South Africa (Joburg), there is so much I can say about you. You’ve blessed me with many gifts – the largest in knowledge (of self and a portion of African society), friendships of a lifetime (more like family in spirit), love, being human, being woman, being Black and African (extremely multifaceted identities within and between, might I emphasize!), and most importantly to me, belonging.
Belonging – a lifelong quest of questioning where my belonging might be.
Back to before I realized my innocent social unawareness was being molded by lies fed as absolute truths. Particularly the worst fiction of all: the lie that our world treats us all the same; that fairness, equality, and equity = America, the land of the free; that opportunity is all around us and that every one of us just have to jump the same height to reach it (but be quick before someone else grabs yours!) *insert Nick Young Confusion Meme*
Back to before, when the term “Black” was learned as more of a curse or forbidden word than as a legitimate and personal (powerful) social identity.
Back when Black history Month at school felt like a fake and forced attempt to “teach us about our ancestors” with basic “history” from old stale textbooks filled with one-sided, half-truths, or sometimes downright misinformation [See clip of 5th grade history books portraying African slaves as simply immigrant “workers” – you know, just looking for jobs in those 17th century streets!] that objectively focused sometimes entirely on slavery (as mostly an essential economic factor in the development of “our great nation” – true).
“Destroy the backward Confederate South! Those are the bad guys!” “Yeah, they’re the ones oppressing the Nig – uh, *coughs* slaves!” “Free the slaves!” “Celebrate Abe Lincoln!” “Yay!” – (NOT!)
Then, a follow-up with Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement (as mostly MLK, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks) – all in an unanimous effort that ultimately resulted in the illusion (delusion) that along with the events themselves, those key players and their political and social causes (motives) are now simply recycled relics of the past.
“Post-Racial America is here today!” “Yeah! All of that was what, *scoffs* 200 years ago???” “Yeah, that’s definitely not us!” “We totally aren’t racist! Those were our ancestors!” “Look!” “We’re all integrated now – Racism totally doesn’t exist anymore!” “Yeah!”
*Rolls eyes to back of brain*
For me back then, those slaves were “Africans” not “African-Americans”. Those slaves weren’t me. Then, they (the slaves) were objective – so far away from me that my myopia caused me to perceive MY OWN PEOPLE as native peoples; an identity that my vulnerable mind associated with an extinct people, like the hominids and the Neanderthals….They too were the past – unrelatable to me, as I felt in my youth, and therefore lacked true meaning to me and held no bearing on my understanding of who I was…
Back to before I realized just how wrong I was about that sentiment.
Through all of that, I am happy to say that South Africa has given me my first glimpse of home and belonging since I left mine 6 and a half months ago. It’s almost as if upon landing here, I knew I had found my fit. For this, I am extremely grateful to have been welcomed in this way and to have been able to come so close to a culture/mix of cultures that, while foreign to me, feels almost as close to me as my own. My first time on the Mother Continent and I instantly connect and helplessly fall in love.
Johannesburg being a colorful, ethnically and religiously diverse place, it was easily a curiosity magnet for me – having expected to only see native Africans here. I soon learned why this is, but more on that later. Of Gauteng Province, the smallest of the 9 provinces that make up South Africa, Johannesburg is one of the most history rich and politically prominent cities I’ve had the pleasure to visit and learn about from scratch. I mentioned in previous posts that I don’t research much into the places I visit, but rather learn on the ground by personally engaging with local communities/cultures, gaining an understanding from the people and filling in the political/social/historic contexts as I go via museums and texts. This way, I can paint a more authentic and more complete picture through multiple lens/experiences.
The place literally looks like a mini America – super modern and “western” fashioned. Proper infrastructure for an urban lifestyle – paved and orderly roads, stop lights/signs, efficient highways, modern lower middle class and upscale neighborhoods (more on this later!), modern and even luxury vehicles, business and finance sectors (Sandton), super malls, hot clubs, recording studios, upscale restaurants, upscale hotels, American fashion, music, television, efficient public metro (Gautrein),Uber, etc. etc. Basically everything you can think of – a true modern capitalist society and an immensely pleasant change after nearly a month entangled in the frenetic disorganization/deterioration off Kathmandu, Nepal. A much needed respite from the painfully harsh realities of country-wide poverty; an experience that left me in a limbo of uncomfortable juxtaposition.
