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My generation
Ntsiki Mazwai Young, strong-spirited and "got opinion", 24-year-old Ntsiki Mazwai has performed her own work at many hi-profile gigs, but says one of the highlights of her poetry career thus far was to be part of the 10th anniversary presidential inauguration poetry act, where she shared the stage with poetry greats Don Mattera, Lebo Mashile and Mac Manaka. She was chosen from a pool of over 5 000 entrants to be part of the Scamto Groundbreakers TV series, as part of which she travelled to the USA to represent South African poetry. She is part of the all-women, much-loved, Feela Sistah Spoken Word collective. She has been published in Don Mattera's souvenir book for 10 years of democracy. Her works can also be seen in the Timbila Special Edition. Outside of her poetry she runs a fashion label called House of MOBU, where she sells her exclusive beadwork range.
Asizovidiyo zomculo nje kuphela ezingathi zisichaphazele. Enye yezinto endinoloyiko lwazo, yile yokuba abazali bam besisizukulwana socalulo nengcinezelo. Sesi sizukulwana kwakuthethwa naso ngobundlobongela, nangoxinzelelo. Ingcinezelo yatyhefa iingqondo zabazali bethu, kwaye zange kube kho nto yenziwayo ukulungisa oku. Ndibona uburhalarhume buthabatha indawo - umzekelo, abaculi abafuna ukuba imiboko yokucula ihlale ikubo ukwenzela ukuba kugqame bona - nto ithi ibangele ukuba kuhlale kukhutshiswana.

Ingaba ke sisisizukulwana esilahlekileyo?
"One of my biggest concerns is that my parents ARE the apartheid generation. This is the generation that was communicated with through the use of aggression, violence, dehumanisation and force. Apartheid poisoned the minds of our parents, and nothing has been done to fix it. I see greed taking over "the fortunate" - like microphone-hungry artists, they will do anything to prolong their moment of shine - therefore, living in constant competition.

So, are WE the lost generation?"

My generation …

Ntsiki Mazwai

Also available as: Isizukulwana sanamhla …

My generation is not lost, the world is.

Let's take my story, for instance. I'm a typical New South Africa product. I am 24, black and female. My formative years were spent e-kasi. Kasi life. Kasi parents and Kasi food. Then in the quest for something better, for freedom, my parents found a private school for me to go to in 1988. Eight years old, strong and fragile, I was placed in a "multiracial".

Life began to open up. Life got a little more complex. There I was, a little black gal thrust into the lifestyle of the rich and - in their own little way - famous. The thing is, it's one thing being in a multiracial school and something completely different being in a private school.

For the first time I started to question my identity. You see, when you have spent your whole eight-year-old life speaking isiXhosa and Sesotho, your only reference to English being TV, it's going to be baby steps to learning how to express needs … in English. I wished desperately to twang those foreign melodic sounds abelungu made, but my best attempts were a little bumpy as I speakeded de langwage.

But, because God is a woman, my first day at St Katharine's School for Girls (see what I mean?) also happened to be the first day for another little girl, Tsholo. She would later become my friend, my confidant and my giggles sharer as we mused at the contradicting realities we were faced with.

Enter the importance of language in my life.

Being born in Soweto means that you are exposed to an array of languages. Soweto has more than 11 official languages. For me, being raised by a Xhosa mother and Sesotho nanny, meant that I was used to expressing my needs in these two languages. Needless to say, the first few years at St K's were spent taking extra English lessons and exchanging new words with Tsholo.

It also became clear why God had put Sesotho in my life. With Tsholo being a m'sotho, my ease with the language made it easier for me to verify exactly what I wanted to communicate - BEFORE I made a fool of myself in front of my classmates and teacher by saying one thing when I meant another. And so the road to English was where I started to learn the importance of self-love and self-acceptance. For me and of my culture.

I had a brief spell of what I call "miss what-what" behaviour. I confess, I temporarily lost sight of my identity.

My name (well, most our names, really) began to change accents. Became a little more … exotic. A different kind of black name. My name changed from being Nontsikelelo to Ntsiki to Nsiki to Seeki (hell, I don't even know how to spell that!).

At school, with the white kids it made things better, because it made it easier for them to pronounce my name. The real challenge came back at home, where my people were wondering "what kind of name" this was. This is when the loyalty of my true friends was tested, as they would not only have to admit to knowing me, but also pronounce my name for me properly.

