Home » The Day I “discovered” my South African Culture

The Day I “discovered” my South African Culture

I live in Australia and over the past two weeks I heard and read two unrelated comments, but during the last day or so, they became quite related. The first was a comment directed at myself. I took my son to his sport and drama class and had a conversation with one of the facilitators. […]

I live in Australia and over the past two weeks I heard and read two unrelated comments, but during the last day or so, they became quite related.

Venters Trailer
A Venters Trailer (as mentioned in the article) – one of those prized possessions for some South Africans living in Australia. Photo: Albert Louw

The first was a comment directed at myself. I took my son to his sport and drama class and had a conversation with one of the facilitators. I explained to her how I think each one of us has a divine calling and I mentioned that I felt mine was being an interpreter and my husband’s was a networker.

I told her how I think my beloved is one of the few people I know who is not ego driven. It was then that she said something that actually took a week for the penny to drop.

She said, “That is very strange for your culture.”

And I thought she meant it is very strange for a man to not be ego driven. She made the comment about my culture once or twice thereafter but it did not really hit home until my husband and I were talking about comments people made at his work.

He told me how the general assumption is that the (Afrikaans speaking) South African people are very opinionated and love to hear themselves talk. He said that during a training session it was actually said in as many words, “Ah, there are three South African blokes, so we are not going to get a word in.” The trainees were surprised when two of the South African attendees were in fact very quiet and not talkative at all.

I have never thought of myself as having a culture. I have always felt that it was the “privilege” of the African South Africans. But the more I talked to him about it, the more I thought, “Damn this, I am an African. I am not yet an Australian, not an American, not a Russian, I was born in Africa. I am an African, and I have a culture!”

So what is the culture that I have? One of diversity I would say.

I come from a country where some women talk loudly to one another as proof that they are not gossiping. This country was the birth place of the vuvuzela which has its own unique and irritating drone. It is the place where rugby is a cult celebrated by the masses, where we bring and braai and we love ‘pap en marog’. Rooibos tea is the replacement for milk in a baby’s diet and dunking rusks is a breakfast, morning tea and supper snack. We grew up on biltong, droëwors and koeksisters!

And when you can forget about the government – which still needs to understand what it means to govern fairly and justly for the people – you will see a culture that will make you proud of being who you are.

The culture of the people is one of working hard. From the domestic worker who clocks in before the “madame” goes to work, the gardener who breaks his back for maybe R100 per day. You will see highways full of men and women who leave their homes just after five to travel 30 kilometres, (which will take them an hour) to get to work, so that they can provide for their families.

The South African culture is a culture of entrepreneurs. From the lady with her toddler on her back frying vetkoekies on the street corner to the man who built the Venter sleepwaentjie.

We know a lot and we know how to do a lot. Others who do not know us may think that we are tall poppies. No, sir, we are not poppies, ‘ons is manne’ and if you give us some of your time we will show you how to do the ‘leeuloop’!

We are African and we are loud. But if you need it, we will give you the shirt off our backs.

We will be your friend through thick and thin, if you will take the time to see past the loudness and the opinionated exterior. Around our ‘braaivleisvure’ we will listen to your life’s problems and will become involved in your life as well.

Our culture is one where Father, Son and Holy Ghost are front and centre in the majorities’ lives. We are all on a journey and discovering so much about ourselves daily. And we are willing to sacrifice for those we love.

We are willing to move countries if we perceive that it will benefit those who have to follow our footsteps. Yes, we are movers!

Which brings me to the comment I read on Facebook.

A lady asked why it is that the South Africans prefer South African doctors. And a comment was, “You are in this country now, cope with it and adapt.” I want to humbly submit, “Yes, I am in Australia. We have adapted. I have had doctors from India, Zimbabwe, Australia and only God knows where else. You are missing the point.”

The point is that when we submitted our visa applications, the fact that I could speak more than one language added points to our application. Afrikaans counted for something.

This country which is now my home welcomed us because of who they are.

They are a diverse country. A country where you are allowed your culture as long as you are on Team Australia. (Even if you are against Team Australia they will respect you.) They do not say choose an Aussie doctor or else. They do not say choose an Aussie plumber, dentist or whatever else you want to use. They say – here you have a choice and you can be relatively assured that whoever you choose is educated according to our standards so you should be ok with whichever person you choose.

If I know that a business is owned and operated by a South African why should I not support him? I know that they are hard workers, they are contributing to the economy, and if we support each other we will partake in the success of our fellow South Africans.

It does not matter why you decided to come to Australia. It does not matter if you are angry at South Africa, if you are sad because you felt you had no alternative but to leave. We are here now and all of us are doing our best to adapt and become part of this incredible country.

If I can sit in a coffee shop and listen to Bok van Blerk while I have my coffee and I am surrounded by people from Australia, Russia, England and wherever else, then why not?

I want a South African doctor (sometimes) because I can do that if I want to. I will be happy with an Australian, Chinese, Vietnamese or even Ugandan doctor. The point is that I have a choice and this is still a free country where you can make that choice count.

So from me – I am an African, and sometimes I am loud. That is my culture. I now have a culture, for the first time in my almost 40 years on this earth.