To put it blankly, Joburg is the place to be for more reasons than one. Besides feeling like I must have taken a flight back home based on the developed surroundings alone (hopping into a modern vehicle fresh from the airport with air conditioning and radio), I quickly realized my experience here would be a lot different – far more luxurious and relaxed now that I could transition from “roughing it” mode. At this stage of the fellowship, I’m a full on backpacker – used to going without the common conveniences at home that I’ve taken for granted; used to improvising and honestly, I’m quite fond of my new minimalist lifestyle. Because what you think you “need” – a million and one outfits/shoes, technology, an abundance of choices, frivolous entertainment – you can actually live without. People have lived without them before you and you can too. It is in these moments of being without, being alone in a foreign land, and having to fill your own time with what fulfills you that you notice/learn what’s most important in your life, what makes you truly happy, and what bullshit you carry within you that need to be shed in order for the real you to shine brightest….but that’s a lesson I’ll expand on in a different post.
Whoever thought South Africa was simply a land of wild bush where lions roam and rule are sorely misguided and highly imaginative. Yes. I’ve been told this and heard it with my own ears from foreigners white and Black. But I guess that goes to show how little exposure and outdated, one-sided media depictions can lead to and fuel such notions.
I knew coming to any country in Africa would be big for me. Because being Black American, I know far too well how stories about us and depictions of us gets twisted, construed, or falsified in order to show us in a less than light. It was my mission to take my black ass somewhere on the Mother Continent to see and learn the real for myself.
Rolling through Braamfontein on my way to Brixton, I’m thrust even more into the familiarity of home – Detroit that is. It’s difficult to describe it’s likeness; I’d say you’d just have to go visit and see for yourself. Whatever people’s views of Detroit are is their business, but people born and raised in the city would feel and appreciate the connection to it. Brixton, especially the lower side of Brixton, gets a bad rep too – sometimes to the extent of Uber or taxi drivers warning visitors to steer clear of the “danger” and book other accommodation. I’m not going to downplay the risks because just like in Detroit, it’s definitely there.
In Joburg in general, upper or lower class communities, crime is widespread and very evident in the structure of the neighborhoods. There is no proper home that isn’t protected by a cement wall or fence, topped with sharp metal or barbed wire that may or may not electrocute intruders when touched, equipped with a remote controlled gate for the driveway, fitted with recorded camera surveillance, armed with emergency buttons and alarm systems, and/or topped off with guard dogs.
I’ll admit, initially I was put off by being caged in when you’re used to walking out of your front door and out into the world. But it can get real and there’s no difference moving from lower to middle to upper class communities – the only difference is that with money, the walls get higher, the gates more sturdy, and heavier security.
So with that said, Brixton never put fear in my heart. I know anything can happen to anyone at any time. I know to keep my wits about me and be aware of my surroundings. I wasn’t afraid of the African members of the community going about their business like some non-Black foreigners may have been (cause people are people and duh! I’m in South Africa!) and, being from Detroit, I know that whatever reputation the neighborhood has doesn’t always determine the hearts of the people in that community. It was here in this same “dangerous” neighborhood where I learned and gained the most from the people in it.
Nightlife in Johannesburg is popping! And there are plenty of diverse places to go from Melville (Little Hollywood), Rosebank, Sandton, and beyond – good drinks, GREAT music (if you are a house/deep house/lounge fan with a little African influence, you won’t be sorry!), and beautiful Black (and Brown) folks!!!! I think the moment I realized this is when I fell in love. Everywhere I looked were beautiful black folks, male and female, embracing their natural selves, rocking their short cuts and locks in various styles and colors that I’d never seen before! And there was no limit – natural or not, weave, wigs, or braids, even faux loc extensions for men – everyone embraced their style and how they may have been feeling that night.
The men danced and really got down on the dancefloor! And, one of my favorite aspects of all about nightlife in Joburg in general is the host of races and ethnicities that essentially co-exists together in a genuine way I ‘ve never seen before. At least in this instance, during my first nightlife experience – Black, Coloured, White, Indian, non-Indian Asian – whatever, were having a bomb ass time in the same place, at the same time in mixed social groups. Not only did seeing that authenticity for the first time bring me great joy, it gave me hope for my own country.
