‘I am nobody, or I am a nation’
The tendency to expunge coloured people from the history of resistance, and our claim on the land, is an old one, writes Michael Weeder.
One is born in one place only as I was in a hospital on the lower slopes of the ancient mountain that looms above this city, where I was loved into being.
I have known many homes and been welcomed into most.
The city where the afterbirth of some of my forebears lie buried reminds me of who I am. And who I am not.
I am not at the table with those who think this city and the land from Cape Point to the Limpopo is theirs.
They – white and black – lay claim to the title deeds of what is all of ours. I am familiar with the perennial nature of displacement. Apartheid’s statutory engineering constructed a world for me and mine.
When I walk the streets of cities, be it Cape Town, Joburg or Durban, and everywhere else in this southern land, I know what not-belonging feels like.
This experience is not a static moment to be archived as a feature of an apartheid past.
The ongoing racialisation of identity in South Africa is starkly captured in Mixed Space, a short film of “takes on flawed racial categories in Africa” by storyteller and filmmaker, Zara Julius.
While the movie is about first generation, mixed-race individuals, says Julius, it speaks poignantly to the reality of many in the coloured community in Cape Town.
That sense of being expelled from the political community of blackness.
The reality of being spoken about, excluded from the conversation about crucial matters such as redistribution of land. What is being said, for example, about coloured people who were pushed off land that fell within the boundaries of the old Ciskei?
The tendency to expunge coloured people from the history of resistance, and our claim on the land, is an old one.
In a letter from Robben Island, Nelson Mandela addressed negative views about the Abatwa (a derogatory reference to hunter-gathers used by more settled agrarian communities) expressed by a nephew.
Mandela was aware of the underlying racism that informed this reference and wrote about these people’s “unconquerable spirit and noble qualities”.
He noted that the Abatwa “once were the sole occupants of our beautiful country”.
And in a conclusion that unquestionably included the coloured community in a significant rendezvous of history, Mandela identified our antecedents as those “who strove for a free South Africa long before we reached the field of battle”.
The present-day variation of the charge against the Abatwa is the hostile view that coloured people are the children of conquest – mixed-race progeny, the cast-offs of miscegenation.
The wounding words we use to speak of others come out of our own wounds and lack of self-love.
Long after we are but dust / you will be remembered / for your fear and I for my failure to resist all that you did / to make me love myself less.
History compels us to recognise that there will be a moment in the future of our young republic when the constituent DNA, and the hybrid culture of the community we today know as coloured will be our everyday norm and reality.
And this might be our loving response to the challenge posed by the Antillean laureate, the late Derek Walcott: “I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me, and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”
Singer India Arie declared her love of her brown-skinned self: “ You know I love your brown skin
“I can’t tell where yours begins, I can’t tell where mine ends.”
“Where are your people from? Maybe Mississippi or an Island
“Apparently your skin has been kissed by the sun
“You make me want a Hershey’s kiss, your licorice.”
* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.