A playlist for ukubuyela amid sites of displacement
Bongo Maffin — Amadlozi; Thandiswa Mazwai — Abenguni; Madala Kunene — Ubombo; Zim Ngqawana — Zanusi; and Busi Mhlongo — Unomkhubulwane
Site of displacement#1: Location
Growing up in Johannesburg, I’ve always felt a sense of inadequacy with regard to my heritage and spirituality. When people hear the name Vuyiswa Xekatwane they assume a number of things, most commonly that I speak isiXhosa and that I’m “originally” from a small town in the Eastern Cape somewhere.
“Where are you from?” they ask.
“Soweto,” I respond.
“No, but where are you originally from?”
“Rockville … Soweto,” I insist.
Both my parents were raised in Johannesburg, and when other kids went “home” to their grandparents for the holidays I would make a short trip to my grandmother’s house eZola. My “homeland” has always been a mine dump-turned-township and, as novel as that might sound, it has always made me feel displaced.
Site of displacement#2: Language
Like most black kids born in the early 1990s, my parents sent me to multiracial schools where speaking English was not only encouraged but rewarded, too, with a “you speak so well”. And although my teachers at school would compliment me on how “well” I spoke, at home my father would reprimand me every time I spoke to him in English.
“I’m not a white man, la siyakhuluma,” he would remind me as I rolled my eyes.
Yet despite my father’s reminders, English became and still remains the language I am most fluent in.
I mean, if you’re spending most of your time at school, five days a week, eight hours a day, that kind of thing happens. In trying to find myself and learn more about my family’s history, I have felt ashamed at not being able to speak fluent isiXhosa.
Learning about and understanding isiNtu namadlozi has not been easy. If like me you’ve grown up in a home where indigenous belief systems were deemed primitive and harmful, having conversations with your elders about spirituality is difficult.
I’ve often had to resort to media such as music and the internet to contextualise indigenous belief systems (I googled my clan names) and although I can appreciate how globalisation, colonialism and capitalism contribute to where we find ourselves spiritually as black people, it needs to be said that our elders are doing us a huge disservice by not talking about and engaging isiNtu because, whether we believe it or not, there are spiritual ties and laws that govern over this land and our lives, both in good and bad ways.
Site of displacement#3: Religion
I grew up in a predominantly Christian home where traditional rituals weren’t observed or even spoken about. My mother, a strict Christian endowed with the gift of prayer, is a woman who does not believe in izinto ze-Sintu. At most we go to my grandparents’ graves twice a year. My father, on the other hand, is a traditionalist who believes in amadlozi. “Spirits don’t die,” he says.
In the past few weeks (it’s actually been years but I’ve only just begun to piece things together), I’ve been having vivid but confusing dreams. Both my grandmothers have come to say things to me and show me things. I want to tell my mother but I can already hear her say: “Ja, this is what happens when you don’t go to church, your spirit is vulnerable.”
So I tell my father. I tell him about my dreams and inform him that I have consulted isangoma to help me understand the meaning of these dreams. With panic in my heart, I tell him what I have been told.
He calmly turns to me and says: “There is no point in asking, ‘Why me?’ If you were given R10-million would you ask yourself, ‘Why me?’ Take your time, do what you need to do, but let me tell you, you cannot run away forever.”
The need for healing is urgent, from our timelines to the wireless, isiNtu supersedes time and technology, a kind of premonition and memory all at once.
Ebuthongweni nasegazini, for as long as we are alive so are our ancestors. Pay attention to your blood, to the things that move and break your spirit. Pay attention to the signs, to the things that push you out of your comfort zone and into spaces that need your light. Those are your ancestors at work.