[Note: The racial/ethnic groupings I used here are general for a reason. I will explain these groupings and their distinctions later in this post]
And you know after some time being everywhere else in the world and most times being the only Black face I’d see, I was thrilled to see people like me EVERYWHERE! And the eye-candy was the cherry on top. Initially my little heart couldn’t take it! Haha! Black men of all shades have you more than thirsty! Haha! I’m not even kidding, though.
In comparison, my experience in Cape Town was a lot different. The people aspect of it I didn’t particularly like, and in some ways, it was a stark contrast to the amicable multiculturalism I’d experienced in Johannesburg. I was as if the cultural diversity was hiding somewhere, or worst of all, didn’t exist or function in the way that I had previously witnessed.
I noticed immediately a similar social and community segregation that I know so well back home in America. The stark influx of whiteness and the visible decrease in Black bodies (in comparison to Joburg) let me know quickly that I was in a different place and that feeling – that familiar and emotionally taxing feeling that I need to put up my guard – quickly washed over me. I immediately closed off a bit. Whether or not that was a good thing to do or not didn’t and still doesn’t matter to me. My reaction is automatic – a defense mechanism developed over time and strengthened as a result of moving in and out of predominantly white spaces that don’t value Black bodies or Black minds for real.
Seeing Black bodies dominate service roles as Uber drivers/taxi drivers, bartenders, waiters/waitresses, street-hustle valet, etc. while whites are the majority in suits with briefcases, driving their cars to the CBD (downtown) for their corporate jobs every morning as well as the majority enjoying the magnificence that is Cape Town’s natural beauty (the highlight of the city if you ask me).
One can imagine my anger *insert Arthur Fist meme*. Not only because of the abrupt inequality that was in my face, but because nobody came here to see white people! Damn! It’s like cain’t nobody have nothing! I asked my Black African Uber driver where do I go to find Black people living their lives like everybody else and he told me the townships – immensely impoverished to very low income areas, usually fenced off as makeshift squatter communities (will get more in depth about these communities later on in this post). In short, not a place a lone foreign female traveler goes on her own.
On the flipside of things, Cape Town is absolutely gorgeous! I was sure to move away from nightlife and take my time exploring natural beauty. I’m talking valleys and vineyards spread as far as the eye can see, gorgeous blue sky, and glittery starry night skies. Near the coast – seas breeze, sea foam, and the refreshing smell of crisp saltwater as the waves crash. The 3 gorgeous mountains/hills – Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Signal Hill – standing strong and majestic from a distance and even more so up close. Table Mountain being a World Wonder, and the only mountain of the 3 that transports people via cable car, (I told ya’ll I’m done climbing shit!) it wasn’t hard to choose which one to visit.
I could never have imagined the beauty I would see at the top; truly a sight that knocks the air out of your lungs, silences your mind, and brings your awareness to the undeniable existence of a God. The sounds of life below fail to reach you here. Yet, the entire coastal portion of town is visible – the tops of town, multiple beaches, and even beyond that – a pure, hazy South African sun and an endless clear blue sea….
You ever witness something so beautiful that no matter how much you attempt to focus your sight on the details, it’s like your brain rejects such perfection? That was me squinting with my glasses on, staring out in front of me. Then I turn to my left, slack jaw at the sight of a sea of white/fluffy clouds spilling over the flattened surface of the mountain and down towards the city! Eventually the wind picked up and blew the clouds over us as well – a cool and gentle breeze that leaves your hair beaded with moisture. I stayed up there, sipping my wine in a reflective state for about 4 hours before I rejoined life below. The mountain gerbils (Daisies?) and exotic birds made great company.
Sea life in Cape Town is amazing to observe and eat (shameless plug for Cape Town Fish Market!). On my ferry to and from my tour of Robben Island, the prison island that held Nelson Mandela and other key political figures during apartheid, I marveled at the seals showing out in the sea. A few days later, I journeyed out from the cozy suburb I was staying in, taking African taxi after African taxi, a train ride, and bus ride with a friend to Simonds Town to frequent Boulder Beach – a beach native to a particular species of penguin! Yes, I swam with Penguins in cold water and they were deep AF! Despite being afraid while politely asking a gang of penguins permission to pass them to get to the other side, hanging out and swimming amongst them was one of the coolest natural experiences I’ve had in Cape Town and South Africa in general! Totally worth the fun, day long trip and the foot injuries I sustained.
