The dominant narrative locks black people out of our figurative mansion

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Fred Khumalo at the Hattingspruit train station, outside Dannhauser, where John Marwick, the man they called Muhle, parted ways with the people who'd walked with him from Joburg to Natal./SANDILE NgIDI
Fred Khumalo at the Hattingspruit train station, outside Dannhauser, where John Marwick, the man they called Muhle, parted ways with the people who'd walked with him from Joburg to Natal./SANDILE NgIDI

Whenever I finish reading or writing a particularly good book I am always overcome by a profound sense of loss.

This is because I have to part ways with characters who have become friends or worthy adversaries.

I have to come out of the world I have built around myself. I have to ponder, seriously, the meaning of that world. Confronting this meaning is not always a comfortable proposition.

This is this profound sense of loss that overwhelmed me when I finished my walk that took me through three provinces, covering more than 400km in 10 days.

This, for those who haven't been following me in recent times, was to commemorate a walk of the same nature that was undertaken by more than 7,000 black mineworkers who had to leave Johannesburg for Natal and Zululand in a hurry when it became clear that the British were to mount an attack on the Boers in 1899.

After the publication of my book based and inspired by the historic march, I put on my running gear and started walking, following in the footsteps of these people.

While I was happy to have imprinted my name in history by finishing this gruelling walk, I was sad when it finally came to an end. Because at the end of it all, I had to ponder one major fact: history has not been kind to black people.

My good friend Sandile Ngidi, who was with me on the walk, says history is our collective home address, whether we are black or white. I don't disagree. But what I know is that while we might share the same collective home address, some are lucky and powerful enough to occupy the main mansion at this address.

The less powerful find themselves sleeping in shacks on the same property. Others have to be content with sharing their daily meals with pigs and dogs while the more powerful sit inside the main mansion, dining on hunks of beef and lamb, washing them down with the choicest wines.

In the main mansion, there are conversations around the main table, talks in which the less fortunate who sleep in stables and pig sties cannot participate.

In writing my book and choosing the most dramatic way to commemorate this walk by my people, I was figuratively pushing open the doors into the main house.

I was, so to speak, forcing the people in the main house to allow me and my people a place around the main table. We want to partake of the good, nutritious food and wine; we want to be part of the conversation; we want to say, "we can speak for ourselves!"

The book and the march are a counter-narrative, if you agree with me that the dominant narrative has erased or distorted the role of black people in the many wars that have shaped this country.

The dominant narrative pretends as if black people are not part of this land. The dominant narrative locks black people out of our figurative mansion, and condemns them to the periphery, to the stables and pig sties where they have to fight with pigs for crumbs that have dropped from the main table.

It is time we claimed our place inside the mansion, at the main table. As Bob Marley said, none but ourselves can free our minds. None but ourselves can reclaim our heritage as people who helped build this country.

If we can reclaim our history and tell it from our perspective rather than leave it in the hands of the people in the main house, we will be on our way to defining our future and reclaiming our destiny.

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