Beads, Doeks and Land
By Ncebakazi Manzi
For the most part, celebrations of heritage during September focus on cultural identity. On Heritage Day, many will adorn themselves with “traditional” attire and I say adorn because wearing African-inspired clothing has become an occasion especially in the urban areas of our country. As the history of ijamani and seshweshwe suggests, there is a lot more Europe in what we consider traditional attire than we would like to admit, but be that as it may, traditional wear is reserved for celebrations rather than worn as a staple.
Throughout the month, there will be crucial debates about the preservation of African languages in a country where proficiency in English can translate into social capital and material advantages. Far too many African children grow up with English as their mother tongue, some will lament, and rightfully so. Few of the conversations during Heritage Month will focus on land as central to heritage despite the land question gaining popularity as a key debating point. When, for instance, has there ever been this much shade thrown over land on Black Twitter as there is now?
Having watched the documentary This Land, it is near impossible not to think about land as central to heritage. It tells the story of the Makhasaneni community in KwaZulu-Natal fighting against mining corporations and traditional leaders for the land where their foremothers and forefathers are buried. The film is an important contribution to a conversation on land that rarely focuses on state-owned land or land under the custodianship of traditional leaders.
As the acclaimed novelist, Zakes Mda said in this interview with John Perlman, “Land is life. It is not only important to those who are farmers, it is an emotional issue, it is a moral issue…it is an ethical issue”. If the land is life and our heritage is essentially about who we are then the two cannot be separated. Celebrations of our cultural heritage through our beads, doeks and calamine clad faces are inextricably linked to the land.
At a screening and discussion of the film, Thethani presenters, Portia Kobue and Khaya Sithole ask, “Whose Heritage is This Land”? To join in the conversation, see the invite below.
Learn more about This Land here.