Before I conclude on my brief experiences in Cape Town, I want to challenge or rather add to my earlier , very real sentiment that I didn’t come to the continent of Africa to see white people. This is all very true. I’m not gonna hold anyone up or sugarcoat anything. But I want to acknowledge that though I’ve been traveling with intense and fluctuating anger in my heart at the extent in which white supremacy and imperialism has pervasively damaged and continues to damage nations of color around the world (especially Blacks/Africans), I will be the first to admit that closing myself off, in Cape Town in particular, was a mistake.
I booked an Airbnb with an older married Afrikaaner couple and never engaged them post check-in until my final 3 days in Cape Town when my host caught up to me and invited me to dinner. I wanted to be alone. Not only was I angry at the inequity I saw, I was sad. Not then ready to leave South Africa (as planned after Cape Town), definitely wasn’t ready to leave Johannesburg like I thought I was. I sorely missed Joburg, but most importantly, I was missing the family I’d made there.
All of this blinded me and it wasn’t until the night of the dinner with my new hosts that I realized that I was missing out on a wealth of knowledge, unique life perspectives, and an opportunity to foster a beautiful friendship with people different from me. My Blackness was never an issue. I was engaged with and treated with kindness and care. I had great intellectual conversations about travel, life, the political and economic state of South Africa, and more. I had amazing home cooking and I rekindled my love for spicy foods. All was good when I began to observe the hearts of my very white hosts and began to take a peak of the world beyond my guard.
Those final 3 days, I made great friends and the opportunity could have been missed had they never reached out, because I sure wasn’t going to in the emotional state I was in. In this case, there was a lesson learned – to not let the anticipation of other people’s hate block the potential for intellectual stimulation and true friendship. God-willing, it won’t be the last time I visit these folks!
Back to Jozi
I came back to Jozi for the fam. It’s crazy how I came to Joburg with the mission off staying with a Black family, for the sake of learning truth and for the comfort of similarity/solidarity – I couldn’t have chosen a better family to do so with! I paid for a bed and gained the most loving and authentic friendships I could have ever asked for during this trip. A beautiful Coloured, middle-class family that has filled me with much knowledge and genuine love. I’ll tell you one thing, they’re all real AF and hold no punches about telling it like it is – the quality I love most about them – yet, the sweetest of sweets. Let me tell you more about them as individuals.
Not only a doting father, husband, and grandfather, but also an intellectual, a businessman, a fellow backpacker, and an inspiration to me (and many others I am sure). A wealth of knowledge, (like the rest of the family) this man was my first introduction in learning about the sociopolitical history of South Africa. Stopping at nothing to get me the information I wanted, he made sure to connect me to as many members of his community as possible from different backgrounds as well. He understood my desire to see a full picture, a picture that did not exclude the voices of the poor, who are all too often unheard. And given his lived experience growing up during the apartheid era, he was key to helping me see South Africa’s past and present through a more personal lens – a perspective I wouldn’t necessarily get from text in a museum.
He took me around the townships, explaining the significance of each place. I visited the site where the Freedom Charter was unveiled for the first time. I saw, for the first time, the desolate and poverty-stricken areas of Johannesburg – an disturbing and overwhelming contrast to the rest of the highly developed, modern city. Talking business or talking life, Pops is someone I feel that I can talk to about anything at any time.
Now this woman is extraordinary and her and Pops together makes an incredible team. A wife, mother, grandmother, and Deputy Principal – this woman is the essence of a leader. She has a goal, she has a plan, and it WILL go as planned (Haha!). Inspirational in the way she speaks, command the attention in the room, and the way she carries herself, it’s no surprise that she is the woman to recruit when you want to turn rubbish to gold and that is exactly what she’s done at the neighborhood primary school she runs.
Included in my investigation of South African society was of course, the education of the youths. But when Mums invited me to visit the school on the first day of the school year, I wasn’t ready! It’s been forever since I’ve been in a school with cute little people, sitting in cute little chairs, at cute little desks, asking to be walked to the lavatory (Haha!). I melted! It was a busy day with swarms of students, staff, administration, volunteers, and nervously inquisitive parents releasing their babies as fresh grade R’s (the equivalent to kindergarten in America).
Then there was me, tagging along from grade R to about grade 5 observing. The school, to me, was designed more like a campus than a primary school. The administrative offices and classrooms are connected by walkway, but separated by a gorgeous courtyard in between. Beautiful flowers decorate here and there and the students get loads of sunlight and fresh air during lunch time. I marveled at this design because I sure never experienced or seen such a thing during my primary years.
