I have never felt South African, not completely. You see, I am that curious thing in South Africa I call a ‘middle child’, not Tswana enough for Tswana people, not Tsonga enough for Tsonga people. I live somewhere in the grey, in the middle where most things are, anyway. Because of that people don’t know what to do with me. They say, because my dad is a moTsonga, I am by right and tradition Tsonga. But my experience is that I have never been accepted as truly being part of any of my parent’s cultures. That’s a story for another day. Let me talk about my Tsonga heritage for a minute.
Being Tsonga, or Shangaan, is to be rejected in South Africa. We never talk about it. We never talk about how, when we’re in the city eJoni, we’re clumped together with people who are considered makwerekwere. How we must learn other languages if we ever want to be spoken to and understood. I’ve found myself being apologetic about it. “I’m half Tsonga” and “My mother is Tswana” I’ll say, quicker than melting butter. Because I’ve always just wanted to be accepted as South African. She’s all I know, but she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t care to.
What I’ve heard many times? “You’re not dark enough to be Tsonga”, “You’re too pretty to be Tsonga”, “You’re half Tswana, that explains your beauty” and many more messed up things.
I’m conflicted half the time. Most of the time.
Yesterday I saw the words, “Singa makwerekwere sonke” spray-painted onto a wall. The taxi drove past but I kept seeing them in my head. It’s true, you know. Everyone is a foreigner somewhere, but more than that, who can claim to truly belong to a place? What is it to be? What is it to belong? Who gets to belong?
We’ve been here before. 2008. We’ve been hating on our brothers and sisters from other countries for a long time. We laugh about stereotypes and agree that, “that’s how they are”. We let colonialism’s arbitrary drawing of lines tell us that we’re not from the same bloodline. They drew a map, they drew lines, and scrambled for owenership.
Africa is a country. Africa is a state of mind. Africa is you and me.
My paternal grandfather was a soldier in Mozambique. I never hear much about him, except that he was a soldier and he came to this country, married my grandmother, and years later I am here. I always speculate that he must have been part of Frelimo. I speculate that he was a man of honour. I quip that one day, I’ll take a journey to his home to find out who I am. Because I long for that part of me that he was. I am not truly South African. But what is it, to be South African?
You broke my heart a million times before, Mzansi, when you told me that I don’t fit the bill. That I don’t qualify as being part of you. But I can handle your rejection. What I can’t take is the murder. The beatings. The fire. Why do you hate our brothers and sisters so much? Why do you hate yourself so much?
There’s a video doing the rounds on facebook made by Dr Nomalanga Mkhize. It’s not in my language but I understand it because for Tsonga people everywhere, we must know other languages, as a matter of survival. But other people don’t know our tongue, they will never know it, because they can’t see past their blinders. Like the survivors we are we shoulder the responsibility for crossing lines and move on. We move like burdens through the world.
Dr Mkhize said in the video, “Ziyafana inkanga zethu”. So why you frontin’ Mzansi? Who made you God?
Put down the fire.
Shit, ain’t hard to choose me there’s only one me, man
(So hard to choose)
That’s why I chose to be that
Because where I’m from it ain’t cool to be wack
And I’m so pro-black
Though they don’t choose me back and that’s some choosy shit
~ Rapsody, “Hard to Choose”
“To the same degree that your understanding of and attitude towards Afrika becomes more positive, your understanding of and attitude towards yourself will also becomes more positive…” ~ Malcom X