This notion of belonging and citizenship has become a contentious one in South Africa. I have never been put in a position where I have doubted my origin and my Africanness, until last year. In an African Studies class discussion, a student said that, “Coloured’s do not belong in Africa.” This then begs the question, where do we belong?
I have always believed that I was African until that discussion where I was forced to implore other identities becauase suddenly I was no longer welcomed in the place I call home. We were asked what it means to be African to which I responded, “Being African means never being able to distance yourself from that identity marker. It means that in any context you find yourself in, you are African.” And this was always my reality. But assuming that Coloured people do not belong in Africa, where do we belong then?
Do we go to Germany because German is spoken there and that is closely related to Afrikaans? Will German’s accept us? Is our sense of belonging tied to whether we were born in a certain place or does it trace back to our family lineage that still lead us back to Africa? Where do we go if this is the only place that has been home to us?
Many people proposed that Coloured people were the first to be in Africa but still that does not assist me in this displacement I have experienced. The fact remains that somebody said I do not belong here and for a split second I believed it. I believed it because I have never had someone doubt my identity and question my belonging. But I found myself in a Third Year African Studies lecture , in the last term, questioning my citizenship. I finally knew how White people felt when people told them to go back to Australia or England. Was this my new reality? Having to go back to a place I do not even come from?
I am African, I am South African and I am Coloured. These identity markers are embodied simultaneously and I am never able to distance myself from them. I am Coloured not a mixed-race person, yes ,there is a difference. Both my parents are Coloured and their parents are Coloured as well and this applies to the several generations before them. A mixed race person is when their parents are difference races not necessarily when the origin of that race was as a result of mixed relations.
Some people believe that citizenship can be based on three things; current place of residence, birthplace and ancestry. Although I cannot speak for all Coloured people, I am currently staying in South Africa, Africa. I was born here and as far as I can trace my family lineage, we are all from Africa.
There is a nuance to this and many people would argue that it should not have affected me as much as it did and that ‘if the shoe fits, wear it’. But the issue here was not whether the shoe fit me or not because it had already been placed on my foot and I was told to walk off with it. Specifically, to walk out of Africa with it. It felt like an uprootedness, like a feeling of displacement again for the Coloured person which actually has not ended. Coloured people are still being displaced from their homes in Cape Town, just as they were during Apartheid. Coloured people are still oppressed. But it would be unfair to compare our oppression to that of Black people because it has never and will never be the same. Maybe the student’s comment in my Politics lecture was based on the fact that Coloured people were not as oppressed as Black people during Apartheid and Coloured people were treated better and allowed to form the Coloured Persons Representative Council, that would air their grievances in parliament. Or maybe her statement was informed by the fact that many Coloured people do not wish to be identified as Black despite the grouping that the Apartheid government placed Coloured people under, i.e. if you were not White, you would automatically be classified as Black. I am not sure what her statement was informed by but it struck a nerve nevertheless.
It made me realise that no matter how much we fight together to achieve free education, to protest against rape culture, to fight for equality and basic human rights. There will always be that inherent different between us, and it will not be something that we can ignore and forget because it is our very identity markers that separate us.
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