We often get wrapped up in the idea of telling people’s stories that their voices become silent in the process. We need to understand the importance of allowing people to tell stories in ways they feel most comfortable but also when they feel most comfortable sharing their stories.
I asked my parents how they identify themselves as racially. My father said, “I am Coloured” and my mother said, “I am also Coloured.” I then asked about the contestation relating to the Coloured identity and the politics of naming and how there has been a movement to have the Coloured identity marker removed. If this occurs then it means that all people who currently identify as Coloured would have to identify as KhoiSan. My mother stated that, “Coloured people originate from the Khoi but because both of my parents identify as Coloured, I am Coloured.” My father on the other hand, had a different, more difficult story to grasp. My father looked at me and said, “You know what? The Apartheid regime really affected everyone. I was born in the Eastern Cape; I grew up in the Transkei. But the Apartheid government put ‘Cape Coloured’ on my birth certificate. That is what they said I was, that is what I was forced to become, despite never having been in the Western Cape by the time my birth certificate was issued.” This speaks to the notion of performativity and how people became the races they were ascribed to. This brought great confusion into my identity as my father was labelled as a Cape Coloured and my mother as Coloured, what did that make me?
It is these Sunday stories that have led to my discovery as well as the process of unlearning and relearning things about my identity and culture that I was unaware of. There are several stories that are still wrapped up in Coloured people’s mouths because of the trauma they carry. These are the stories I especially want to hear, not as a means to be engulfed in trauma but to gain a clearer understanding of the lived experiences Coloured people encountered and survived.
The Apartheid system was violent . Violence does not always relate to physical violence but it can also relate to mental and psychological violence. The issuing of false identities is violent. The separation of families is violent. The ascription of race is violent.
Conversations around the dinner table are often the most fruitful, especially during Sunday lunch. I have never fully understood why Coloured people always have a big Sunday lunch. This lunch always includes roast chicken, gebakde aartappels, curry or stew and rice, vegetables and a salad. This is the standard Sunday lunch but the occasional meatball and potato bake could be added to the menu. I always believed this formed part of the Coloured culture as it was something all of the Coloured families I knew did.
I mentioned this to my uncle in passing and he told me the historical meaning as well as the magnitude behind it. He said, “During Apartheid, the Coloured women used to work six days a week. Every Saturday they had to prepare a feast for the White families they worked for. Sunday was the only full day Coloured women had with their families. They used to take the leftovers from the feast home and that would be the Sunday lunch that they would serve their families.”
This mandatory lunch that I have been a recipient of for 22 years, has only become clear to me now. This story my uncle shared with me allowed me to realise that it was never just a Sunday lunch that we were having, it was a feast that was prepared for us. The women labour the whole day to prepare a meal that will be consumed within 20 minutes yet they always find it worth it. This labour is not even viewed as an act of labour but an act of love. This Sunday lunch is a memory of the times Coloured women could not spend with their families; it is a memory of the labour they put into raising other people’s families. It is a memory of the oppression Coloured women had to face.
I always talk about the importance of reclamation. And perhaps this is what Coloured people have done with Sunday lunches, to reclaim their meaning from being a reminder of oppression and how the system separated mothers from their families. Perhaps Coloured people have reclaimed Sunday lunches and now view it as a time to share a meal with loved ones, to be grateful for the time they have with each other.
Perhaps it is important for Coloured people to have these Sunday lunches, to share their stories, to attempt to free themselves from the mental trauma of a system that was created to destroy them. Perhaps it is in that where the power of Coloured people lies.