How South Africans express their heritage in their daily style

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Heritage Day in South Africa is usually a day that full of celebrations for our heritage as South Africans. We speak to South Africans about how they express their heritage through their clothing.
While special occasions such as Heritage Day on 24 September are the perfect time for traditional dress to take centre stage, many South Africans celebrate their cultural heritage in their personal aesthetic every day. Here, a few local trendsetters share how their heritage has influenced their sense of style.

Sisanda Ntshinga

'Travelling to West Africa in the early 2000s opened my eyes to how other cultures wear what we deem traditional outfits daily.'
A content creator and voice over artist, Sisanda grew up in Langa and watched her mother celebrating their Xhosa culture regularly, and so considered it natural to include pieces of it in her dressing. But it was a trip to West Africa that really encouraged her to boldly wear traditional pieces.

'I can’t say I remember when I first incorporated culture into my style but travelling to West Africa in the early 2000s, when wearing prints was not yet considered fashionable, opened my eyes to how other cultures wear what we deem traditional outfits daily and don’t wait for traditional ceremonies or one day in the year to flaunt them. After that trip I became even more comfortable adding traditional pieces to my style. My favourite piece is a doek – it effortlessly ties everything together; and I never go anywhere without my beaded jewellery – which most would consider traditional – they add colour and personality to any outfit.' @sisanda

Lerato Mogoatlhe

'Just one glance at me, and you'll know the place of pride that Africa has in my life.'

Born and bred in Mabopane, Lerato Mogoatlhe is a writer, editor and author of Vagabond: Wandering through Africa on Faith, a travel memoir about how a three-month break in West Africa turned into her living around the continent for five years. These travels also inspired her African-print wardrobe; a celebration of her heritage as an African woman.

'Africa comes first to me and always will. Therefore, all my senses engage daily with the continent, from food and drinks to music, and especially my clothes – just one glance at me, and you'll know the place of pride that Africa has in my life; I want it to be visible through and through. I decided to wear only African print for several reasons. Firstly, it keeps me connected to my life and memories in West Africa. Secondly, I feel beautiful in African print – this is so important to me as a fat woman, to enjoy my body without abiding by anyone's rules of what makes a body beautiful or a wardrobe to die for.  It's also an affirmation of my belief that identity is a very individual experience so I never want to look like everyone else. It's also an affirmation of the creative force that is Africa, and a testimony of Africa being the beauty standard. How wonderful is it that I can lay claim to this heritage and celebrate it daily with my body?' @madamafrika

Devina Nair

'I love how the richness of my culture is mirrored in our clothing and fabrics – the colours and textures are just so vibrant!'
Growing up in her Hindu household in Cape Town, Devina Nair envied her mother’s stunning sarees and the style reflected in old Bollywood movies. Now, the 29-year-old doctor finds ways to work the colour of her cultural heritage into her constantly evolving style.

'Growing up, my culture was deeply rooted within me; it is inherently a part of who I am and therefore naturally influences my sense of style. I love how the richness of my culture is mirrored in the clothing and fabrics – the colours and textures are just so vibrant! My earliest memory of a beautiful woman is my mum in a saree; I couldn’t believe that what looked like a patterned sheet could become the most elegant of outfits, and my little self couldn’t wait to be part of the magic! As soon as I could, I started to incorporate aspects of my culture into my sense of style. Attending a school that celebrated diversity also encouraged me to wear my background proudly and I, quite literally, took every opportunity to do so, whether it was adding big silver jhumkas (earrings) and bangles to a T-shirt and jeans or wearing a dress with juttis (Indian-style pumps) and a bindi!'

Mabel Mnensa

'You can see my heritage in the celebration of colours and patterns I wear.'

Mabel grew up in Johannesburg and describes herself as coming from a line of nomads who have travelled between South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. As a result, the 35-year-old marketing manager relates to a number of different cultures.

'In Malawi, most women have an assortment of chitenje – African-print fabric. I don’t wear African print in the traditional sense but I’m drawn to intricate patterns and beautifully balanced colours like those found on chitenje material. You can see my heritage in the celebration of colours and patterns I wear, and my accessories from various Southern African cultures. Growing up during the golden era of hip-hop, it was all about the red, black and green (coincidentally the colours of the Malawian flag) and Afrocentric clothes. I got pulled into that but it was only at 17, when my parents moved to Ireland that I began to truly incorporate my very broad notion of heritage into my style. It felt important for me to keep that part of my identity alive and it was my rebellion against some of the Afro-pessimism I encountered.' @mabelthandi

Glenville Jantjies

'The way my mother and grandmother dressed to church events influenced my style in a big way.'

Twenty-six-year-old Glenville Jantjies hails from Steinkopf, Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. The occupational therapist developed his polished sense of style by observing his family and community, and adding a dash of his own magic.

'Church events were a big deal in my small Afrikaans hometown, and the way my mother and grandmother dressed to these greatly influenced how I dress. My style is a combination of feminine and traditional male bold pieces, and I can trace this back to my grandparents, and to me taking in red-carpet looks in Huisgenoot and watching fashion TV shows as a boy. Moving to Cape Town to study evolved my personal style; I learned from the coloured community and started incorporating my small-town taste with big-city style. I don’t have one go-to heritage inspired piece, but I have a checkered blazer I took from my granny that I absolutely love; it reminds me of my roots and where I come from.' @glenvillejj

Ndumiso Sibanda

'Dressing in African regalia is like dishing up a plate of African food, "it’s got soul"'

Filmmaker and entrepreneur Ndumiso Sibanda is originally from Zimbabwe, grew up in Cape Town and now calls Johannesburg home. His style draws from this background, as well as from the encounters he’s had with various Africans and African countries.

'Back in the day, my father had African cuisine restaurants and some of the most beautiful Africans would arrive and stand out visually just as much as they did in thought – the likes of the late Binyavanga Wainaina comes to mind. This is where I first witnessed true individuality. How I dress represents my mood and the way I relate to others, so dressing in African regalia is like dishing up a plate of African food, "it’s got soul". If I didn’t love my culture, heritage, and myself for that matter, I don’t think I would dress as beautifully as I do. I’m Zimbabwean, I have the national emblem tattooed on my wrist; it’s in the food I eat and the love I make. I’m also South African; it’s in how I was orientated into consciousness and in my creativity. Both backgrounds laid the foundation for the strong African man I am today. The opportunity to visit and work in 40 African countries has also contributed many layers.' @ndumisosibanda

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