Being an African makes me who I am

Who am I and where are my roots? This is a question that all of us ask at some point in our lives. It's a question that gives rise to another question: What makes me who I am?

Had someone asked me this several weeks ago, my answers would have been simple. I would have said that I am a South African coloured.

I would have said that my maternal grandparents were born in Durban but their grandparents came from St Helena. And that is as far as I am able to trace my maternal roots.

For my paternal lineage, I would have told people that, though I did not know much, I did know that my father's father is Cape Malay and his mother is a coloured woman from Durban. Once again, the knowledge of my family tree stops there.

This perception of my lineage, despite being limited, did not prepare me for what an analysis of my genetic ancestry would reveal.

I truly believed the DNA test was going to confirm my St Helena and Cape Malay lineage. I believed it was going to tell me that my ancestors had been brought to South Africa as slaves to build Cape Town.

This belief arose from my growing up knowing that I was once classified as coloured, while also being mistaken by Durbanites for an Indian because of my straight(ish) black hair.

So, when the DNA test results cameback, I wasn't surprised to learn that the Wits Origins Centre had been able to link my Y-chromosome (which is found only in males and indicates paternal lineage) to 48 identical matches worldwide.

I had 27 matches in Europe, including Greece, Germany and the Netherlands; four American matches; 14 Asian and three African. But that was the boring part.

According to my mitochondrial (mt) DNA, which is passed on from one's mother and can be traced back thousands of years, I am from the L1d haplogroup.

Although there were no identical matches in my mtDNA, my closest match differed at one position to individuals from South Africa and Mozambique.

Most surprisingly, I am very closely related to the Khoi and San people from southern Africa, with the L1d haplogroup found in the DNA of people such as Nelson Mandela, Patricia de Lille, Baby Jake Matlala and cricketer Paul Adams.

This means that we share the same ancestry.

Now that I know that Mandela, Patricia, Baby Jake, Gogga and I are distant relatives, does it change who I am and what I believe my heritage is? No.

I still believe I have St Helena and Cape Malay lineage, but what the genetic ancestry results did affirm is what I have always known: I am an African. And that makes me who I am.


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