I’ve come to learn one critical thing about identity, and that is if you don’t know who you are, you are in a dangerous place as someone else will define you.
Knowing your identity is true wisdom because from that knowledge, you will be aware of your core values, beliefs and priorities, and well aware of your dreams, strengths, weaknesses, tolerances and limitations.
As a nation, we have many things to be thankful for as much as we have many things yet to make progress on. As the generation of modern day South Africa, we remain thankful to the previous generation of freedom fighters, the brave men and women who risked their lives in the fight for democracy and equal rights for all. We appreciate the fact that we are able to determine our own destinies without being tied down by the shackles of apartheid.
But as the modern day generation, do we have an acute understanding of who we are as South Africans, or are we just going through the motions of the day, merely trying to survive?
Our society is one of many ironies as much as it is culturally diverse. A woman, with her child strapped to her back, walks from car to car at a busy intersection in Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, begging so that she can make enough money for the day to feed herself and her child. Mansions adorn the cliffs of Clifton in Cape Town, resembling privilege and wealth, while a few kilometres away, townships brim over with tiny houses and overcrowding, resembling not only apartheid town planning, but also the effects of poverty and exclusion from wealth.
One would still get many glances for walking hand-in-hand with a partner of another race, but met with interest when it is discovered that they are of multi-racial descent. This country is a place where you are able to speak a multitude of languages, and where you are exposed to many cultures with their different beliefs and values.
Our vast cultural diversity is enriching, and we’ve learned to appreciate and celebrate it. The multifaceted nature of our country is what makes us so interesting and vibrant as a people. It was once used a weapon to divide us, and provided reason for the enrichment of some and at the same time, impoverishment of others. But we now choose to move past this, celebrating our differences, seeing each other firstly as human beings while remaining tolerant and respectful towards each other.
Our rich diversity hasn’t gone unchallenged. Unfortunately, the ugly beast that is racism still rears its head in our society, challenging the very value of unity in our diversity. But still, we press on to instill the fact that our cultural differences are part of the human experience and not cause for division.
We ought to be a nation filled with pride for our rich history and the strides we’ve made in human progress. Our land housed one of the first great southern African kingdoms, the Mapungubwe Kingdom which was shared with Botswana and Zimbabwe. South Africa was home to the San people who played an important role in the history of the country, and it was home to great monarchs such Shaka Zulu and Moshoeshoe, whose influences are still felt today.
The fact that we survived hardships spanning from apartheid to droughts show that we are a resilient people. And the fact that we are still standing today in the midst of economic difficultly, in the midst of chaos caused by corrupt minds who choose self-interest over good governance or those who would choose to end a life over a mere cellphone, means that we are truly resilient.
With resilience comes hope and the conviction to do what is right at whatever cost. That is why you would see student leaders speak out for the access to education, or employees fight for better wages. That is why you would see members of the community roll up their sleeves to work towards building communities they can be proud of. We use what we have to create the change we want in our communities.
We band together when times for social change call for it, and how I wish that this same attitude of unity could be extended to our fellow Africans, with whom we co-exist on this continent yet treat with disrespect and disregard. We should be a nation that never ceases to assist those seeking refuge and better opportunities for themselves and their families, especially if those are our fellow African brothers and sisters, who supported us through tough times and celebrated our victories with us. We are already a hospitable nation, welcoming those seeking to enjoy the beauty of our country, so let us strive to strengthen the value of ubuntu, treating everyone with dignity and respect.
South Africa will only flourish if each citizen takes their place in making it a better country. Be it loving your family and treating your neighbor with respect, choosing honesty over corruption and exercising your right to vote, the health of our society and our nation is our responsibility.
And this takes citizens knowing who they are as a collective, because from this knowledge of our identity, we will continue to find our purpose, fully realizing our strengths and limitations.
*image from Sienna17.