issues could throw the British media into the frenzy created by
the pending royal wedding between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker
Bowles and the newly legislated ban on fox-hunting.
ostensibly separate issues, the debate on both has centred on the
same principle, namely that, in each case, national tradition is
under threat. The moral standards of the country will
crumble, cry some commentators, if an adulterous divorcee becomes
supreme governor of the Church of England, a position to be bestowed
upon Prince Charles when he becomes king. Fox-hunters too cry foul,
claiming that another great centuries-old tradition is being undermined.
But is tradition a good enough reason to retain the status quo?
And is tradition beyond change? For centuries, in Western culture,
it was traditional for women not to be educated and for universities
to be all-male institutions. Witch burning and female circumcision
are traditional practices still carried out in parts of Africa today.
Tradition hardly seems an appropriate reason to retain any of these
customs. Just because we have always done something does not make
it right. Such thinking implies certain practices have always been
there, or at least been around for a long time, and have not changed
since. This paints traditions as timeless, innate and static by
nature. Yet the most enduring traditions evolve in order to fit
the changing society in which they are practised, just as, in nature,
adaptation is often the key to their endurance. Both fox-hunters
and royal enthusiasts would do well to remember this before their
refusal to evolve renders their traditions extinct. While the ban
on fox-hunting and the latest royal wedding might signal the end
of something, they are also the start of something new. The reality
is that the tradition of fox-hunting has not been destroyed completely,
but has been overhauled. Fox-hunters can still ride out red-coated
on horseback, take part in drag hunts, exercise their dogs and even
shoot foxes if they want. The aspect of the tradition which has
been outlawed is the final tearing to pieces of the fox by hounds.
This might be precisely the change needed to make fox-hunting less
brutal and more acceptable and appealing to a wider cross-section
of the population. Equally, perhaps if the supreme governor of the
Church of England is an adulterous divorcee many who have had a
similar life experience may feel less estranged from the church
as a result and be more inclined to see it as relevant to them.
None of this is to say that traditions are not important. They have
value because they connect us to our past and give us a sense of
identity. But it is healthier to see traditions not as a stagnant
force in society, but as mirrors of positive change.
was not so long ago that some people said the old South African
flag would never die. As I watched England play cricket in South
Africa recently, stands awash with the new flag, I wondered if anyone
was seriously longing to see the old flag again. Perhaps someone
out there is, but the vast majority seemed proud to display the
new flag with its overtones of diversity and progress.
a new national flag has meant hope, not dissolution, for South Africa.
Banning fox-hunting with dogs and allowing a fallible divorcee to
hold an important spiritual office will not signal the end of all
that is British. To be honest, I am not that interested in fox-hunting
or the royals, but British society would do well to think of modernising
some enduring traditions to reflect the sensibilities of their time.
Perhaps seeing tradition in this way could, in itself, become a
new tradition that Britain can be as proud of as South Africans
are of our new flag.
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
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