There’s something about being in the presence of greatness, of history. Albie Sachs spoke last night, at the opening of the new exhibition, ‘My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery’, at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum. It’s as if not only the people listened, but the ancient stones in the cobbled courtyard, the walls that have watched such atrocities happen, the new spring leaves of the trees peeping over the roof, the very air particles, all turned and listened to a man who can only be described as the epitome of dignity, a man who fought, tooth-and-nail, for this country to be free and fair. His heart must be broken about what’s happening now, on our campuses. Again.
In the background, 5 o’clock Adderley Street traffic created a low murmur, punctuated by the odd siren: modern-day slaves to the consumerism of the 21st century, trudging home.
Between 1653 and 1856, 71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town, and housed in the Slave Lodge, stripped of everything, including their identities.
‘My DNA was brought here on a ship,’ said the MC. This is the story of South Africa. Well, an early part of it. An ugly, horrifying story of slavery, indentured labour and the complete lack of dignity and respect afforded to thousands of slaves.
This is our history. Without being aware of this, as awful as it is, there is no way we’ll learn about how to never let these things happen again, as they have, over and over, since 1653. And still are, in one form or another. Will we ever learn?
Each month features a person who carries that month’s name. Slaves, brought to South Africa from predominantly Indian Ocean countries, were named according to the month they arrived, their real names carelessly discarded. The photos are gorgeous, the stories, in equal parts heart-breaking and beautiful but, mostly, important. These are the stories of us, South Africans. This is a part of our history, our legacy, and this is a part that has been sorely neglected. As Albie Sachs put it: ‘This is not just a legacy of injustice, but the legacy of racism.’
Dr Bongani Ndlovu reminded us of the presence of the past. I like that. The presence of the past. The Slave Lodge Museum, with both its permanent exhibition, and this new one does just that: it reminds us of where we came from, which is vital to help us get to where we want this country to go.
An edied version of this blog appears on the What’s On in Cape Town site.