Most of the classrooms were colorfully and creatively decorated with the early learning essentials, which I expected and didn’t think much of. But apparently, this particular school is the exception to the norm. Mums explained to me that other schools never really recovered/improved after apartheid. Overcrowded classrooms, lack of books and other learning resources, and unqualified/inexperienced/uncaring teachers still plague the majority of public schools. She explained to me her life’s work of educating youth and her long time mission of properly training new educators to perform at the exceptional standard she’s set at her institution.
She also pointed out to me a gap in the education of rising teachers, as most get the qualifications for their textbook understanding of instructing young learners, but they lack sufficient practicum experience to actually be effective instructors. My eyes were surely opened by this, as it reminded me that America’s urban public education has some of the same issues, especially where I am from.
What I was most blown away by, however, was the sheer racial/ethnic and religious diversity in the classroom! Even the school represented the diversity of Johannesburg – my most favorite characteristic of the place! Little Black babies, Coloured babies, Pakistani babies, Indian babies – Christian babies, Hindu babies, Muslim babies – all sharing a warm and friendly learning environment. This diversity was also reflected in the instructors and administration.
There were signs in just about every classroom recognizing the different religious practices, there was no intolerance of students or staff wearing their Islamic wear, and perhaps the most precious was witnessing a little Black boy read an Islamic prayer at the start of class. I was told that each day a prayer of a different religion is read to start the day. I was filled with joy and fascination because while religion isn’t performed in our secular public schools, if it were allowed, I have no doubt that only Christianity would be acknowledged , regardless of the different beliefs present in the classroom.
Overall, visiting the school was a great learning experience and it was amazing to see Mums at work, making sure everything was running smoothly. From what I’ve seen and the conversations I’ve had, I’ll say her hard work is definitely noticed and respected by everyone. It’s clear that she is the force that is driving the school’s success and I am grateful to have witnessed the master do her thing.
My Big MF SIS, Nadi!
It’s not often that I meet someone who inspires me. Halfway around the world, I meet a kindred spirit and someone I can call my sister and good friend. If this girl isn’t the realest MF I have ever met! We immediately hit it off and one of the best friendships I could ask for began to bloom.
I’m generally not one to “Big Sister” anybody, but her as a person most closely resonates with my idea of responsibility, womanhood, youth, and being an intelligent (emotionally and otherwise) human being. And a person like me who aspires to be the best woman and human I can be, I can’t help but love and respect the realness; because life is real out here and I’m just getting started.
Just like her Mum, she is someone you can rely on and her role as the eldest sibling in the family reflects that. A commercial lawyer as well, her work ethic is strong and her crazy work hours demonstrates the amount of trust her boss has in her. The sheer amount of responsibility she has is nuts but she gets it done and it’s clear that she truly is key to keeping the ball rolling at the firm. As I said before in so many words, she comes through clutch when you are in a bind – a true problem solver.
Outside of the professional realm, Nadi goes hard for the party! A true comedian, most times without even trying, I can’t count the number of times she had me dead just from being real AF! She tells it like it is and don’t give two shits about much other than the things that moves her spirit, but don’t mistake that for unfeeling or uncaring (despite what she says!). She’s still sweet, trustworthy, honest as hell, dependable – she’s a solid sister-friend to have!
All of our talks, our crazy adventures/outings, the late night intellectual conversations I’d have with her and her friends, all the game she put me on about life – everything in those 3 and some months, I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Here’s to new memories in the future and true friendship.
Thank you for all of the lessons and most importantly, thank you for being you, Nadi!
This dude is my MF guy! But most impressively, he’s a jack of all trades! The man has a fistful of talents that it’s crazy God put it all in one person. A few things he’s about – his money, his music, his cooking, and his family.
First off, his food is out of this world! From traditional South African cuisine, Indian curries, creamy and flavorful pastas, etc. I had gone to heaven and back more times I can count! After my first meal from him, he’s been my personal chef, fasho! He is passionate about his cooking too! He makes his own spices and sauces and his it the type of cook to give you a briefing of his process before you eat, so you already geared up for the bursts of flavors hidden in the dish! It`s the cutest thing to watch his eyes light up talking about it too! You almost have to push him out of the house cause he will watch you eat to see your reaction! Haha! It really brings him joy to know that his food is appreciated. I, for one, love to eat, so you already know I was the number 1 fan! Hahaha! If one is ever in Joburg and book with this family, do not pass up an opportunity to eat in luxury while it’s for the lows!
