PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS ONLY A PDF COPY OF THE BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2009 WHICH IS NOW OUT OF PRINT
Any problems with purchasing the PDF contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Lenses on Cape Identities
EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Patric Tariq Mellet
First Published by DIBANISA 2009 (2nd Edition 2010)
Published & Revised Online 2016
THERE ARE TEN CHAPTERS IN THE BOOK – Make a donation of a minimum of US$ 8.50 or R 60.00 – OR IF YOU SO WISH YOU MAY DONATE MORE towards the work of the SA-THAI Slave Heritage Reflection Centre – through PAYPAL account: email@example.com or via Payfast if you are in South Africa. …… send proof of payment to the same email, and a return email will be sent with a drop-box link from which you will be able to copy the PDF book to your own computer.
The Slave Heritage Reflection Centre is a mini-museum place of visitation and engages in research, support for writing, film-making, performers, heritage activists and school students wishing to explore Slavery at the Cape, Slave Ancestry in the Cape, Identity, and also the links between Thailand and Cape Town in history. The Centre is supported only by donations and by the business activity of the Guesthouse and Spa. Your donation will support the ability to improve on the facility and to get more publications out.
Publication © Patric Tariq Mellet
Text © Patric Tariq Mellet
Cover image by Michael Daries
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
prior written permission of the copyright owners.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated
without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
included in this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Printed and bound by Kadimah Print
ISBN: 978-0-620-49177-8 Lenses on Cape Identities
Exploring Roots in South Africa
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Who do you think you are?
- The Cape Heritage Lens: An answer in the heart of District Six
- The Ancestral Heritage Lens: Identity through the lens of the family tree
- A Historical Lens: Identity informed by loss of life, land, liberty and dignity
- Racism: Identity and the race and racism discourse
- The Life Experience Lens: From the ‘Cleaner’s Boy’ to ‘Freedom Fighter’
- The Genetic Ancestry Lens: A scientific lens – Distant identity markers in DNA
- The Group Lens: National cultural groups – African, South African and what?
- Identity through Association; Heritage interface through relationships with partners
- Conclusion: Perspective for the future
Bibliography and Acknowledgements
Chapter 1 – WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
A popular international television series poses an interesting question when tackling genealogical roots. It does not approach its subject by asking – who we are, but rather asks – who do we think we are? There is often a huge difference between notions of attachments, influenced by all sorts of things, and what our actual attachments to past people, places and events may be. We also have a nonsensical and sometimes opportunistic tendency toward wanting to pin ourselves down to one single defining root when in fact, we have many. Very often this single defining root is presented as race or ethnicity. In this book, the 3rd revised edition first published in 2009, I use myself as subject of study by subjecting myself to some of the different lenses that can be used to explore identities.
Zinto was a nickname that I had in exile. It was one of a number of names that I carried. The name Zinto was derived from a previous surname that I carried – de Goede. My mother had given me her ex-husband’s name, ‘de Goede’, rather than that of my father or her own maiden name and this was the name that I carried for forty years. Some of my comrades in the liberation movement thought that the name was funny and interpreted it as ‘Goetes’ – things. This degenerated further, into ‘Dinges’ and ‘daai Ding’ – ‘that thing’. And so I acquired a humourous Nguni language version or interpretation of my mother’s ex-husband’s name – Zinto. Thus was born just one the many identity tags which I carried through life; my naming is just one facet illustrating the plurality of identity.
In the liberation movement I like many others also assumed a nom de guerre – Oscar, which was yet another label alongside Comrade Pat, the name by which most knew me. After 42 years I finally assumed my correct family name, Mellet, and ‘Zinto’ then lost a bit of its meaning. The name ‘de Goede’ vanished in a stroke of restoration by the Department of Home Affairs, which gave me back my real family name. Nobody uses Comrade Pat or Oscar anymore either. Another of my names by which many know me is Tariq, one of my three official forenames and the one which denotes my syncretic faith, merging elements of Islamic, Catholic, Buddhist and Afro-Indo animist spiritual streams. We all collect labels throughout our life and labels can be quite transient.
