The Forgotten by Sithembiso Khalishwayo

15 Jun 2016
The Forgotten by Sithembiso Khalishwayo

“The Forgotten” by Sithembiso Khalishwayo came second in the PEN SA Student Writing Prize. Read a Q&A with Khalishwayo here.

The Forgotten by Sithembiso Khalishwayo

My name was meant to be 0962785. It was the name I was meant to be given on the first day that I entered through those gates, sign some forms, attach a card to myself, and walk through the hallways of education. Step up from yesterday and enter into today. That day never happened. The gates were closed. They told me that they were fighting for “Free Education for all.” I think they forgot about me when they shouted from the roof tops. They created a story before my voice was even heard. I guess I have to tell my story to you, if you are willing to listen.

I was born in eDumbe, a small village a few sounds away from Paulpietersburg. I raised cows and chickens, those were my pets. I remember getting my acceptance letter to study at this institution that has many hallways, a card the size of my gogos purse that proves my existence. I was so happy; the kid from a village that never believed in him had finally made it. A few months later, I took a taxi to Joziburg with my gogo, we had about R500 on us to cover everything. R220 to get to Joziburg, R220 to return home, R60 for food.

It was meant to take us one day to register and get that card and go back home. But the voices from the rooftops shouted “FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL.”

The village was right, I would never make it. The doors were closed before I could enter. So I’ll just sit here in my village and take care of my pets.

0666914, that’s not my birth name, you gave me that name so I could believe that this house you built would keep me warm during the cold days and feed my desire for this thing that you call education. I see your education for what it is; it doesn’t have any foundation to stand on. The fences are low lit with drops of blood running through its seams. I see your neatly trimmed green grass that didn’t allow a person, a man like me raised on dirty streets, using a packet of Mabele pap as my pillow. Your house won’t allow me in until I clock in and you receive your paycheck. It must be a lucrative business, you didn’t create a home, you sold us out and created a hotel so that the rest of the world could admire you from a distance. But I see you, through your tinted glass window, that’s the closet you’ve ever been to seeing black. You better run, cause there’s a storm coming, there will be no snow, it will be black ice that will cut you deep and tear off your window pains. My name is not 0666914.

My name is 1564982. I’m white. I’m a woman. I speak sometimes. I can’t anymore. The sins of my fathers are coming back. I don’t even know who Cecil John Rhodes is. I’m colour blind.

I was scared when the movement began; my privilege was exposed for the first time. My black friends’ weren’t there anymore, they called me the enemy. I remember how they blocked everything and brought this institution to a standstill. I just wanted to go home. I couldn’t. The same way my maid wears her doek with pride is the same way I wish I could carry my whiteness. But how? How can I be proud of being born into privilege, while my black neighbor, who used to call me friend doesn’t speak to me anymore? I wish I could escape from this white pigment that I was born into, to be able see my friends again.

The movement was meant to be about class not race. How do I protest when my voice is connected to the oppressive force that comes with being white. I could stand up and scream from the roof tops that say “THESE FEELS WILL FALL,” but will the friends I have lost say it back?

The female voice has never been respected, has it? I am a strong black woman named 6349874Y. Why is it that when the female body enters a space they are considered “THE HELP.” The movement was never created by a man, but a woman with scars on her neck, trying to fix her vocal chords. Do you know her name or the pigment of her skin? She wasn’t black, she want white, she was the in-between. We didn’t erect a statue for her that would honor what followed. Instead we placed two strong black men at the center fold of every piece of writing and hashtag so that people would listen. The female voice had to be silenced; the female voice belongs at the end of the line handing out food parcels and be part of the background. I remember us strong black woman. No. I remember us strong woman wearing our doeks in solidarity, because the female voice was not heard during the movement, was it? We might have placed a strong black woman in-between the two strong black men but you tried to find her faults; you tried to prove that she wasn’t strong enough. She was just another woman whose only role was to give birth.

Do you still not know the name of the woman who gave birth to the movement? She wasn’t black, she wasn’t white. She was woman. The female voice has never been respected. My name was 0862759; I left the institution a longtime ago. I’m now an outsider looking in. I have a job, which is nice, I can finally afford certain things, I don’t know how long that will last. I’m just patiently waiting for the NSFAS to knock on my door and take away everything that I have worked hard for. The students have spoken; I wish I spoke out sooner. I watch the news and see the pain that I went through, I was just surviving at the time and that was enough for me. These kids took their voices and said “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” They took all the bullshit and threw it at the powers that be. They tried to fix the mistakes that we had made. We didn’t fix anything when I was there, we just went through the motions so we could receive that piece of paper and stand on that stage and be told “WELL DONE, YOU MADE IT.” I never considered anything beyond that day. I didn’t think about the next generation of students and the struggles that they would face. I didn’t think about my little sister who finishes matric this year. I was so concerned about me that I forgot my responsibility to her…so I’ll silently…patiently wait for that knock on my door.

My name is 0708506j. White. Male. Privileged. I was born into a family that believed that the black face was less than human. I tried to escape that. My parents told me that Apartheid was just a means to an end. I told them that the white pigment we carry doesn’t make us better than everyone else. I was 12 years old at the time; I found comfort from our domestic worker, Susan, a white name. I always called her Mam’Nomvula. That is who she was, she brought the rains that created a beautiful soul…she created my friend. I and he were connected by strings that I thought were detached from yesterday. I was wrong. I remember when family came over that would say “CALL THE GARDEN BOY.” I always called him friend.

I would like to think that I’m colourblind, but I know my friend is not. He was never called by his real name; he was always “THE GARDEN BOY.” We would always write letters to each other when my parents weren’t around. When the movement started we were both in our third year of Civil Engineering, we were both part of the movement. We tried to create a better world for both of us. I received a letter from him the day before we were meant to march to the Union Buildings, the letter read “I’M GOING HOME FOR A FEW DAYS, WILL TALK TO YOU SOON.” He lied. He never went home with Mam’Nomvula.

On the day of the march to the Union Buildings I received a letter from Mam’Nomvula. I could hear her tears beyond the page. I never finished reading that letter. All I know is that on the 20th of October 2015, he took a taxi to Kliptown and shot himself. One bullet to the head. You wouldn’t have heard about him because he wasn’t 0708506j, he wasn’t white, he wasn’t privileged. They still call him garden boy…I just miss my friend.

Dear 0708506j

I hope this letter finds you. This will be the last letter I send to you as I’m going away for a while, I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back.

I’m a human being that feels the way that you do. I feel happy when the sun shines, the same way you do. I cry when the rain caresses my face before the storm comes. We bleed the same colours, but our colours are tainted, they are tarnished by the history that we never created. The nightmares have taken control of our dream, so we don’t sleep anymore.

I’m not angry that you’re white, I’m not ashamed that I’m black. I’m just worried about the story we would tell our children, will it be the same story that our parents told us. I’m not angry that you were told to be white, I’m not ashamed that I was told to be black. Do you remember the dreams we shared together. I and you standing on that stage, hand in hand, realizing that we both had made it. I won’t be able to stand on that stage with you anymore, they won’t let me. You’ll always be my friend. As I take my final sleep I hope you remember us, the way we wished our country could live up to the title of “THE RAINBOW NATION.” When the movement ends, please tell them my story next to yours…

Your Dear Friend

Sithembiso Khalishwayo