How he feels about his cooking is how he feels about his music. Now I know that back home, we all know a ton of “rappers”, some great and some not so much, pushing their mixtapes and spamming social media with Soundcloud links. But this man is the real deal! One half of the rap duo TDK (shouts to Goggs!) and owner of his very own recording label and studio in the heart of Melville – his talent is legit, The Dizzy Monks label (and crew) is legit! Super high quality music video production, crazy sound production from hip-hop to house, the label is diverse in sound. Bro spits about his life, real shit and the sounds that comes out of his studio has a timeless feel, like hip-hop in the 90s! The versatility in artistry, content, and sound is too dope and are early signs of potential longevity locally and internationally someday. I believe that! The exclusives I’ve heard had me tearing up – but that’s just my way of expressing my connection to bomb music!
Lastly, he is the father of 3 beautiful little geniuses! Gorgeous and brilliant, I hit it off day one with his eldest son, who’s now one of my best friends! And I mean this is a sharp 8-year-old whom you can have real conversation with! He has a 9-year-old daughter as well. Both of the eldest children are sharp, charismatic, and downright impressive! The youngest is the cutest little 1-year-old and he is very loving and very busy! Can’t wait to see how much they all grow over time. They, too, inspire me deeply.
Though I’ve definitely met the youngest of the crew multiple times, it wasn’t until my last weeks in South Africa that I’ve really gotten to know the baby bro (20yrs). Super sweet, humble, and hard-working – we got along pretty well, just chopping it up about life, marriage (he’s married and his wife is hilarious!), and racism and race relations in South Africa, particularly between Indians and Black and Coloured people, etc. Through conversations with him, my racial utopian view of Joburg shifted a bit, as I realized Joburg, too, has it’s racial divides. Through him, I was also able to get a glimpse of coloured life in the Wood (Wood = hood/projects) and interact with some of the people he knew there. As I said before, these places aren’t areas a lone, foreign female goes on her own. I met some fun and interesting people through him and we all shared plenty of laughs and chill times.
He’s pretty solid as well and I’m glad I got to know him a bit more before I left SA for good. Thanks again for saving my pockets!
A Brief Recap of South Africa’s History + Reflections
[NOTE: With this section, I simply want to raise questions about my experiences and document my reactions and reflections on these based on conversations I’ve had and texts I have read. That’s it. As mentioned in previous posts, I am just a visitor in this society. I am not from this society. Therefore, nothing I say here is to be taken as absolute truth, but simply my observations as I saw it and felt it. I am not here to prove or disprove anything in any way, shape, or form. Look to locals to tell their truths.]
• Apartheid was a state sanctioned racial segregation, similar to that of the Jim Crow South in the States, that lawfully and socially enforced the separation of the races and the systemic oppression of non whites on all scales of modern society – secluding housing, land, transport/movement throughout SA, education, employment opportunities, and subsequently excluding non-whites from sufficient participation in the then booming capitalist economy. Of course, this system was made to benefit the whites who created it. The racial breakdown went something like this, from most privilege and access to least: Whites, Indians, Coloureds, Blacks.
The term coloured in South Africa holds a different context than the term did in the U.S., which before I knew, put me off and made me cringe with anger when I heard it used casually as a means of identifying “Black” persons in my eyes. In the South African context, coloured was meant to identify those of mixed race. Eventually though, coloured came to encompass Indians and other “non-Black” and non-white races as well. The kicker is, while the apartheid state had non-whites carry identification passes as a mandatory form of racial register and control, these race categories were formed arbitrarily on appearances – the color of the skin. So, for example, if you were “coloured”, but dark enough to be observed as ethnic Black African, you could lose your coloured pass, subsequently losing what little privilege you had, and be separated from your family, as you would no longer be lawfully allowed to live in a coloured township. The same process could arbitrarily bump you upscale as well, if one can phenotypically pass for white or coloured. Of course, for Black skin Africans conditions were the worst and social advancement opportunities were naught.
