My ouma’s ring, not a braai ‘tjop’, re­minds me of my her­itage

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Sher­lin Barends

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

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