The Heritage Day Bonkby Brandon Edmonds / 06.10.2009
So you know Heritage Day. Big whoop. A chance for every venal talking head with a constituency to rattle the ‘race’ cage (whites didn’t support Caster enough and why oh why can’t we all just get along) or toot that horn of plenty about how lucky we are to be here (ancient fossil records, the cradle of civilization, that miraculous democratic transition) or go all mystic pizza on us about how we’re a multi-everything wonder of diversity (oh so many languages and cultures). Whatever. Heritage day is just a softer, smarter re-packaging of bare naked nationalism, which, since the 20th Century, that ghastly temporal span of unprecedented bloodletting in the name of flags, has a certain unlikeable fascist thing about it. Nationalism needed a new look. A stronger brand. It was losing market share given the nation-erasing effect of rampant globalism. Corporate capital could give a shit about nationalism or ‘unique national characteristics’ as long as local union bosses are on the payroll, foreign governments don’t insist too much on profit being tied by law to social programs, and the far flung workforce doesn’t get uppity ideas about a living wage or medical benefits.
So Heritage day. A nice way of being a little bit fascist. Really all we need remember when it comes to anthems, hands over hearts and bogus rah-rah American triumphalism, “we’re the greatest, man, fuck all y’all!”, a noxious trait brilliantly deflated in the satire ‘Team America: World Police’ (2004), indeed all the varieties of bullshit aggregates that subsume individuals and pit people against each other, seldom in their own interests, are the famous lines from Marx & Engels’ abidingly powerful go-to-manual for a better world, the Communist Manifesto – “the working men have no country”. No, nor women neither. Sexist fucks.
Now you know how I feel as an over-read under-employed white dude about ‘our’ Heritage day. I’m sort of against it.
Two things happened over the Heritage day weekend that restored my faith in this place as a nation.
Two things happened that made me proud to be a South African.
The First Thing:
I’m watching one-day cricket feeling the way 50 overs makes you feel: bloated, distracted and disengaged (like a huge family meal) and decide, you know, why not get off the sofa and look out of the window. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to go jogging or call an old friend. Something, anything besides watching another ball being bowled. (I think the depleted saddening West Indian team was playing). So I get up and that’s when I notice the Toyota Cressida parked in the leafy, quiet mid-afternoon cul de sac I’m lucky enough to live on. It’s a thoroughly used student ride sporting tell-tale drunk-driving dents and scrapes, giving it the battered dignity of an old boxer, with lurid reflective sun guards in the windscreen making the interior look under-water. This reads as if I was staring but really I just took all this in at a glance. That’s when a dude in Hawaiian print board shorts got out the front and got in the back. Hello. I feel the dreamy voyeuristic allure of James Stewart in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”. What’s going on back there?
But nothing happens. I stare. Nothing. All is quiet on the back seat. Just two people talking. So, ho hum, back to the cricket. Lulled again. Then the moaning begins. Blissful blurts of pleasure. Followed by long siren like drones of ecstasy. This is bird & bee music. The unmistakeable sonics of boink-ing. Yup. Sticking out of the half-open back seat window is a leg. A slender undergraduate leg. Bumping up and down to that age old beat.
A leg with painted toes and fine ankles. A lovely leg. Somebody’s daughter’s leg. Somebody’s sister’s. Alfresco mid-afternoon sex in a parked Toyota Cressida on the Heritage day weekend. It was beautiful. I was emotional. Jealous and pleased and roused and maddened by the music. She was loving it. Hot young sex. Board short guy was some kind of dynamo. Had he taken a course or was he just born with mastery or had he practiced in countless other cul de sacs to the point where he could bone like Benny Goodman could blow. She was loud enough to make birds scatter from the trees. The whole car was shuddering. It was incredible. I never did see them drive away. Though her apparent climax was Wagnerian. A trilling crescendo of whoops and hollers. Then those delicious shallow breath declensions after exertion. I got a call soon after and left. But here’s to them. What got me going, in a Heritage day kind of way, was that the slender leg was white and board shorts was black. Not even thirty years ago people were jailed for less.
The Second Thing:
A day later I’m back before the box, sue me I’m lazy and depressed, and its Saturday. I’m toying with the new Johnny Depp movie, heard its empty and overlong, or a trip to the video store, something borderline inane with Anna Faris or something difficult from Iran, when the channel trawling coughs up stone cold wonderment! The SA Schools Choral Eisteddfod. It is the viewing peak of my year. Here was our youth, much maligned, much burdened, much misunderstood, not, for once, slashing out with Japanese swords or doing the maths teacher, no, here they were, at their best, singing. Really singing. There’s something about massed voices. Singing in unison. Especially when its done this well. It helped that I couldn’t understand a word. Actually made the choral quality, the shared sound, stand out more. There were costumes and dance routines. Wonderful costumes. Bead work and bones. Calf skin and leopard print vests. Ankle shakers and head dress. Bare breasts. There were convincing free flowing routines. Couples would parody a charleston then fling apart and stomp their feet. It was ebullient and life-affirming. The songs were soaring chants that dropped into a quiet-loud Pixies dynamic then soared again. There were intricate call and response patterns. There were solo voices threaded in. The songs were entrancing. Extended, repeated melody lines buckled under the onrush of the collective chorus. Joyous and booming harmonies raced and swelled. It was overwhelming. You could hear experience in the songs. The experience of working down mines and herding cattle and dragging tired asses to the faraway city. The relief of home and family. You could hear tradition and community. The power of these things in people’s lives. You could hear the youth in these voices. Curiosity and shyness, new strength and confidence being born. It was miraculous.
Here was true heritage. Young minds re-working old ideas. People joining together to make beauty happen. These choirs, in these songs, are the sheer embodiment of any useful national, shared, collective stuff likely to help us discover how to be with each other. They are guides to living.
The future, our miraculous youth choirs tell us, is there to be claimed, to be made by people working together.
In tears, I turned off the TV and went for a walk outside.