To deny those who love this land is to deny idea of equal­ity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - MICHAEL WEEDER By the Way

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.

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