Henk KlijnWhen Malose Luescher-Mamashela was pregnant with her first child, she decided she was going to speak her mother tongue, Sepedi, to her unborn daughter. Her husband, who is Swiss-born, also chose to speak his native language, Swiss German, in the home. ‘It wasn’t something we really discussed,’ Malose explains. ‘I wouldn’t be sharing who I really am with my children if I didn’t speak to them in Sepedi. It’s the language I know better than any other on the planet. My history is intricately intertwined with the language I was brought up in.’
Now that her children are older – Dineo is six and her son Lesiba is three – Malose is still finding the going tough. ‘Speaking to my kids in my mother tongue hasn’t been and is not easy. I do not have resources to build up their vocabulary, so their language proficiency is as good as what I expose them to.’
But the 34-year-old engineer knows her perseverance will pay off. ‘My family does not speak English. When I go home to Limpopo, why should a village of 5 000 people have to speak English for the sake of my two kids?’
Malose’s efforts to pass her language and culture onto her children form part of what Heritage Day is all about. Established after the 1994 elections, 24 September is a newly-created public holiday which recognises aspects of SA culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down, such as creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the country’s natural beauty.
When it comes to preserving historical buildings, you won’t find anyone as passionate as Henk Klijn. The co-owner of Augusta de Mist Country Estate in Swellendam is familiar with the joys and challenges of living in a home with a history – the oldest part of the guesthouse dates back to 1802 and is a national monument. ‘A heritage homestead is not cheap and easy; the whole structure needs constant care and specialist attention,’ he says. ‘Everything about the home is old: the yellowwood shutters and doors, the early 19th century ironwork and the reed ceilings held together with ancient mud.’
Henk, who is the resident chef at the guesthouse as well as being an active member of the Swellendam Heritage Association, believes heritage food tastes better at Augusta de Mist than a burger. ‘Just try bobotie here and see what I mean,’ he enthuses. ‘Or some malva pudding and chenin blanc from old bushvines. All better. Music? Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe or Mimi Coertse. All heritage and better in these surroundings.’
Engaging with tourists from around the world affords Henk the perfect opportunity to share his heritage in the stories he tells and the food he prepares. ‘I am constantly surprised at just how much our country inspires visitors,’ he says.
But he is wary of romanticising the past. ‘We cannot afford to drop anything that is part of our heritage. It is who we are – warts and all. However, it is dynamic and we should strive to make it relevant and interesting.’

What does Heritage Day mean to you?

Chef Reuben Riffel

It simply means we should know the history of our country and its people. We should remember those who made sacrifices for us, not only famous people, but also our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
For us to maintain some kind of identity, we need to keep alive certain traditions. I want people who taste my food to get a sense of the generosity of our people – not in terms of the size of the meal, but the effort that has gone into it. I try as far as possible to keep old flavours and dishes alive by reinventing them without losing the essence of the dish.
This year I’ll be celebrating 24 September by judging a braai competition, so I guess I’ll be enjoying good braaivleis (hopefully!) and good company.

Dramatist Ntokozo Madlala

To me, Heritage Day means a time of celebration. It’s a time of looking back at who we are and celebrating the similarities and diversities that exist among us as a people. But I also do think that as much as it’s great to have a day set apart for this, it should be something that we are aware of on a daily basis.

I teach a course on the roots of African theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. It’s amazing to observe how many young people are disconnected with their cultures and through this course they get to learn about and appreciate certain aspects of the Nguni culture.

I also enjoy telling stories, both as a performer and as a director. I recently directed a production called Crush Hopper, which is a story of a young Xhosa girl who grows up in Somerset East, is raised by her coloured great-grandfather and dreams of marrying a white Afrikaans farmer. It’s an intriguing story that raises important questions about culture and identity, and what really makes us who we are – beyond the facade of what is visible.

On 24 September I’d like to have a braai at home with friends. We could all discuss how we do braais in our different cultures!

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Heritage Day article High-Flyers Sept 2011