On the 24th September, Heritage Day in South Africa, I got a rather pleasant surprise when SA’s leading online food delivery service Mr D Food, sent me a DNA ancestry kit along with my lunch order. It was part of an exciting campaign highlighting the fact that most South African’s have a beautifully diverse DNA, but also a reminder that we both celebrate and honour our heritage through the food we eat. We are proudly 100% South African – but with a little more under the skin. This week I received my results and here is the summary:
- Fennoscandia 18.6%
- Southern France 15.7%
- Orkney Islands 13.7%
- Sardinia 11.2%
- Tuva 10.8%
- Western Siberia 9.1%
- Southeastern India 7.1%
- Basque Country 3.5%
- Northwestern Africa 3%
- Central America 2.9%
- The Southern Levant 2.8%
- Northern India 1%
- West Africa 0.5%
I’ve been incredibly struck reading the detailed report that came along with my results; seeing some of what I knew confirmed, but also some genetic curveballs.
We All Have a Story
As a result of some of South Africa’s dark history, living in the country as a white South African can be a complex paradox with many layers. The concept of heritage and ancestry have spurned much thought and conversation. As I’ve reflected more recently on the subject, I’ve been reminded by two incidents from the past years.
The first was on a train during the FIFA World Cup, in Johannesburg, July 2010. I had boarded a bus traveling to the newly built FNB station for the Brazil vs Ghana game. I was new to JHB and the route to the stadium took me through a part of Joburg I’d never been to. At one point I asked the man standing next to me, who was of Indian descent, which part of the city this was. It was a suburb called Mayfair, and he proceeded to tell me a little about the area, and unfortunately ending by commenting rather angrily that my ‘ancestors’ had forced his to leave the area decades ago. I knew it was neither the correct time nor place to engage with him, so I simply kept quiet, but for a long time his words simmered under the surface.
The second incident took place in a Cape Town hotel where I had met a friend for High Tea, and were afterwards enjoying a wine tasting at the hotel. I had befriended a young Indian couple from London who were in Cape Town on honeymoon. The conversation had been rather enjoyable until a rather inebriated older Indian gentleman burst into the conversation, his brazen bravado I think fuelled by both the alcohol, and the young bride’s beauty. After some rather garish conversation the topic was quickly moved to history where he proceeded to lecture the patient foreigners on what my ancestors did to his in South Africa. Again I realised this wasn’t the place to engage further, and to both my and the newlywed’s relief the hotel management came along and ushered him along elsewhere, as his words and behaviour became increasingly a problem to those around.
Much with the first incident, this also held my thoughts captive for some time, leading me to think more closely about what they had said. Yes, in my family’s history there have doubtlessly been examples of racism and both direct and indirect support of a frightfully unjust prevailing political system. With this complicity acknowledged, it is however not the entire story. What both these gentleman didn’t know, was that my ancestors were of a rather different decadency to that which they had possibly presumed.
On my father’s side, my great grandfather was a Jewish man who had along with other children at the age of 10 (one of whom would later become his wife), been smuggled out of Lithuania, and managed to escape to South Africa. Lithuania was a Soviet bloc country that was annexed by Russian invasions at the turn of the 19th century, and was unfortunately accompanied by a series of Jewish pogroms. My great grandfather and mother escaped persecution, and years later met in East London, and were the first Jewish couple to marry and settle in the area.
Hopefully it was my politeness and respect for their stories, that prevented me giving any for of inciting, sarcastic or defensive responses to the two gentleman in the stories above. Next time a similar conversation arises, I’ll now be equipped with a little more information about my story.
Henry Wadsworth was quoted in the iconic South African novel The Commissioner: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility”. I couldn’t help but recall his words and in this context, the poignancy of them – and not only for one’s enemies – but simply anyone who is different to them. The author’s intention is not to dismiss the unjust actions of others, but rather the reminder that we all have a history, and sometimes the brave, arrogant or naïve façades hides more than we think.
I’m thankful to MR D Food for the chance to look a little deeper into my DNA. As a travel journalist, the findings have not surprisingly given me much food for thought, and I’ve already started planning some trips to some of the locations that have biologically shaped who I am today.
Make A Meal Of My Heritage
The good news, is that thanks to Mr D Food, until the 31 Dec you can get a whopping R162 discount on your purchases with the promo code ‘JARED2019’. It’s R100 + R62 to match my DNA being 62% European. Download the APP or shop online and happy eating my heritage! Note code capped to 5 uses.