My ouma’s ring, not a braai ‘tjop’, reminds me of my heritage
IT HAS no top or bottom, but it can hold flesh, bones and blood all at the same time. What is it? A ring.
This is one of the many riddles that the Barends family would set around the fireplace in my grandmother’s kitchen, while devouring her home-made vegetable soup and bread fresh out of the oven.
Though I never mastered any her recipes, I did inherit her love for telling stories – and her wedding ring.
Ouma gave me the gold band one Sunday morning before church, when she broke the news that her cancer had returned. This time, it was terminal.
Tears streamed down my cheeks at the thought of losing one of the most dynamic womxn (a more inclusive term) I’ve known and loved.
But, the then-90-year-old would not have it. She gave me a firm tap on the arm, followed by an even firmer “Moenie vir jou laf hou nie!” (“Don’t be silly!”)
Ouma, one of Stellenbosch’s first coloured social workers, knew she would still be around long enough to teach me and others a thing or two.
These days, I find myself touching, sometimes clenching, her wedding ring whenever I’m faced with something difficult. I remember her strength, resolve, wit and humour and that her blood runs through my veins.
I felt a similar connection to Krotoa, after watching awardwinning South African actress Crystal-Donna Roberts’ portrayal of the Khoi slave who served as Jan van Riebeeck’s translator.
I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Krotoa before the build-up to the local movie of the same name.
The film has received mixed reviews, with many labelling it “white-washed” and an “insult to heritage of Khoisan people”. Still, what stays with me is the powerful final scene.
Not much is left to interpretation: natives were stripped of their land, names, culture and traditions. We were taught to despise the click in our tongue and the kink in our hair, to assimilate “civilisation” and part from our “savage” ways.
This is why Braai Day will never cut it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like a tjoppie and a drumstick as much as the next South African.
But the commercially successful Braai Day is too straight-forward, it seeks to unite us by encouraging us to celebrate our very different backgrounds in the same way.
But how is throwing meat on the coals truly encouraging nationbuilding?
According to SA History Online, Heritage Day (celebrated annually on September 24) replaced Shaka Day to create a day where all South African could celebrate their heritage.
During a Heritage speech in 1996, Nelson Mandela said: “When our first democratically elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
Heritage Day could be a wonderful opportunity for South Africans to learn about their own heritage. It’s alarming how many people do not know where they come from.
Only then can we create a space for people to share their stories and truly connect. We need to be honest about the past and its varying degrees of privilege and pain.
Our history and heritage is complex, messy, painful and beautiful and should be treated as such. Yes, we are united, but we are also diverse. This truth is a strength that does not have to divide us.
Whether you’re braaiing or not, how and who will you be remembering, commemorating and celebrating this Heritage Day?
As usual, I’ll be wearing my grandmother’s wedding ring. Perhaps together we’ll solve the riddle that is Braai Day.
Barends is a radio presenter on Kfm Mornings, a feminist, a writer and a master of ceremonies with a BA honours in journalism from Stellenbosch University.
Facebook: Sherlin Barends Instagram: @sherlinbarends Twitter: @sherlin_barends