Jesmane Boggenpoel. Picture: Instagram
Jesmane Boggenpoel. Picture: Instagram

How does one deal with the demons of the past?

By Orielle Berry Time of article published May 20, 2019

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My Blood Divides and Unites
Jesmane Boggenpoel
Porcupine Press

How does one deal with the demons of the past? For Jesmane Boggenpoel the  dem ons are not those she created but  those set out by the evils of apartheid under which she grew up. 

Her book, part memoir , part catharsis a nd part motivational goes a long way in helping  readers to heal ,  however they  individually bore the brunt of apartheid - either through being classified as the  "wrong " colo ur or through  default by virtue of being white  and feeling the collective guilt  of the oppressive minority.

It would be an understatement to say Boggenpoel is a professional A -lister. A chartered account ant , she has a master's degree from Harvard University's JFK  School of  Government, serves on a string of advisory business and social board s, was honoured as a  Young Global  Leader at the World Economic Forum, is former head of business engagement there; and is a Harvard Mason Fellow along with her many other achievements.

But Boggenpoel  had an inner struggle with her identity while growing up  and a struggle of an entirely different kind to prove who she wanted to be and get where she was in the face of imposed laws that made for an inferior education.

Born into poverty and apartheid imposed third-class status, the young Jesmane may have been top of her class and showed a lot of promise but she was plagued by strong feelings of self-doubt, of inferiority and shame. 

Even after shining academically, she writes how she wrestled emotionally and intellectually with those internal conflicts and contradictions originating from her past. 

In the first pages of her book, Boggenpoel delves into her heritage: "I always knew my ilk: Jesmane Boggenpoel a Coloured girl growing up in Westbury, a Coloured township (in Johannesburg) notorious for gangsterism and drugs", she writes, using a capital C for defining her race.

While she is aware of part of her ancestry - both her parents coloured, her mother's father half Welsh and her mother's grandmother half German and half from St Helena, for Boggenpoel identity and heritage are key to unlocking the past and in so doing, generating a pride in whom one is and also building bridges through those differences and commonality.
''While I dearly loved and appreciated my family and community, when looking back into our history, I could not help but see the shame of being an illegitimate group and not truly knowing who we were - the narrative crafted by apartheid," she writes.

So after years of pondering her mixed and fascinating heritage which also reveals strands of other family trees, Boggenpoel had her DNA tested in 2016 through an overseas company called 23andMe and, about 11 weeks later, the results come back. She discovered she was 38.4 percent European;  28.6 percent sub-Saharan African with "a rather large dollop" (6.2 percent) Ashkenazi Jewish,  a quarter South Asian and 6.9 percent East Asian.

For many this information would be folded away and shelved but for Boggenpoel it becomes a "treasure" in making her feel more connected with herself . She writes: "I felt a sense of wholeness and was more at peace than ever because I finally knew what my makeup was".

With a poignant and at times searing honesty, Boggenpoel pens some bittersweet memories. A close and loving family but with a past that had its many moments of struggle and enduring deep hardships. One particular memory shows her mother's love and pride. She writes of how she would walk her and her twin sister to school 40 minutes away from where they lived. Leaving her girls bedraggled and soaked early one morning  at the entrance to the school after a downpour, her devoted mother runs back to the house and returns with dry clothes so that they can look neat and tidy for school....

A wall her grandfather built around their modest house becomes a symbol of faith and security and family love "It was strong and beautiful enough to create an inner space where the love and support of family was showered upon us. Within the confines of the wall, there was always affection and hope," she writes.

Hope and and a strong sense of determination despite the curve balls that were thrown at her both at unviersity and in the workplace lead to a woman of extraordinary endurance, passion for her work and a passion for inspiring others thought the connective tissue of organisations she's involved in.

Boggenpoel is not only an ardent businesswoman but an adventurer and has travelled all over the world and in so doing meets people who have had their own demons to fight and discover their own identities.  

In this worthy book she shows how she has been able to set new boundaries and create "new narratives" for all to live.  With painstakingly well-done research she uses examples and quotes of the many people she has met along the way to tell their stories in order to heal and allow for acceptance and that all-important word inclusion...

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