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THE WAY WE LIVED.  12. About being Black!  [9min read] 

Round-the-Cape-Peninsula Drive [4]

So we abandoned the crowded Table Cable queue and headed for Signal Hill to enjoy the lookout toward Lion’s Head and the Apostles/Llandudno in the distance. Table Bay to the left.  Blurred out Robben Island. No noon gun heard – it was 1000H!

12. About being Black!

[Read in conjunction with my very first blog: The Semantics of colour].

Judge Boshoff to Steve Biko: Why do you people call yourselves black? You look more brown than black. Biko to the judge: Why do you call yourselves white? You look more pink than white. [Part of the dialogue from the 1976 South African Students Organisation/Black People’s Convention Trial]

Many of us need to belong. Maybe it’s in our DNA to be groupies. Worse yet, part of the Flock with Voorbok [Leading Goat] to show the way. To follow Voorbok and his/her cohort blindly can become serious issues for those in the pack. Then there are those not even in the select pack – read the Oppressed, the “O’s”.

The “O’s” resist as much as they can and can become seriously compromised in the process. Disease and crime can flourish in “O” communities. Poverty does that; add to it social marginalisation and dislocations with enforced removals of millions and every township block will have its own warlord-style, gangster role models to fuel them on.

But, most of us did not follow the pathway of criminality.

We followed the Black is Beautiful role model, the fisted salute, the high fives along with the chants of Amandla ngawethu to assert our positivity. Power had to belong to the majority.

We had wonderful teacher mentors at Livingstone High School. They infused us with ideas of freedom, democracy and a non-racist neutrality. But, we embraced Black Consciousness of the late 1960’s and seventies and beyond. Black is Beautiful was an easy positive to which many responded. It was very PC to be Black and  not Non-white [now that’s an interesting double negative!]

Black Awareness was a positive awakening on the Cape Flats and other ghettoised communities around South Africa. Black Power aimed at achieving self-determination. Starting in the USA in the 1960’s, it found fertile ground in South Africa where the ideology ultimately drove the successful revolution towards majority rule.

With his death in prison in September 1977, Steve Biko paid the ultimate price for leading the Black Conscious Movement in the country.  The comments from the trial quoted above are priceless.  It goes to the core of being Black, or White, for that matter.

With this mindset, we sought affirmation. How much larger than an imprisoned Mandela even if one knew little about the man. A leader behind bars had to be there for a reason; he was a threat to them. His status and popularity only increased the longer he was detained. You could not look at the out-of-bounds Robben Island without salute-fisting him even after they moved him to Pollsmoor prison in 1982.

Muhammad Ali was inspirational, and I remember how I sat up in the early hours in the mid-1960’s to first find the short-wave band broadcast and then listen to his early fights. We loved his interviews when he ranted against their System and status in the USA. Our System was even worse, so we could relate to it with ease. When Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, it blew Cape Town away; more than ten percent of the Mother City is Muslim.

I followed Precious McKenzie’s stellar weight-lifting career not knowing that one day we would share a couple of meals with him in Auckland, New Zealand. I learnt then that he was called Precious because he was not expected to live when he was born. He defied the odds, and the pocket-sized battleship —> seen here with Ali – could not represent South Africa. Instead, he went on to win the bantamweight Commonwealth gold medals for England in 1966, 1970 and 1974 and then for New Zealand in 1978. He was a role model in many ways; his early life included life in several foster homes when young. I used to see him on the train occasionally in Cape Town. Those distinctive facial features of his are still as visible today as they were then.

I would have to include South African middleweight boxer Tap Tap Makhatini as one of my favourites. How could one forget a name like that? He was a big fighting drawcard who won the first “multiracial” contest when he scored a third-round knock-out against the White title-holder Jan Kies in November 1976 – a year when the student-led revolution in South Africa took off in June in Soweto. He also severely dented the career of the great, white hope, the Silver Assassin, Charlie Weir, with an eighth-round knockout. He was a southpaw who more than tapped his way to victory. I attended one of the balding boxer’s fights in Cape Town – I remember how I had to strain to see the boxers’ in the ring because of the smoke-filled haze in the stadium. The SA Sports Hall of Famer included victories over ring legends Curtis Cokes and Emile Griffiths.

