I am not an African.
So if you know me personally and you have read the above statement you probably never thought of hearing that from me. [In April] I spent time with 29 other young South Africans. No one older than 32 and out of the 30 selected young people I was one of three white people who attended. The rest of the people was a mixture of Black, Coloured, one Indian and one Person with Ableism. The workshop was presented by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).
The camp’s aim was to create a space to talk to other races face to face about the themes Justice and Reconciliation.
Saying what we want and how we want to.
It started off as any other camp with small-chat served as a starter on the bus there, a really mammoth and intense main meal that we didn’t finish while making us feel quite bad afterwards and a dessert we’ll be talking about forever in reference to it being the best we’ve ever had.
In one of the sessions we were speaking of what makes us African and what defines us as African. It was going quite well until we became very honest. Ferociously honest. A beautiful black woman sitting across me made the statement that someone cannot be an African if they are white because of the heritage we have inherited from our European forefathers.
Hearing this I broke. I wept. It was the same feeling I felt when my mom told me my father passed away. A part of me died.
Now let me put this straight. She wasn’t ‘one of those black people’ that doesn’t like white people. This was a safe non-toxic space. This was an honest opinion. Said in love. No bitterness. She was merely saying what her heart said.
But it broke me.
The beautiful coloured woman next to me was wiping my tears of with her fingers as if it was her own. I could hear her blood flow through her hands and fingers. We were one. Just like the beautiful black woman across from me. I could hear her heart beat from across the room as she was stating what she did.
Why was this hurting so much though? What was it in me that squeezed out those salty tears?
To be viciously honest I cannot answer that. I just don’t know what it was that particularly hurt me. All I know is that it ripped out my identity and spat on it. Everything I am busy becoming since approximately 2012/2013 has been centred on the fact that I belong in Africa.
That I am from its luscious red soil. That I am proudly African. That I am welcome here.
This statement drilled into my heart like a jack hammer. That the colour of my skin could depend my identity really collided with my beliefs about Africa, people and God. I didn’t have to be a part of the Emzabalazweni/ Umzabalazo (struggle) to know how it felt to struggle for freedom. Yes, I don’t have the physical lashes on my back to prove it, but the guilt on my mind is struggle enough. For me and many other white South Africans.
The fact that we carry this guilt in itself is a sign of our Africaness. It is Africa’s welcoming arms that makes her who she is.
Her honesty also brought me some healing though. Her honesty, while painful, helped our dialogue to continue into a constructive building of our relationship although I did not agree with her. I could hear her heart and many other peoples’ hearts in Africa. I could see her pain.
I am born an African. I was raised an African. I am African by choice. I cannot run back to Europe when I feel like Africa is getting too much for me. The only place I can run to is inward and upward. To my neighbouring African brothers and sisters. From Cape to Cairo. From Madagascar to Morocco. To Azania (Africa).
I AM AN AFRICAN.
WE ARE AFRICA.