Slice of life: ‘I sought my own slave saint’

"I was born into this situation of this mixture of people suddenly under assault by apartheid laws." (David Harrison)

"I was born into this situation of this mixture of people suddenly under assault by apartheid laws." (David Harrison)

It starts as a child. I was born to a single mom and I only met my father when I was in my 40s. My family is all mixed.

Apartheid came just before 1950.
My two grandmothers were coloured and my two grandfathers were white.

It was an era of turmoil. My aunt was married to an Indian guy and he had died. She had these six children and they ranged from blonde hair and blue-eyed to very dark-skinned with black hair. We were all separated.

My mum, being a single working-class mum, lived in boarding rooms. As a child I’d been fostered out to four different homes before I was seven.

I was born into this situation of this mixture of people suddenly under assault by apartheid laws.

At the top of the Hanover Street, there was a Holy Cross Convent church. One of the nuns used to look after me some weekends.

A particular German nun had a devotion to a saint — Saint Martin de Porres. He was the son of an African slave woman and a Spanish soldier in Peru. In this apartheid South Africa and everything that I had experienced as a child, I see a white German woman on her knees in front of a statue of a black man every day with a smile on her face and talking to him.

I’m there as a child, and she tells me, he was a slave and this is what slavery is about. I’m eight years old.

Later, as an adult, they would classify me as “other coloured”.  I would run a printing press in Lusaka for the ANC in exile. I was always looking for my own Saint Martins in this world.

People always ask how can I look like a white person, but not be white. My first and foremost identity is of a people who rose above adversity. — Patric Tariq Mellet, 63, a heritage activist and author, as told to Ra’eesa Pather 

Ra'eesa Pather

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