My new friend, Thandi, shared this story on Facebook and i asked her if she would flesh it out as a guest post for me as it moved me [and so many others] so deeply:
THE QUEEN, MY DAD AND SARAFINA
This is going to seem disjointed, but bear with me. It will come together at the end.
We still talk about the Holocaust. Britain still has memorial services for those slain in World War 2. We have so much sensitivity and care over victims of domestic violence and rape. Which is good. It is right. So why is it that people are so quick to tell us to get over apartheid? Most of us lived it. Many of us are maimed because of it. Many of us have missing friends and relatives because of it. Many of us have bad memories because of it. Many of us can’t even speak about the extreme violence heaped upon us at the prison just for forgetting your Pass at home while visiting next door. Next door. Many of our mothers had to have their freedom paid for out of the unequal wages they were given. Ask my mother.
My father is 86 years old. Born in 1930, he was imprisoned when he was 17 years old because he didn’t have his Pass with him. He spent weeks with hardened criminals. What does that do to you? And how gentle were they when they put him in jail? How did they address him when they arrested him?
I was going to be educated through Bantu Education. You know, that lovely education system that only educated us enough to know our place as menial workers? That one. But people had had enough. “The natives were restless.” Tired of the very low wages, tired of random beatings, tired of the living conditions… Tired. The war that had been raging first peacefully then more desperately, was in earnest. No more inferior education. No more school until it actually was what school was for. And so in an effort to get me some form of education, my parents looked around for a white private school that would accept me, you know, seeing as white government schools were only for white children.
After some negative responses, they found a school for me and together with a partial bursary from Wendy Ackerman, we were able to scrimp and save for me to go to school.
Let me quickly mention Sarafina. A Kenyan friend mentioned how she cannot finish watching Sarafina because of the brutality and violence. In 2009, we went to Tanzania to work on a mission institute. One day we gave a Tanzanian missionary a lift, and Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika started playing. He immediately spoke about Sarafina and how hearing that song, used by us to beg God to please end wars and troubles in our country, made him weep. He then asked, “Don’t you hate white people for what was done to you?”
He could not fathom how people who were treated worse than family pets. People who were given less rights than family pets. People who were beaten, shot, killed could ever not come out scarred and hating their oppressor.
My mother is still traumatised today. One memory she is willing to give a brief overview of was when she went to go help the students in 1976 to peacefully march against the system that was intent on crushing the students’ minds and souls. She returned with rubber bullets in her knees. Yes, they-the protesters – seemed to have started it. But in her words, “They were threatening us. They had big dogs and guns, so we threw stones at them to leave us alone so we could march peacefully.” Instead, bullets were unleashed on them. Hector Petersen. A victim. All because they wanted to march peacefully to beg to be treated like this citizens of South Africa that they were. They didn’t hate. They just hurt.
Back to my school. It’s only in 1991 that I learnt there was a national anthem. At my school, we sang Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika. One day, at the carol service, we ended with it as usual. We were having a picnic on the lawn, sitting in our families, and if your class wasn’t singing, you’d sit with your parents and watch the others.
My father stood up while the rest of us sat down. He raised his arm and fist in that famous salute. I didn’t know what to do. Stand with him? Hide because now I was very visible in my Blackness? I sat. We sang that song with my father, the only black man there, standing up, fist raised.
He didn’t do it because he hated white people. He did it to protest that he, his wife, his 4 children and his daughter-in-law had to live in a small, two-bedroomed township house. He did it to protest against the fact that my childhood consisted of having to run indoors almost daily, trying to find relief from the searing tear gas that policemen were using. He protested how as the original citizen of the continent, he was forced to carry documentation that even a child was permitted to ask him for. He raised his fist in the air, standing tall while the rest of us sat on the grass because he was asking for freedom. He was begging for a time when he and his children would be viewed as human. He was praying for the hatred to end. For us to be allowed to walk anywhere, to eat anywhere, to enjoy the sunset at any beach, to be allowed to sit in any part of the train. To be able to sit on a bench when tired. He didn’t hate, he hurt. He grieved. And he prayed.
Why do people tell us to forget what we saw? To ignore the scars on our backs? Remember Sarafina. Violence for no good reason. We were hurt when all we wanted was peace. Freedom. We wanted equality, not revenge. And that is why I do not hate white people, even though too many are still talking and acting like they wish apartheid was still legal. All I want is true equality. To be seen as a person walking down the street, not a threat. To be viewed as a human, not a monkey. I don’t want to be defined by my skin (and then viewed as less than) instead of by my heart and soul. I want my hopes and dreams to matter more than the stereotypes and assumptions. I don’t hate. I pray. I hurt. Arm raised up to show the struggle within. Begging for my children and their potential children.
What I saw and lived. The fear I felt… How can you tell me to get over it when you don’t tell other victims of trauma to do the same? Where are the posts saying Britain should get over the war? Where are the comments saying that victims who were raped as children should not report their abusers today? When they tell us to get over it, to move on, they are saying our pain is not the same as others’ pain. And they are reminding us that we are less than, that we aren’t as human as the Queen who cried at a war memorial. Our experiences, emotions, mental and physical scars don’t matter as much as others’ do. This was our Holocaust. Let us grieve over it. We cannot forget. We lived it. It decided our present situation. It made us ‘who’ we are today. Don’t tell us what to do. Learn. Think of Sarafina and ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you lived like that for decades. Please don’t hate us anymore. And know that I don’t hate you. The hurt I feel is nothing I want anyone else to experience. You’re just a stranger. Someone whose heart and soul I want to get to know. I wish instead of hurting each other, we viewed each other as hearts and souls. Then and only then, could we build a rainbow nation, different but one. All hurting over the past but determined to never forget. Determined to learn from the past. Determined to heal what was broken. One rainbow. Beautiful in its differing colours. That’s what our fists – metaphorical and otherwise – are raised for.