South Africa

So yesterday I went to Robben Island and then saw a performance honouring a 80year old community leader.  The performance was in a venue called Artscape and it is right in the centre of Cape Town and, architecturally, is similar to the National.  But we just drove right up,parked, didn't pay a penny and walked in. I'm know I should be talking about the art but really I was flabbergasted.  
Robben Island was an odd experience. It is a heritage site and they have tried to incorporate life history narratives but it is all a bit sanitised. Having said that seeing the lime stone quarry and Mandela's cell was very moving and I tried to insert myself into the experience and see it as it would have been in 1968 when he was arrested and taken there.  
I like many of my contemporaries protested against Apartheid but I realise now, being here, that I knew nothing other than a conceptual idea of what that meant.  Being here now and hearing stories, and not even the stories of extreme trauma and torture, but ones about the Dom passes (Dom from Dompa meaning stupid or dumb) that all Black people and Coloureds were required to carry.  This was their country and the horror of actual proper realisation as I walk around that people were segregated due to race and were forced to live in uninhabitable areas of the country and were forced to carry these passes.  The protest at Sharpsville against the Dom Pass law and I know all these names and events but I didn't know not properly, not until being here.  I am thinking a lot about history and who owns it and who creates it and if history is a only a product of forgetting. That as we forget we start to write and record and so it begins...that history is only formed by that which we don't want to forget.  The community leader who was honoured at the performance was presented with a photograph of herself from when Mandela visited her projects.  The presenter said 'we didn't have time to frame our stuff before.  We didn't put photographs on the walls'.  I had been struck on my trip to Robben  Island by an interesting interaction with my female tour guide.  Robben Island is now inhabited and she said there was no police station on site because  there is zero crime.  Now I have been befriended by some spectacular women here.  One of them had told me about a woman called Nomboniso Gasa who had been working on the island during the transformation to a heritage site. Nomboniso Gasa had been raped while on the island and in response women's groups had been invited to have ownership of the island for one day to talk about issues concerning women.  So, I told this story to my female tour guide and pointed out that a zero crime rate statistic was inaccurate.  She had never heard of the incident but said maybe her boss, a man, who had been working there longer would know. She went to ask him and I joined the conversation.  He said that he did remember something but that most people thought that the rape claim was false and fabricated to discredit the heritage site initiative.  I asked - was he suggesting then that Nomboniso Gasa had lied about being raped.  He shuffled a bit.  I reminded him about the women's day and suggested that someone must have believed her for that to have happened.  The conversation then ended with him but continued with the female tour guide about how women's history is so often forgotten and, to go back to my earlier point, you have to care that it is being forgotten to be bothered to write it down..but write it down we must or we get written out of history. 

NB Nombiniso Gasa is a freelance writer and researcher on Gender Political and Cultural issues and can be found on Twitter@nombonisogasa

Sue MacLaine2014Comment