I moved back to Cape Town recently and what you find in Cape Town is opulence, the kind of cups that continuously runneth over but what you also find in Cape Town is the sight of atleast five beggars on my way to work. Dirty, ruggedly dressed carrying their tired bodies what would seem aimlessly around, searching for drops of water at the bottom of empty bottles.
The reality in South Africa is that racial lines continue to separate the rich and poor. Where white is largely correlated with opulence and black hardship. Cape Town is aesthetically ravishing but it is in this beauty that a large majority of the racial tension is hidden. Between awkward stares at high-end restaurants and half smiles, remarks about my skin and hair, I think to myself, Yes I AM BLACK and how does black still evoke stares and fascination in Africa or rather black in places that economically scream white evokes these stares (A thought for another article perhaps).
This article does not aim to address inequality or analyze the ideas of “black pain” or “white superiority” or the deficit of what it means to be humane but instead reflect on the writings of I Write what I Like by Steve Bantu Biko and more recent, Writing What We Like ( A new generation speaks) by Yolisa Qunta.
The idea of Black Consciousness is the idea that as black individuals we must remove ourselves from the margins of pages of history. We must embody our stories, the stories of our people, our heritage, our practices and view these things as good, relinquishing notions of relativism. Bantu Biko aptly describes this as the cultural and political revival of a oppressed people. The term revival here speaks to the restoration of an identity. It is accepting our uniqueness with eagerness to define who we are in a world that is not short of wanting to label us, if we do not have the words readily on our tongue to call our hair beautiful. To call our mothers strong with their grazed knees, to call our villages humane and our dances the all-consuming ability to express ourselves unconstrained. To have names like Robert Sobukwe, Julius Nyerere, Rosa Parks, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Thomas Sankara & Toni Morrison just to name a few loosely on our tongues and minds. Biko states that the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
Biko continuously in his book dissects the systems that have aimed to capture the black man’s mind and reiterates this hope “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in language and culture. In fact you should be proud of these things”. His quest is not to travel back in time but rather that we look back and gain inspiration from history to make it relevant to the present and trace the evolution of the black culture.
Reading recently Writing What We Like the book is a commemoration of black voices and thoughts contextualized on living in South Africa. I sometimes wish the liberation leaders like Biko could get a glimpse of the immense impact that their literature has had in influencing the conversations of the current day. The book is as light hearted as it is informative, the first section of the book, Different Shades of Black explores the different nuances of what it means to be black and how it reflects in what’s expected of the male child or growing up between the suburbs and the township and navigating one’s identity. The next section, What have we struggled for, traces the experiences today that make one ask the question. The book is compiled of stories told by “ordinary black” women and men, with each essay I thought of a personal experience or someone dear to me who had a shared experience. It felt very familiar, like a conversation over brunch with a group of friends.
I grew up in a small town surrounded by everyday superheroes one of these being the lady who sold vegetables on the same street corner for years, everyday joyously greeting passers-by and sharing thoughts on politics and humanity. Choosing somehow to remain resilient despite the burdens on her back, of feeding numerous children and suddenly living in a society with systems that reject her. She was a hero but I didn’t know this until now because since i was six I was taught that we only find heroes that matter in books. Resilience. Hard Work. Dedication. I have lived in and amongst these attributes but I always had this singular view of what they should look like.
I am hopeful that my nephews default will be seeing the world in ways that I am only learning, that his history lessons would be filled with African leaders, his economics classes will tell him about the role of the informal economy, he will encounter his first black author in grade one and in finance micro-financing and stokvels will not just be two irrelevant lines in a textbook.
BLACK, synonyms: strong, resilient, my ancestor’s dreams, resourceful, magic, vast as the night sky, all encompassing, infinite, large, capable. GOOD
Ijangolet Ogwang is bullish on Africa. She is most passionate about complexities and the opportunities hidden on the continent. When she isn’t writing, she is reading books from multi-faceted disciplines. She is passionate about how entrepreneurship can be used as a tool for economic growth, catalyzing the idea that business must be used as a tool for doing good and social impact. She is a Finance professional, understanding the stories numbers tell by day and crafting stories by night.
Some powerful words Ijangolet! It calls for us to reflect on what being black means to each one of us and to start having the necessary bold conversations about blackness in all its glory. Let us start or continue ensuring that BLACK is synonymous with GOOD.-BLACK and PROUD Lerato