The sad thing about my learning of this (as I had no prior knowledge of such a history) is that the remnants of such a system are very much still alive in 2017 and present in such a way that it’s easy to recognize and relate to because the history and lasting social effects in South African society mimics that of the United States. Namely, disproportionate wealth in which the white minority still has control of – despite government regulations put in place to grant more Blacks and Coloureds access to higher education and therefore, more access to white collar jobs. Today, one is more likely to see Black and Coloured lawyers, doctors, instructors, or people in business and politics, but there is still a gap waged in who is able to afford higher education because majority of Blacks and Coloureds are still very poor.
It’s the same story of colonialism, except while in the U.S., it’s the “minority” trying to catch up to the centuries long economic lead their white counterparts hold as a result of their forced labor. In South Africa, it’s the majority fighting for land, wealth, and resources that was rightfully theirs to begin with. On this, I constantly ask myself how in the hell does a minority invader enter a country, take over and control every aspect of it, and successfully oppress and box out the majority on their own land??? Shit is crazy! I’m not sure, maybe I was naïve thinking I would learn of and experience some sort of Black utopia left untouched by whites – But I say again, CAIN’T NOBODY HAVE NOTHING!!!
• During my time in SA, I managed to purchase Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ and complete the text before I left. It was a beautiful text that helped me string together the various conversations I’d had about the sociopolitical history of South Africa. Many gaps in my understanding were filled and through the text, the bigger story was revealed to me.
Towards the end of the book, Mandela began to really endorse and push forth this idea of a new “rainbow nation”, that South Africans are of “one race” and that South Africans must forgive, forgive, forgive one another. While I understand the sentiment and the need for it given the ongoing racial oppression and violent struggles between the races during and a bit post-apartheid, I thought it was a bit much to shove forgiveness down people’s throats overnight. I just found it to be ridiculous to expect. White superiority complexes don’t fade overnight and the scars of years and years of racial oppression and hardship don’t heal overnight – people remember and the memories and pain still linger.
My Sis and some of her friends say they remember being taught to forgive and being reared to view the world as a Rainbow Nation in primary school. They were the first generation going to blended schools and experiencing life outside of apartheid. But their parents grew up in that system and surely they did not forget after ’94.
It was especially off putting to me to hear this same rhetoric literally forced down the throats of foreign visitors on my tour of Robben Island in Cape Town. From the guide on the bus tour to a former prisoner of Robben Island showing us around the corridors of the prison. “We are one race!” “We are a Rainbow Nation!” “Forgiveness!” “Forgiveness!” I can’t count the number of times he said this with emphasis and in the same breath, tell us how they were beaten and starved/fed scraps and how some prisoners lost their eyesight after being forced to work at the lime quarry for umpteen years in scorching heat.
As a young Black woman who is often angry inside at the very injustice he speaks of, I had to pull this guy aside and ask him if he has really bought into this kumbaya, all is well, we are one BS. Most importantly, I wanted to ask advice for young people like me, who don’t know what to do with their building anger. Unfortunately, he had no answer for me.
• The African National Congress (ANC) was a central political party involved in the dismantling of the apartheid state and in the establishment of a new democracy in South Africa. Today, the ANC still is the ruling party of the South African government, composed of majority Black Africans and still fighting for the interests of Black African people. The good guys, right? Well not anymore, according to the people.
Several conversations I’ve had – Black, white, coloured – expressed dissent, distrust, and anger against the current ANC led government , siting mass corruption under the current president, Jacob Zuma, in the form of bribes, embezzlement, nepotism, etc. On top of that, the current president has numerous charges against him, including rape allegations. The people see him as criminal and protest him to force him to step down from the presidency, but he refuses to do so.
It’s one thing to hear these realities from the mouths of those who live it. But it’s another thing to see for yourself that something isn’t quite right. On the night that President Zuma was to give his national address in front of parliament, on live television, all hell broke loose. Before the man even walked in to take the podium, opposing members of parliament went ham! Vehemently refusing to let Zuma speak in their house and citing several legitimate reasons why using their very own constitution to back their protests. Main reason being, he’s criminal and so under law, parliament can refuse to recognize him as president and thus refuse to hear him speak in their house. This and that he needs to step down in general.
