Heritage Day Stronger Together, Lessons from South Africa’s youth

Insights

Heritage Day on 24 September recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of our nation – and if culture makes us rich, we are. South Africans celebrate the day by remembering the heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa. But what does culture really mean to the youth of South Africa? We spoke to five South African youth, and not only did they answer us – they inspired us. If the future of our country is in their hands, it’s a good one.

YOLANDA MARENENE

Yolanda Marenene

YOLANDA MARENENE – 23, post-grad student
“By learning who we once were, we can better understand who we are.”

What does it mean to be South African to the youth, and what defines our culture for you?
South Africans are evolving towards an integrated and modern society, I believe – one where we embrace the best parts of our native cultures and practices while rejecting the rest. I think by learning who we once were, we can better understand who we are. This means we can ultimately transcend the past and use our innate tenacity to create and navigate a new identity within our diverse society.

In the past we’ve been largely divided due to our different experiences of the same country – how will we bridge those gaps?
I think we need to learn about each other’s cultures, not vilify them, and drop any pretence of cultural superiority. Understanding shouldn’t be necessary for respect, but it does help! This will lead to a homogenous, cohesive society.

Chanell Leyong

CHANELL LEYONG – 18, first-year student
“We are all first and foremost humans.”

What does it mean to be South African to the youth, and what defines our culture for you?
As a coloured South African it’s been an amazing experience to find my voice in a stereotyped environment, and I’m here for breaking those glass ceilings! I love finding these spaces where our opinions are now being heard, respected, and considered, and that we are bringing new perspectives to politics. As exciting as it is, it is also hard, and I think the youth is trying to navigate the balance, but also, we want to be better and do better.

In the past we’ve been largely divided due to our different experiences of the same country – how will we bridge those gaps?
Humility. We are all first and foremost humans, all trying to create our own future. Once we can realise that this starts with each other, and connection, and love, I think we’ll overcome it all.

Rebecca Marx

Rebecca Marx

REBECCA MARX – 21, student & waitress
“Real bridging can only happen with systemic change and economic equality.”

What does it mean to be South African to the youth, and what defines our culture for you?
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it is trying to preserve some roots while rejecting others, and also incorporating the national culture that is embedded in my identity. I don’t think it’s about ‘picking and choosing as much as understanding, though – we have this holistic, amalgamated environment through our friendships, marriages, work circles, and it means our culture is ever-changing.

In the past we’ve been largely divided due to our different experiences of the same country – how will we bridge those gaps?
I think real bridging can only happen with systemic change and economic equality. For marginal groups to cross we need effective structures.

PHOKA TLALI

Phoka Tlali

PHOKA TLALI – 22, student
“We need more mechanisms for cross-group engagement.”

What does it mean to be South African to the youth, and what defines our culture for you?
From what I have observed and experienced is that we are innately curious – we love connecting with others and sharing their life experiences and cultures. Through conversations, we learn, embrace, and encourage one another, while still retaining a strong sense of self while sharing this! We want to hold onto that! Heritage for me is not just art and music; it’s a behaviour, and we all share this through how we relate to one another.

In the past we’ve been largely divided due to our different experiences of the same country – how will we bridge those gaps?
It’s not easy to bring people together because of our history – people are still scarred and sensitive, so even interactions can be hard for people and we must respect that. But one thing we can do is to try harder to understand each other – who we are as individuals, but also as the groups we identify with. We need more mechanisms for cross-group engagement and to foster more spaces for this to happen. It used to be sporting events, for example, but now even social media is a great platform for this connection.

Amber Maneveldt

Amber Maneveldt

AMBER MANEVELDT – 24, masters student
“We need to “unlearn to learn.”

What does it mean to be South African to the youth, and what defines our culture for you?
As a biotechnology student, I obviously think genetically of our rainbow nation! We are a rich, multicultural, developing nation, and this youth is fiercely ready to make our mark. I think our parents had a clearer struggle [Apartheid], whereas for us we aren’t sure what our legacy will be and what defines us, especially in the face of factors like unemployment. So we are on the cusp of many realities of adulthood and are uncertain where to go from here, despite our inherent ambition and enthusiasm.

In the past we’ve been largely divided due to our different experiences of the same country – how will we bridge those gaps?
Obviously, we all have these different roots from our different upbringings – I think we need to “unlearn to learn”, especially when it comes to prejudices. If we can learn to identify one another’s strengths and weaknesses to learn from them, and not criticise them, we will really overcome much and set us all on a unique trajectory.

What is one uniquely south African thing that unites us but confuses the world?!
“Biltong and chakalaka! But really, South Africans can always come together over a braai. Breaking bread together is innate to us, and where you see our hospitality.” – Yolanda

“Our sense of humour! We DEFINITELY laugh about things that other countries think shouldn’t be laughed about!” – Chanell

“Our slang – it can be a barrier with tourists, but for us, it is a bridge. There’s a word for every situation, and often it’s more how it’s said than what is said!” – Rebecca

“Our diversity: just like our flag, there is no other nation that has so many sub-cultures that embrace each other so closely! Of course, there is always some level of polarity, but I think we have compassion, cohesion, and we are a community. It sets us apart and unites us.” – Phoka

“Our friendliness! I visited Europe and had friends visit here, and they were all amazed by how we will just walk past people, chat, say hi… they kept asking if I knew these people and were very confused when I said they were strangers! I love it.” – Amber

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