Saturday, 5 May 2012


by Malaika Wa Azania on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9:31pm ·
Dear Afrikan child
You are probably wondering who I am and why I am writing this letter to you. Chances are that we have never met before, at least not physically. But you and I are tied together by one fundamental thing: we are both young Afrikan women who find ourselves trapped in the labyrinthine existence of a society that is designed to keep us in mental chains. I am writing this letter to you because I have walked the path that you are walking and although I had my fair share of lost battles, I have been victorious in many and today, I am able to stand boldly and proclaim my rightful place on the wall of young Afrikan women who have weathered the storm.
My name is Malaika Lesego Samora Mahlatsi, but most people know me as Malaika wa Azania. It is by no mistake that I chose to be called this and later on in this letter, I shall explain its etymology to you. I was born on the 19th of October 1991 to a working-class family headed by a single woman, my grandmother, Matshediso Mahlatsi. My mother was a young comrade, one of millions who had dedicated their lives to the fight for the liberation of Black people. My father too was one of these millions. They met a few years before I was born and by the time I was introduced to the world, they had parted ways, as young people do when they engage in activities too complex for their comprehension, activities that result in responsibilities beyond their understanding. Because of this, I was raised by my mother, a single-parent and my grandmother. But I shall tell you how I grew up.
My grandmother has been a domestic worker all her life. She had come to the City of Gold from a township called Parys in the Free State province, in the mid-1970s to make a living. Upon arrival here, she met the man who would later become my grandfather and her dreams of making enough money and returning to the Free State were put on hold. The birth of my mother obliterated any such dreams that remained and it was then that my grandmother decided to make Johannesburg her permanent place of residence. My grandfather left my grandmother when my mother was very young and from then on, it was her against the world. She made a living working in the homes of White families, making enough money to put food on the table for my mother and her older son, my uncle Lesley. But living conditions were tough at that time and Alexander was no place to raise a child during the apartheid era, when White policemen did not think nothing of firing bullets into the shacks of anyone suspected of being active in anti-apartheid politics. Strangely, my grandmother was never an activist, but her life was in danger nonetheless and after a few years in Alexander, she packed her few bags and headed to the township of Meadowlands in Soweto, where she would live for the next three decades of her life.
I was born at a time when my grandmother was still making a living labouring in White homes. By that time, we were living in a two-room shack in zone 8, a Tsonga-Venda dominated part of Meadowlands. My mother completed her matric a year after I was born and for the most part of my childhood, I was raised by my grandmother, who lived with us at the time. There were seven of us sharing the two-room shack. It was myself, my mother, three uncles, my grandmother and my aunt Tshepiso, who is only a year older than me. Upon completing her matric, my mother immediately found a job at a Non-Government Organisation, a sector she would work in for the rest of her life. So while the living conditions were rather difficult, they were never severe to a point where one went to bed on a hungry stomach. But there were many nights where one went to bed on a less than full stomach and to want more was to be selfish in a household where only two people worked but did not even make enough to afford renting a brick-built room as opposed to a shack.
I was once selected as a finalist for a scholarship to a prestigious school called the Afrikan Leadership Academy. A week prior to our orientation/selection, we were asked to bring an object from home that best describes us. People brought pictures of their pets, their jewellery; their favourite books…all sorts of objects that best describe them. Then one girl stood up with nothing in her hands. All of us were surprised, because we understood the instruction to mean a physical object. This girl stood before us and uttered these words:
“I do not have an object that best describes me. I looked for it but I found none that can truly capture who I really am. It dawned on me then, that the one thing that best describes me is my name…”
I found that to have been the most powerful presentation of that night. That girl captured in a few words what scholars and academics of Black Consciousness have been trying to capture in centuries.
The most important thing you have in this world is your name. You will have no other in any lifetime. This is the name that will be remembered long after you are dead. It is a legacy that you will leave this world with. And it is not just a sound, a proper noun. No. Your name is everything.
As a young Black woman, the worst crime you can ever commit is to divorce yourself from your identity. We live in a world where to be Black is to be an enemy. By virtue of being born Black, you are forced to pay a race tax, where you must always prove yourself worthy of the approval of the White world. You are not “proper” unless you speak in a particular way or dress in a particular way. You are not “proper” unless you are defined within the constructs of Whiteness. But I challenge you to define yourself outside that, to love and embrace your identity without fear of persecution from anyone. Learn and speak your home language. Speak it so well that it should shock anyone to hear you speaking any other, for it must be assumed that with the brilliance in which you speak it, you can only be a master at it alone. Do NOT fall into the trap of measuring your Afrikanness using a White ruler.
I implore you that when you are done reading this letter, you go to your parents and tell them that I said they must teach you your home language. Tell them why: that it is you. It is your identity and you shall have no other.
I began my primary education at Tshimologo Primary School, a junior primary not too far from my home. There, I began my life. But all those details are not too relevant, what is important is what I am about to tell you now about the importance of your own education.