The transient nature of the labels we carry is only matched by the transient nature of some of the identities associated with those labels.
4 LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Identity discourse in South Africa, like so much of our national conversations, is unfortunately framed by the paradigm of race and ethnic identity. Identity is also thought of as something singular and that it lasts for all time. I always found it rather amusing when some people who were born into poverty and the working class, went on to become successful and wealthy, but then still carried on presenting themselves as working class to those in their new social circles. One sees politicians who claim to ‘bat for the working classes’ doing this all of the time. Their own working class identity had been shed long ago for a middle or upper class identity. Class mobility and identity change go hand in hand.
Under Apartheid, identity was herded into a singular kraal and this was either an ethnic group or one of the four race-silos into which we all had to fit. Regardless of the monumental post-Apartheid change since 1994, our society continues to think of identity as something singular and as a race or ethnic association to which we are absolutely bound by forces beyond our control. If identity is so bound with ‘belonging’ and we wish to create South Africa as a home for all, we are challenged to find a way to move beyond this crippling framework.
‘Lenses on Cape Identities – Exploring roots in South Africa’, expands on an earlier set of papers which I penned, ‘Zinto – Navigating Cape Identities’. I continue to emphasise and argue that identity is not singular but plural. The plurality of identities is not compartmentalised but totally enmeshed and my assertion is that identity does not have to be framed by the social construct of the race-paradigm, nor by ethnicity.
Identities are also not locked into old social formations of 500 years ago, 2000 years ago or in ones DNA roots of 30 000 to 80 000 years ago. Identities are molded by many factors and most importantly by one’s own life experience, decisions and choices. If we are able to tackle identity issues and engage in discourse on identity in a different way, we may be able to overcome many of the fissures in our society that are based on legacies of the past and fallacies of the past. The book weaves a number of threads across the different chapters and emphasises that there are many ties that bind us as South Africans and as human beings. We can either remain prisoners of the negative aspects of our colonial and Apartheid past or truly break free to establish a nation that dreams together and pulls together.
Migration, migrant identities, and notions of ‘true natives’ are also often used by some to differentiate and stake absolute claims of belonging or to label others as not belonging. But in truth all South Africans at some stage were migrants of one sort or another – whether San, Khoena, Nguni, Sotho, European, Camissa or ‘Coloured’, Indian or other Asians. Humanity migrated from East Africa to the south, north and west, and out of Africa to populate the world.
Then over time people within Africa migrated continuously to different locations including South Africa to join up with the descendants of their common forebears. People from Europe, Asia and the Americas also migrated in modern history back to Africa. Some came willingly and others were forced. While our migratory roots and settlement histories do influence our outlooks and sense of belonging and this can be celebrated, we do need to be cautious of adopting chauvinistic frameworks for how we interact with others based on a selective understanding of heritage.
LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA 5
This book consists of nine chapters and six of these discuss different lenses through which we can interrogate the question – who do you think you are?
The six lenses used are by no means the only lenses that can be used to look at identities but afford us a good start to a different way of viewing this burning subject. One of the chapters also just briefly looks at an important over-arching consideration which often blinds us from seeing anything else – the pseudo-science of RACE and the RACISM it spawns. The six lenses are our collective heritage in the Cape, genealogy, our perspectives on history, our life experience, genetic ancestry, and national group identities. The opening and closing chapters poses some aspects of the debate on identity and perspectives for future discourse. It concludes with an exhortation to South Africans to think about, moving away from being locked into the paradigm of four race silos – the Apartheid legacy.
If our nation in the making is to flourish we are urged to put the rigid race silos behind us and adopt a new approach to projecting our ancestral roots and sub-identities that acknowledges both our diversity and our bonds. Ultimately the aim of this book is to provoke more discussion on the issue of identity and to influence the discourse away from the race and ethnicity framework of discussion and debate, to look at the subject with different eyes.
