Once Upon a time in South Africa, Strange Men Invade Our Home

I want to tell you a story. I want to use YOU to tell this story. Imagine, one night, you and your family were peacefully sleeping in your home. It was a modest, humble abode, but it was your home. You grew up in that home, so did your father and his father before him…

On this particular night, you are woken up by something. You get up to look. You find Strange Men moving around in your home. They have guns. Before you can figure out what is going on, they restrain you and bring you to your knees. These Strange Men then proceed to bring your family out into one room and they bundle you together. You, your wife, your daughter, your son, all of you on your knees. The look on your family’s face is one of utter fear and terror. You try to comfort them but you struggle to keep your composure.

The Strange Men start ransacking your home. They take everything that is of value. Room by room, they take everything that has belonged to you and your family before you. They throw down the urn with your grandfather’s ashes, you watch as it breaks into pieces. “Why do you keep the dead with you anyway?”, one of the Strange Men quips, the rest of them laugh raucously. The images of your grandmother, everything that reminds you of your past, then tear into pieces.

“STOP!” you shout. “Shut up! Cockroach!” one of them replies, plunging a gun into your stomach, causing you to buckle into a fetal position. “I am not Cockroach. My name is…” a gun crashes into your skull before you can finish. “I don’t care what your funny little name is, from now on you’ll be called Cockroach,” The Strange Men tell you that there are probably more things of value in your house. If you don’t show them where (they are), your family dies. Believing that your cooperation will help keep your family safe, you show them where everything you value is and, you help them take what is yours.

One of the Strange Men forces your wife to make food for them. She is petrified and in shock, you are powerless. She gets up and goes to make the food. Another one of the Strange Men mentions that he craves something else. Salaciously, he turns to your daughter. Your beautiful, precious daughter. You plead with the men. They pummel you with punches and restrain you. Then, right in front of you, they rip into your child. Her screams for help tear right through your heart. “I want you to have my children!”, retches the Man. Right through the whole ordeal, till she can’t cry anymore, you are powerless. Your son rushes to help. You try to stop him, fearing for his life. You lose grip on him, they shoot him, shattering his spine, crippling him.

Just like that, everything you hold dear, all that is you and your family, is gone.

Is this just another tragic story from a crime-ridden South Africa? Maybe…

Now, imagine that these Strange Men decided that they are not leaving your home. In fact, they are taking over your home. They force you and your family to eat, sleep and shit in the one-room they are keeping you in.

Imagine that this happens over many, many years.

These Strange Men then bring their families. They enjoy the rest of your home, moving around freely, while you and your family are not allowed to leave the room. Except on one condition; You can leave the room only to help the Strange Men build a bigger, better home, on top of yours, while they treat you like a lowly animal. In time, this becomes your life. You spend long periods of time away from your family, building the Strange Men a bigger, better home. Your wife is forced to look after the Strange Men’s children. Your daughter has given birth to the Strange Men’s children. Your family rejects these strange looking children because they are the offspring of the Strange Men. She is taken away to another room. You will never be allowed to live with her again. Your crippled son is left to fend for himself.

In time, you will die out there, building the Strange Men’s house. Your family will never know this. They just know that one day, you left and, you never came back. Your wife will raise your children alone. Your son, will grow to be a fatherless, broken man, becoming a bitter, angry and useless father, raising fatherless, broken children. Your grandchildren. Strange Men’s children will grow, move around freely in and out of your home, experiencing life and learning about all manner of things. Your children will continue to debilitate in the one room, only being taught menial tasks. One day, the Strange Men’s children will decide that Cockroaches don’t belong in the home. Your family will be forced out and made to live in a smaller, dilapidated room outside, away from the home that you helped build. Your grandchildren will be told that it is their own fault that they live in such a squalid place because, they are lazy and stupid.

The Strange Men’s descendants will teach your descendants that they, as descendants of Cockroach, are nothing but pests, only good for building the Strange People’s home. Your name will be forgotten. All your great achievements will be discarded. They will be taught that your grandmother’s memory and your grandfather’s teachings are unimportant. This will be your history, as told by the Strange Men.

If you can stretch your imagination to comprehend this story and think of how it would affect you, then you can start to imagine what Colonialism did…once upon a time in South Africa.

Now, read the story again.

Writer: Vus Ngxande               Photographer: Gugulethu