T

CityPress - - t# -

Writ­ing What We Like: A New Gen­er­a­tion Speaks edited by Yolisa Qunta Tafel­berg 224 pages R180 at takealot.com he first time I read Steve Biko’s I write what I like, I was ly­ing naked next to a woman in her univer­sity res­i­dence room. It was the morn­ing af­ter; I’d reached for one of a hand­ful of books on her bed­side ta­ble. Read­ing the first few es­says left me ter­ri­bly ner­vous. As a black stu­dent at Wits in the early 2000s, his con­di­tion was fa­mil­iar to me. Lost in the cor­ri­dors of white­ness, ques­tions of race and iden­tity pre­oc­cu­pied my and my fel­low black stu­dents’ minds. I was six­teen and on my way to drop­ping out of a BCom (ac­count­ing) de­gree.

Grow­ing up in the for­mer Transkei, we didn’t pre­oc­cupy our­selves with whites. We were a home­land – a Ban­tus­tan – and few whites in our town were neigh­bourly.

In many ways, they had as­sim­i­lated into our cul­ture. Gen­er­ally, whites in the Transkei knew how to be­have, and still do. I sus­pect it’s due to the idyll of the lush Wild Coast, the fa­mous rolling hills of the Mb­hashe, and the re­spect that Xhosa cul­ture de­mands of those who co­ex­ist with Xhosa peo­ple. We called el­derly black women and men ‘Mama’ and ‘Tata’, re­spec­tively. It was ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ for our white and coloured neigh­bours. Whites learnt our lan­guage (to a com­mend­able de­gree), lived in our neigh­bour­hoods and went with us to school. Once I got to univer­sity, how­ever, I re­alised two things. Firstly, whites were ev­i­dently more priv­i­leged than blacks. Se­condly, the peace­ful race re­la­tions I was used to were not a re­al­ity at Wits. Vi­o­lent in­ci­dents took place. A black stu­dent would be at­tacked by a group of white stu­dents, with no pun­ish­ment meted out to the per­pe­tra­tors. The white stu­dents would con­tinue to at­tend class, with a smug­ness that be­trayed their know­ing some­thing we didn’t.

And I guess, to some ex­tent, they did. Th­ese were the dy­nam­ics of South Africa: whites were ac­cus­tomed to be­ing su­pe­rior to blacks. I must con­fess, this was some­thing I wasn’t used to. My only ex­po­sure to it had been on trips to East Lon­don, when my mother and I would go to visit my gran, who owned a she­been in Mdantsane.

Although East Lon­don (near the for­mer Ciskei) was in our back yard, we’d have to cross the bor­der into South Africa to go there. At the Nciba bor­der, now called the Kei Bridge, we’d suf­fered ter­ror and hu­mil­i­a­tion. My mother had never be­trayed any fear of the white boys in khaki uni­forms, who had car­ried im­pres­sive au­to­matic ri­fles and sported ridicu­lously thick moustaches and Charles Bron­son-style sun­glasses. Un­like Bron­son, though, they car­ried real guns. Th­ese white men stood in stark con­trast to Un­cle Jimmy, the Por­tuguese man who owned our favourite fast-food shop back home.

They would ri­fle through my mother’s lug­gage with their weapons, and fling her pet­ti­coats and bras and my PJs out onto the road while the rest of the taxi pas­sen­gers waited their turn. Th­ese bor­der pa­trol of­fi­cers seemed young – well, younger than my mother, whom I feared and re­spected and loved all at once. I never un­der­stood why those boys be­haved the way they did, or where they got the balls to carry au­to­matic ri­fles in my mother’s pres­ence. Or, more im­por­tantly, why their faces dis­played such con­tempt for us.

It was at univer­sity that this in­ex­pli­ca­ble con­tempt started for­mu­lat­ing it­self into ques­tions about race, power and so­cial in­equity. We sought po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness in the sweep­ing de­bris of stu­dent life in Braam­fontein, a life punc­tu­ated by drunk­en­ness and de­bauch­ery dur­ing the HIV scourge that threat­ened to snuff out our young lives with such in­dif­fer­ence that we were forced to ar­tic­u­late the con­di­tions of our fight for pur­pose and iden­tity.

We had to con­front, nakedly, our own black­ness and the violence that aimed to de­stroy it. In­stead of shrink­ing in hor­ror from this in­sur­mount­able task, we chose to cel­e­brate and ex­plore it. In Braam­fontein we be­gan, in earnest, to play with things to which we’d had no ac­cess only a decade be­fore. Hav­ing just missed the kwaito wave of Mdu’s Tsiki Tsiki, Arthur Mafokate’s [Don’t call me] Kaf­fir, Boom Shaka’s It’s About Time, Joe Nina’s Maria Podesta, Thebe’s Tempy Life, Broth­ers of Peace and Crowded Crew, we slipped, quite de­lib­er­ately, into Amer­i­can hip-hop.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.