COLUMN // QUESTIONS FOR MY ELDERS

I’ve been MIA for a minute because of work commitments, a mini holiday I tried to take where I went home but didn’t really rest and of course, the sky in our country was falling and all my attention at some point was completely dedicated to the national student uprising, that isn’t over but has calmed down a little bit. I’ve written a few paragraphs on that amazing moment in our history but I’m not ready to share them yet while I wait and see how this unfolds.  I thought I could share this piece of writing though, it’s a column I wrote for the 1 October edition of City Press which was two weeks before #FeesMustFall movement swept the nation.

Questions for my elders 

During a sunny weekend lunch, a gay friend’s mother told me that while she knew her child was successful and happy, the one thing she will never stop praying about is “the gay thing”. In that moment between us, she said she was anxious for us – meaning the young people in the room – to get to her age so we could also be forced to experience what it’s like to pray for our defiant children. “You would be nothing without our prayers,” she said in a familiar tone. “We know,” I said. We were eating chips.

In between our slow and pensive chewing, we would look at each other, talking with an ease that was uncommon between two people who had only known each other for 15 minutes.  “If you think back to the 1990s, Mama, did you know what this education might do this to us, that it might lead us to make choices that discomfort you, but make us happy?” I asked. “I understand that completely. I just don’t like it,” she said with a sigh. We have witnessed the “Everything Must Fall” movement, the student-led sparks of a renaissance calling for the decolonization of knowledge, universities, public spaces and all of South Africa. We have seen it supported in its tone by political parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters, calling for the removal of Die Stem from our national anthem. We have witnessed the historic 2015 Ruth First Memorial Lecture, which took place within the walls of an untransformed Wits University, where young, educated students expressed, in different temperatures, a black rage that can no longer be contained or ignored.

It makes me wonder if our elders, parents and paternalistic leaders knew what they were creating when they designed a programme that would send unprepared black children into the petrified and petrifying heart of whiteness in 1994. Did they imagine what the report card of this project might look like 21 years later? Did they know these black children would one day grow tired of merely having a foot in the door of opportunity and would eventually want to dismantle the doors, walls and palisades of the institutions that were built on their parents’ backs? Did they expect this education might give their children the courage to construct their lives outside the dominant confines of penis-and-vagina sex? Inspire them to question the existence of a God?

Did they know their children’s young blood did not possess the patience of a 27-year wait? That their children would grow up and cheer when the Boks lost? Did they imagine that the comforts of the contrived black middle class might be the very thorn that aggravates their perception of the rainbow nation? Did they anticipate that those fancy English accents would eventually study and speak the words of philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon, or dare to write their own theories using their own language?

For the children, the truth about their privileged Wi-Fi-reliant discourse eats them from within those overpriced coffee shops they love so much.  Though the growing revolution is easy to ignore from the inside of a luxury car or the security provided by the uniformed presence of a black man outside a property, it is starting to close in on them. It is starting to demand more of them. To them, it is beginning to mean less what clothes the messenger wears, or where he went to school, or what mode of transport he takes, or what accent he speaks in when he is delivering the irrefutable truth that the delusion of 1994 is falling.

My reasons and pleas to let her son be happy did not move my friend’s mother to reconsider her position on ”the gay thing”.   And perhaps it was foolish of me to think that any of my theories would discomfort her. Instead they cemented her beliefs. And some time later, I learned to accept that my job is not to change entrenched minds and lives on matters like sexuality and race. That would be like trying to teach a right handed person to write with their left hand.  They might die before they have learned.  My job is to use this truth to continuously discomfort those who still have a chance of changing their minds – my white peers and our younger black siblings who are misguided enough to think that they are Stellenbosch, or that the DA really represents their black interests – the people who not unlike me a year ago, thought Colonialism was something to be read about in books, until the first piece of its foundation was televised falling at UCT.

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