To deny those who love this land is to deny idea of equality
OUR PATHS first touched briefly in London in 1982.
Eugene Skeef and I met in the home of his fellow exiles and our mutual friends, Lorna and Graham de Smidt. As a teenage activist Eugene had been part of a nationwide literacy campaign led by Steve Biko in the 1970s.
Eugene’s early people-based commitment had been nurtured by his parents and the quality of their presence in Clermont, a township near Durban.
He recalled how their home had been “a haven for those whose lives were damaged” by apartheid. It was there also that Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM) honed their isicathamiya singing and dance style. Gangsters arrived at the Skeef home and would “stash their weapons and enter our yard, cap-in-hand, to expe- rience the mesmerising harmonies of LBM”.
Somewhere in my archive is a poem by Eugene. It references a moment of solidarity and of my awakening to my place in life, to the alchemy of words, spoken or silently cherished.
Later that month when we met Eugene and I were walking from the offices of Race Today in Brixton. With us was a Jamaica-born brother who was dismissive of my claim to blackness. I was a coloured, a lesser sufferer in the grand scheme of apartheid’s iniquity.
I struggled and failed to refute his challenge. As a 24-year-old I was ignorant of the history of my creole community and of our passage from the East Indies into Africa.
I knew nothing of how we – the Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua – our first-nation Khoi-San selves, had been there when Van Riebeeck sailed in the bay below the mountain. With him were the Caucasian traces of our DNA, men and women conscripted from the ranks of Holland’s lumpen poor and, later, perpetrators of violence on our bodies, minds and spirits.
I was ignorant of how we, the colonial enslaved, were the first bearers of the pas-brief: the document which regulated our movement between one slave- holding estate and another.
In 1982 I, a disciple of Bantu Biko, S’mangaliso Sobukwe, James la Guma and Oliver Tambo, knew very little of our particular place in the rendezvous of history at this southern point of Africa.
Later Nelson Mandela, in an extemporary comment at the fifth Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, spoke of how coloureds were the progeny of those who first raised the spear of resistance when they despatched to an African grave the Portuguese viceroy D’Almeida and his marines on the beach later known as Woodstock.
Eugene, a native- tongue Zulu speaker, without knowledge of my collective credentials of colonial resistance and suffering, embraced me as an equal.
In a 21st-century South Africa can we still speak of “minority groups”? If someone loves this land and identifies as African, to deny them this right is chauvinistic. It is contrary to the ideals of a revolution premised on the acceptance of the equality of all South Africans.
I am starting to feel homesick for Azania.