South Africa is the best place to live. I can guarantee you of that. And one of the reasons I love it so much is the cultural diversity that exists in our everyday lives.
I am a 37 year old English-speaking white woman born in South Africa. I grew up in Johannesburg during the Apartheid era and my childhood was typical of that time. We had black domestic workers and gardeners. “Whites Only” signs were everywhere and black folk had to be back in their township before curfew. In those days, that was just the way things were.
Now I live in the New South Africa, where equality reigns. It has been a difficult period for the country but we are all making the effort to make it work. I now run a backpackers in Plettenberg Bay, Starling Village Backpackers, and have had the opportunity to assist in a township project that has changed me in every way.
The staff at our backpackers are truly multi-cultural: myself, my Afrikaans white husband, a Coloured and a black Xhosa speaker. We all grew up in the same country but have many differences that we enjoy discovering. We are frankly curious about each other’s values and behaviours.
An excellent example of this is how we address each other. In the Xhosa culture, one is addressed based on age: “Mama”(Mother) for an older woman and “Sisi” (sister) for someone around your own age. These are marks of respect in the Xhosa culture. Similarly, Afrikaans will dutifully address their elders as “Oom” (Uncle) or “Tannie” (Aunt). The Coloured culture shows their reverence by addressing someone by name, as in “Simon, would you like some coffee?”
Now English South Africans can have a very difficult time with this! To speak to someone as “Aunt” or “Uncle” is quite informal for our culture, whereas “Mr” or “Mrs” would be too official. So we are left to fumble somewhere in between lost in our own cultural collision.
My greatest joy is working with the children of Africa Dream in Quelweni. They are special children in great need of love, care and attention. Have a look at my next blog for more on our thoughts of culture and diversity.