So as an observer, I’m watching, mouth hanging open at the ongoing chaos. The ANC led panel in the front continuously tried to silence and shut down those speaking out in parliament. So much so that there were several times they cut the audio so viewers at home couldn’t hear, police came into parliament (unlawfully) which exacerbated the tensions in the room, then eventually the threat to kick all in dissent of the President’s speech out forcefully. The back and forth arguments had to last well over couple of hours before “security” bursts in to forcefully remove those opposed – but they legit all started scrapping with the security after one member was previously removed and restrained with cable wire – also illegal.
This is when I was like “Aw, naw! Hell naw! This is a hot mess!” Never had I seen such a thing! It was scary to sit and watch the ruling party literally break their own constitutional laws on live TV – legit silencing everyone! I heard in the chaos that cables and even injections have been used to silence dissenters in the past! So this kind of heavy handed abuse has been a thing under the ANC!
After seeing such with my own eyes, I began to look at my surroundings differently. Mass Black unemployment, mass Black homelessness, people begging on almost every corner in some areas, masses of people still living in shanty township communities made of tin, no developed roads within, and portable potties as community restrooms. And you see these tin communities everywhere! City or middle of nowhere! [Note: Not all townships are tin shanties, but all townships I’ve seen house the poor] I can’t say what’s better or worse, 1st world America shooing the homeless from street to street, highway overpass to highway overpass or the fact that South Africa at least allow the homeless to use some land to build shelter for themselves, even if it is made of tin….
Anyway, it’s clear that not enough is being done to benefit those in need. While I don’t think anyone, myself included, expected years of apartheid damage to be overturned in some 20 sum years – but surely they didn’t sign up for a corrupt Black government who’s clearly out for self and not the people.
Corruption aside, there are things our governments do right and things our governments do wrong, but I must ask the question, local South Africans: ANC die-hards or not, corruption or strictly a need for “radical economic transformation” and the reclaiming of land – where do you go from here?
• I loved being able to blend in here. I could get by in dress and style because American fashion is the norm in SA. Ideally, everyone would be wearing what we wear at home. My hair is natural, like everyone else’s. No one looking at me like the new species that came to town. I’m just me. Human, like everyone else. The dead giveaway, however, is when I would open my mouth to speak – that’s when all eyes land on me. Countless times I get in my Uber or purchase something from a store and the driver or clerk asks me where I am from, knowing damn well they hear it which is why they ask! Hahaha.
I’ll never forget an encounter with one of my Uber drivers in Cape Town. I get in and say hello and where I want to go and he asks me – “Are you Xhosa?” Me: “No, I’m a foreigner” Him: “From where?” Me: “United States” Him: “What???!!! You look just like me!” – Hahaha! That really made my day and brought me joy. Though I wonder what he thought Black Americans were supposed to look like! Haha! I’ve also gotten Zimbabwean a few times.
But the larger point in this is that here, my skin color wasn’t the center of attention, but rather my accent, signaling my nationality. Pops loved to introduce me as “The American” to anyone he felt would be interested, hahaha! And honestly, I hated it. Not that I didn’t want to converse with people, but because American is what I am because I was born and raised there – that’s it. American is not who I am, nor is it incorporated in my perception of self. I am black and I am Kepriah from America. The title of “The American” and the pedestal I felt that put me on made me uncomfortable because of what that means to others and their perception of Americans on TV. But I’m just me, a human being like everyone else. My own country doesn’t even value me like so because of my skin, so why should I accept that identity here? But that’s a topic for another time.
[Note: A more in depth reflection on my exploration of the American identity and its privilege during this trip is coming soon]
Sunday, March 5th, 2017
“Off to Brazil on Monday….It’s surreal. It’s like yesterday I met this family, when I arrived 3 days before New Years 2017. But in my heart, I feel full. Truly my family away from family. I’ll never forget. Forever thankful for the bonds…the love, the knowledge – everything. Now just like that, I’m transitioning into a new society, new culture (I hope), new language, colors, and flavors. It’s time.
My heart is full. I know now that, I may not know who I am ethnically, but somewhere, sometime – we emerged from similar culture/values. A collective Black almost. Maybe even a collective Africa in some ways.
God, you have truly blessed us. In connection of spirit and like-mindedness, we could feel apart of, regardless of the many geographic miles and cultural differences/blends, we are very much one. I had the grand pleasure of feeling at home!!! How special is that??!
Jehovah God – Thank you! Joburg, SA – I love you! Someday, I’ll return…
Now Brazil, what do you have in store for me?”