The book is also a personal celebration of the identities in my own life and the personal empowerment that I’ve gained through a conscious exploration of my sense of belonging, while getting on with living and making a contribution to our wonderful country and people. While the book is aimed at all South Africans, its message has a particular resonance for South Africans labelled as ‘Coloured’ (I prefer the term – Camissa). It takes a unique mould-breaking look at the identity tributaries and heritage that inform communities so labelled. Unlike the denialist argument which attempts to say that there are no community distinctions, my argument recognises a range of distinct locally moulded cultures that fall under this unfortunate label and I argue that these cultures can be celebrated without entertaining the Apartheid era ‘Coloured’ paradigm. A non-racial alternative heritage terminology of CAMISSA is mooted for consideration.
We have all been brought up with a skewed historical narrative that allowed many important factors about our ancestry to fall between the cracks in the interest of manipulative ideological narratives. If we as South Africans can grasp a different way of looking at identity and affiliations, it is my belief that we have the recipe for building a nation that is truly free of our Apartheid and colonial past. It is posed that the ties that bind us can be stronger than the aberrations of the past that divided us. I believe that we run a serious risk of taking Apartheid into our future, if we do not stop and evaluate our approaches to identity and labeling. I can see many examples of risk playing out in our national life today.
It is unfortunate that in 22 years since 1994 our education department still bases its historical narrative on the colonial and Apartheid framework without giving due regard to pre-colonial African social history and also to the many skewed and even false stories in the colonial and Apartheid history books. It is disgraceful that there has been a failure to challenge to false notion of Chief Autshumoa as an ignorant vagabond ‘strandloper’ beach-bum, when he in fact can be proven to have travelled abroad and returned to set up a trading station before
6 LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
van Riebeeck at Camissa, that was thriving until it was stolen from him. The obliteration of the true story of the foundation of Cape Town, through Autshumoa’s foundation of the trading post at the Camissa is a sore that continues to fester and infects and affects our ability to address identity issues among those labelled ‘Coloured’. The story of Jan van Riebeeck’s chequered past in Hanoi (Tonkin), Vietnam, through to the white nationalist plagerisation of the image of Mr Vermuyden to present a romanticised and false version of the van Riebeeck image on coins, stamps, banknotes and much, much more has never been properly addressed. The Cape Town City Council continues to recognise the van Riebeeck founder story and does nothing to correct and remember the story of Autshumoa. Until we are able to face up to a different narrative of the path travelled up to this point we can never really properly know or understand ourselves.
The legacy of Apartheid has resulted in the nation being held hostage to the notion of ‘races’. Even our government with its proud non-racial history of struggle, still uses the lexicon of race, in the form of four race silos to identify citizens and thus unintentionally perpetuates a cornerstone of Apartheid. Even the notion of ‘mixed-race’ is premised on the race-paradigm and suggests that there is something called ‘pure-races’. If all people have multiple roots, what then does ‘mixed’ mean. We all tend to use these terms without thinking it through. The state uses the term ‘Coloured’ to represent a number of tribes, clans and social formations and constructs deemed to make up a so-called non-African minority. These are dealt with, with a measure of disapproval as supposed ‘junior beneficiaries of Apartheid’. In so doing and separating these as a different set of ‘people of colour’ from other tribes and clans is a continuation of Apartheid social engineering and discrimination. The ANC today effectively uses the same absurd race classification and definition as occurred in Apartheid legislation and has carried this into new legislation. We wonder why, 22 years after the demise of Apartheid why racism still thrives and flourishes. The ANC poured new wine into old wineskins and thus perpetuated Apartheid sans some of its worst attributes that the world called a crime against humanity.
Race labelling is continued even although modern genetic science has thoroughly proven that races are nothing more than a social construct that has pegged people into hierarchies of worth and dragged the world into hatred and conflict. Many South Africans who were at the forefront of the anti-Apartheid struggle have been calling for an abandonment of this Apartheid framework and express a frustration that their voices on this issue are not being heard.
