by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
South Africa has a helpful tradition of giving the months of the year a theme to focus our attention on a particular subject that would otherwise go unnoticed. August was Women’s Month and September puts the spotlight on heritage.
One supposes that the intention is to hone in on and reflect upon an important subject for at least one month and, maybe, to encourage us to think about the issue beyond the focus month.
Unfortunately, we tend to make heritage month about colourful dress and exotic food on a particular day – and then go back to our usual everyday life. Our narrow focus means that we lose the opportunity to get the most out of this period.
We have limited heritage to being about how our biological ancestors used to live and dress. This approach often creates a sense of ethnic exceptionalism and plays on negative stereotypes, particularly that of seeing the African as the “noble savage” as portrayed in colonial literature.
Modern science tells us that very few of us are, what might be called, “thoroughbreds”. Many of us can trace our genes to a variety of geographical spaces across the planet.
Paleoanthropological, archaeological and genetic materials gathered over the years undoubtedly reveal that we are sons and daughters of more than just one soil.
Modernity is an aggregation of cultures. Every day we live this conglomeration of heritages. Our legal and religious systems, the foods we eat and habits we take for granted have been adopted from a variety of cultures and customs, many of which are markedly different to those of our direct ancestors.
History has contrived the person we call South African as an outcome of circumstances. The Huguenots who fled France in the late 17th century, the indentured labourer from India and the slave from Malaysia along with the mineworker from Malawi, have all contributed to what it is to be a South African.
Even though we think of pasta as quintessentially an Italian dish, we don’t take into account that it may have come to Italy after Marco Polo visited China and learned about Chinese life and cuisine.
We drive Korean and German cars and settle our legal disputes by deferring to Roman-Dutch law. Christian faith is heavily influenced by Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Roman ways of living, doing and thinking – especially for Catholics.
Heritage month is therefore a good time to recognise and celebrate our common heritage as a human society.
Heritage Day and month is about celebrating our oneness as a human race. It calls us to fight xenophobia and all other forms of ethnocentric behaviour. It is a time to celebrate the common humanity that our Christian faith bestows and science has come to corroborate.
It is the time when we put into practice our belief that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).