Passing on a Heritage of Love
As we celebrate Heritage Day on 24 September, Imelda Diouff looks at celebrating diversity and passing on what matter to the next generation.
The “Rainbow Nation” appears to be out of fashion. That is hardly surprising after the severe lockdowns of 2020, the ongoing fear of yet another Covid wave, rising unemployment, government stagnation, and families overwhelmed by their formal education responsibilities. We’re exhausted and disenchanted.
Even the “somewhere over the rainbow” brigade are fearful that home-baked muffins, veggie gardens and home repair services might not get them to the other side. Most adults appear to be either looking for a job or looking for a better job. And these actions are most certainly linked to growing household finance pressures. Food is more expensive. Water and electricity costs escalate. Payment holidays are no longer encouraged; banks want their money.
Of course, there are always the unlucky lucky who sit in those cushy government jobs where even the most severe forms of incompetence and corruption appear to be insufficent cause to move them on. Unsurprisingly, levels of depression are on the increase among government officials.
And if these circumstances are not enough cause for gloom, Stats SA has announced that the unemployment rate, as per the expanded definition of unemployment, increased by 0,6% to 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021. A significant percentage of unemployed persons will no longer look for jobs. They will not spend funds on public transport to look for jobs. Expenditure on phone calls, data to job search, and printing of CVs soon start to compete with the basic resources like food and shelter.
Households also have to contend with a worrying official announcement: the unemployment rate among youth aged 15 to 34 now stands at 46,3%. Parents, more so single-parent mothers, now have to deal with a shocking 9,3% unemployment rate among university graduates. Working extra, extra hard so that a child can get into tertiary education will not ensure that a next generation will have the resources to care for mommy in her old age.
Still, it’s September, and if you are South African, you might well be gearing up to a day of festivities. Our eleven languages will be celebrated, alongside culturally aligned dress and tradition. The smell of braai will waft across the class divides of highways and railway lines. For a day we will celebrate our diversity.
In all fairness, South Africans justifiably celebrate diversity. After decades of a race-based state, diversity is embedded into the DNA of our democracy. This precious inheritance must be protected and nurtured and relayed to the generations that will follow.
An acceptance of differences of race, language, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, as well as family forms is now part of our genes. And while we may not always get it right, there is still the underlying tolerance of difference. As we cosy up with those with whom we walk the hard pandemic and harder socio-economic problems of our nation, we can still depend on those that we identify as family. We will eat and drink and celebrate with those with whom bonds go beyond the ties of blood, marriage, kinship, and legal arrangements, into cultural and religious social connections and identity ties.
A family is and will remain, the first place where acceptance and tolerance is experienced. Feelings of love and the bonds of care will first emerge within a family unit. Values associated with godliness will first be passed on from elder to child. And while we might not always get this right, South Africans still have strong links to family and home.
During this heritage month, despite being a secular state, leaders of different faiths will bless and pray for unity in diversity. And while we might squabble about our different God(s), South Africa is no place where soldiers of a supreme being will pick up arms, or even pick fights, for a religious cause.
This is surely cause for celebration.
We are a South African family united in our diversity. Perhaps the rainbow merely needs a few raindrops, some polish and brigades of hopeful youth who will get us to the other side of the rainbow.
Imelda Diouf is the director of the Centre for Family Studies