The leaders who swore to protect me

My sister (black) and I (black) grew up in a place called Sunnydale. A place opposite the wealthy hillside establishment, Capri, just around the corner from the seaside establishment Kommetjie and right next to Masiphumlele, the informal settlement between Fish hoek and kommetjie.

I remember being, 14 or 15 and having a discussion with my parents. I remember this discussion because after it,  I remember wanting to cut myself out of this beautiful black skin that I have come to love so dearly. The discussion went a little something like this.

“Girls, we have recently become a little worried about you two walking around this area and travelling on public transport from home to school. We are getting a little uncomfortable about the violence down the road at Masi. Foreigners are being beaten up, burned, attacked and harassed purely on the basis that they are darker, taller, more eloquent and therefore foreign. You are probably a little confused. Obviously you are not foreign but remember that  neither of you speak Xhosa and right now speaking English, traveling on the first class carriage of the train, taking out your cellphone in the taxi ride home, walking with pride, owning your space, celebrating yourself, owning your body, are things that may make people think that you are not South African. We think that maybe you should carry your passports with you when you go to school.”

This was my reality. I did not understand why or how but all of a sudden my dark (darker) skin, my manner, my way of speaking, my enjoyment of my body, my posture, the way that I met a persons eyes when I spoke to them, my ability to speak in a room full of different people, my smell, the way that I wore my hair ( natural ),  basically everything about my life made me something that someone might want to destroy.

At the time, at 14 or 15, I thought that South Africans would celebrate my ability to slip in and out of the boxes that had been created for us. My family is a mixed  family, all of us born in very different places in South Africa. A little English here, some  Afrikaans there,  a dash of Xhosa, maybe some Zulu,  at a push a splash of French. I grew up being told that THIS is where South Africa is going. I grew up thinking that I would be a part of a generation of change.

I have grown. I have watched, I have heard and I have concluded. The change is not going to come from me. The change was never going to be us. We are nothing in the shadow of our leaders and representatives.

The change needs to come from government, from the media, from the people who show us what they have come to call ‘the truth’. Yes, there is violence, yes, there is crime and hate and fear and lies and boredom and drugs and rape and, and , and , but these things were always there.

Where is my government, where are the leaders who swore to protect me?


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