Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Monday, January 17, 2005

Am I an African?

"It probably seems odd to be wrestling with the concept of being a white male in South Africa, but in fact it is. What felt like a bit of an elitest position when I was younger (not in a "I am white and better than you" kind of way, but more of a "White people seem to really be organised around here gosh darn it"). Then you grow up. Then you realise you are a foreigner. Then you have an identity crisis because you are not a foreigner, but you don't necessarily feel like you deserve to be a South African, because of the wrongs your elder generations partook in. Then you say "Dammit I am a South African". And then you start getting interested in learning about the country you live in, from an untainted, and self built perspective."
Bradley at

"...... I walk around and still see people hanging around in colour groups and realise that the young black South African has a powerful identity and heritage while I do not feel I am entitled to. I have realised that I need to forge myself a young white South Africa identity. This is not to say that I want to value my race over another, no, I would rather it be its own part of the greater South African, rainbow identity. I don't know how to do this, I know that I need to."
Dominic at
.the product

The above quotes are from some recent discussions in the local blogosphere. I've mostly dealt with my issues around what it means to be a white South African. Am I an African? Obviously not in the sense that a black person is an African. Being a second generation South African, my history on this continent doesn't go back for hundreds of years, I don't share a common language or cultural traditions with black South Africans, or a common history of having being discriminated against. So no, in that sense I'm not an African, but I am a South African - because if I'm not a South African, then I'm nothing, at least as far as my national identity goes. I did go through a "white identity crisis" but about a year ago things fell into place. While I was in South Africa things seemed unclear, but then I went to Australia, and being in a different country made me aware of my "South Africaness". I am South African because of the way I talk, the things I find funny, my memories, my frame of reference, the way I look at the world, the way I dress. And I am a South African because I love this country, it's part of who and what I am. And that's something that no-one can deny you or take away from you.

"[A nation] is a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members."
Anthony D. Smith, National Identity.

Many countries, although things are rapidly changing with the way people emigrate and move around in today's globalised word, share a common culture and common national creation myths. Obviously, this is not the case with South Africa when we have so many different ethnic groups, but I think that the government has gone out of it's way to prioritise a committment to creating unity and reconciliation within the understanding that we are all different and that's okay-we should celebrate this difference with the rainbow nation concept. I think that this is starting to work, but obviously it will take time, yet I think we are building a solid foundation for the future. It is kind of wierd and difficult as Dominic says not to be able to share the powerful identity and common heritage of black South Africans, especially since as a white person you share the history of the race of the perpetrators of apartheid - but we have to move forward.

For me moving forward doesn't mean, as I've heard so many whites express themselves on radio call ins or letters to the editor, that we should get over the past and forget about about it -just as jewish people remember the holocaust, all South Africans are entitled to remember the past brutalities of apartheid, wounds are still raw, and for me as a white person I feel I need to try and understand that. I have to forge my own identity and feel comfortable within myself. Yet, if I am to be perfectly honest, there is still a part of me that feels like maybe I don't belong - but that comes more from my perception of how I feel black people might perceive me and is probably not true of the majority of the population.

by Michelle Frost

Within my soul, within my mind,
There lies a place I cannot find.
Home of my heart. Land of my birth.
Smoke-coloured stone and flame-coloured earth.
Electric skies. Shivering heat.
Blood-red clay beneath my feet.

At night when finally alone,
I close my eyes - and I am home.
I kneel and touch the blood-warm sand
And feel the pulse beneath my hand
Of an ancient life too old to name,
In an ancient land too wild to tame.

How can I show you what I feel?
How can I make this essence real?
I search for words in dumb frustration
To try and form some explanation,
But how can heart and soul be caught
In one-dimensional written thought?

If love and longing are a "fire"
And man "consumed" by his desire,
Then this love is no simple flame
That mortal thought can hold or tame.
As deep within the earth's own core
The love of home burns evermore.

But what is home? I hear them say,
This never was yours anyway.
You have no birthright to this place,
Descendant from another race.
An immigrant? A pioneer?
You are no longer welcome here.

Whoever said that love made sense?
"I love" is an "imperfect" tense.
To love in vain has been man's fate
From history to present date.
I have no grounds for dispensation,
I know I have no home or nation.

For just one moment in the night
I am complete, my soul takes flight.
For just one moment.... then it's gone
and I am once again undone.
Never complete. Never whole.

White Skin and an African soul.
(poem via Vhata)


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