[OPEN LETTER] To Patricia de Lille on behalf of the people of Bo-Kaap
Dear Aunty Pat,
As the voices of our ancestors, the young voices of silenced generations, the firm-footed of the unfairly removed, the reach of the retreated and the kings and queens of our descendants, we remember.
We remember the drama of our nation. We remember the first democratic election. We remember the rainbow nationism. The false payoff lines of perceived patriotism. We remember the call to celebrate our differences. We vividly recall being part of a new nation only to find ourselves wordless in a country with old norms. We see the crushing cruelty towards our aunts, uncles, grandparents. We see the money pouring into the seats of our culture, our lives, but we never see it stay. We see the betrayal, we witness no betterment.
We remember thinking that efforts to sustain, maintain, restore and revise our history were futile. We remember the devastation on the faces of a forgotten people staring from between the rails on the colourful cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap while people spoke in languages they didn’t understand to take and claim and occupy. We remember how they failed and we see them constantly trying again.
We remember last year, or the year before. We remember last week. We remember this week. We remember when the elderly with stories to tell and wisdom to share became the dispersed ashes of a fire waiting to tear through their homes, their lives their livelihoods. We saw the police, the brutality, the disrespect and the inhumanity. We saw the cranes, freshly serviced, oiled and ready to break apart and rebuild something equipped to spit out an entire history. But you remember this: We shall not be moved.
History will forget our stories. It will continue to trace itself back only to the years of apartheid. It will overlook the slaves snatched from their homes, their families, their cultures and their children who came here and started anew. Our books have yet to speak thoroughly of the Africans, Indonesians, Malaysians and countless others who developed new languages, new traditions, new cuisines and new bloodlines. But we remember.
We remember a place filled with political exiles, the unfairly imprisoned, the skilled craftsmen and women, the artisans, the scholars and the religious leaders whose education can be traced all the back to the 1400s. We remember the streets laid by the sweat of these people whose titles were removed and replaced with the word slave. And we will always remember the people, who centuries later, now still remain. The truth is the truth. And it will endure.
The plaques that read 16th and 17th century will not be wiped clean with the signage of developers. No Blok is big enough to imprison our past, our present our future. In fact, in the true spirit and passion of our people, Blok can F*koff.
And with that in mind Aunty Pat, we remember you.
We know the public record is emblazoned with your signature in the name of the private developer. We understand what that means for affordable housing, rates and taxes. We see gentrification; we see you and we do not support it. We read the reports and we remember them. We remember the controversy surrounding your participation in preventing Bo-Kaap from being declared a heritage area. An honour it deserves at the very least.
And now, we see you starting over. And we will remember everything when you try to win us over with your colour, your culture, your marches, your “do goodness” and your empathy. But most importantly, moving forward, we will remember the insincerity.
So aunty Pat, tread lightly, kanala.
We are our ancestors’ greatest revenge. We are coming. And we are staying.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.