It Does Not Sit On My Clothes

25 May

and when I undress the words and associations are still with me; memories awake.

For a few days I could be frantically busy with the SPEAR while working through the tumultuous memories brought back by Colonialist’s post and attitude. Response:

Now I must try to lay it to rest again.

**    **   **

I walk with other youths to the shop. We have to pass through a white neighbourhood. My friends choose to walk a detour. I want to know why. They are uncomfortable to tell me.

Returning I do not want to walk the detour so we walk the old route. A few children, some just toddlers sit near a gate. My friends keep to the far side of the road. I am confused.

At this point it is perhaps good to share that for me life was in many ways better than for many and I did not have to walk the 3 miles or so to the shop and butchery regularly as they did. For me it was an outing; for them it was a job.

A stone landed near us. The children side stepped. “Hotnot” Another stone landed. “Jou boesman” and another stone. The children started to run. They were not going to be able to side step many stones in quick succession- They were being driven off the street by the little crowd of white kids.

I stopped. I was not going to run. I was not going to be pelted with stones. I was not going to be called hotnot, boesman or kaffir….

I turned back and started to cross the road. My friends stood in shocked silence. Our attackers glared at me. Then they realized that I was resolute and that I was coming for them. Too late. I was upon them.

‘Don’t ever do that again!” I said and I hit them all- right there in front of their gate and the huge windows across the road.

My mates were dumbfounded. I was the quiet one hey, the smallest, the youngest, the one that did not fight; the one that was a bit bullied being a bit different and all… but the only one that dared do that was my one cousin.

Weeks later I passed that way again. Two girls were with their station master father on the station. I crossed the rail lines to them. “Sir! Sir, they just told you that I hit them. Did they tell you that they throw stones at the children that pass down the road and call them names?” I looked him full in the face with all the bravado of my 9 yrs.

He was completely shocked. He was ready to address the attack on his children. This approach to him was something he was unused to. Sjoe! and to be told that his girls stone black children and call them racist names…

Could I rather tell him about it next time?

Ja wel.

There was a path through the forest that I loved to take. On another day I wanted to to take that route but my companion did not want to.

“They will chase us.”



“What do ‘they’ do?”

He glanced at his feet. Everybody else knew how protected much of my life was; that I was not quite as exposed to some stuff as they were… that is, everyone else knew but not me!

“What?” I insisted.

“Hulle druk die meisies vas.”

It made no sense to me hey. A four year old will know what it means today and all the other kids did then too… Me? Ag ja!

Anyway, I felt insulted for all the wrong reasons. So the boys could run away or something but the girls could not and why did anyone have to run in any case?

Other things worked in my favour too. My grandpa was a Town Elder. My aunts and uncles and cousins were the principal, lay minister, teachers and even friends with the station master and his neighbour being of the same church or some such; the one lady sewed my dresses. People pointed me out hey- : “That is so and so…”

Maybe I was not going to be forced into a corner or under a bush by anyone. There would be repercussions hey…

In the meantime ‘hotnot meide’ could be grabbed and held whatever that meant but I was not a ‘hotnot’ hey, let alone a ‘meid’!

Slowly all kinds of things became meaningful to me. I learned to be afraid and distrustful. I understood why the children preferred to walk in groups.

In particular I learned that stones and blows were punctuations in name calling and that name calling was about showing us our place, about dehumanizing us, about affirming our subhuman status. It was the strangest thing that people who were otherwise perfectly polite behaved in various versions of crass conduct towards black people.

Often, at the time that I refer here, I was an observer because class was still very much in effect and protected me in some ways, but only in some ways and only for a limited period.

Mostly these things are not conscious memories. It is when people try to tell me that I have misunderstood the meaning of it all that they rise to the fore again being the measure of reality.

I might never have completely understood why I was taught from very young, from when I was still in nappies, that these words were unacceptable and akin to and worse than swear words if I did not sometimes go about with the other children. They were never spoken in polite society. They were never spoken in my family except to relate in quiet tones that particular white persons used them on given persons in given situations to demean them.

These were warnings to be careful of those people and those farmers. It meant that we did not buy produce from them. There would be a raised eyebrow and a wry smile; soft laughter and reference to a tar brush.

In time I would learn about the tar brush too.


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