Heritage Day, ( 24th September) is a public holiday in South Africa and in cities and towns around the country many people take the opportunity to come together, wearing their finest traditional outfits, to celebrate their heritage. From all the images in the press, it is a very colourful affair, Africa being renowned for its magnificent traditional dress.
This year I had no plans, in fact, it’s a holiday for which I never have any plans, largely due to the fact that I’m not quite sure which heritage I am supposed to be celebrating. South Africa is a complex society, and my place in it, a little ambiguous. I am a third generation white Zimbabwean, who has spent ten years living in Botswana and the larger part of my life settled as a citizen in South Africa. I am of European descent, with my ancestry hailing back to the Orkney Isles and United Kingdom. There were Vikings and Scottish kings in the mix, as well as several Rhodesian/Zimbabwe farmers. So what heritage should I celebrate? In my own private way, through my art and through my teaching, I celebrate them all, and in the mix of it I emerge as the person I am today.
So, when my good friend Themba Mchunu, a final year Masters Drama student at Rhodes University contacted me to see if I would be at home on this auspicious day, I was delighted to hear that he planned to visit me. I decided to bake some chocolate cakes to celebrate his visit.
From posts on his Facebook page, I had deduced that he and the cast of Impethuko would be busy most of the day, as they were putting on a special Heritage Day performance at the community hall in Rini, Grahamstown East.
A little later than expected, I heard hooting at the front gate, and guessing it must be him, went out to greet my guest…. only to see that it wasn’t just Themba, but he and the entire cast who had come to pay me a visit! Arms filled with refreshments and buns, they filed into my lounge and we launched into a festive and hilarious evening!!!
We ate, drank, laughed and talked and I learned more about their history and involvement with the group. They explored my extensive garden and then came into the studio to view my work, which for most of my guests, was a completely new experience.
After giving them some background information and explaining the meaning of my artworks, we entered into an interesting, animated discussion that spontaneously developed into a playful, high energy performance, with my artworks being commandeered as the costumes and the props. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. The group’s playful antics just kept getting funnier and funnier, ending with a theatrical exit from the studio.
Click on the images below and you will see what I mean…
The most moving part for me was listening to the group sing to me as they wound their way across the lawn and back into my lounge. There they continued to sing, with one of the group now pounding on my Djembe drum, all of them moving in time to the rhythm of their music. Then, still singing, down the stairs they went, bade me farewell and disappeared into the night.
Later, sitting alone and looking out across the sleeping city, I reflected on the events of the day. I was completely overwhelmed by all that had happened, and couldn’t believe how something so special had come about so spontaneously. It was the best Heritage Day celebration that I could have asked for, and never in my wildest dreams could I have planned something so meaningful. I felt deeply honoured that this talented group of performers had shared so much with me and realized with that spine tingling delight, that this is why I love living in Africa. The unexpected is always just around the corner. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but when it’s good, it can be absolutely amazing. It’s the adrenalin rush that keeps us living on this continent.
So thank you to Themba and his team for showing me that I do belong here and have been accepted. The memory of this day will live with me forever.