apartheid

Revolutionary by music?

One can’t underestimate the power of music.

This morning by son asked me to play Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials. Funnily enough I was around his age when I heard this song.

When he was five his favourite song was Eddy Grant’s Gimme Hope Jo’anna. It was interesting having a conversation explaining apartheid, especially when a five year old asks question. Catchy tunes can do that! Plus this one provided education.

Will my son continue to like songs like these that have a message attached to them, or will be become like the vast majority of the world’s population and be sucked into pop culture and listen to the mine numbing tunes about partying and making money? Only time will tell.

Another song I remembered growing up was Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City.

It seems in the West we don’t really get songs like this anymore. Is it due to increased literacy levels or maybe people just don’t care? As it’s still going on all over the globe.

Who do you think you are?

On Thursday I had to go to the Post Office for work. The clerk was very chit chatty, soon he began to stammer slightly then asked me: “Are you Indian?”, I responded (as usual), “No, I’m South African, and yes I’m asked all the time!”.

Technically I am Australian. I was born here, but growing up brown in a white Australia, I was always questioned about my nationality (which really is my ethnicity). I would say I’m Australian, then they would ask where are my parents from, I would respond with “South Africa”, which would follow with “well then you’re South African not Australian”. How come the white kids didn’t get that?

I have lost count on the number of times people assume they know what I am. In high school, a friend’s mother said to me, when I told her I’m not Indian, that “you don’t know what are!” It can be frustrating, even upsetting at times for someone to pretty much tell you that they know more about you than yourself, when they know nothing. This is the reality of being mixed race, and not just two or three races, but heavily mixed.

The flip side is that it’s a great ice-breaker/conversation starter. Depending on my mood, I will often let someone have three guesses. Nine out of ten times they’re wrong. The one out of ten are often spot on, particularly if they understand Southern African history and noticed the gold pendant of the map of Africa which I wear around my neck (well now past tense as my son lost it just before Christmas). I am always fascinated by the guesses. The top three are Indian, Sri Lankan and Persian. Other more common ones are Colombian, Brazilian, Arab and Mauritian. The more unusual have included Puerto Rican, Maori, Thai and Eritrean.

Both of my parents were classified as Cape Coloured during Apartheid. So therefore I am a Cape Coloured. According to the Population Registration Act, 1950 ““coloured person” means a person who is not a white person or a Bantu”. In Section 5 (1) and (2) distinguished the following subgroups: Cape Coloureds, Malay, Griqua, Other Coloureds, Chinese, Indians and Other Asiatics. Classification was determined according to physical appearance and social acceptability (including language).

Identity card, ID card, pass card, South Africa

My father’s South African identity card

My mother’s South African identity card

The breakdown of the different Coloured classifications is complicated (and difficult to find online). My parents and their parents were from Cape Town, hence the “Cape” Coloured classification. Another issue is people either don’t know or don’t want to talk about the past, especially the brown past. Learning about the European side of the family is very easy, but trying to find out about the brown roots is difficult, especially once you get to slave records (I haven’t been able to get that far back). You always know bits and pieces.

Due to this, the issue of racial definition in South Africa is complex. Particularly when different ethnic origins and mixes are clumped together as in the case of the Coloureds. It’s hard to explain this to people, but I can spot a Coloured a mile away and I didn’t even grow up in the country.

The impact of the racial definition of being a Coloured in post-Apartheid South Africa is also a complex subject. The documentary I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured (below) goes into a great amount of detail explaining the definition, while not comprehensive — a whole 12 part series would be the only way to do this — it does discuss the impact of being Cape Coloured in today’s South Africa and how not being white or black still plays a big part in employment and political power.

Mandela to me

I knew this day would come soon, for months it had been a close call, but one can never fully prepare for death.

The passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela will be remembered for a long time. People will remember where they were when they heard the news. But what is more powerful is that people will also remember the day that he was released from prison.

Anyone walking into my parents home could be forgiven for thinking that Madiba was a relative. As you walk into the dining room you are a greeted by a photo of Madiba and Fidel Castro smiling and embracing. There are other photos throughout the house, as well as numerous stickers of him, the African National Congress (ANC) and the anti-Apartheid struggle — accumulated over the years through my father’s involvement in the freedom struggle.

Growing up in the eighties in Adelaide, I was exposed to Madiba, the ANC and other anti-Apartheid struggle movements from a young age. My sister would have to share my bed when comrades were in town as they would be in her room. Our weekends were spent at rallies or protests, at a young age we could chant and walk the distant telling the masses (of Adelaide and the country) to help end Apartheid in South Africa. My Dad’s involvement in the ANC impacted the whole family, we sacrificed a lot for the betterment of all South Africans.

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Me celebrating Mandela’s 70th.

My strongest memory of the anti-Apartheid struggle days was when an image of an elderly man was released for the world to see. Prior to this the image of a handsome, strong man was used when referencing him. The new image was a shock to the system, this once young man was old and looking slightly fragile. It was like having an image of a distant cousin you hadn’t seen in years, and once you see them you have to adjust to the changes that time have given to them.

My dad made most of the banners and placards that were used for protests and rallies. On a Saturday morning, he moved the furniture in the dining room, taped canvas to the wall and set up an overhead projector to trace and paint the new image onto the canvas. The fumes of the paint lingered in the house all day.

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The banner to the left, my Dad under it on the left (black top and grey jacket).

Reflecting upon it as an adult, I’m grateful for the decisions my parents made, it taught me to be compassionate and it ignited my passion for humanitarian matters — a world where all people have their basic human rights (we’re still fighting for that one).

I can never fully articulate into words the impact Madiba has had on me. He made the world a better place. My son knows the importance of his legacy to the point that he bought me a book about Mandela for my birthday this year.

Thank you Madiba for teaching me tenacity, resilience and fighting for what you believe in. Thank you for teaching me the importance of compassion and treating all people as humans. And thank you for being you.

Madiba may have left this world, but he lives on through millions of people worldwide, including me.

During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Nelson Mandela’s ‘I am prepared to die’ speech, given from the dock during the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964. This transcript is as published on the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website.