Cape Town - Regina December is one of the oldest surviving matriarchs of the December clan. She lives in De Doorns, where she used to work on the farms with her husband after they migrated from the Eastern Cape.
Her grandchildren, Natasha and Matthew, have pieced together their past. Natasha and her siblings were raised by Regina, because their mother was always at work.
“She would always be strict that you don’t wake up in the morning and go around with your pyjamas, you must first take a bath before eating breakfast. She believes that a person can’t go through the whole day without eating breakfast,” said Natasha.
Matthew told the story of how his grandparents met and came to live in De Doorns.
“My great-great-grandfather was originally from the Eastern Cape, in Lady Frere close to Queenstown,” said Matthew. “His name actually was December. Because the women could not call him by name, they started kind of euphemising it, so the other side of the family you’ll see their names are Desemele.”
His grandfather’s generation started using December as a surname.
“Then they moved to Steynsburg and that’s where you’ll find the most Decembers,” Matthew said.
His grandmother was also from the Eastern Cape.
“My grandfather used to be a truck driver and my granny used to work in a hotel,” Matthew said. “That’s where they met and then together they moved to De Doorns where they worked on the farm together until my grandfather moved to Cape Town.”
Matthew said he learnt some general history about slaves in primary school.
“I went to a slave primary school in Somerset West,” he said. “There we used to do annual concerts where we would do the story of the Alabama, and things like that.”
But personal family links to slavery remain a mystery, thanks to poor record keeping.
“A lot of the children, for example the Decembers, if we had slave origins and slave great-great-grandparents I’m not sure we’d know that history,” Matthew said.His surname is a badge of honour for him.
“I see it as an honour, I don’t see it as anything to be ashamed of,” Matthew said. “I think everyone should be proud of their heritage.”
Even though the Decembers are spread out across the southern regions of South Africa, Natasha said the family has a tradition of all gathering once a year, in the month after which they were named.
“Usually in December we’ll go on a family vacation,” she said. “Maybe we’ll hold it in Cape Town, or Eastern Cape or here in De Doorns, wherever the family is. We decide each year where we are going to be having it.”
The family has a special ritual on Christmas Day
“Specifically on the 25th of December, since my grandfather was born on that day, we would together, as a family, make a lunch,” Natasha said.
Regina doesn’t speak much, but she summoned the energy to comment on the significance of the 12th month of the year for her family. “December month is very important for us,” she said.