My name is Jo-Andri Shereldine Antonie, and I come from the small town of Calitzdorp in the Western Cape. As the youngest ambassador for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, I am deeply involved with the youth in my community, teaching them the Ikhaba râ, also known as the Rieldans. This indigenous dance holds great significance for me as it connects us to our Khoi and San ancestors. Despite the challenges we face as a community, the Rieldans is a unique aspect of our heritage that I am determined to preserve.
During the Conference on Identity and Belonging held in Cape Town, two questions resonated with me: Who belongs? Who does not belong? We all yearn for a sense of belonging and the opportunity to share our identities with others. Belonging is an essential emotional need, driving us to seek affiliation and acceptance from those around us. In our community, I often witness young people who feel disconnected at home and seek belonging in unhealthy environments, such as with those involved in substance abuse.
Identity and belonging are vital components of social capital, encompassing both structural and cognitive dimensions. A shared identity fosters various aspects of social capital and has far-reaching implications. It aligns individuals with common goals and strengthens their obligations to the group or community. People identify with different social groups based on family, education, gender, religion, and even sports. Social psychology has long recognised the significance of social identity. The development of identity and a sense of belonging within a social group requires a commitment to the group’s objectives and values. To identify with a group, one must accept its norms and values, as well as the behaviors exhibited by its members. Unfortunately, in some cases, this can lead to unethical actions, such as theft or other misconduct, where individuals feel compelled to conform to the group’s expectations.
This brings me back to the questions posed at the conference. I believe that we all belong because fostering a sense of belonging and identity is crucial. The social connections that accompany a sense of belonging act as protective factors, helping us manage stress and behavioral issues. When we feel supported and connected, we become more resilient, better equipped to navigate the challenges life throws at us. In our community of Calitzdorp, preserving our cultural heritage and promoting a sense of belonging can have a profound impact on the lives of our youth. By nurturing their connection to their roots and providing platforms for cultural expression, we can help them develop a positive identity and find a sense of belonging within their community. It is through initiatives like the Rieldans that we can provide our young people with a source of pride and a channel for their creative energy.
Together, let us celebrate our shared heritage, embrace our identities, and ensure that the dance of our ancestors continues to thrive in our community. By doing so, we can empower the next generation, instilling in them a strong sense of belonging and a deep appreciation for their cultural roots.
Jo-Andri Shereldine Antonie; IJR ambassador – Sustained Dialogues Programme