Dashiki Dialogues: When the only thing common is difference

2014-01-06 10:00

A long drive across the land of my birth is how me and mine ended the previous year and ushered in the new one. Contemplating the changes and variety that define the land’s topography can provide a rich meditative effect.

Charting through our eastern coastline, standing at our country’s southernmost corner or trudging through the Karoo has a way of sharpening one’s sense of home.

The many different faces, some wind and dust bitten in the unforgiving heat of the Karoo, others plump and round or slender and elongated with the supple texture of seaside living, all shaped from the diverse gene pools from which we all issue.

The multiple tongues with which we say “hello”, “dumela” or “sawubona” is one of the many ways of understanding how wide we can stretch the phrase “my people”.

I was silently searching for “my people” when we randomly crossed the path of an open-faced old lady at a tourist attraction where the majority of travellers were overseas visitors.

Familiar faces and voices or tongues had been few and far between. Drowned in this deluge of camera-clutching foreigners, it’s easy to feel at sea in one’s own home.

This is why even though we did not know each other, we both found great solace in the discovery that we shared a language, a tongue, a way of naming the world and a way of making sense of existence.

This discovery shaped what would be the defining question of my holiday travels: why do we end up being the only black people in the many restaurants or game parks when we visit places like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay or the Cape winelands? Where do darkies go for fun?

I wondered if the absence of dark-skinned people in some of these places is the result of many years of exclusion, which has socialised us away from certain spaces.

Is it for the same reasons we never see white people during national commemorations of the New South Africa at the Union Buildings?

It was difficult to swallow the fact that I have more in common with the workers, security guards and rangers than with fellow diners and tourists 20 years into democracy.

We should all be clear that when we invoke that sacred injunction of the people: “Maibuye iAfrika!” (which loosely translates as “Africa must return”), we include not just Soweto, Soshanguve or Seshego. We also mean Somerset West, Sandton and Saulsville.

Here I’m even reminded of a favourite line of some of Tshwane’s Azapo activists: “Waterkloof is also part of Azania.”

The threads that fashion our dashikis must engage in a dialogue with that land in its entirety to give us an authentic picture of ourselves.

»?Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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