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Mostly sunny. Cool.
I remember as a child singing the song, “January...
February... March… April … May …” to the tune of a guitar being strummed or the
clapping of hands.
The names of the two months I particularly enjoyed bellowing
out were May and December. The latter was my birth month and the former is the
surname of some of my cousins with whom I, in all likelihood, would have been
singing the song with.
I don’t recall whether I knew the connection between the
song and how my cousins’ surname came to be the same as a month on the calendar
The song would generally then herald a medley of songs
including “Daar kom die Alibama”. It was only later in my life after moving to
the Western Cape that I got to hear it being sung to the strum of a banjo and
the beat of the ghoema by the Klopse.
Last year Iziko Museum collaborated with advertising agency
Geometry Global on an exhibition titled “My Naam Is Februarie: Identities
Rooted in Slavery”, a campaign that was awarded a bronze at this year’s Loeries
Creative Week in the category ‘effective creativity’.
The Slave Calendar highlights the etymology of slave-derived
names and identities and captures in portrait the living descendants of the
slave trade who carry this painful history in their surnames.
The first enslaved people were brought to the Cape a few
years after the Dutch East Indian Company established a halfway station in here
in 1652. It remained a slave community for nearly 176 years before being
officially abolished in 1834. It is estimated that between 1683 and 1856, over
71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town.
This campaign made me think of the many ways in which
slavery and slaves have shaped South African history and culture and how much
of the diversity that we pride ourselves in is a result of this history of
Coming from diverse backgrounds and bringing with them
different languages, religions and customs, slaves formed relationships with
the indigenous Khoekhoe and with some of the burghers creating the melting pot
of experiences that has come to characterise this place.
I know very little of my own ancestry and know only the bits
and pieces shared by family members over the years. Fragments of our history
preserved in songs, food and childhood games. Yet traces of the legacy of
slavery find expression in the most intimate component of my identity – my
Some historians argue that the Afrikaans language developed
as a result of slaves and indigenous Khoekhoe trying to communicate with Dutch
settlers and slave owners. Afrikaans contains many words that came from the
languages spoken by slaves brought in from the East. Words like piering (saucer), baadjie (jacket), tronk
(jail), koejawel (guava), soebat (beg) and tjap (to stamp).
Why then, given the significance of this history, do we see
so few sites of memory erected for slaves and their descendants in South Africa,
and particularly in the Western Cape where the majority of the slave population
lived between 1658 and 1838, and where the majority of their descendants continue
to live today?
How often do we talk about slave memory in post-apartheid
South Africa and why should we?
Despite the many shortcomings of our young democracy, it
offers something that the previous dispensation did not allow for. It allows
for the radical re-imagining of who we are and who we can be.
It allows us to explore and create a new kind of South
African, one that is cognisant of the multiple identities and convergence of
forces that shape our experiences and ultimately who we are.
- Eleanor du Plooy runs the Ashley Kriel Youth Desk at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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