Don’t let care­less words di­vide us

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THE way of the suf­fer­ers

We cru­ci­fied non-racial­ism on the smoul­der­ing cross of be­trayed hope in a par­adise de­nied on Jakes Ger­wel Drive in Mitchells Plain to­day.

Re­cently the res­i­dents of the Siqalo in­for­mal set­tle­ment took their ser­vice de­liv­ery protests on to Jakes Ger­wel Drive.

Their Mitchells Plain neigh­bours, “fed up” with the de­bil­i­tat­ing road block­ages caused by the pro­test­ers, in turn, reg­is­tered their dis­plea­sure.

So­cial me­dia was, and still is, lit­tered with ref­er­ences to “us” and “them” and the words “kafir” and “malau” found its way from an­gry hearts and weary, dispir­ited souls.

A “kafir”, an Ara­bic word, re­ferred to a per­son who was aloof to the claims of Is­lam, hence an un­be­liever.

But the in­cre­men­tal value and neg­a­tive mean­ing of the word – from its early us­age by Mus­lims dragged here on Dutch and Bri­tish slave ships to its con­tem­po­rary use – is con­toured by its place in the lex­i­con of the dis­pos­sessed by how Euro­peans de­ployed its us­age from the po­si­tion of power.

This word be­came part of the “oth­er­ing” of the un­der­class of this colo­nial set­tle­ment.

All Africans were called by this word and at its most benev­o­lent, re­garded as lesser chil­dren of God.

Our em­brace of Chris­tian­ity dimmed our love of self as “Turn the other cheek” se­duced us into mak­ing peace with op­pres­sion.

As a child grow­ing up in Elsies, the per­sonal as­pect of be­lief was kept in­tact by the faith of my mother.

I ex­pe­ri­enced the Je­sus who loved me through the care and sup­port of many in our com­mu­nity.

Steve Biko’s chal­lenge about

“the sin of al­low­ing your­self to be op­pressed” led me on to the path of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle.

All be­liev­ers are man­dated to stand op­posed to any­body who talks about “them” and those who “must go back to where they come from”.

Must I, by that same logic, go back to the In­dia where my fa­ther’s DNA lo­cates me be­cause of slav­ery? Or to Holland, the land of the Ver­weys, the Chris­tian Euro­peans who owned those of my lin­eage, as slaves?

Should I lay claim to land in An­gola and be­yond, where my

Khoi and San an­ces­tors so­journed thou­sands of thou­sand years ago?

We are damned when we can only re­spond out of fear, and, dare I say, ig­no­rance.

The word “malau” means “bush­man”. It is used, dis­mis­sively so, to dis­tin­guish be­tween the amaXhosa who owned cat­tle – a sign of wealth – and the San who were hun­ters and did not own cat­tle, in con­trast to our Khoi fore­bears who did.

Over a pe­riod of war­fare and con­quest, Khoi and San were as­sim­i­lated into the Nguni peo­ple.

The users of the word “malau” seek to re­mind us that we are of the bush­men. “Julle dink julle is bi­etere as ons.”

It is not a nice word, but let us un­der­stand its ori­gin and pur­pose.

We have taken a deroga­tory term, “bush­man”, in the same way young black Amer­i­cans have reimag­ined the word “nig­ger”, and as­serted it as a pos­i­tive.

Our his­tor­i­cal mas­ters can never be our teach­ers. See who ben­e­fits from our strug­gles on the grass­roots level.

We must lis­ten to what is be­ing said on so­cial me­dia, af­ter our mosque meet­ings and what is prayed for at our prayer meet­ings; our gos­sip across the gate or at the bus stop and then seek ways of en­gag­ing each other.

We talk, says Arch­bishop Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu, to our ene­mies and not only with those with whom we agree.

Hope­fully this would lead us to where we can all stand on the same side, in the same trenches, in the same strug­gle against the devil and the evil it spawns such as poverty, gang­ster­ism, racism and for a just share in the wealth of the land.

A strug­gle for bread and roses for all of us in a com­mon­wealth where the only “them” are those who do not love their chil­dren and the fu­ture we build to­day.

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