I believe that an open national dialogue is required on the issue of race labeling and all that goes with it. Unless South Africans move away from this Apartheid legacy and begin to see ourselves not as races but rather as one people, diverse in our heritage and bonded in our endeavours to shape our common destiny, our nation in the making will be stillborn. If politicians of all hues of political opinion and officialdom do not change the practices of race profiling and race-baiting, the population will not be able to change their behaviours and psychology associated with race and the past. The new scourge of Xenophobia will also grow as long as people believe that our national political life encourages the ‘othering’ of people. Racism and Xenophobia are two sides of the same coin. Ethnic chauvinism is yet another manifestation of the same trend.
LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA 7
Our media constantly carries stories about our people either wrestling with issues of identity or elaborating on identities framed by race and ethnic pride. Outrageous statements are made about fellow human beings based on ridiculous notions of purity by people who are ignorant about their own history and make-up. These outrageous statements are made by people self-identifying with each of the former Apartheid race silos. Post-Apartheid, South Africans find that they cannot think of identity outside of the inherited framework of ‘White Coloured. Black and Indian’ and thus the legacy of Apartheid continues to create havoc in lives. If identity is so bound with ‘belonging’ and we wish to create South Africa as a home for all, we must pay attention to the aberration of race and ethnicity that presents itself as a distorted identity and as a means for including or excluding. This is why discourse on this subject is so important.
While circumstances can have an indelible impact on one’s identities, we are able to turn around circumstances and fashion our identities anew. In my way of thinking nobody has the right to impose identity on others, nor exclude others from the choices they make. Identities too are ever evolving and most especially today when borders are more porous and migration is higher than ever before, the result is a continuous hybriding or syncretising of cultures. This can and does happen and does not mean that we can’t still be able to celebrate and respect root cultures as part of a commonwealth of culture. But it does simultaneously call on us to rise above chauvinistic expressions of cultural heritage and to avoid politicising ethnicity and race.
Our sense of belonging is closely bound by a cherished heritage and our responsibility to pass on a legacy to the next generation. We can either have a very narrow approach where we have a set of rigid, exclusive and sacred tenets informed by race and ethnic considerations or our sense of belonging can be rooted in a broader appreciation of the spirit and endeavours of our forebears. I believe that heritage is less about narrow traditional practices and more about the collective spirit, resolve, endeavours, and lessons of the past. Over thousands of years traditional practices have continuously changed and been moulded by new circumstances.
Most import in our heritage is the spirit of our forebears to rise above adversity. Heritage is not an altar to be worshipped at, but rather a means for unlocking greater social cohesion and social transformation in our communities. Traditions can be enhancing but they can also perpetuate forms of oppression. It’s a thin dividing line that separates the two. Heritage is partly an understanding and celebration of community history but it is also much, much more than traditional historical stories and timelines. Heritage is about the core of who we are as a people. It is about how we define ourselves and the values we hold dear.
The stories that constitute our heritage, when presented, sometimes have an anecdotal feel. It is this ‘feel’ or spirit that is worth exploring. Its emphasis is how our forebears dealt with challenges and the learning gained from meeting such challenges. It is our collective experience, learnings and memory passed down over the ages. It is how we chart our way forward in life by using the learnings of the past. Heritage is part of the glue that holds us together as a people. As South Africans our tendency is to generationally focus on our trauma of the past and to transmit our trauma rather than celebrating the aspects of our heritage which place the emphasis on positive bonds and our ability to rise above adversity.
Our past is made up of ‘ties that bind us’ on the one hand and ‘gross acts of division and
8 LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
injustice’ on the other. There is a yin and yang in our heritage and often official histories clean
up what powerful forces which emerge in our society from time to time do not want us to remember and thus we have a perpetuation of denial and a marginalisation of the spirit of our people. We have a choice whether to be ‘replicators of division and injustice’ or to model ourselves on a heritage of:
- #Rising above adversity;
- Championing freedom and justice;
- Commitment to a sharing and caring society;
- Celebrating the ties that bind us as human beings;
- Challenging the theories and practices of division, racism, ethnicism and xenophobia;
- Celebrating and respecting the roots and diversity of South African identities as a tapestry of threads that make a greater whole;
- Recognising that in each human being there are great pluralities of identities all of which deserve respect.
