South African Youth - Embracing Culture When its Convenient

The way of life of a specific group of people can be seen in ways of behaving, beliefs, values, customs followed, dress style, personal adornment like makeup and Jewellery; relationships with others and special symbols & codes. It is passed on from one generation to the next. It is not static but always changing as each generation contributes its experience of the world and discards things that are no longer useful to them – This is the definition of culture according to

A number of things stand out when I think of South Africa and it's culture, our languages, our music and our love for sports. Appreciating how Sotho people introduced wearing a blanket over their shoulders as part of their culture (although this was initially presented to the then King, King Moshoeshoe I in 1860 by a man by the name of Mr. Howel). The King was utterly impressed by this and wore the blanket in preference to his traditional leopard skin karosses. Xhosa people for believing a man needs to be welcomed into manhood by taking him to the mountains and giving him life lessons, Venda people for teaching their tribe that a woman needs to honour her husband by bowing down when serving him food, Zulu and Swati people for encouraging young girls to save themselves for adulthood and celebrating these events through “umemulo”, Ndebele people for their artwork and beautiful jewellery and Tswana people for believing that keeping cattle is a source of status and wealth.

Image: Andrew Putter

Richard Ndlovu (26), Creative Director from Alexandra in Johannesburg confessed that he doesn't know what his culture is to the core and he doesn't practice what he's never questioned. He further mentioned that people are born into a certain level of culture and beliefs because they give belonging and identity and it's the decisions that are made through our cultures that influence us.

These are not the same sentiments that Arthur Bwanakawa (25), Sports Anchor who also grew up in Johannesburg shared. Growing up, he wasn't exposed much to his culture, DRC bred, Christian raised, he is living an ordinary Christian life. Back at home in DRC a man is expected to be out on his own and starting a life just at the age of 19. He leaves home and then pursues to helping improve the village. This he adds, teaches & improves independence from their culture.

I look at both these gentlemen and I see common ground. Both are not knowledgeable about their culture though both are aware that this is a system created by their elders to bring about order.

This has made me question if lack of knowledge is the reason why South African youth are not involved much with their cultures? Is that why we choose what we want to pursue & what we would like to omit? The topic of ancestors for instance, brings about a lot of agony. Ancestral worship and belief is an extension of a belief in and respect for elders. Moreover, followers of traditional African religion believe that ancestors maintain a spiritual connection with their living relatives.

“Most ancestral spirits are generally good and kind. For instance, the negative actions that can be taken by ancestral spirits are minor illnesses to warn people that they have gotten onto the wrong path. To please unhappy ancestors, usually offerings of beer and meat are made.” This is part of a ritual - a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially, as part of a ceremony,as stated by the Cambridge dictionary.

Festivities which are big in our African culture include the making of beer which dates back thousands of years and has been an integral part of social and cultural life for just as long. In South Africa, traditional beer is made with sorghum and is known as umqombothi in Xhosa. Once the beer-making process is complete, the final product is poured into a large calabash or ukhamba and shared communally. Women are respected in the village if they are given praise by the men who finish their beer. The social and cultural associations of umqombothi are powerful, and the drink features prominently at weddings, funerals, rites of passage, and at various official meetings. It also plays a crucial role in communing with the ancestors and, prior to drinking; some beer is always spilt on the ground so that the ancestors don’t go thirsty. I have childhood memories of these experiences, having the women in my family prepare meals for us – the men in our family and the community. They would spend endless hours making sure that the beer was ready for the feast that was to take place, feasts celebrating a special event or a loss.

My deepest desire is to have our nation rich in its teachings; to have young people equipped with the knowledge the origins of our African culture. To not lose our identity in an attempt to look modern or Western. To educate ourselves and although many choose to not practice their culture, may we be well-informed about it so as to teach future generations about it. May we speak about African history in our daily conversations, in the way we walk and overall interactions, to own it and recreate it to best suit us – the current generation. May we challenge what we don't agree with, question the things that we don't understand and like our forefathers, seek understanding & pride ourselves in the culture of the African people.


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