This is a piece which I wrote in response to a comment on Facebook by someone expressing irritation that we are, as he put it, “MOANING” about a book written by an unapologetic white South African woman – Rainbow Nation Navigation: A Practical Guide to South African Cultures in which she stereotypes and engages in insulting and hurtful remarks as to what constitutes ‘Coloured Culture’ in South Africa. The commenting individual, another white South African, critical of the protest voice, tells us that we should be countering by explaining what is the culture of people labelled ‘Coloured’ as if to say that it is our duty to educate the white South Africans who engage in such insult. We have no such duty….. we need to prove nothing to those who operate from a racist paradigm.

Here is simply, in the face of insult, how we can celebrate who we are as a people who are a vibrant part of South African life. Neither the stream of insults in this book nor our being labelled as ‘Coloured’ – a term that certainly does not say who we are, but rather emphasizes what we are not, will ever take away our part of the greater South African heritage and reduce it to the benal.



In Praise of Camissa Culture – “O’s is” / “We are!”

We are a people born in and of Africa, combining Indigene, Pan-African, South Asian and Southeast Asian coming together, with a touch of the qualities of those Europeans who accepted our embrace – our dna is the most diverse in the world.… “O’s is!”

We are a people inspired by the fortitude of our Indigene Khoena, San, amaXhosa and other African forebears and their ancient cultures and wisdom which beats in our hearts and soul and still stirs the passion in us which is infectious to all we encounter….”O’s is!”

We are a people of great endurance with an amazing ability to rise up above adversity having survived 14 Indigene wars of resistance over 164 years against an ethnocidal and genocidal colonial onslaught and, engaged in many acts of resistance and revolt against enslavement and the brutal existence as slaves…. “O’s is!”

We are the descendant people of the life sustaining Camissa River, with its many tributaries and springs, who, at the Shoreline Frontier, embraced and sustained all, but were brutally ravished by some…. “O’s is!”

We are proud that into the embrace of our stream came banished resisters from the territories with ancient cultures, stomped over by the Dutch VOC and, refugees and economic migrants of colour from afar –

  • skilled Southeast Asian craftsmen,
  • exiled scholars of faith from Indonesia,
  • Chinese with ancient cultures and medicinal skills,
  • Masbiekers with their way of the Ngoma and farming skills,
  • refugee Manillas with their revolutionary Philippine resolve,
  • the Kroomen, Lascar and Seedee Mariners who laid the foundations of our maritime industry,
  • Indian and Bengali traders, craftsmen, technicians and teachers,
  • The Saints from St Helena with their own tapestry of culture,
  • The African-American and Caribbean Pan-Africanists with their journalism and liberating ideas
  • Indentured labourers from across Africa and the British Empire who propped up a downward spiraling economy and turned it around

and so many more thousands of migrants of colour who built the foundations of South Africa’s economic success, but were treated with disdain and robbed of the fruit of our labours and our intellectual contribution denied….“O’s is!”

We are conscious that without the crucial input in terms of education, skill and back-breaking labour by our forebears and ourselves, there would be neither magnificent Cape Town, nor South Africa…. “O’s is!”

We are conscious that like the river and its tributaries we and our rich vibrant culture too were forced underground and layer upon layer of alienating superstructure hid ‘the real us’ from sight…. “O’s Is!”

We are conscious of the fact that like the underground river, we the people of the water (//amma) continued to have life and vibrantly flowed and gushed forth in springs across Cape Town, and our vibrancy could never be ignored… “O’s is!”

We are proud that in the Slave Lodge of old, our forebears came up with the first foundations of an education system for South Africa; its craftsmen left us with exquisite antique furnishings and finishes on buildings that leave beholders in awe;  the first local play was written here by a slave; and the oldest piece of local education literature was bequeathed us by a slave in his own handwriting…. “Os is!”

We are aware that we continued over the centuries in our creativity; we have a legacy of creating a language – Afrikaaps which others copied; we have produce literary giants; we have a cuisine legacy – unique in first putting fusion cooking on the map when we blended African, Malagasy, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine; we have contributed a rich legacy in dance, ballet, opera, theatre, music composition and performance, creative writing and so much more – and others copied us.… “O’s is!”

We are conscious, whether in our homes, in educational institutions, in commerce and industry, on the stage, on the sports-fields or in the streets we notably stand out exactly because of the amazing and recognizably unique stamp of our Camissa Footprint in our land…. “O’s is!”

We are known as a spiritual people who pay great attention to our spirit through our diverse expressions of faith – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, Syncretic or Secular and the qualities in us, born of our faith interacting with our life experiences over time, often despite great pain and tears has given us strength, fortitude, joyousness and ability to laugh at and with ourselves in rising above adversity. “O’s is!”

And when we laugh and make others laugh with our ambidextrous take on life, we are not fools, we are celebrating amazing triumphs and deep wells of tears, and our survival from lives past and present that should have crushed us but didn’t. “O’s is!”

