Relatively Free

“Caution Beware Of Natives”

“This lawn is for the exclusive use of European Mothers with Babies in Arms”

“White Area”

“Blanke Gebied”

“WHITE PERSONS ONLY- This beach and the amenities thereof have been reserved for White persons only. By order Provincial Secretary.”

“Net Blankes”

“Bus stop for non-Whites”

“All non-Europeans and tradesmen’s boys with bicycles please use Small Street entrance”

“City of Durban- Under section of (BIS) 27 of the Durban beach by-laws, this bathing area is reserved for the sole use of members of the White race group”

“Non-white shop”

“Vir gebruik deur Blankes”

“Waiting room for Coloureds only”

“European bar”

“Blanke kroeg”

“Net Swartes”

“Blacks only”

“Play park for European children only”

“Slegs Blankes”

“Slegs Blankes”

“Slegs Blankes”

When these words have been imprinted in your mind

It is difficult to locate your sense of Being

We celebrate Freedom Day to mark the liberation of our country

Despite being the most unequal society in the world

To mark the liberation from colonialism

Despite this whole poem being in English and Afrikaans

To mark the liberation from White minority domination

Despite the ownership of mines

So let me share these views of mine

The Population Registration Act divided us into different racial groups

Racial groups that we continue to identify by despite them being rooted in our oppression

The Group Areas Act physically separated races into different areas

Need I remind you that Orania still exists

The Bantu Education Act created separate education systems for Black and White people

We now have private schools for this

The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act forced segregation in all public amenities, public buildings, and public transport with the aim of eliminating contact between White people and other races.

We no longer carry physical dompasses

Our pass is our ability to articulate ourselves in English

To roll our tongues in ways that would make our forefathers and foremothers roll in their graves

To assimilate

To become the ‘palatable Black person’ as Ofentse Moduka said

Because in order to survive you need to be palatable to certain people

As if soil was meant to taste good!

But we celebrate Freedom Day


I can freely walk on this day and feel the sun rise and set on my face

I can freely interact with different races

I can freely occupy different spaces

I can freely travel into different places

I am able to cross terrains that were once unimaginable

I now sit on benches without having any indentations on my back when I stand up

And this is because of the people who stood up for me

I place my own pencil in my politicised hair

Tying up all the politics I carry within my genetics

And this is why Ogone Mokobe said that, “When you are a person of colour, you constantly have to negotiate your being.”

Because even if we are free, there will always be a degree of freedom we will never reach

You see, when you are a person of colour, there is an intrinsic fear that you have, that you are born with

Because despite there no longer being signs of which buildings you can or cannot enter

Despite there no longer being demarcated benches, beaches and toilets for you

Despite there no longer being laws to dictate your very existence and your humanity

There are still places you don’t feel welcomed in

There are still places where you’ll enter and the first thing you’ll do is count how many people of colour are in the room

There are still places that force you as a person of colour, that require you in fact, to leave fractions of yourself outside

Because as a whole, you will definitely make that place shake

Because you always need to appear as the safe bet

And there are no signs that indicate the above

No physical signs at least

These signs are imprinted in our minds; we have become mental slaves to a system we are forced to believe has ended

Do not mistake this poem

I am not ungrateful

I recognize that I exercise freedoms people once dreamt of

Freedoms that many fought for but were unable to experience in their life time

I recognize that

But I also recognize that my throat is not yet roar

That I still do not have blisters on my feet

That there is so much that still needs to be done

I recognize that freedom is relative

I recognize that I am only as free as the system allows me to be

I recognize this in its totality

I recognize that I am relatively free

*This poem was published in Makana Sharp


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