I thought it might be a good thing to look back at why I started blogging. You know, while I’m taking a coffee break. I first started writing as An Accidental Activist. Can’t get away from all the “A’s” I guess. It was meant to be about stories of my life and how I got here. I started writing about my past to leave something for my kids to read one day. For them to see what their dad was about. My past and my journey. Hope they will still believe their old man was okay. But I started ranting and raving about issues that pissed me off and someone said, “You are a real angry African on the loose”. (Thanks Cheryl.) And that’s how I got the name Angry African. Not as romantic or inspirational as what people might think. But it flowed onwards from there.
I wrote a few pieces under An Accidental Activist. Like I said, mostly about my life so far. I think it is time to look back at the first post I ever wrote. Just in case you missed it. I might edit it a bit this time. Add something or take something away. Or just rewrite pieces. Or nothing! But unlikely I’ll do nothing! I’ll see where it takes me. (Note: I did rewrite loads and added quite a bit!)
This was my first post ever. Introducing myself. Now reintroducing myself. Then called “An Accidental Activist: I wasn’t born to be an activist“. Now revisited…
Roots Revisited: I wasn’t born to be an Angry african
I wasn’t born to be an activist. Or an angry African. Quite the opposite, really. I was born to be the stereotypical ‘good, racist Afrikaner’ in Apartheid South Africa. My family supported Apartheid and all of them worked for the Apartheid regime at some stage in their lives. We lived off the fat of the Apartheid land. And for most part went through life nice and ignorant. Just the way they liked it.
I had everything a young boy could think of. Days playing in the streets with my friends. A bicycle to ride to school with. Playing sport on some of the best fields of dreams out there. Cool clothes that made me look like I just stepped out of of Miami Vice. A plate of unbelievable food every day – meat, potatoes and rice being staple food for Afrikaners. Friends and family everywhere around me. Good times. Fun times. Unreal times. Lying times.
My dad was a Brigadier in the South African Prison Services, and one of his last assignments was to look after political prisoners at Pollsmoor prison. We didn’t get along. Even when I was still “his (racist) little boy”. Both my sisters worked at the prison service at some stage of their lives and married guys who worked at the prison services. And my brother worked for the prison services on Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was jailed. They have all left since then. Maybe realizing that the life we were told was real life wasn’t that real after all. And that it wasn’t that great for everyone living in South Africa.
I grew up in a home that did everything the Apartheid government wanted us to do. We were part of the Dutch Reformed Church – the Apartheid government in prayer. We went to Church every Sunday. To Sunday school. I got confirmed at a Dutch Reformed Church when I was 16 or something. We were the Church. I left the Dutch Reformed Church. And they have left me.
We watched rugby – then the sport of the white Afrikaner. We went to Newlands on a Saturday to watch our team play other white boys. We went to club rugby games to see our local white boys play other white boys from neighboring towns. I played rugby for my school and practiced almost every day. We played other white schools on a Saturday morning before we went to Newlands. I walked away from it for a while, but rugby stayed with me. Still loved it, but couldn’t face it. It changed when our national team won the World Cup in 1995 and we could all call it our team. But I now I know it was another tool under Apartheid before that beautiful day in 1994 when we had our first democratic elections. Politics on the field. And we didn’t even know it. I didn’t know it when I was a kid.
I went to school at Paarl Gymnasium – one of the best Apartheid schools in South Africa. I attended the University of Stellenbosch – the ‘brain trust‘ of the Apartheid policies and politics. We read the Apartheid government approved newspapers and watched their TV. I benefited from the education they provided and the money they paid my dad. I was made for a life supporting and working for the Apartheid government. I was a star pupil of the Apartheid system. And I didn’t even know it. But I should have.
I was well on my way to become one of them. I did everything they expected me to do. I was a young racist Afrikaner, ready to take my place in their world. Well, at least the small world within the white community in South Africa. But somehow it didn’t happen though.
Somewhere along the line things didn’t work out the way they planned. Maybe it was the fact that I poked fun at everything. Acted out Apartheid leaders on stage in one man shows at school. Half of the people laughing and the teachers staring at me not knowing if I was making a political statement or just being funny. I was just being funny. I didn’t know about politics. But I knew funny.
Maybe it was because my mother told me to question everything. To look beyond the obvious. Maybe it was just that the world wasn’t right. Even for a young kid it didn’t always seem just right. Why can’t I have black friends dad? Why can’t they come over to play? What are those shacks in the townships? Why don’t those kids have nice clothes dad? Why do they look so thin and dirty? See, there dad! Just on the other side of the fence if you look out the car window dad. Come on, you can’t not see them daddy! Why aren’t they allowed on the beaches dad? It’s just a beach, isn’t it? They are pretty funny when you talk to them dad. Really, just speak to them, you’ll see. I see and speak to them often at the station when I go to cricket games. Why do they ride in the other carriages dad? Looks a bit cramped in there. And the buses. Look dad! We have one of them working in our house. She looks after me when you aren’t here. She’s nice. She could be family. She is family dad. She gives nice hugs when I hurt my knee or cut my finger. Why do we call them “them” dad? They look like me. Eat like me. Play like me. They are me daddy…
Slowly but surely I became everything that Apartheid was against – an activist. An Angry African. Speaking out against their system. “Them” taking me in as one of “their” own and becoming me. I am because they are. I became them. I am them. The Apartheid “them” becoming the people I saw as different. As the others. Instead of being the man they wanted me to be, I became the man I wanted to be. It hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t always been fun. But it always felt right. From Stellenbosch to Seattle, Mali to Monterrey, and Lusaka to London – no matter where the road took me, it always felt right, and it always felt as if I belonged. I felt like this was what I was meant to be. Just me.
Why was it important to write about this? I don’t know. I hope I didn’t offend anyone. But it is important to know who we are. That we come from places we can’t always be proud of. That we have a history. I don’t know if it is important to know this about me. But it is for me. Maybe just to let you know that we aren’t always born into what we become. That we have choices. We can take the bad and the good and still be someone we can face when we look in the mirror. That we don’t have to be proud of everything in our past. But that we can take our past and own it. You can be born into hatred but still come out hugging the world. That’s the beauty of life – you can be who and what you want to be no matter where you come from. You decide. It’s easier than you think. It’s really your choice. Make it. Today.