We are painfully aware that we have have struggled quietly with the pains of substance abuse, which has a long history rooted in a tot-en-tabac system first introduce by the Dutch VOC to the 402 child slaves landed in 1658 and copied to date by farmers intent on pacifying us; we have continuously wrestled with this artificially induced cancer and while it still wreaks havoc, most of us survived…. “O’s is!”

We are a people who are family orientated and love our get-togethers and celebrating our achievement and survival, even when dysfunctionality has often blighted us through the assault of slavery on family life, massacres of our indigene forbear families and enslavement of Khoena and San children, continuous forced removals over four centuries, substance abuse and other social ills that befell us as a result of ghettoization… “O’s is!”

We are always in hearty celebration of life. We laugh because there has been too much crying. We sing and rejoice and we love and we hope – and we are noticed for it – and if you ask us why, we will tell you…”O’s is!”

“O’s is!”    “We are!”

Wayde-van-Niekerk-2Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine making up the winning 100m team during the 2016 CAA 20th African Senior Championships at the Kings Park Athletic stadium in Durban, South Africa on June 24, 2016


chief_david_stuurman_495x769 louis_van_mauritius_495x769chief_klaas_stuurman_495x769

DAVID STUURMAN sculptured by Keith Calder
LOUIS VAN MAURITIUS sculptured by Barry Jackson
KLAAS STUURMAN sculptured by Keith Calder
DR JOHANNES VAN DER KEMP sculptured by Barry Jackson.
MAKHANDA THE ITOLA sculptured by Johan Moolman;



A few years ago I was approached by the National Heritage Monument of South Africa to assisted with realizing a vision to give recognition to our ancestors oveDavid Stuurmanr the last 400 years who were sidelined from official histories. I was asked to assist with two things – to provide advice to a range of sculptors on the appearance of these historical figures who in the majority of cases were not captured photographically or in sketches and paintings, I was also asked to research and write 20 of their biographies which could be used as a reference for various projects envisaged for the future. It was a wonderful privilege to be part of this amazing project which subsequently has evolved as a reality.

I engaged with the sculThe Crowd 3ptors in various ways to ensure the best degree of authenticity for the final products and they produced the most magnificent bronze life size figures which broke with the traditional sculpting norms for such work. For each figure I produced a ten page well-researched biography, from which shorter biographical briefs could be produced.


NOMMOA (DOMAN) sculptured by Sarah Richards

There are five contemporaries who are my favorite historical character from the same revolutionary period in our history and one earlier Khoena leader who led the first war of resistance – Klaas and David Sturman of the Khoena Resistance; Louis of Mauritius the leader of the 1808 Slave Rebellion; Makhanda the Xhosa/Khoena Itola (Prophet and military general); Dr Johannes van der Kemp the revolutionary missionary, abolitionist a defender of the Khoena who dared to say that his Jesus did not have to be adopted with a European cultural package; and Nommoa (Doman) the Khoena leader of the first war of resistance against the Dutch. I worked on many of the other historical characters too – 20 in fact.

There are 40 professional sculptors and assistants who have been involved in this project and 8 South African foundries involved in the manufacture. There have also been 5 less experienced artists who have been trained and mentored in the course of the project to the extent that they are now independently working and selling their own bronze sculpture works. Besides carrying out this mammoth task of filling a gap in our history and heritage where previously history and memory had been blotted out, this has been the largest arts empowerment project in the field of sculpturing fine arts in South Africa by a public and private partnership in funding.

I have often promoted that our artists in South Africa engage in “IMAGINING” the past and creating historical and heritage images where there are glaring gaps in imagery so that our public have the opportunity to engage with the past in a more tangible and meaningful manner. To those who question this exhortation of mine, I remind them about the famous artist Charles Bell who 200 years after the event, painted van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape, with all its imperfections and lack of authenticity, but that the image has endured and been embraced for the last 170 years. The image of that painting projecting Autshumao (presented as Harry the beachbum strandlooper) as an awestruck man dress in skins who had never engaged with whites is as unauthentic as they come. Autshumao who was an established trader and linguist of some 30 years standing made a point of dressing in European clothes when engaging newly arrived Europeans, and had already trained in Jakarta with the English. I also remind them of two plagiarized images from a Dutch Museum which the Colonial and Apartheid era projected authentically as that of Jan van Riebeeck and his wife Maria de la Quellarie. For decades these images served as fakery to present van Riebeeck as a handsome well proportioned Dutch hero with long wavy hair who appeared to us on stamps, coins, banknotes, history books and statues (one of these fakery statues still stands proudly in Cape Town). The images are indeed of a Mr Vermuyden and his mistress Ms Kettering. So the example of these great scultors should be emulated by our budding young fine artists across the country. Paint, sculpt, sketch, carve and work on the hidden history and heritage of South Africa.

Please visit the National Heritage Monument website to learn more. It does not feature all of the images, nor the full depictions – just the portrait views.