I am a misplaced African:


Jackie Opperman


I am a misplaced African:

It is no longer ours,

it never really was.

My passport verifies this as my birth place,

but does this give me the right to belong?

Does this open the door to a space in this country;

in Africa?

It is the place of birth,

the place of nurturance,

the place of maturation,

Is it the place of living?

Growing up with a black mother,

who's name I changed.

Changed as my mother tongue disallowed

the pronunciation of


Salome allowed me into her heart.

Her love grew in mine.

We were of few words.

I trailed her essence as I followed her from

the washing line, to the ironing board, to the stove

and eventually to her high enough bed

to dissuade the Tokoloshe.

Every night, I would sit on her bed.

Every night, I would breathe in the smell of snuff and Vicks.

Every night, I would feel her blanket, swing my legs and watch her knit.

Every night, I was called in and back.

Every night, I would go to the big, cold house.

Every night, I would stand at the bottom of the dark staircase alone.

Every night, I would look up and pray for protection.

Every night, I creaked up the staircase passing dark shadows.

Every night, I was subjugated to a hammering heart.

Every night, I would smell the acrid smell of cigar smoke.

Every night, I would feel loud fighting and ask God to hold me for the night.

Later, I realised that Salome gave up her life for me.

She gave up her sons for me.

She gave up her home for me.

She gave up her husband for me.

She just needed a job.

Was I just a job she needed?

Was I just a job she loved?

I became the child she loved.

She became the mother I loved.

Thanks to her sacrifice,

I was able to love,

Thanks to her sacrifice,

I was able to live.


At University, out of the nest.

During the time of moratorium, I experienced no rest.

I awakened to apartheid, the big bang

and the possibility that God may not exist.

My mind tried to make sense of Godlessness,

racial separation, degradation and the elevation of whites.

The brain tussle held on both sides lead

to seizures and viewing the world from a medicated space.

This is not a way to live.

Rejecting my 'special' whiteness

as I am an African,

I worked as a social worker in deprivation.

I learnt the slang, could talk the talk, tried to right the wrong.

Then night time came, and I always returned to my whiteness,

still wearing the mantle of guilt and too muchness.

Now, what do I hear when I hear- ‘hey whitie’,

or ‘we will take back our land’.

I hear hatred, hatred of whites and hatred of me.

I see the EFF youth leader breathing like a restrained dragon.

I feel the heat of his words on my skin

the heat of other hatred

the heat of self-hatred.

Never have I felt hatred because I am white.

As I am white, with an African passport,

I walk down the road.

When others see me,

they don't see me.

What is seen is a whitie,

someone who took from them,

someone who can save them,

someone with power,

someone with money,

someone who is a taker

Someone making them a lesser.

As I am white, with an African passport,

I look at others looking at me.

I see reflections of need,

but I don’t have what is needed.

If I gave my all, gave all of me,

it wouldn't soothe the pain.

It wouldn’t pacify the hatred.

‘I'm sorry’ I say, raising my hands

gesturing that I have nothing to give.

The asker looks at me with blankness,

just as betrayal and disappointment were beginning to show.

A hiddenness pulls down as he raises his hoodie.

He doesn't know that I don't have what he wants.

He doesn't know that I don't have the key.

He doesn’t know.

His not knowing intensifies.

His wanting intensifies.

The being unable to give heightens,

leading to acrid smelling arguments,

objections, objectifying paintings, racial slurs,

democratic harassment and mob justice.

Is this living?

I feel lost, disoriented, bewildered, out of place.

Is this living?

Can I live like and with this?

How can I have an African passport and feel so out of place?

I have outgrown my birth place, my African passport.

I bring in more light,

I bring in more love,

I bring in more God.

The racial darkness grows like a snowball.

I bring in more light,

I bring in more love,

I bring in more God.

Others look at me and don't ask.

Others don't look at me.

Others don't look.

I bring in more light,

I bring in more love,

I bring in more God.

I have become invisible

with an African passport.

I feel like a walking ghost.

Non-existent, gathering dust in a bygone era.

Unseen, unheard, un-cultural.

Non-black. Non-Indian. Non-Coloured. Non-person.

I am disenfranchised by post colonialism.

I bring in more light,

I bring in more love,

I bring in more God.

He takes the money.

They take the money.

The greed baton of too muchness has been passed.

The land is desiccated.

The rain has stopped.

The water has stopped.

Politicians blaze and burn,

While the people smoulder.

I want to see my light.

I want to see my Love.

I want to see my God.

I want to see me.

I want to see.

I want to be the European

others have chastised me for being.

I want to be a European.

Before I go, I give thanks.

I give thanks to the country that birthed me.

The country that raised and matured me.

Now I am free

to share my love with you.

Share my light with you

and one day you may be free.

Every night I transcend passports,

immigration laws

and move to the other side of Africa.

Every morning I awake,

still with my African passport,

but one day my body will follow my soul

and I will no longer be a misplaced African.

By Jackie Opperman