How memories of Apartheid in South Africa changed the way I saw myself and the world around me

The scorching sun is burning through my black skin, making it blacker than black. On the island, my mind is being challenged by the society that shaped me.

I want my skin to be lighter, so when I go back home to South Africa during the summer or later when I graduate everybody will remark how wonderful the island has been to me. I can hear the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ of my little sisters and brothers at church, eying me with envy and admiration.

Being seen as different to other people marks out us as outstanding. I will be truly transformed, not by the almost full day-and-night journey across the sea from South Africa to Cyprus, but by the fact that I would not look like them, justifying my escape from my country’s poverty-stricken, HIV-afflicted youth group. I would be known as the one that got away.

But I was not expecting that the history of racism in my country would make me see myself differently once I arrived. Could it be that the way I look at being black was planted in my mind me by a time I know nothing about, except in grainy black and white video shots, or the constant reminders by mothers and fathers about how bad things used to be? Back then a person was judged by the colour of their skin and not by the value of their humanity.

The more the sun burns my skin, the more I realise that my identity is the one thing I am questioning. I can disconnect myself from the realities’ of my country. But I can’t erase the thought that the field is large and the workers are few. There is still so much underdevelopment in my country. Turning a blind eye to it is unacceptable.

In as much as I can’t rub off my blacker than black skin, thank you to the Cyprus sun! I can’t rub off the silent prayers in my little sisters and brothers eyes, hands and smiles as they bid me farewell, praying that they too may get a chance to be on a journey across the globe. They too would like the chance to bring change.

Furthermore, I slowly begin to realize that the war against racism back home in South Africa was not only fought with weapons people stashed in their backyards, but also by those who left the comforts of their homes in pursuit of like-minded individuals from foreign lands to help them fight, and most importantly win!

As a result I realize that my mind has been enlightened and the prejudices that led me to question the reality of my presence on this campus have been removed. Could I truly manage, or was I kidding myself? The fear is washed away, scorched out of its roots by my letting go.

I will never be light in complexion. In this respect I will never be able to forget where I come from. I will never give up on bringing change in my country. But I am going to graduate with skin that’s blacker than black so I can fight for other young people. When I get back home, they will see that I look just like them, I am after all their daughter, sister and friend.

NONKULULEKO LETSOENYO