Our Slave Heritage

2013-12-03 05:01

A few years ago I was told that my great grandfather was “a Boer”. These were the exact words used by my grandmother to describe her father. I wonder how long this would have gone untold without my questions. I’ve witnessed many coloured families have a similar disposition, in which the white or European side is focused on more than the other less desirable parts, namely Malay and Khoi. This reminded me of comedian Marc Lottering’s character Auntie Merle who describes her hair as “German Caribbean”, to take the sting out of having kinky hair.

This past weekend I was reminded of the other side of our heritage. My hope for remembrance and celebration of the past was felt in reverse. My Sunday night ended off leaving the Castle of Good Hope where celebrations were held to commemorate the abolition of slavery. As I left the Castle, which was reasonably well attended, I was hit by the loud music (which was very audible all through the night) from the Grand Parade, a few hundred metres away, where the celebration for the switching on of the Christmas lights (die liggies, as I know them) in Cape Town was held. The two hardly seemed compatible, and one obviously could not match up in the cool factor stakes.

This event at the Castle was especially significant because mention was also made of World Aids Day, as well as 16 Days of Activism. My personal issues with (what I think is often the empty sentiment of) commemorative days aside, I was reminded that HIV/AIDS and rape and abuse are also forms of slavery, as one speaker said.

Earlier that Sunday I also attended a memorial service for the Nama people in Wellington. What I witnessed was a community of people who just wanted to hold on to their past. And with one of only six people in the country who speak Nama, to hear it spoken and translated was an honour, but also scary. To imagine a culture dying out before our very eyes is something I cannot imagine, yet these people have to live with the possibility. Guest of honour, Minister Gugile Nkwinti, indeed honoured the Khoisan people and even thanked them for their contribution to our country, and even the Xhosa language. The Khoisan people, he said, were the first to erect shacks as a sign of protest when permanent structures, like the Castle, were being built after Jan van Riebeek landed. I've never thought of shacks in this way until the Minister said it. If we are to put our political issues aside for a second, we should all take pride in the fact that we are a nation of protesters, always fighting for better lives.

With a history of colonisation, it may make some very uncomfortable to acknowledge, but we are all imbued with the blood of slaves, and are a part of slavery.

I wish that the city would have found a way to let both of these events flourish equally, maybe incorporating the two, with the slavery commemoration leading into the big party. When we reflect on our own histories, we come to realise that a past is a terrible thing to waste.


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