The 24th of September is South Africa’s National Heritage Day. It is a day which encourages South Africans across the spectrum to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage on which our country exists. There are many things to celebrate from the cultural traditions and historical buildings to the unspoiled wilderness making this day a significant event in every South African’s calender. But the bigger question that I am usually asked by my guests is what South Africa is really like at the moment….
Deipnophobia is the fear of dinnertime conversation and I think I’m affected. The root of my fears around the dinner table is social and political. Whilst I’m competent at delivering positive and encouraging news, probing questions about the State of our Nation and the sentiment amongst citizens are becoming increasingly hard to answer from an educated position. More often than not the guest is far more in tune with the comings and goings of our politicians and the happiness levels of our population than I. Thus, in anticipation of Heritage Day I decided to re-educate myself about what South Africa is currently all about and with no particular plan went on leave with the family, a car full of bicycles and headed into a country – on strike!
My life before ranging at Londolozi, when I was still tuned in to politics and South African society, feels like it was eons ago. In those turbulent days of the nineties, my now wife used to lead me into a bushveld resort near the baked town of Hoedspruit. 16 years later, deep into our new democracy and liberty, we made the same turn into the resort. I was curious about the changes that may or may not have been affected to this bastion of Afrikanerdom.
Everywhere around us African (black) and Afrikaner (white) families settled themselves into accommodations beside each other. I wonder, with the normality that exists in my children Emma (3) and Thomas (1) childhoods’ and the liberties that they and there Shangaan friends share, just how I’m going to explain the divisions apartheid created and have them believe me that this sort of integration used to be unthinkable.
Culturally we are all still a little different and something that makes South Africa so special is the way that we embrace our differences not just on Heritage day but on most days of the year. Having watched different cultures so close at play in my game reserve life, I afforded myself a chuckle at the obvious idiosyncrasies. The Afrikaners with 300 years of pioneering wagon travel behind them, arrived in large vehicles seemingly packed with half of their possessions. The Africans tipped out of sporty vehicles booming an unfamiliar beat of music and were splendidly clad in the latest fashions. The Afrikaners, a bit more practical in their attire for a semi-bush retreat, whispered to each other whilst the Africans hollered at each other from a few feet. You would be forgiven for thinking that they were always angry with each other.
Amidst this wonderful diversity in upbringing and simultaneous tranquility, I experienced a profound sense of pride in what we have managed to create in this country and the unity that we enjoy. There is a wonderful acceptance between the heritage of two groups who just over two decades ago weren’t legally allowed to share the same public facilities. Now, in 2010, greetings are shouted across the immaculate lawns; children of different colours share the trampoline; splash side by side in the swimming pool and respective parents all nod in pride rather than clucking in disdain.
A little after midnight the squabbling over sports broke out. Fueled by passionate opinions and love for individual soccer and rugby teams the heckling began. Those who had no interest in either called resort security to come and shut the hecklers up and even the kudu stalked off. The next morning there were some sore heads and long regrets. The bird cages were wheeled out and the fires were stoked for the braai vleis. Bass settled over the valley and everyone headed for the swimming pool. Peace soon reigned again and as if to confirm that all was forgiven and forgotten – the kudus returned
We returned to Londolozi this morning, refreshed and invigorated by a fantastic holiday that truly exposed our family to the rich cultural diversity and heritage of which we are a part. We are incredibly privileged to live and work in a country and a place that epitomises just how well black and white people can work and play so well together. For that we’ll always have rose tinted sun glasses when it comes to seeing South Africa in the broader sense and it certainly encourages me to see South Africans outside of Londolozi finally integrating.
Happy National Heritage Day to all South Africans and to those who wish to once again return to this fantastic country of ours. We may not always like the stories that get filtered through to you on the other ends of the earth, but we are always exceptionally proud to have you stay with us and be your hosts in this steadily developing nation.
Written by: Tom Imrie