One of my local sporting favourites was Papwa Sewgolum. At a time when I did not play golf, I was thrilled by this man’s victories in the Dutch Open in 1959, 1960 and 1964. He learnt his golf while watching the game as a caddy in Durban where he also won the Natal Open in 1963 and in 1965 when he beat Gary Player, among others. He had an unusual reversed-hands grip to add to his mystique. At one of his victories, he was infamously handed the winning trophy outside in the rain because the sports club was a Whites only precinct. It was unusual that he was even allowed to play in the Open; maybe they expected him to lose. A local municipal golf course is named after him in Durban. I should play there one day……

Another headline-maker was ex-Capetonian Basil D’Oliviera and his experience with the English cricket team as an elegant batsman. Dolly’s selection to tour South Africa with the English, caused the D’Oliviera Affair which resulted in the cancellation of the 1970 tour and eventually led to more sporting isolation, including athletics and the Olympics in 1970. More followed later.

Black music from Chubby Checker and the twist to slow blues [that’s a verb!] to Percy Sledge with the lights turned down low, were more popular than the Beatles in many of the segregated townships. Anyone who loves music would include Abdullah Ibrahim [formerly Dollar Brand] as one of our greats. I had all his LP’s, and then CD’s. His concerts were special, especially with Basil Coetzee. His Mannenberg [named after one of the poorest townships in Cape Town] was often regarded as an anti-apartheid anthem. I loved the way he fused the Cape Coon Carnival music into his compositions and led the way with Cape Town jazz. He lived in exile for decades. His recordings included stints with Duke Ellington, Basil Coetzee, Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moketsi, Robbie Jansen and other South African music luminaries. Music was his passion [not hackneyed!. I well remember one of his concerts in Athlone, Cape Town, when he singled out a member of the audience who had made a noise. “You must shut up. Rather open your ears, and not your mouth. You must let the music into your soul.” I loved it then; I still love it now.

I never tire of watching Sidney Poitier movies. Here was the consummate actor with his three box-office hits in 1967 – To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. For his successes and other work, including film director [e.g. Stir Crazy] the Bahamas-born actor was knighted in 1974 and received the American Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. I still watch when a film of his pops up on television.

It’s still difficult to support a South African sporting team that is predominantly White. It’s still a painful reminder of the first thirty-five years of my life. That’s why I follow with interest the careers of the Williams’ tennis sisters, Tyger Woods [off-course shenanigans aside], Lewis Hamilton, Kathy Freeman [now rather quiet], Beatrice Faumuina [NZ discus great]; many rugby union and rugby league players of all nations; Ross Taylor [NZ batsman], South African top sports people including batsman great, Hashim Amla; the All Blacks, Brazil soccer team; Fijian rugby 7’s teams……

How we loved the 1968 African-American Olympians, Tommie Smith and John Carlos for their Black power salutes on the victory dais during their medal ceremony. Fortunately, there are so many these days who have seized their opportunities globally to remove the years of yokedom that denied them opportunities in a formerly rather pink sporting world.

One of my favourite writers is Alan Duff. His infusion of Maori themes and use of their patois in the dialogue fascinated me. There are many aspects of life in New Zealand which were so reminiscent of Black life in Cape Town. How I enjoyed Once were Warriors which was the first of his trilogy which includes Jake’s Long Shadow and What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?The list of inspirational affirmatives was and still is endless.

I live with this love of colour. Remember, it’s not racist. It’s a hangup from years of contra-conditioning. There are many positives that one can associate with one’s Blackness; but was I a victim? This mentality requires a blog or two in its own right – see later.


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