I am a black South African, born in Transkei -- a rural area that is said to be a national disgrace, with the worst government institutions. As a result we are labelled, stigmatized and made to feel inferior. Even after Apartheid, there are inequalities and hierarchies within my people.
South Africa has 11 official languages and 9 of them are African. But English is regarded as prestigious and superior. In Transkei we speak Xhosa; we are the Xhosa Nguni tribe. However, we belittle ourselves by calling us “iziXhosana” (black-minded).
This is an ideology that we fought for during Apartheid that “being black does not mean you’re uncivilized, barbaric or stupid.” However, today we are oppressed by a backlash that we are enforcing upon ourselves.
Transkei means the region beyond the Great Kei River. In 1950 the Group Areas Act was put in place to separate South Africans according to their skin colour. The law’s mission was to exclude non-whites from living in the most developed areas and non-whites were forcefully removed for living in “wrong areas.”
Black people were separated according to the language they speak, age, level of education and level of importance to the Apartheid regime. Black people were taught Bantu Education, a syllabus that trained blacks how to be of better services to their slave Baas (Afrikaner for white master).Therefore, the young and able-bodied were moved to shanty towns next to mines, women worked as domestic workers, the less educated worked in farms and lived with their Baas, and the old and fragile were moved to Transkei.
Transkei remained an internationally unrecognized black area that was diplomatically isolated and politically unstable. Eventually, it broke off relations with South Africa and became a neglected country within South Africa, because it was no use to the Apartheid government.
My father is a plumber for the Department of Public Works and my mother is an elementary school teacher. When my father was doing standard 7 (Grade 9) his father became very sick from overworking and poor working conditions. Therefore, my father had to drop out of school as he is the eldest of five out of 11 children. . The four before him died; two from diseases, two were killed by the police, one was struck by lightning and two went to South Africa and were never heard of. Now out of 11 children only two are alive-my father and his youngest brother whom he is 25-years his senior.
Nonetheless, my father took over from my grandfather and advanced from where my grandfather left off. This upset my grandfather, because in African tradition the father is the commander, the breadwinner, the head of the house, a man whom his sons aspire to be. As a result of this conflict I was raised by my maternal grandparents up
until I was seven years. I don’t have any vivid memory of my grandfather because he died in 1997 when I was six.
I went to cheap government schools in the townships. There everyone is black; from teachers down to students. This together with my country’s Apartheid history has influenced for a very long time how much I value myself and white people. I am from a country where people made themselves superior than all other races; I was raised by grandparents who still view white people as superior beings-and they ingrained this ideology on me.
At 18 years I went to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, the biggest city in the Eastern Cape Province. Here the population is 50% black, 30% white and 20% international student. For the first time in my life I attend classes with white students and no black professors. My life was upside down. To my advantage black students outnumbered the white, therefore making friends was easy. So, what was left for me to do was ignore all the white students in my class, because white professors were deserving of their position.
The mind really has a mind of its own. What you choose to repress, ignore and neglect immediately feels like it does not exist in reality. With this conviction, everything went to ‘normal’.
By the end of the year I obtained seven A’s out of 10 modules I enrolled for. With this, I was one of the only two who were sent to study in America- in Minnesota, St Cloud State University. My excitement was quickly destroyed after I learned I was departing with a white, an Afrikaner, a Boer. I told my grandmother first who congratulated me saying “Oh my child, I’ve always known you had a white brain.” Next I told my parents who enquired who else I was going with, because just like me it sounded impossible for me to be the only student chosen in such a diverse university. I could pick up from our conversation that I going across the world with a white girl was not settling well with them. Many black South Africans have trust issues with white people and many still see them racist. Hence, many black people -- in particular the ANC supporters and leaders -- consider blacks who support the DA, a predominately white political party, as traitors.
Arriving in America made me realize that I had a new identity. I moved from the majority race to the minority, in particular in St Cloud where everyone is white. The only blacks you can find are working class Somalians. Many of them feel out of place, uncared for and an impurity in St Cloud.
I was the only black in all my classes and friends. Everywhere I went, I brought along diversity. I was diversity itself. Most frightening I had to share my space with a white roommate.
In South African government schools ‘you sit still, face the front and never speak-unless spoken too.’ In America classes are interactive; you get a platform to voice your opinions-regardless of right or wrong. This was my greatest challenge, even though I am not a shy person. However, I did not want to embarrass myself and sound black in front of white people. In my culture it’s a shame, a sin and a sign of weakness.
It is after showing my documentary “Language Apartheid in South Africa” to my documentary class did I fully realize that I did not represent just me, but my culture, my country and race. After the viewing many felt remorseful for me, because it was the end of the semester and I was going back to oppression in South Africa they asked “Can’t you prolong your stay here and save yourself?” I calmly replied “That was the Soweto Uprising of 1976. Things are perfect now. Apartheid ended.”
Transkei was later reintegrated in 1994 to form part of the Eastern Cape its largest neighbour.
However, did Apartheid really end? I was born in 1992 the intermediate year between 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from Robbin Island, and 1994 when Mandela became the first black president of a democratic Republic of South Africa. But why do I still hold the same world views, ideologies, self-identity and belief systems that my forefathers hold? Those in my generation have the power to continue the cycle, and pass down this mentality to our offspring.
Being an international student made me realize that I am a prisoner of my own thoughts, my mind oppresses me, my assumptions limit me, I am a black consciousness freedom fighter trapped in Robbin Island-and my own mind is Robbin Island. If Apartheid really ended in South Africa, I am its neglected legacy.
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