What does heritage mean to a S

What does heritage mean to a South African expat?

Heritage literally means “practises handed down from the past by tradition” and is a very important question in our time. To have a clear idea of where we come from stimulates healthy discussion on how and where we go from here

What does heritage mean to a S

Indigenous heritage is magnificently rich, while humanity’s collective heritage includes wonderful things like the printing press, penicillin, culture and democracy. However genocide, slavery, religious intolerance and human greed for power and control also cast dark shadows.

I grew up loving my country convinced those in authority had my best interests at heart, and stuff propagated on state-sponsored news was absolute truth. It seemed appropriate, patriotic even, to do my bit when the National Service beckoned. I was told we were fending off Communism, and even my church had signed up for it. I went through basic training and military doctrine, and then we went to war. I was okay with that. Fearful but willing, as we were, after all, defending ourselves from an ideology which threatened a bleak future. I thought even God was on our side.

Then it got rough… My country became embroiled in the largest conventional conflict in Southern African history. We engaged and destroyed dozens of Russian tanks with our more nimble Ratel 90s in Angola, pushing the enemy back to Cuito Cuanevale. Friends dies and it seemed no-one was on our side anymore. Then, sons and daughters of early European settlers voted emphatically to abolish the evils of Apartheid. Durban, my hometown, demonstrated itself as the most progressive cities in the country with a over 80% yes vote. I was proud of that and remain proud for defending my country and heritage when called and that my very first opportunity to unpick a racist ideology.

Despite the obvious stain on our past (which we had to come to terms with during Truth and Reconciliation), I was pleased with our progression from dark to light and looked forward to continuing life as a proud South African shoulder-to-shoulder with my newly equalised brethren. This would indeed be a heritage to be proud of.

Aged 25, my girlfriend and I decided to travel the world, we saved enough money to keep us going for a few weeks, which was quite a feat given that only 18 months before I’d been temporarily homeless and penniless. My thinking; find a business idea overseas, bring it home, create a few jobs, earn a fair income and make my country better.

As it inevitably does, life happened and before we knew it five years had passed and we’d not yet made our way home, hadn’t travelled enough but were now paying bills and buying nappies. But we hadn’t ‘settled down’. My children learned about their rich heritage with its proud and progressive constitution.

Before long clouds of unrest and discontent begun building in azure South African skies threatening the very heart of the rainbow itself until gradually I began questioning my contribution to it all. It appeared the South African government belittled our patriotic contribution as teenagers to the National Defence and repaid by disregarding non-racialism and human dignity.

Interestingly, some English folk think I’m a foreigner due to my colonial ‘Jaapie’ accent and barefoot childhood. While some South Africans consider me a ‘veraaier’ (back-stabber) or racist responsible for the past.

Of course history is littered with governments, states or religious organisations prosecuting human rights violations based on territory, racism or dogma to sustain a somewhat self-serving grip on power. This is where my ‘Soutpiel’ (in-betweener) status became an advantage. I’d been forced out of the environmental ‘bubble’ I grew up in and got an opportunity to distil lessons from my heritage. My hope for my children is learning a sense of shared humanity and that my children become compassionate human-beings concerned with the welfare of all people.

I’ve suggested this is the only route to the Rainbow but fear I sound messianic. By all means love thy neighbour but be compelled first to do no harm.