Heritage Day: Diary of a white English-speaking South African

Musician Johnny Clegg, also know as the 'White Zulu'. (Tsheko Kabasia/Sunday Times/Gallo)

Musician Johnny Clegg, also know as the 'White Zulu'. (Tsheko Kabasia/Sunday Times/Gallo)

WHITE NOISE

6.15am: Wake up in cold sweat after nightmare that someone called me racist on Twitter.

6.16am: Log on to Twitter. Discover it was not a nightmare but reality.

6.17am: Cry a bit. Compose 73 draft tweet responses defending self against racism charge. Delete all. Cry some more. Consider posting ironically self-aware tweet about white tears. Reject idea. Consider throwing iPhone in toilet. Reject idea reluctantly.

6.18am: Pull blankets over head and go back to sleep.

10am: Wake up. Remember it is Heritage Day. Is that the one when the Woolies cashiers get to wear civvies? Wonder what Heritage Day actually is. Internet says Heritage Day is “a day in which all are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs and traditions that make up the nation of South Africa”.

10.20am: Ponder what my cultural traditions are. Google “what is white South African culture”. An online culture guide informs me that “the English-speaking white community in South Africa places more emphasis on the nuclear family”.

10.21am: Consider phoning parents to place more emphasis on nuclear family. Remember that I already phoned them two weeks ago and nothing has changed about my personal circumstances since then.

10.22am: Continue internet research. Same culture guide tells me: “People from Cape Town are very proud of their city, and often appear to have a superior attitude about their city versus the rest of the country.” Resolve to conform more to stereotype for purposes of group identity. Take picture of breathtaking mountain view from window and WhatsApp it to Jo’burg friend with caption “Just another day in paradise!!”

10.23am: Remember too late that Phil Collins song of same name is a lament about the social problem of homelessness. Fear that WhatsApp will be read as sneering at the poor. Send follow-up WhatsApp saying “Sorry wrong person” with emoji of monkey covering its eyes.

10.24am: Is the monkey emoji racist?

10.25am: Pull blankets over head and go back to sleep.

12pm: Wake up again. Peek out of window. See that sun is shining. Perfect braai weather. Wonder if having a braai is trivialising Heritage Day.

12.05pm: Woke Twitter thinks having a braai is definitely trivialising Heritage Day.

12.10pm: Google says that Desmond Tutu endorsed having a braai on Heritage Day in 2007. Wonder if this makes it okay. Is Desmond Tutu now considered a sell-out in the same vein of Mandela? Does being in and out of hospital give him a free pass?

12.11pm: Idea! If I invite black friends to braai, does that make it less like oblivious white person’s Braai Day and more like richly meaningful Heritage Day?

12.15pm: Postpone difficult decisions. Tea break. Read You magazine. How is Henri van Breda not in jail yet?! Also what is happening with that Sotheby’s gazillionaire who says he didn’t kill his wife? Who would cheat on Angelina Jolie?! And how cute is Prince George! Wonder if You is part of heritage. Decide probably yes.

1pm: Maybe one can spend Heritage Day as an ally. Wonder if there is a student protest happening somewhere to bring sandwiches to in solidarity. Ideally need a small, friendly student protest where they don’t have access to fire-lighting equipment and are nice to white people.

1.05pm: Investigate kitchen. Recall that there is no bread due to Banting diet. Ponder whether students would like a six-month-old jar of green olives. Decide olives are synonymous with white privilege. Contemplate going to shops to buy bread to make students sandwiches. Seems a bit of a mission. Also weather quite nippy when out of direct sunshine.

1.10pm: Wonder if Banting can be considered cultural tradition.

1.15pm: Decide some music may help me summon Heritage Day gees (spirit). Put on favourite Johnny Clegg song, Impi. Awesome jam! “Immmpiiii … something something something …” Overcome with shame that I do not know isiZulu bits of song. Resolve for 500th time to start isiXhosa classes on Monday. Fantasise about being like that white continuity presenter on SABC in the mid-1990s.

1.17pm: Struck by horrifying thought. Is Johnny Clegg a cultural appropriator? If eating sushi is now considered a form of cultural appropriation, surely Johnny Clegg is Supreme Overlord of cultural appropriation? Seized with fear that my coloured neighbours heard me crooning along to Impi and now consider me on a par with Verwoerd. Throw Johnny Clegg CD in bin. It was scratched anyway. Make mental note to learn how to download music.

2pm: Wish I was Afrikaans. At least they have koeksisters and stuff. Not that I could eat a koeksister, because they’re on the Banting red list but it would be nice to have the option. If I was Afrikaans I could bring neighbours koeksisters as Heritage Day gift to make up for Impi faux pas. Maybe I could do it anyway? Is culturally appropriating from Afrikaans people okay? Probably not. Some of them are still stuck on the Boer War concentration camp vibes.

2.05pm: Is it too early to start drinking?

2.06pm: Start drinking.

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis has a master’s in English literature from Rhodes and a master’s in linguistics from Oxford University, UK. After a stint at the Oxford English Dictionary, she returned to South Africa, where she has been writing stories and columns for various publications, including the M&G. Her first book, Best White (And Other Anxious Delusions), came out in 2015. Read more from Rebecca Davis

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