What’s your first ever memory? What plays through your mind when you think of the past? Of your earliest moments?
I apparently remembered an event that happened too long ago for it to have registered-or rather, for one to expect it to have registered. I told my mother about a dream I had. I described everything in vivid detail. She was shocked. It was the unveiling of my grandparents’ tombstone. I was there alright…But I was only three months old. How did I know what things looked like and who did what?
My first REAL conscious memory is of my dad picking me up from a hospital bed and causing intense pain. I’d just had hernia surgery, and as he lifted me up under my armpits, it stretched my lower half, causing the incision to pull apart. I remember crying in pain and him putting me back down and apologising. It was a hernia on my groin, on the left. I was three YEARS old this time.
I also remember the time I had horrible fevers with pneumonia. I was a little child. I hallucinated that my santa toy was moving his arms and marching. I found it cute but wondered why he only did it at night. I also had scary hallucinations that there was a huge spider web dangling from the top of the ceiling to the bed that I was lying on. And a huge spider on it. I couldn’t get off the bed and away from the spider because there were elephants marching around my bed and I was terrified of them.
My mother said the neighbours had cast a spell on me, and that that’s why I was seeing things.
But that’s not my real beginning, is it? I was born weighing 1.7kg. A preemie. Here in Cape Town. It was during those bad old days and my mother had chosen to have me in a town hospital, rather than a poorly serviced township hospital. Except the Coloured nurses sent her away, telling her she couldn’t possibly be in labour as it was too early. She had used a taxi to get to the hospital and faced labour pains and fear while leaving again. Turned away by racist Coloureds… As she walked down the stairs, a nurse from our church happened to be coming on duty and met my mom on the stairs. She asked my mom why she was there, and when my mom explained that she was worried that I was coming very early, the nurse told her to get back inside immediately.
As soon as my mom was situated on a bed, I came out. Little club foot me. All wrinkled but alive. Imagine if the church lady had not come.
It was just a sign of things to come. Of the time in creche that a Coloured boy threw me down some steps, calling me a k-ffir, dislocating my shoulder in the process. Or of the time as an adult in 2015, that a Coloured man told my husband and I, “We Coloureds hate Blacks, especially Xhosas…”
I won’t shy away from any of these topics in this blog. Call me ‘divisive’ like some Blacks did when I spoke about racist treatment. No race is perfect. But it’s not ONLY White people who oppressed and hate Black people today. That’s why I will never accept a Coloured person being referred to as Black. Like recently when I saw a headline, “First Black whatnot at Stellenbosch University to do whatever.” only to find that the man is Coloured. No. He’s not the first Black anything. He’s the first Coloured (or Kullit or whatever the people want to call it.). If you hate my race, don’t identify yourself using it when it suits you. It’s like those who put up posters and signs saying “Europeans only” now wanting to be classified as African. Nee. You are European. And many should go back. Especially those in places like Moorreesburg, or Orania or other racist towns.
Or what about growing up with tear gas and police casspirs as my reality in my township where the only dwellers were those who looked like me? Or the fear of being attacked for not staying away from school? My headmistress at the small White independent school I attended having told my father to keep us safe and stay home, but he valuing a day of school more than the real threat against those who didn’t unite in civil disobedience. Those are also some of my first memories. Memories of singing Nkosi’ Sikelela iAfrika at the only White school that would accept me, at a time when no White schools should have been taking little girls like me. Singing a song that was banned at the time. Not knowing the national anthem, not knowing we had such a thing till government schools opened up to all races and hearing it sung by everybody off by heart during assembly, and thinking maybe it was a second school song.Being the only child who looked like me. Having pupils ask me how I got tanned so dark, how my hair became soft like candy floss. Hearing about pupil’s uncles teaching their dogs to attack Black men and thinking, “That’s my dad your uncle’s dog will kill.” Or hearing jokes by parents referring to Mandela as a gorilla.
Those are some of memories. The events that made me who I am today. Physical pain, and a priceless education. Exposure to hatred. Exposure to disobedience of racist laws. Beliefs in witchcraft by a Christian mother.
Welcome to my neck of the woods.