care in the continent.
Kicking it with Kwaito.
We South Africans have a way of taking music forms birthed overseas and making it our own. But nothing is more South Africanised than Kwaito. The word itself comes from “kwaai”, which is Afrikaans for ‘hot’. As in, “This new House music is kwaai!”. Because in the early nineties, House music hit the South African scene, and soon young black South Africans were making it their own, slowing down the tempo, and creating a uniquely styled genre of music that stands firmly apart from its sire. It became part of the post-liberation life, uplifting many gifted black artists into becoming local stars. It is a great example of the colourful Johannesburg township culture developing a powerful cultural style that empowered many, and powered a new music industry – and rose as the fortunes of their fans rose, becoming quintessential mainstream culture. Listening to Kwaito on Heritage Day is definitely a great way to celebrate it. Especially if you drink it to it with traditional homebrewed beer!
The Kruger National Park.
In the night, you lie in your rondavel, under a thin blanket. Outside you hear the chirrups of the crickets creaking, then suddenly stop. Odd. Why would they..? Then, a roar. Of a lion raging displeasure in the dark. It’s close. A little too close. Soon, the sound of cackles crows through the wind: hyenas. They think something’s funny. You think of their ability to take a man’s entire hand with one bite. That’s definitely not funny… Well, maybe an open camp isn’t for everybody, but Kruger National Park has plenty of lodges too. It’s massive. The entire country of Israel could easily fit inside it.
The park stretches approximately 360 kilometres North to South, and is about 65 kilometres East to West. It was started in the end of the 19th Century as a game conservation park as overhunting was occurring in the area. It evolved into the megalith it is now – Africa’s largest game park. Its species span not only the big five we see on the back of our bank notes, but a total of 147 mammal species, the most of any African game park. Making our Kruger the one place you have the chance to observe most of Africa’s unique fauna. Kruger, in fact, helps protect certain endangered species. Like the African Wild Dog. There are only 400 in South Africa, mostly in the Kruger.
With its menagerie of wild life, our natural and national treasures, the Kruger National Park is a true heritage of the land for all South Africans.