When I was in primary school in Pretoria I discovered that there was something wrong with being a Muvenda.
I think it was when I was in Grade 1 when I first heard the words “you don’t look Venda”. I was confused by it but then the boy who said it to me pointed at another Muvenda boy and he said Vendas look like him”. The boy had darker skin than mine and it was very nicely pointed out that he had a nose that spanned across his face. I think I shrugged at the statement but somewhere inside me that was affirmation of my beauty in a city where I was a clear minority.
We were labelled VIPs – Vendas in Pretoria. It was supposed to be funny but I always wondered by the Batswana, Basotho and Bapedi who dominated the school were not given labels. I figured it had to do with the fact that the acronym existed so poking fun at us just made sense. I heard the term more than once at some point I would interject before someone even said it. “Yes I’m a VIP. Haha move on.” I probably didn’t say it with that much attitude though, I was not aware of the prejudices around me. I was a child.
I will never forget the the day one of my friends told me that all Vhavenda are evil and they use black magic rituals. I went home and asked my mother about it she said those things did happen, but they happened in Mamelodi (where my friend was from) as well.
For a very long time I had a complex. I rejected my culture. I rejected my language and all African languages in fact. I spoke English no matter what. With the other African languages, I feared further rejection and ridicule for being the VIP who butchers Setswana or whatever language I was attempting to speak.
I hated that I was a Muvenda. Honestly. I was embarrassed to say it when people asked me. And when they asked me if both my parents were Vhavenda that would pour salt onto my wounds. I remember when my mother told me that her father actually had some Pedi origins from Lord knows when I was so excited. I started telling people that. I used it to explain my beauty.
What a fucking mess.
In high school I had a friend who told me she did not speak Tshivenda anywhere else but home because people always made fun of her. For some reason that was the day I decided I was not going to allow anyone to tell me that there was something wrong with my language or my culture. When we studied history and I started speaking to my mother about the politics of our country I started to realise why I had been treated like a ‘lesser black’.
I have tears in my eyes just thinking about the fact that I once resented myself, my names and my entire being. When you reject who you were created to be you are uncomfortable in your own skin. You are not free to embrace everything about you and you even fail to explore what your heritage is because of you don’t want it. At home when you are with your sisters and brothers you are proud and you are so self-confident but when you are out there in the world there is a part of you that seeks approval, that is insecure and just sad.
I believe that I was not aware of the self-rejection that the prejudices I faced created but I do know that even today I have traces of what happened to me. I am not completely confident when I speak Tshivenda with people who are fluent because I know that I am not as proficient in my mother-tongue as they are. What comforts me is the fact that I am in love with my culture and my language. I am proud of my names and I am more than willing to teach someone how the ‘L’ in my surname and second name are pronounced.
I believe that self-identification is important. Not so that you can bring down others or elevate yourself above others but just so you can understand the dynamics of your society and understand where we come from. When you are aware of the sad mentalities that were drilled into the minds of our ancestors instead of hating yourself and the people who ridiculed you, you will be proud of yourself and your place in society. You will start to educate yourself and those around you because you know who you are. You will be able to walk with your head held high because you are aware that some would rather you kept it down.
You will be proud because you will know the horrid stereotypes that are impressed upon your people and you will explore the nuances that you are faced daily. You will be aware of the comments that are made with malice and those that are just real intrigue.
YOU will know who you are and you will be proud of who you are. There is no need to try and fit into a mould that was never made for you.
P.S. I am not a Levenda. That is a thing and not a human being. Stop that shit it’s degrading and pisses everyone off.