Hidden histories of home

2017-01-08 06:03
Chris Hani (File, AFP)

Chris Hani (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

December is a time when many of us Black migrants and labourers return to our homelands. Our homecoming brings the opportunity to reconnect with our families and friends and, at times, with our ancestors by engaging in cultural ceremonies.

However, during my recent time at home in Ezibeleni kuKomani political memories and histories were re-remembered and retold. My brother excavated a suppressed aspect of our family’s and community’s histories, namely that various houses in our neighbourhood were used to store weapons for Umkhonto weSizwe, including a shack at the back of our four-roomed home; a few teachers worked as undercover operatives for the liberation movement; street committees were used for carving out mobilisation strategies; and he was part of a group of young men trained for potential war.

Many of these young men did not attend school; for six years and more in the late 1980s and early 1990s they engaged in political training in spaces like graveyards to avoid detection. They would also participate in political actions to defy and weaken the apartheid state.

Today, many of these young men occupy the taverns of Ezibeleni, not having an education or any form of employment. Alcohol has become a coping mechanism to deal with the embodied trauma and anxiety that emanates from having been an anti-apartheid activist.

The reality is that their bodies are no longer seen as useful, and their current struggles are relegated to the margins of our public memory. Their daily existence is a reminder of Wole Soyinka’s The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness lecture where he notes that “the victims are alive and in need of rehabilitation while their violators – as a recognisable group – pursue their privileged existence, secure in their spoils of a sordid history”.

This political history and memory, which speaks to our present, is worth recording.

The memories that my family shared with me came in glimpses; they are not complete truths of the collective histories and struggles of my community. And these tales may not be legitimised in hegemonic forms of public memory. Artist and academic Nkiru Nzegwu helps us understand the reason for this: “We are encouraged to remember and when we do we find that memory is viewed as unreliable. History is equated to textual documentation, a process that robs us of our memory that has carefully been preserved in modes that do not easily give up the story.”

Pumla Gqola, Black Feminist scholar and activist, affirms this argument and maintains that to begin to untangle the “fragments” of slave memory, for instance, “requires a multilayered approach”.

Gqola and Nzegwu’s writings further find relevance in relation to Nthabiseng Motsemme’s work on the SA Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She notes that we need to break free from the idea of viewing “memory as an object” and furthermore, to “embrace the notion that it includes embodied practices found in the person next to us in everyday life”. Therefore, conversations with our siblings and elders in our communities may assist us on the path to uncovering the hidden histories of the liberation struggle; histories and memories which are excluded from our official archives and records.

The significance of re-remembering our history is important for the present, as cultural theorist Stuart Hall echoes: “The past continues to speak to us”; it speaks to us in our material reality where the faces of poverty continue to be Black, while two white men own the same wealth as the bottom half of the population, as Oxfam reports.

Thus, archiving our history which is embodied in our present reality finds relevance in our present quest to decolonise the country. This venture is crucial because the liberation struggle is evoked in ways that include and exclude. Hierarchies are reinforced to erase the efforts of ordinary Black South Africans who contributed to the end of apartheid. We live in a country where the politics of memory is contested, a post-apartheid dispensation which has altered our political history and memory in what Black Feminist economist Liepollo Pheko calls “anti-historical” and “anti-memory”. This is characterised by depoliticised and individualised histories of the liberation struggles in order to advance a myth of the “rainbow nation” and the narrative of the ANC as our only “political saviour”.

Furthermore, in recent conversations on #FeesMustFall with Black people, some have said: “niyasilwelwa” (“you are fighting for us”), accompanied with words of encouragement to continue the struggle for free decolonised education. However, the history I learnt of in Ezibeleni has re-emphasised my belief that a fight for justice will be a collective one – our churches, teachers, community members will have to participate in various ways. Therefore, the retelling of this history challenges the confines of who and what an activist can be. There’s an urgent need to affirm the histories and memories of individuals and communities whose contributions have been hidden. Perhaps the spread of this history and public memory will result in more communities facing injustices today, realising that they come from a lineage of collective struggle. These narratives may empower our communities in present collective struggles for free education, gender justice and the return of black people’s stolen land. Perhaps it may fuel our burning hopes for justice.

In our various small towns and villages, it’s important for us to recognise that we come from a lineage of “worthy ancestors”, as Xolela Mangcu terms it. We too can become worthy ancestors in the fight to guarantee a just future for black people.

Dlakavu is a student


In what way does the past continue to speak to you, and do you think you will be a worthy ancestor?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword HOME and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    history  |  south africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Men.24 Model of the Week: Wendy from Cape Town

Find out more about our featured model, Wendy from Cape Town


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
WATCH: Pornhub is giving users free access to premium content these holidays
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.