Diversity is what makes South Africa one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With 11 official languages, each culture embraces the essence of what it means to be an African through food, music, dance and fashion..
Heritage Day was originally known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of King Shaka Zulu. In 1996, during an address marking Heritage Day, former President Nelson Mandela said:
“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
Heritage Day is celebrated on the 24th of September and it recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of South Africa. South Africans celebrate the day by remembering the cultural heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa. Various events are staged throughout the country to commemorate this day.
This Heritage Month, we take a look at some of the traditional clothing worn by South Africans.
For Xhosa women, the most common traditional wear is umbhaco. It is a long skirt and apron made from printed or embroidered fabrics. The Xhosa attire includes beaded necklaces, called ithumbu.
Worn by married women as a sign of respect to one’s husband and his family, isicholo is a flared disk-shaped hat. This hat is accompanied by a thick, cowhide skirt which has been softened with animal fat and charcoal, called isidwaba.
Men wear a front apron, known as an isinene, and a rear apron, ibheshu, to cover the genitals and buttocks
This culture is big on colours and beads. Worn by married women, idzila is an accessory placed around the neck, arms, and legs. Their colourful blanket, umbalo, is also for married women. And then there is the signature beaded headband known as amacubi.
The main item of clothing for men is an iporiyana. Decorated with beads, it hangs on the neck. They also wear animal skin called karos to keep warm.
The Vavenda wear munwenda, a multi-coloured striped cloth that comes in two pieces – a top and a bottom. It is paired with beads such as lutomola tsie, mapala, tshithivho vivho, zwifudzi, magidipho, and makunda. They also have musisi, a skirt-like garment made from the munwenda material.
The most iconic clothing item in the Xitsonga culture is xibelani. It is a knee-length skirt typically worn by Xitsonga women. It is made from a bolt of cloth, a fabric called salempur, about 18m long. They also have a top called a yele that they wear with a tightly fitting T-shirt.
The Swati culture is complex as their clothing style varies according to age and gender. Some items are reserved for specific ceremonies, such as the incwala or the umhlanga (reed dance).
However, married women wear skin aprons and skin skirts. They also have another apron they wear under the armpits; after the birth of their first child they put the same apron over one shoulder and style their hair in a bun. Married men wear loin skins.
Tswana women wear an apron called a khiba, with a skirt called a mosese. Men wear a kaross, a blanket made from animal skin, to cover up.
They wear a traditional Basotho dress called the seshoeshoe. However, a statement piece is the Basotho blanket, worn by both men and women over the shoulders.
VISIT HERITAGE SITES IN SOUTH AFRICA
Did you know South Africa is home to nine world heritage sites and many more national heritage sites? A heritage site is categorised as a place with cultural and historical importance. The World Heritage Sites are:
- Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa in Sterkfontein
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in Limpopo
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in Northern Cape
- Robben Island in Western Cape
- Cape Floral Region Protected Areas in the Western and Eastern Cape
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal
- Vredefort Dome in the Free State
- uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho
- Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga
South Africa’s nine World Heritage Sites offer a diversity and abundance of cultural and natural values that encapsulate the value systems of the country.
Heritage Day is a public holiday in South Africa.