Let’s make Heritage Month a learning path
By Danie Swart, Head of SABC Education - Heritage Day, 24 September is a public holiday in South Africa. The day recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of our nation. South Africans celebrate the day remembering the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa. Various events happen throughout the country to commemorate this day.
SABC Education would like to encourage South Africans to celebrate their beliefs and traditions but to also begin learning about the cultures of others around us, bearing in mind that we are a nation that belongs to all those who live in it.
South Africa’s culture is one of the most diverse in the world. South Africa has 11 official languages and eight other recognised languages. Let’s take a wee look at a few of our rich cultural groups; we say ‘wee’ because there are so many heritages to share. We recommend learning about fellow South Africans and their cultures a little at a time.
The indigenous San were early artists of South Africa; their wonderful rock art across the country is evidence of this. The San, extraordinary hunters and trackers are still invaluable in the fight against poachers.
Today, their language is under threat, as is their nomadic way of life in the desert regions of the country. Many organisations are at work to try and preserve this special culture.
The Zulu traditional culture is well known for the ferocity of its shield bearing warriors, its beadwork and basketry and the beehive grass huts that cover the KwaZulu-Natal hills. Zulu beliefs are based on the presence of ancestral spirits, which often appear in dreams, and a supreme being who is seldom involved in the affairs of mortals.
Many cases of illness or bad luck are considered to be caused by an evil spirit. A diviner will communicate with the spirits or use natural herbs and prayers to get rid of the problem.
The Xhosa culture is well known for the complex dress code that indicates a person’s social standing. How senior they are, if they are married or single, if they are the new wife or have had a baby. A combination of a long skirt with no slit in front, together with a marriage bib and two beaded aprons means the wearer is a widow.
The more elaborate the hat, the more senior the wearer. The pipe smoking of Xhosa women is well known; they have a strong oral tradition with many stories of ancestral heroes. The initiation ceremony for young men is still practised, even though many young men die or are mutilated by the circumcision.
The Ndebele culture is renowned for the skill of the women who decorate their homes in vibrant geometric designs. Skills are passed from mother to daughter and the shapes used are often inspired by their intricately fashioned beadwork. Ndebele woman wear neck rings and traditional blankets of striking colours.
The Sotho groups of the South Sotho, Pedi and Tswana have some major cultural differences from the Nguni group (Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele), especially with respect to how they organise their villages and their marriages. The Sotho people tend to organise their homes into villages, rather than scattered settlements. The Nguni are grouped in cultures, while totems, or praise-names taken from animals, distinguish the Sotho-speakers.
The Shangaan people are located mainly in Mpumalanga. Their culture is of mixed ancestry and was brought about due to the military actions of Soshangane, one of Shaka’s generals who fell into disfavour. To escape Shaka, Soshangane fled north, through Swaziland, finally settling in Mozambique. His men found wives among the locals, among them Tsongas and thus the Shangaan people were established.
The Soutpansberg Mountains of the Limpopo Province is the home of the Venda people, the smallest of the South African cultures. The Venda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system, and water is an import theme, believing lakes and rivers to be sacred, and that rains are controlled by the Python God.
One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is Lake Fundudzi. The Sangoma or traditional healer is believed to have access to the spirits and seeks guidance from the ancestors. Many Venda consult a Sangoma if they become ill, who would diagnose the trouble in the spirit world which might be alleviated by a particular course of action and usually prescribes a course of herbs.
As mentioned earlier, there are many more South African cultures and languages to learn about, let’s make Heritage month a time to learn about each other; the many settlers in South Africa, the Indian, the Chinese and Cape Malay!