For me, this sets the edges for exploring our roots, celebrating our heritage and gaining sense of belonging. I hold these seven values dear and our history has numerous examples of how these themes have coursed their way over time. It is from this basis that we can explore our sense of belonging, or identities, in a different way from the norm as South Africans. This approach holds out the possibility of breaking free from the different negative aspects of the polarised ‘black experience’ and ‘white experience’ that still dominates our lives.
In exploring identity outside of the race and ethnicity framework it is important to caution that this does not mean engaging in denial about the fissures in our society brought about by the legacy of our past. But my suggestion is that perhaps if we tackle identity and engage in discourse on identity in a different way, we may be better able to overcome many of the fissures in our society that are based on legacies of the past. Our past should not cast our future in stone. By honestly looking at people, places and events in our past and questioning who we think that we are, we may indeed find out who we are.
The fathers of our nation, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu have led the way in exhorting us to embrace a spirit of forgiveness of the oppressive relations of the past, so that the nation in birth may be realised and grow. They have also cautioned that the nation should never forget this past so that those aberrations of the past may never happen again. They have further exhorted those who were oppressors and beneficiaries of past oppression to reach beyond their self-created race-silo and privileged lifestyles to embrace their fellow South Africans by taking positive action to change the legacy of the past.
Justice and reconciliation go hand in glove in all of what our elder leaders have urged. Our astute elder statesmen have in various ways further cautioned that those of us herded into race-silos created by others should be careful not to end up owning and defending those silos, and thus adopting the very behaviours which we had fought against.
To forgive but not forget is a vital part of the healing of past injustice and requires much maturity and also restraint in the language that we all use on public platforms. Here I always
LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA 9
think of our great statesman Oliver Tambo who was known for his use of the ‘pregnant-pause’ in speechmaking. He employed a huge amount of thought in choosing every word uttered because he knew both the positive and negative impact of words spoken on a public platform. Many of our elder statesmen showed in practice that there is a fine line between not forgetting past aberrations in a dignified manner aimed at these never happening again, and the alternative of revelling in a distorted triumphalism that sometimes inappropriately and dangerously clothes such acts of memory.
It is unfortunate that in the political arena too often one finds politicians shooting from the lip and using unacceptable inflammatory language that is an insult to the lessons passed down from our elder statesmen and our ancestors. In a diverse society such as ours where we need to painstakingly build a common national consciousness so that a better life can be built for all, it is extremely irresponsible when political figures, from whichever party, sink to use of inflammatory race and ethnic language to win arguments. These behaviours inevitably take us back and allow the legacy of Apartheid to call the shots.
A vital part of forgiveness and healing is restitution and corrective action. The handling of these too requires much wisdom. Ensuring that we never forget must always be coupled with the watchwords – NEVER AGAIN. The lessons are there for both former oppressors and for victims alike. It also has to be coupled with education about the value of all human beings as one family, and what constitutes racism, ethnicism, national group chauvinism, sexism, sexuality intolerance, religious intolerance, bigotry, xenophobia and hate speech.
In exploring identity, for a South African nation to emerge from the ashes of our terrible past, we are called upon to take a hard line in not tolerating these aberrations in any shape or form. We are also called upon to take a harder and closer look at what we call our identity. The historic Freedom Charter of 1955 starts with the words, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it…’ Our new constitution proclaims that we are ‘United in our Diversity’. We are challenged to give substance to these statements by ensuring that all are able to truly feel a sense of belonging and not perpetual alienation.
In writing this book I wanted to share just one South African experience of looking at identity within a different paradigm to that which we have been conditioned to do. This is my own experience that I am using for illustrative purposes. Each South African will have their own unique personal experience of identities. It is a Cape based experience but from my interactions I know that this experience could have occurred in any place in South Africa.
