My father never tells me stories about his younger days. I only hear snippets of them from my mother, his childhood – an anecdote , his experiences in Johannesburg – a punchline.
He never speaks about his experiences during the apartheid era, but I see it every time I watch his encounters with a white person. He shrinks. His demeanor a book I could page through and see suffering in every paragraph. It is painful to watch your father shrink into insignificance at the sight of a mere man, I shudder at the thought of all the images playing in his mind.
My father suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the scars I see in his eyes, shadows of everything that was taken from him.
Imagine catching a man at a moment when he does not see himself as a man, looking at his demeanor at the moment when everything he was taught to hate about himself is staring him in the face. I worry about the pain my parents carry from the days when all they were taught was that they were not enough of anything to be considered human.
I worry every time my father has to talk to a white person, I remember the time he spoke about how an 8 year old white boy called him a boy. He was working as a gardener in Johannesburg at the time, and the boy was his boss’ son. His narration of the story was only two sentences long, but it was everything he didn’t say that I heard.
I wear his shame sometimes, of not being enough, not being born the right shade of skin to be enough. His trauma can never be erased by a document that was signed declaring peace, no ink could rewrite every part of him that was erased for being born black.
I was born black, on the year that Mandela was released from jail, I came out of my mother’s womb, black as the moon, and I have been taking up as little space as I can ever since.
I have been tiptoeing around white people long before I could even walk. In the land of my forefathers I have lived as a pilgrim, for me, home has been a minefield, “slegs nie blankes” an imminent threat I face with every step. In my days it has been replaced by preference and gate keeping, kaffir said in whispers and stares.
You do not belong here, this land with soil that matches your skin is not yours to claim, it has darkened from drinking your blood. It thirsts for more, with every bold claim you make calling it yours. It awaits the day you are bold enough to fight for it, so it can drink your blood. Who will feed the generations of children born on a land dripping with blood? Every harvest a clot, every crop, a story of loss.