Identity at last

2009-05-01 00:00

PETER Abrahams was recently awarded the Order of Ikhamanga for his contribution to literature. Born in Vrededorp, Johannesburg, to an Ethiopian father and coloured mother, he wrote Mine Boy and Tell Freedom, among other works of fiction that deal with social and political issues, racism in particular.

Yet he is scarcely known in his own country, even among the educated. He left it in 1939, worked as a seaman and journalist, and settled in Jamaica well over 50 years ago. Like many black South Africans, he had to go into exile to find a public identity and make his name.

Now 90 years old and interviewed on the radio, he explained that his birth was not registered and there is no official trace of him in South Africa. There is now. And it is a measure of how far this country has travelled that constitutionally everyone born here now has an equal right to citizenship.

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