The book also tackles some of the issues of ‘Coloured’ or Camissa identities which is a subject close to my heart and experience. There is much self-depreciation within communities classified as ‘Coloured’ and much patronisation and insult that is often directed from others. People classified as ‘Coloured’ have for too long been caricatured when community roots are explained.
The worst of these caricatures is projected in the phrase, “Nine months after van Riebeeck
landed at the Cape the ‘Coloured’ or Camissa people were born.” Another crude caricature which many ‘Coloured’ people have come to adopt is the race or colour notion of being ‘Bruin
10 LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Mense’ (Brown people), regardless of the fact many ‘Coloured’ or Camissa people may be as fair in complexion as some ‘whites’ (or Euro-Africans) and many are darker than Nguni or Sotho peoples. Then again, some people classified as ‘Coloured’ erroneously try to find a sense of belonging in an ethnic haven by claiming that the ‘Coloured’ or Camissa people are actually the only true descendants of the San or Khoe people. This is regardless of history, genealogy and DNA saying that this is not entirely true.
The issues thrown up by caricaturing or the desperate grasping around for race and ethnic solutions require informed discussion and reflection. The Apartheid era did huge damage to the sense of belonging and self-worth in communities labelled as ‘Coloured’. The truth of the matter is that people classified as ‘Coloured’ are a creole or locally born African people with ancestral roots born of many wonderful components. Creole simply translated from its original Spanish meaning is ‘locally born’ or ‘a new creation’. In this book I will suggest that ‘Camissa’ is a more appropriate term than the race/colour term ‘Coloured’.
The full story of the tributaries of the people who emerged as a new or Creole creation in the Cape deserves to be told and celebrated instead of the caricatures and half-baked stories that make the rounds and confuse all who encounter these. The many tourism books on South Africa to be found in bookshops while explaining each of South Africa’s national group histories and culture all serve up a distorted hash when projecting ‘Coloured’heritage and culture. Some of the alternative approaches to this subject which have positively informed my own experience are explored in this book.
I open with the second chapter of this book elaborating, just briefly, on the seven tributaries of the ancestral heritage of people classified as ‘Coloured’. I use the emotive and symbolic Seven Steps of old District Six as a tool to explain this wonderful heritage. The beautiful thing is that through the same tool one is clearly able to see that many other people classified as Black, White or Asian also share many of these tributaries and this highlights the many ties that bind us across group boundaries as South Africans. It opens up a means to vision our future as a nation that can drop race terminology while acknowledging that we have a common African heritage regardless of tribe, clan or Camissa roots, or as Afro-Europeans, or Afro-Indians. My argument is that we cannot run away from the fact that there are different groups and can proudly celebrate group identities but these should not be misrepresented as races, and our first emphasis should be on our African bond and our Southern Africa community.
If we as South Africans can grasp a different way of looking at identity, bonds and affiliations, we stand a much better chance of pulling together as a winning nation in the 21st century. Our ties that bind us offer us the opportunity of moving forward from the past that divided us. In this book I track my own bonds, affiliations and experiences to show how my Cape cultural heritage developed, its place in South Africa and the binding ties that have crossed many boundaries in my family heritage, all of which have shaped my identities.
The Lebanese-French writer Amin Maalouf in his brilliant book ‘On Identity’ says:
“What makes me myself rather than anyone else is the very fact that I am poised between two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. It is precisely this that defines
LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA 11
my identity. Would I exist more authentically if I cut off a part of myself?”
Maalouf talks about people being pressed and ordered to take sides or be defined by a given identity and then comments:
“….pressed and ordered by whom? Not just by fanatics and xenophobes of all kinds, but also by you and me, by each and all of us. And we do so precisely because of habits of thought and expression deeply rooted in us all; because of a narrow, exclusive, bigoted, simplistic attitude that reduces identity in all its many aspects to one single affiliation, and one that is proclaimed in anger….I feel like shouting aloud that this is how murders are made – it’s a recipe for massacres!”
