A Response to ‘’Dear White South Africans”

Dear Ntsiki

I have read your post and given it much consideration. I should perhaps start by saying that I am a white male who was born and raised in Durban. My heritage is non-Afrikaans, but I am not sure that that makes me ‘English’. I am however English speaking. There are a few issues raised that I would like to share my view on.

It is true that that I am of European descent. My ancestors (mostly in 1820) arrived in South Africa and committed atrocities against black people; enslavement, Apartheid, etc. I was born in the early 1990’s into a privileged life. I will never be able to understand fully what the people of this country went through, the oppression and the humiliation. You will always have my sympathies for what happened.

I would like to talk about identity. I believe that I am African. I might not be black by my family has lived here for 200 years. I have been to Europe and certainly do not consider myself European. African identity is not a matter of race, it’s a matter of culture.  I am a South African because my culture exists nowhere else. It is what makes me who I am. It is my home.

Some of your arguments are based on scale, time and space to be exact. Before my ancestors lived in Europe they came from Africa, yes, the cradle of humankind. Before Zulu and Xhosa people arrived in South Africa they had pushed down from central Africa as part of the Bantu expansion, only a few hundred years ago. If coming from Holland/France/Spain makes me European because of the dispersal of my ancestors then coming from central Africa (assuming you are Zulu/Xhosa or Bantu for arguments sake) makes you a central African, perhaps from Congo or Niger? But ultimately Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. We are all African children. Ultimately, my point is where we came from and when we came from is irrelevant. Calling me one of the children of Hitler is like calling you a child of Charles Taylor, this is simply wrong. I could go on endlessly with such arguments. Ultimately, we are South African as our culture exists nowhere else.

I have traveled around southern Africa where I have learned from different cultures. I have learned the importance of respecting my elders, very broken Zulu, how to shake somebodies hand respectfully and how to give and receive to name a few. I agree with you that not enough white people have learned indigenous languages. When I was in school I learned Afrikaans and Zulu. Again, do not be so quick to chastise French and German, did you know that Africa is actually the number one French speaking continent on the planet? When you learn another language you learn another culture and that promotes tolerance. I agree that this is important and as a nation we should focus on this more.

My understanding of Heritage Day is to celebrate what makes us uniquely South African. Not what makes us black (unless of course you are black). If I choose to have a braai because that is how my family has cooked for 200 years then what is wrong with that? If you prefer to do something different I have no objections. I should be allowed to celebrate my heritage and express what it means for me to be South African. I believe that is the essence of Heritage Day.

Even King Shaka is now hailed as a military genius but, if I am correct, invented the stabbing spear (‘iklwa’) and expanded the Zulu empire in a very similar fashion to that of the Europeans in Africa. By expanding, killing and conquering only to unify later. I mean no disrespect but he essentially revolutionized warfare at the time through his ingenuity and leadership. The main difference was that his expansion was smaller, an issue of scale. But now, King Shaka is regarded as a South African hero and we all learned about him while we were in school. Perhaps our history books are different but they share similar patterns. My point is we are really not so different and I do have respect for King Shaka as he is part of my own South African identity.

Rather than castigate white people, Heritage Day should be an opportunity for the sharing of cultures. We should not be separated with white people braaing and black people celebrating the Kings and Queens from the past as you put it. Your message offers no constructive criticisms or anything. You make me feel that because my heritage is different to yours that I am incorrect. That is incorrect and unfair.

Rather than point fingers we should be moving towards a society where views such as these are expressed without so much underlying resentment. By pointing the finger at white people for calling it ‘Braai Day’ you insult them because you are targeting their heritage. Trust me, when you insult somebodies culture that will never go down well.

If I was invited somewhere where I could learn more about the heritage of other South Africans on such a day I would accept. And when I arrived I would bring some wors with me and share it. Perhaps we could go to Phoenix and Verulam in Durban and learn about the history of the Indians in this country and share a breyani? Maybe we should explore Cape Town for a traditional Cape Malay meal? The country is not polarized into white and black, and within white and black there is so much more diversity. Heritage Day should be a day where South Africans can express what makes themselves South African. That is how we celebrate our diversity. That is what the Rainbow Nation is.

Heritage Day is not about race, it is about culture. I have the right do to what I like on such a day and you have no right to criticize me for it. All I can offer is dialogue so that one day we can achieve a more encompassing paradigm of Heritage Day so that you no longer feel the way you do. I too believe that we should celebrate what makes us African, but what makes us African is far larger than what you have covered in your message.

My fellow South African, I hope that you consider what I have said.

Thank you for reading.

Original post: http://ntsikimazwai.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/dear-white-south-africans/