And oh, the shame when it tied me right back to the identity I thought that I was free from. The identity of being an ignorant black. A stupid black, because she did not speak English black. I believed the worth of a person was determined by whether or not they could speak English.
I even went as far as to learn how to identify blacks who spoke English by how they dressed.

Thank God, nowadays I am adamant that my name is Nontsikelelo and people can choose what they want to wear!

The period of my primary schooling was spent consumed by being a better black. I COULD NOT let my friends know that I washed dishes, wore a mgusha on my head at night or had, actually, been in a taxi before.

My twelve-year-old brother is going through the same issues right now. He says he gets embarrassed when he is dropped off at school with the Golf (one of the older models.) He hides under the bonnet if the vehicle is in view of his friends. Thinking that at 24 I could teach him something, I tell him that he shouldn't be ashamed of who he is. That the Golf might be old, but that it represents a part of his history. Besides, there's nothing wrong with not having a lot of money.

"I know there's nothing wrong with not having lots of money," he says, "it's just that it's hard not having lots of money in a private school."

The thing about the road we are walking is that nobody is sure where we're going to or how to do it.

Freedom time supposedly came, and now it's time to be free.

My generation grew up alongside the mlungus, separated only by glass walls. Some of the relationships that transcended those walls are still in my life and very close to my heart. There are grey areas we have had to overcome. Heated standard 1 debates on whose fault this whole South African mess was. "Being born with a silver spoon in your mouth but I still have to love you" blues. Most importantly, I learnt that we are all just random spirits using "body" as a vehicle. All this variety is there, really, because it is the spice of life.

Finally those lessons are teaching me peace and acceptance.

Language is such a beautiful thing because it is part of communication. There is so much freedom and life in being able express what we go through every day, all the time. The more words there are, the broader the spectrum to choose from for how to say exactly what you want to say. Some language can merge words and emotions. It's as though you could take the emotion, split it in the middle and find, embedded, the word.

My generation may like to run away from the fact that language is important. However, there are some expressions best left in the vernacular. A good example would be the Xhosa term "Sukundiqhela kakubi".

It is some of these sayings that keep us rooted to our upbringing. Yes, it is sad that there is a new generation of "twangers", influenced largely by the American way of life. However, with the media's constant hype and sensationalising of international artists and practices, what lifestyle are we as a nation promoting? We are slowly breeding a nation of young people caught up in fantasy. We call this the "bling, bling" effect.

It is time that our youth knew that those big cars and houses we see on the American music videos are usually rented out to them. That, although the black American culture seems as though they have the secrets to life, they are, in fact, a minority in a racist land and their oppression and self-worth issues run deeper than ours. We need to work towards what makes us happy, not cars we can't afford.

It's not only in music videos that we see our self-worth issues exposed. One of my biggest concerns is that my parents ARE the apartheid generation. This is the generation that was communicated with through the use of aggression, violence, dehumanisation and force. Apartheid poisoned the minds of our parents, and nothing has been done to fix it. I see greed taking over "the fortunate" - like microphone-hungry artists, they will do anything to prolong their moment of shine - therefore, living in constant competition.

So, are WE the lost generation?

High school was further identity torments. I battled with make-up to make this face more acceptable, more noticeable. Being a minority meant that we were all under one blanket of sameness. Majority will always do what majority do, be oblivious of minority.

I was trying to find myself in a world that told me to be the opposite of what I was. It was under that blanket of sameness that we realised that we were, actually, the same.

I was getting comfortable with this, my upper-middle class identity, private school education status and "who's who" kids in my space. I remember once being in the school bus when a second grade scholar said to her friend, "So, what's your daddy the boss of?"

Just as I was settling down, my father shipped me off to a boarding school in a small town in the Eastern Cape. Queenstown, Ekomani. There I was, a little snob from Jo'burg, a thought-I-knew-everything little brat, but dropped by life into a little reality.

I was no longer in small classes designed for individual attention, where I was one in four black kids. There was a 20:1 black white ratio at Queenstown Girls High School. You know once a school is a girls'/boys' high, you're in the hood of schools.

Suddenly the nasal twang it had taken so long to acquire was threatening to be of no use in that environment. I was with raw, hardcore, Xhosa girls. If you know Xhosa women you'll know what I'm talking about.

Needless to say, my "colours" for speaking good English were stripped. I then became the butt of most jokes, for where in the world do you find a Xhosa girl who speaks Xhosa like a White?

