There’s gunshots everywhere and kids in their school uniforms running for their lives. The teargas scrapes my throat and I could swear my eyes bled. I struggle to see through smoke to catch a glimpse of the moving mouth of a dying Hector Peterson as he lay on the street taking his last breath. His lips move but I can’t make out what he’s saying. Amidst the chaos, his voice struggled to form words but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Stuck behind the glass door of the restaurant I was in, I couldn’t get to him. Eventually, his mouth stopped moving. His eyes closed. The youth Mbuyisa Makhubo ran to him and scooped the dead boy’s body into his arms, flanked by Hector’s hysterical sister. They ran and disappeared into the smoke and the cloud grew larger and larger till it swallowed everything in the street. The shouts and screams echoed in the white smoke until they were no more. Like a morning mist, the cloud of smoke cleared right before my eyes. I was now looking at the Long Street that I know. Like I just I awoke from a lucid daydream. A delivery truck road past, a couple sat outside a coffee shop across the road, enjoying a chat. Life carried on.
I don’t know what Hector Peterson’s last words were. ’76 was very long ago. I was not there. I was not part of the struggle. I know people died. I’m not sure if I should feel guilty for not crying for the lives lost. I have very few memories of ’94, save for the scant fear of Inkatha. But I dare ask, is this past what makes me black? Pain, struggle, poverty, politics, oppression, violence. Does my skin go darker the more vividly I remember the pass laws? Does it grow lighter as I look towards a raceless future for my mixed offspring? Is being black a matter of geographic location, a biological chemical equation of pigmentation or is it a condition. A physical state of being that I’m barred from ever forgetting, like the elephant man. The questions send me deeper into a powerless state of confusion as I trudge back to the table where Shaka Zulu, Steve Biko, and my grandfather are sitting.
“Man, you are okay as you are; begin to look upon yourself as a human being”, says Steve Biko, looking on as delirium takes me. I snap out of it. I’m shocked at his words. I want to ask him if he’s disappointed at the state of the modern black (wo)man. Are we as lost as we are said to be? But I have a feeling he’s expecting that question and I think he will not grant me the relief of an answer. After all, is it the duty of those who led us in the past to dictate to us who we should be in the future? Like can you ask your primary school teacher if they think you are a success right now? Is it up to that teacher to decide what being a success is for you in your adulthood? Even your parents, can they tell you how to be a successful you? Many of us went against our parents wishes to pursue what we felt was our own path. It was not that we were raised bad or we were disrespecting those who came before us. On the contrary, it’s the opposite. They gave us enough guidance for us to be able to decide our own direction. Part of the struggle was the fight for the right to Self Determination. So I will Determine for my Self what being black it.
At best, black history can serve as a reminder of where one’s origins are and the journey to arrive to where they are right now. Many believe that we should be shackled to our blackness, like a brand mark, like a scar. Many believe that it is through toil and struggle that one achieves true blackness. My brother once gave this analogy about the difference between growing up black versus growing up white; “when a black child grows up he is told that in order to get anything in life you have to work HARD (strained voice sound effect). But, a white child is told that if you want to achieve something, go achieve it”. You are raised on the belief that you were born on a lopsided scale and the black skin weighs a ton. As you think, so it shall be.
So, where to from here? We look at the past generation and say they fought and died for freedom. What will those who are still to come going to say about us? I say it’s up to you now. Whatever happens from now to you is your responsibility. Like in those medieval time war movies like Braveheart. When the war has been fought and won but there are still a few enemy forces on the outskirts. If you find yourself facing these few enemy soldiers do you expect the whole war to start all over again? For the whole army to help you fight 1 or 2 opponents? No. It’s your duty to yourself to deal with whatever ill befalls you. You may be familiar with the incident ONE elderly woman who got racially abused a Virgin Active by ONE racist guy. I dare ask, was it the responsibility of the WHOLE black nation to do something about it? Was it not her duty to herself to do something about it? The first step in overcoming anything is accepting responsibility for your own well being.
I look at the table waiting for a response. “I don’t know about you but, I’m leaving,” says Biko as he gets up from the table to follow Shaka Zulu and my grandfather. “Just like that? What about the bill?” I ask shout. “Black man, you are on your own.” He responds, with a wry smile.
Writer: Vus Ngxande