Who would we have been if colonialism had not occurred?
ON THURSDAY at The Book Lounge on Roeland Street, Ferial Haffajee introduced her book What if there were no Whites in South Africa? with a follow-on line from her Aunty Daria: “You know, then we wouldn’t be here”.
Her respondent was Xolela Mangcu, an Anglican whose delivery style was akin to a Wesleyan preacher at a revival meeting during Holy Week.
These two South Africans were comfortable with each other – Xolela informed the house, with a whiff of mocking glee, “UCT has made me a full professor” to which Ferial replied, “But they won’t give you a pay increase ’cause fees must fall”. But it was Aunty Daria’s comment that preoccupied my thoughts. If it wasn’t for colonialism I might still be in India or Holland.
Or on Reunion Island from where Louis Evon, my Creole, fisherman great- grandfather, journeyed to Cape Town to fall in love with Sarah Edwards, a dark beauty from the Pniel area.
And my Khoisan self would be silent in my dreams. Historian Robert Shell refers to the arrival of mercantile capitalism on the shores of Table Bay in 1652 as the closing of “one arc of a primordial population movement that had begun in Africa nearly one hundred millennia before”.
The presence of slaves from the East Indies a few years later closed another population arc. Professor Shell declares “South Africans began their colonial era with one of the most polyglot populations in the world, a dramatic reunion of all the main branches of humankind”.
Yet this potentially kumbaya moment comes at a cost evident in the lives of those disposed of the enamouring aspects of their humanity. The fruit of this root is what Michael Dyson, author and Baptist pastor, defines “the spiritual fatigue and physic trauma occasioned by racism”.
Thus we have the Tswana wedding song Tswang, tswang, le bone ngoana otswana lili-coloured.
Mthunzi Mgxashe, a native of Orlando West, translates this as:
“Come out, see this beautiful child, dazzling and looking like a coloured’s lady”.
The concept of “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice” was still out of season. A few blocks away, Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada was awarded the Freedom of the City at the City Hall. I love this city where, on the Wednesday of my nativity, the Call to Prayer from the Muir Street Mosque welcomed me with the news of the greatness of God.
When I read of how Muhammed Makungwa, a Malawian national was sjambokked by “a suspect driving a BMW X5”.
I can understand why Professor Mangcu only began writing about race after arriving in Cape Town four years ago. I lament for you and me, who Toni Morrison invites to speak about “What it is to live at the edge of a town that cannot bear your company”.
Yet we sing, sister and brother who are white, because you are with us.
How else would the world have been blessed with a Desmond Tutu and our Madiba, Nelson Mandela?