This is obvious. I’m sure if all South African’s were given free range to complain, there would be no end to the array of what exactly is wrong with our country. Seldom concrete solutions are implemented to remedy our issues. What the Reversing the Legacy exhibition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) tries to illuminate that although progress takes time, it is possible .
Upon arrival at the exhibition, you are issued with a pass, or a dompas as it was referred to during Apartheid. Then you are met with a security guard, who scrutinizes you as if you are a terrorist and after a substantial silence asks you what your name is and where you reside.
Thereafter you are greeted by a man, who looks like he could have run the ABW and who coincidently had the old South African flag looming proudly above his head. Accompanying Mr ABW were his too sidekicks, one dressed in uniform and the other in a suit. The male in uniform, asked for my pass and then sized me up just as suspiciously as the initial security guard. He then asked the same questions: “What is your name”, “Where do you live” and I answered him earnestly. When he asked “Why are you here” and I replied innocently with a “To see the exhibition”, I knew I had crossed some line when he asked “What is an exhibition”. Immediately I had to change my story and said I was visiting a friend (which was in fact true), he seemed quite satisfied with this answer and eventually I encountered Mr AWB.
The same questions followed, my name , place of residence, what I did for a living. I wondered if it would help if I said that I worked for an Afrikaans Publishing company, instead of just a publishing company, to perhaps win some favour with this guy, in retrospect , I’m glad I didn’t. He then asked if I was planning to visit the shebeen. Given the seriousness of the situation, I replied with a cheeky “maybe”. Yes, this was to be reflection of Apartheid, and yes I was supposed to be made to feel that I was doing something wrong by existing, and yes, these actors were REALLY good, but I am a free woman. This is 2013 and I would not dehumanize myself by complying with his every whim and intention of making me feel sub-human. Plus, I really like beer so chances are if there was a shebeen, I would definitely visit it.
All the dramatics aside, after being warned that I would be incarcerated for six months if I was found without my pass, I engaged with the exhibition. There were illuminate fixtures all around the room relating historical information, The first one specifically being about the 1913 Native land act, which was cause for the exhibition as this year herald the centenary since the law was instituted.
To be honest, I had no idea that laws as harsh as these were into place as far back as 1913, so for my fellow ignorant readers ,the 1913 Natives land act ensured that natives, or what we would refer to as people of colour, were only allowed a 7% ownership of designated land in South Africa, and furthermore that they were not allowed to regulate livestock and it also regulated who could live on “white farms” and who could stay on white farms, thereby lessening any “natives” ability to be fully empowered themselves and to be self-sufficient.
This happened as far back as 1913? It almost shocked the native out of me! I then snapped a shot with my camera with Mr AWB and his sidekicks and was told that they were watching me. The man in uniform uttered that I looked like a trouble maker.
Turning the corner is what really tore this native’s heart to pieces. There we pillars, almost ceiling high, all displaying the laws that were instated after 1913: The Group Areas Act, The Population registration Act, The Separate Amenities Act. You’d wonder why this moved me to tears. But seeing these laws suspended against that concrete was too much to bear. To me, those laws fixed on those concrete pillars, represented the permanency of its effects on our country. Imbedded, irreversible and done, now elevated, almost boastfully.
After I composed myself, I encountered a group of marching protesters holding up signs objecting these unjust laws. The marched in unison, singing songs of freedom, and I was almost trampled as they marched in full force as I approached with my camera.
Then there was the shebeen ( unfortunately there was no beer), and people were playing cards , dominoes , empty bottle’s positioned on the table, the occupants all dressed in attire from the fifties, sixties and seventies.
What caught my attention was a white woman sitting on her stoep and behind her the sign read:
“A resident in Triomf, the white working class suburb, built on the ruins of Sophia Town” .
Positioned directly across her were two black women, who appeared to be impoverished and desolate. At point the two parties argued to and from their respective “areas”.
Further along the exhibition a casper is seen and various posters heralding historical events in South Africa. There were also television screens which streamed videos of marches, protests, burning townships and Apartheid leaders spewing their well constructed rhetoric of injustice.
As you turn the corner you approach the poetry corner. I had the pleasure of catching the end of Jethro Louw’s set and I finally got to see the friend I told the security about, Ms Dejavu Tafari. It took me some time to find the section designated for the posts/storytellers to perform and eventually when I was directed to it, Dejavu informed me that she had already performed about three times to be exact. I opted for a picture instead and then she hopped onto stage to get a picture behind the mic and the onlookers were now intrigued an edged her on. She performed a poem I had requested and I was thrilled.
Dejavu is a ball of fire, wit and wisdom. She has the type of stage presence that makes it impossible to fix your eyes anywhere else. She is the real deal and if you ever see that she’ll be participating in a show, do yourself a favour and go. You won’t be disappointed.
Being as crazy as she is, she announced to the audience, which was very small, that I had written a poem the previous evening and I was going to grace the stage. I had no choice I had to get up there. After that we spoke a bit about poetry the workings of it in Cape Town. We both were in agreement that poetry in Cape Town seemed rather fragile at this point in time.
A few weeks prior to the exhibition, I saw the call for twenty poets who were to perform for twenty minutes, each day of the exhibition. I considered responding to the call, but I was not in a “stage” space at the time. I was exceptionally happy that poets were invited to the event, but let’s get it right people. Dejavu let me know she had performed at least thrice throughout the day, even though she was only scheduled for twenty-minutes. The whole affair seemed to be rather disorganised.
Additionally a jazz band played through the duration of the exhibition beyond the partition where the poetry was staged. Don’t get me wrong, I love jazz and it was a good idea to place the musician at the space designated for the shebeen, to add to the ambience of that setting, but what about the poets who had to compete with that distraction throughout the day? This injustice was quite fitting with the rest of the exhibition. During our conversation we did manage to psyche ourselves up and came to the conclusion that if things were to change, well as Gandhi put it, we had to be that change.
After parting from Dejavu, a woman asked if I wanted to sign the pledge. I read this pledge carefully before I put my name on it. It read as follows:
Quite a hefty promise to make, but I do believe in what it said and was glad to sign it. My hope would be that whomever else signed the pledge would understand the responsibly of what it meant.
Overall the exhibition was a rather emotional experience and I was taxed when I left. The aim of the exhibition was to show how since Apartheid, steps have been taken to combat the wrongs of the past. On most of the pillars relaying the horrendous legislation of the past, a sort of disclaimer was posted about how steps had been taken by the current administration to reverse the effects of these laws, which I respect. Progress takes time but the hard truth is, is that in terms of land in this country, it will never be equal. Too much damage was done. The trauma of this land lies in its geography. Perhaps the percentage of black owned land will increase, perhaps more people will receive housing, but the townships and the Capeflats will always exist. People of colour will always be living there, that won’t change.
Was the aim of the exhibition met? I don’t know, but I’m glad that it is on display. It provides a minute view of what it was like and perhaps it will help people realise what kind of trauma this land experienced. Perhaps it will spark patience for the healing process, or perhaps the visitors to the exhibition will realise that there will always be a struggle to combat our past and perhaps they will join that struggle?
The exhibition has been extended to June 29th. It is free and I is a must see, for many reasons.