Every year on the 24th of September, in the height of spring, South Africans celebrate Heritage Day. This holiday speaks to our essence as South Africans because it showcases how diverse we are. In the South African Coat of Arms, our motto is “!ke e: Ixarra IIke” which means “Diverse people unite”.
We as South Africans are an amalgamation of different cultures and the fact that we’ve been able to create a nationhood after our past troubles, speaks to our resilience as people. The 24th of September is important because even in our unity as a country, schools and workplaces allow people to showcase their diversity by coming to places of school and work dressed in their traditional regalia.
Everyone in the country who takes the opportunity to dress up looks splendid on this day. Xhosa’s come dressed in imibhaco, Zulu maidens look regal wearing iziqhalo on their heads, Indians come dressed in sari’s and Scotsmen come dressed in kilts, and so on. While this day is exceptional, it is always made better if we add food to the mix. In addition to people wearing their traditional regalia they often also bring in their traditional food to share with others and teach about their culture.
I grew up in rural Transkei and when I was about six, an aunt who worked for the Moodley’s in Johannesburg made samoosas for us. I had yet to meet an Indian person at that time. Eating that samoosa though, I knew that I had a deep affection for Indians even before meeting them; any race of people who could make such perfectly crispy, spicy, meat-stuffed triangles of joy, had my full respect. There is something about eating the food of a certain culture that makes you respect the makers of the food. Some of the best biltong I have ever had is made by Afrikaners and I’ll forever be grateful to the first oom who decided to preserve uncooked beef by drying and salting it; biltong is a top-tier savoury treat.
Bringing food to heritage day celebrations, takes a good idea and makes it excellent. I envision bring-and-share situations where someone from a Cape Malay culture could bring a pot of bobotie while someone Xhosa brings a filling pot of umphokoqo. The idea of bringing food to Heritage Day celebrations is not mine and it isn’t new; in fact it is stolen from my daughter’s school. When she was in grade 3, the entire grade had to come dressed in their different cultural attire and bring a food that is prepared by that culture.
The day was highly educational because not only were the kids dressed in their cultural regalia, they also had to make a short speech about how the food they brought is prepared. My family has been enriched by this experience because it inspired me to add other foods to my meal plans that I had not done previously. Often we make lamb kebabs and tsatsiki, and we are grateful to the Greeks for expanding our culinary experience.
South Africa is a rich country and we can all learn to appreciate each other by having days like these more often; so that we can celebrate the beauty in our diversity.
Tell us: What is your favourite food from a South African culture different from yours?
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