Celebrating Diversity, Influencing Change

In celebration of Heritage Month, we asked Kubeshini Govender, Chief Education Specialist at the Western Cape Education Department and Spirit Education Foundation Trustee, about her heritage and what being South African means to her.  

How would you describe your heritage? 

My roots find themselves in the country of ancient history, spices, colour, yoga, meditation. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and the world religion of Hinduism. My great-grandfather left the shores of India for better prospects in South Africa in 1860. He was one of the first recruits of the Indentured Labour System. He began as a cane-cutter and eventually progressed into becoming a market gardener. He farmed in the north coast of Verulam, together with his strong-willed wife. I am the fourth generation child – My late Dad was his grandson. My parents were the first in their families to marry for love – until their union, marriages were arranged. I, together with my two siblings, are children of love choices.

Coursing though my veins are the values of love, hard work, diligence, striving for excellence, humanity, compassion, a sense of community and elevating the marginalised.  My parents instilled in us the precious value of education, empowerment and building social cohesion.

What aspects of your heritage make you proud?

I am proud to be a South African Indian, of the Hindu Faith – a religion that is more a way of life rather than being prescriptive and dogmatic. Its philosophy is inclusionary and all-embracing. Food is a big part of our lives- as a wife and mother, I enjoy expressing my love through my cooking and hospitality. The spices are reflective of the many faceted dimensions of my culture. Community engagement, building others and being a bridge -builder is what I am proud of and enjoy. The rich diversity in terms of religious observations, celebrations of festivals and our colourful gatherings always brings a smile to my heart!

How do you express your heritage, culture and traditions in your daily life and within your family?

We are a spiritual family – the mother is at the heart of this. I am Laxmi – the light of the home. I am like her, many-handed, depicted as multitasking and the shining light of the family. We observe our religious days with reverence and in prayer, holding satsangs and invite people to share our meals. We wear our traditional sarees, salwar Khameez, and Kutrha suits with pride. Our red laxmi strings are proudly displayed on our hands, illustrating our South Indian Traditions. We also wear a three coloured red, white and green string to offer obeisance to Mother Sarasvathi, the patron deity of EDUCATION. We believe in the adage: ‘MAATHA, PITHA, GURU DEIVAM’ Your parents are first Gods – they gave you life, then your teachers – they give you education. Finally, if you can see the Gods – like qualities in these important individuals, you will be able to worship God.

What does diversity mean to you?

It is about acknowledging and appreciating difference and the richness it provides – it is about being inclusionary, irrespective of difference. Diversity is the ability to co-exist while affirming the otherness of people who are different to us.

What does being South African mean to you?

I am proud to be a daughter of this soil, rich in in its diversity – multicultural, multilingual South Africa with all of its challenges as a young 25 year old democracy is a country alive with possibility. With one of the best constitutions in the world based on a human rights culture, we lead the world in diversity policies and frameworks. Our challenges lie in praxis. This is the country that gave us the iconic Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, and Tata Nelson Mandela, the greatest repesentation of forgiveness and togetherness. Of course MIRIAM MAKEBA, HUGH MASEKELA, BRENDA FASSIE, Johnny Clegg, and other great musicians have also put us on the map, It means loving who we are, what we have in terms of resources – natural, physical and human, and harnessing this to become a global player from the bottom of Africa. 

A message for our youth

Continue to influence change from where you are. Choose to be a people builder, encourage conversations around civic responsibility and accountability. Attempt to make people aware of the need to build community. Volunteer, perform acts of kindness without expectation of reward, do random deeds of good, join organisations committed to improving the lives of others, be a voice for the marginalized, stand up and be counted!! Say yes to a better life for all South Africans and its refugee peoples. Youth need to be active citizens for a better South Africa for all!!