I had been brainwashed. Suddenly it became clear to me that I had, in fact, forgotten how to THINK in Xhosa. My peers, to amuse themselves, used to ask me to say Xhosa sentences. At first I joined in the good laugh, but the older I got, the more I realised it was actually pretty cool to be able to speak more than just one language. I realised that it made me accessible to more people.

So I allowed myself to explore my identity.

I learnt that we are living many different realities in South Africa. The language you choose to speak, and the level of acceptance, is all relative to where you are in that moment. I had to learn the art of being myself … wherever I was. Not having to act all the time. Pretending I grew up at dinner tables when it was on pap and umgqusho.

For standard 9 and 10 I went back to private school education, at St Andrew's. This time, though, I'd seen a little more reality, knew where my place was. Being a writer, I observed my virtual reality. Watched the behaviour of the emerging middle class. The sad effect new money had on our family structures. That's when I realised that the struggle was continuing in a new form.

Money brought the material wealth we had all so desperately dreamed of, but the cost was that it was exposing just how dysfunctional our family units had become.

So here we are, Generation X. High expectations on the apartheid generation. Heartbreaking family histories printed in our minds. Heart-wrenching survival stories behind every face.

Some of us are swimming in daddy's money, some of us are broke and unemployed, but it seems that the new meeting spot is DRUGS.

My generation needs help. Drug addiction has got us by the throat. There's a lack of communication, and we no longer know who we are. The only way to survive nowadays is to listen to your inner voice, but sometimes the music is too loud.

Sometimes I forget how to breathe.

I'm in constant fear that negativity will get into my space.

I'm too scared to find out if there's any comfort in being myself.

At times I don't want to be anything like my parents, because they could not live up to my expectations of them. At other times I realise that they are my identity, my genetic make-up, my spirit, my ancestors.

So our grey areas are … interesting.

In my deeper thoughts I am everybody. The conscious bredrens and sistrens; the addict; the survivor; the lover; the hurt; the disappointed; the laughing and the loved.

It's just hard to reconcile when I am not that one thing in a moment. So, therefore, I am everything, and at the same time, only one thing at one time.

The wonderful thing about life is that we have varied attitudes. As much as we like to nurse the wounds on our hearts, life is filled with blessings and opportunities to grow and self-actualise. These blessings fall like the rain.

I tell myself these things to overcome the overwhelming sense of guilt. I'm taking responsibility for people that don't want to CHOOSE to live their dreams. People who choose mediocrity. People that don't want to take chances - and yet, I am taking chances. I feel like my emotional heartstrings are pulled at at every traffic light as the beggar chooses to beg.

I don't believe in the concept of free money. I don't get money for free. I work hard for my money. Yet, in the very same breath I want to be a part of a generous and abundant community. Is it wrong for me to want to feed people who are hungry to do WHAT THEY LOVE?

I don't know, maybe beggars love to beg. I just don't want to be made to feel guilty about choosing a life of prosperity and abundance.

My university days were spent on a quest for self-discovery. I carried strong, passionate ideas on life and how I wanted it to be. My eyes were wide open to the realities of South Africa, the rich minority and the poverty-stricken majority. At this point, my own life was a confusion of both rich and poor, for although I was from a fortunate family, I was too old for pocket-money and too young for real work.

In college I was faced with the challenge of being attached to the wealth and the poverty of this land. My father's family was more privileged than my mother's family and I am a mixture of that. And so, with good intentions, I didn't want any hook-ups. I didn't want to get to the top because of connections. Eish, but the older I get, the more I realise that it IS who you know.

Finally, I'm finding my peace with who I am.

Ten years ago I was right in the middle of the Western culture. Today, the time has come for me to teach the West my own culture. I learnt that this culture I had for so long been ashamed of - my story, my history, who I am … it's time to celebrate it.

If it feels this good to shine my light, then I wish the same for everybody.

The nice thing about this rainbow nation community is that you meet the world in the streets. You learn to embrace diversity, which means you accept even the things you don't like about yourself.

My generation is on an unclear path but it is accepting …

Accepting of mixing "Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika" with "Die Stem" because that takes A LOT of compassion. Open to women empowerment. Accepting flowing with change. Accepting being corrected. Willing to learn and understand our culture. Also willing to accept the changing times and intentions of a good custom.

The sins of the world play themselves in different ways, for different generations. We keep losing and finding this balance.

So, no, my generation is not lost, the world is.

I'm from African skies,
where EVERY can, CAN.
In my everyday highs
I see Africans …
iYabuya iAfrika ngomso …

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LitNet: 21 October 2004

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