We inherited more than a rainbow…
DO YOU remember on sports days at school we used to sing this song: “Everywhere we go-oo, people want to know, who we a-are and where we come from…”
Well, on Heritage Day we reflect on the questions raised in this song and remember the rich heritage we have as people and as a country.
From the gushing Tugela Falls in the magnificent Drakensberg to the breathtaking view of Table Mountain, the wilderness of the Kruger National Park, the Cradle of Mankind where some of the oldest fossils have been found, and the lovely sites where one can experience the wonder of a sunrise or sunset, all form a part of our wonderful country’s natural heritage.
It has been said countless times that we are a rainbow nation, but I know that the colours of a rainbow do not blend, and that rainbows are rare and disappear quickly.
We do indeed share a rich diversity in culture and traditions, which we embrace, and acknowledge that even with diversity we are all South Africans. However, we also have a shared a heritage which is so important.
On Heritage Day and every other day I never forget the fact that I am a South African because of the brave men and women who came here as indentured labourers, and the 76% of them who opted to stay in South Africa and embrace this country as citizens.
Their actions and deeds and those of subsequent generations is a part of my rich heritage, and it sometimes interweaves itself with other race groups, because we do not exist as a group in isolation but have a blend with other races and cultures.
It is because of this blend that I find myself remembering some important aspects of our unique collective heritage and I will share a few:
The great mystery of who killed Chief Albert Luthuli first Nobel Peace Prize winner in Africa, who shared a great friendship with my grandfather, Manilal Gandhi.
The actions of Dr AB Xuma of the ANC, Dr Monty Naicker of the Natal Indian Congress and Dr Yusuf Dadoo of the Transvaal Indian Congress, who in 1947 had the foresight to see that all race groups needed to work in unity, and brought these organisations together to fight discrimination. This was called the Doctors’ Pact.
The sacrifices made by Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Robert Sobuke, Laloo Chiba, Billy Nair, MD Naidoo, Sunny Singh, Walter Sisulu, Sonny Venkatrathnam and so many others imprisoned on Robben Island.
The Treason Trial in which 105 Africans, 21 Indians, 23 whites and seven coloured leaders were arrested and charged with treason.
Nat Moodley, who I grew up knowing as Uncle Nat but who was one of the first boxing promoters of colour. Because of him I met one of the best boxers of the 1970s, Tap Tap Makhatini.
This is the country where Gandhi developed his philosophy of Satyagraha, which he then used to free India, and which was used successfully by leaders in our country and throughout the world.
The Consulate Six – Mewa Ramgobin, Archie Gumede, MJ Naidoo, Billy Nair, George Sewpersad and Paul David, who took refuge in the British Consulate to publicise the fact that the British government was supporting the PW Botha regime. This brought international attention to the situation in our country.
The powerful women of this country, such as Fatima Meer, Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams, Helen Joseph, Ela Gandhi, Helen Suzman, Dorothy Nyembe, Amina Kachalia and Zuleikha Mayat.
Stories of all these people and many more who I have not the space to name here, flash through my mind when we talk of our shared heritage and because of them I am proudly South African.
Such stories can be found in the 1860 Heritage Centre in Derby Street, where we tell a story of how, while retaining culture and tradition, history reflects not a rainbow but a lovely tapestry of people coming together as South Africans. Satish Dhupelia is a community activist