I am currently a first year student at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape Province. I am majoring in Earth Science and Economics. I will be the first to tell you that I hate school. I always have and I have no doubt that you will at some point, if you do not already hate it now. Look, it’s normal. It is even expected that you should, for no-one can claim to love something that is imposed with very little room given for the emergence of their own opinions and preferences. I matriculated in 2009 from a multi-racial school called Florida Park High School in Johannesburg, having spent all my years there in the academic Honours Roll. That achievement had nothing to do with my love for school. It was far from it. I performed well at school simply because I hated school even back then. But you see, I understood that in order for me to leave that place quickly, I had no other option but to pass so well that I would not be made to return there to repeat anything. If you have taken nothing thus far from what I have said, take this:
I was foolish enough to drop out of university twice when my hatred for it reached boiling point. For about two years of my life, I rebelled so much against school that even my own advice that had gotten me through matric was obliterated from memory. I will be honest with you, though, I have no regrets. The two years that I spent outside school were the most important of my life. Through working and volunteering in NGOs, I got to learn a lot about the world that we live in. I got to appreciate the struggles that people face on a daily basis and ultimately, my path as an activist was decided, my destiny shaped.
But I do not wish for you to follow my footsteps on this. I would like for you to finish your studies without any interruptions, because while the education system itself leaves a lot to be desired, we live in a world where knowledge and qualifications mean everything. As a young woman, a young BLACK woman, who is an indirect victim of apartheid and a direct beneficiary of the apartheid legacy, it is vital that you help South Afrika to re-write its narrative. Yet, I also want you to understand that while these qualifications, while tertiary education is important, it is well to remember that:
 The most important lessons you will learn in your life are going to be learned when you make the conscious decision to understand the conditions of people on the ground. You see, you and I were born in interesting times and while we may or may not have suffered the humiliation of poverty, we have a chance that our parents did not have: a chance to live in a society where there exist many agents that are established to ensure our future successes. Years ago, if your parents did not have money, you would not go to school. Today, many people are able to go to school through government funding, bursaries and student loans. We are a generation that has its playing fields more levelled. But this is no excuse to forget where our own parents come from, even where we come from. No matter how many degrees you may have after your studies, NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM AND NEVER LEAVE YOUR PEOPLE BEHIND. When you eat at lunch time and you see a student without food, when you buy clothes at varsity and a fellow student wears the same clothes every day, when your parents can afford to buy you a car and you see a child hiking somewhere and the environment is safe for you to help him/her, when you see any injustice being committed, whether or not it affects you directly…DO SOMETHING!
It is when you interact with people that you learn. It is when you understand their plight and assist where you can that you become qualified. Your qualifications may not be recognised on paper, but where it matters, in the world, they are obtained with distinction.
By now, you are either in a relationship or you are thinking about being in one. And you are either still a virgin or you are considering losing your virginity. Whichever category you fall under, I want you to listen anyway.
When I was a child, I used to fantasise about how I would lose my virginity. It was always in some exotic location with my Prince Charming, the man I would be with for the rest of my life. It all seemed so ideal back then. It was all perfect. But I grew up and with growing up come a lot of challenges, one of which is the challenge to remain true to yourself in a world that would prefer you to be an expression of its own expectations. I could lie to you and claim that I have never been a victim of this, that at some point in my life I was never an insecure little girl who wanted to fit in with the rest of her peers. But there would be no point, because when I set out to write this letter, I set out to tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. I have every intention of fulfilling that mission.
Growing up, I was a very chubby child. As if this was not bad enough in a world that had begun to synonymise beauty with a thin waistline, I was also very dark in complexion. This made matters worse, because I represented everything that society loathes: fatness and blackness. Added to this was the fact that when I was young, I was involved in an accident wherein I stepped onto very sharp rusted metal spikes. It took the hospital too long to assist me because I was not on medical aid. As a result, both my legs were infected and for months, I could barely walk. I was bandaged and bed-ridden. While the worst of it is over, I was left with a permanent scar: I cannot walk straight. Most people assume that I am “magwegwe” because I was born like that. Some even think this is cute. What few know is that while indeed I was born with “magwegwe” feet, I am unable to walk properly because of this accident.
So for very many years, I was insecure about myself. It was not made any easier by the fact that my aunt, who is a year older than me and whom I grew up with, was the complete opposite: light skinned, petite and with proper feet. I hated most things about my body and even the beautiful features meant very little to me. So this insecurity, coupled with peer pressure, made me do things that ordinarily, I would not have done. This included beginning to get involved in relationships at what I think is a very young age.
I was 16 when I had my first real relationship, or so I thought it real at the time. I was in grade ten and by that time, all my friends and peers were already having ex-boyfriends.  That relationship obviously did not last beyond a year, because it was founded on all the wrong reasons. I wanted to belong, I wanted to have someone too, and I wanted to be loved by someone in order to love myself. This kind of (il) logic resulted in me entering into the most destructive of relationships, with the kind of men I would run away from now should I cross paths with them. It also resulted in me losing my virginity at 18, an age so young, I shudder at the sound of it.
