On Sundays on SABC there is a wonderful show called "Who Do You Think You Are?". In it they take South African celebrities and with them set out to discover their ancestry. Often surprises are revealed, as family histories as we all know are often rose coloured. This last week it was Patricia Glyn's turn. For those who don't know her, which is likely everyone outside of Southern Africa, she is a writer and a radio and TV personality. From her website she seems also to be quite an adventurer. She was born in Zambia and grew up there until her family relocated back to South Africa, to Cape Town, when President Kaunda, a personal friend to her father, nationalised many of the family's assets. She is of British ancestry.
During her search to uncover her past, she discovers that a branch of her family was given land after the British army forcibly and brutally removed Xhosa people from it. There was a point in the show where she asks some elderly relatives who have lived their whole life on that very farm about the eviction of the Xhosa. One elderly woman vehemently proclaims that their land was unoccupied. When Ms Glyn points out that in fact that is not true as she had learned the truth of the matter the day before from the historian, the old woman becomes silent. What she knew to be true was now not, and who she knew she was was now altered.
Glyn feels a bit hopeless about this situation. She is now one of the bad guys. She has to accept that she gained in some incremental way by the Xhosa being denied their land. No apologies for this travesty have been forthcoming from the white British nor restitution to the Xhosa. Glyn, to her credit, meets with the elders of the Xhosa speakers in the area of the farm and apologises for what has happened. Though this may seem trite, I took it as an honest acceptance of guilt. What else might she have done? She has no claim to the land herself. She has no power to give it back. But at the very least she has accepted her fraction of culpability. That is more than most have done.
But Glyn is in a quandary. She finds herself in a situation that I think all white people in Africa find themselves. For her, this is the only home she knows. It is the place that she belongs. But she repeats Karen Blixen's plea," If I have a song of Africa, does Africa have a song of me?" I cried when I heard that. Is there any white person on the whole of the continent who can answer yes to that question? Will there ever be?
I don't know what makes this continent unique, perhaps it is only unique because it is where I struggle. Perhaps the same can be said for non-Asians in China or Japan. The obvious outward difference forever keeps you as the other. Forever. No matter what contribution you might make. No matter what you may feel personally. No matter your personal history. You do not belong.