Amin Maalouf struck a chord deep within me as he expresses so eloquently the direction that my thought processes and life has taken me over the years. It has been good to reflect on my life and draw some lessons from it that I can share with others.
I was born into a crazy era in South African history. The race classification act and group areas act were just being enacted and had a major impact on our family which straddled three of the race categories in the new legislation. I was also born into a dysfunctional family to a single divorced woman and given a name that was neither that of my father or mother. I was fostered by 3 different families before the age of six, and ended up as a factory worker by the time I was 16. My start to life was a recipe for great confusion about where I belonged. This was the start of my intellectual and spiritual journey to seek clarity on my identity or sense of belonging. In it I discovered my ancestral continuum.
After going out to work still a child, my life continued to be a nomadic one, which provided ever new influences and experiences. I was fortunate to come under the direct influences of many of South Africa’s most outstanding leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Jack Simons, Moses Mabida, Dan Thloome, Ruth Mompati, Sophie Williams de Bruyn and others. In going out to work not quite sixteen years old and getting involved in the liberation struggle, my identities were moulded and I developed a high consciousness about who I am and my sense of belonging. It defied the traditional paradigm of identity that was imposed on us. In time I developed a pride in many wonderful affiliations and associations. I also developed a pride in my creole Camissa identity, South African identity, Southern African and African identity and see no contradiction between these four facets of who I am. Furthermore I have a pride of association with the full range of national cultural group identities found in South Africa because these are also part of my life as a South African and I would be less without these.
Much later in my life I was able, over twelve years, to piece together my genealogical heritage that links back to English settler and slave ancestry in the 1800s on my maternal side and European, slave and Khoena ancestry going back three centuries on my paternal side, incorporating African, Indian and Southeast Asian roots. Genealogy can play an enhancing role in exploring identity. Whatever community that you believe that you come from in South Africa using the distortion of the race-framework – white, black, coloured or Indian, you will be sure to find that your genealogy will cross boundaries that go back to other parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. Among my ancestors there are 22 slaves, and four Khoena women.
12 LENSES ON CAPE IDENTITIES – EXPLORING ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The slaves came from West Africa, different parts of India, and Southeast Asia. Others were locally Camissa born Creole slaves. My paternal Y-Chromosome DNA is Eurasian tracing back to the foothills of the Himalayas in India-Pakistan and spreading out through the Middle-East through to Turkey and Georgia, and also into China, Southern India and South East Asia. In the case of my maternal MtDNA it is Sub-Saharan African, strongest in West Africa and also found amongst East Africans, and the African population in South Africa, African Americans, Afro Caribbean and Afro Brazilians.
By exploring ancestry and DNA your discoveries may challenge you to ask yourself some probing questions about how you see yourself and others. More importantly one may need to ask whether, but for a twist of fate, you may have rather been on the receiving end of the kind of ‘othering’ which is very widely practiced by South Africans of all hues.
The following chapters will take you down many interesting paths of discovery. Ultimately the aim of this book is to provoke more discussion on the issues raised and to celebrate the discoveries made while exhorting all to look at this subject with different eyes. The book is also a personal celebration of the identities in my life and the personal empowerment that I’ve gained through a conscious exploration of these. Lenses on Cape Identities is located in a Cape experience, but resonates across all South African experiences and could be applicable to any diverse community in Africa or the world.
Stop for a moment and ask yourself – “Who do you think you are”?
To read on……………………………………………
THERE ARE TEN CHAPTERS IN THE BOOK – Make a donation of a minimum of US$ 8.50 R60.00 or IF YOU WISH YOU CAN DONATE MORE towards the work of the SA-THAI Slave Heritage Reflection Centre – through PAYPAL account: firstname.lastname@example.org …… send proof of payment to the same email, and a return email will be sent with a drop-box link from which you will be able to copy the book to your own computer. For SA purchases please email and arrangements can be made for payment.