Six years later, I can assure you that this was a wrong approach to love. You do not go into a relationship to be completed, you go into it complete. The role of you and your partner is to complement each other, to build onto what is already there. But in your teens, you are not likely to understand what this means, so I want you to consider postponing any plans to date a man until first you have understood who you are. Be in a relationship with yourself first, know what you want, because it is only when you know what you want that you will know what you deserve. You will not stay in a relationship where you are abused, emotionally, physically or otherwise, if you know what you deserve. But the only way to know what you deserve is to LOVE YOURSELF FIRST.
I must also mention to you that going into a relationship is not just a simple act of deciding to be with a particular man. It is more important than that. Going into a relationship is itself a step towards the direction that you want your future to take. You must NEVER date a man because he is cute, or because you feel lonely. Date a man that you see yourself waking up next to years from now. It shall be a man that makes you grow as a person, be it spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or otherwise. It shall be a man that you are able to be yourself around, without fear of persecution and judgement.
You see, your body, like your love, is like an apple. When you get into a relationship with a man and you sleep with him, it is like someone is biting an apple. The more of yourself you give away, the more that apple is being bitten. One day you will find a great man after having allowed all the wrong men to have a bite of your apple. This man will want to be your companion for the rest of your life. He will give you the kind of security and love that you deserve. But you shall have been an apple bitten by too many men, and that great man will be left with the inedible stork that is found after one eats an apple. He will find you when there is nothing left to enjoy, sexually, intellectually or otherwise. Think about this and you will realise that it is very important to take your time to find this man, to create this loving and secure relationship.
Family is the most important thing. Everything has an end to it. BoyfriEND, girlfriEND, bestfriEND and even friEND. But not family. Family is eternal and it is the only thing you are guaranteed to have when all is said and done. It is the only constant in your life.
I am one of those people who suffer from an inability to show deep love. My partner of 3 years once said to me: “Malaika, are you capable of loving?” We laughed about it, but he did not realise how deeply the question went. It is true that indeed, I cannot express my love in a way that can be considered normal. I have friends whom I love with every fibre of my being, but I have not seen them in more than six months. One of my closest and best friends, Phindile Kunene, I rarely talk to and we meet perhaps once every two months. But her place in my life is cemented. She is one of the most important people to me. With her, I am able to be myself. But more than that, she helps me grow as a person and as a thinker. She challenges me to see the world behind new eyes. But more often than not, I chastise myself for being aloof and fear that perhaps, these people I love do not realise that I do.
The point I want to make is that friendships, like family, are important, though not more so. You must surround yourself with friends who make you a better person, who are able to criticise you constructively and with whom you can grow. And never neglect to show them how much you love them. Don’t take it for granted that they know it.
One of the most important lessons you should learn in life, one of the most important vices, is gratitude. Gratitude means appreciation. It is very important.
Growing up, there were many things that I wanted which my mother could not afford to give me. They included cell phones, nicer clothes and all other things. When I was unable to have them, I would be very heartbroken. I would never show my mother that I was hurt, because I did not want her to feel like she was failing me as a parent. But deep inside, I would bleed.
However, now that I have grown up, I realise that while I did not have all that I wanted, my mother did a lot to give me what I needed. And yes, compared to other kids, I did not have much. But now I know that somewhere in the world, there is a child without a home. And while I got sad because I could not have a cell phone, some child did not even have a family or friends to talk to. While I got sad because I could not have Adidas sneakers, some child was walking 20km to school every day on a hungry stomach without food and with no shoes on. So it is important that you learn that your parents are not the monsters that you imagine them to be when they cannot give you certain things: they are giving you the best that they can. Never ever throw tantrums when you do not get what you want, because somewhere out there, someone wishes that they can have what you do.
I want you to know that the path you are walking is an important one. This country needs more women leaders. But leaders are not born, they are made. So remember that before you can be a leader of this world, you must first be able to lead yourself towards the direction of your ambitions and dreams. NEVER allow the world to tell you that you are on the wrong path when you walk on that one.
I have more to say, but time does not allow me the opportunity. However, dear Afrikan child, I will leave you my number, so that if you ever find yourself standing at a cross-road, not knowing which way to go, and you are too afraid to speak to your parents, you may call me. Think of me as your old sister who knows what it’s like to be walking this journey to womanhood. E-mail me on:
You are also allowed to sms or call me on 076 538 1557
 079 421 4315
I have attached one of my favourite poems by Maya Angelou. Enjoy.

Kind regards
Malaika Wa Azania

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can't see.
I say
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

1 comment:

  1. You have started writing less and less, please don't stop. You are truly gifted. Do you have a Facebook page?