A pedestrian speech act with some punch

Despite gloomy skies and early morning rains which did not augur well for any outdoor activity, the rains held out long enough for us to complete two site walks on Wednesday 19 June- 100 years to the day since the proclamation of the 1913 Natives Land Act.

Performance poet Khadija Heeger set the tone as we gathered on the map inside the District Six Museum for the morning walk. Words of assertion of self, of rootedness and power, propelled the diverse group who had assembled to mark this occasion – ex-residents from D6, Capetonians from other areas, students and visitors from abroad – to step onto the streets and walk in subdued mood, only broken along the way at a pause moment as Khadija continued a reading on the corner of Tennant and Caledon Streets. Arriving at the cairn of stones, laying stones brought from various places, sprinkling salt around its base to signify its specialness, its setting apart, sharing words of pain bolstered by words of hope – all of these answered the questions asked by some ahead of the walk: why is this bygone piece of legislation important for us in this part of our country, and at this time? The act of stepping out, setting foot on the land, the quiet words of inspiration: these all illuminated the reality that none of the laws that resulted in displacement stand alone or apart from each other. Remembering the atrocious 1913 Native Land Act is one of the opportunities we have to call into the present the annihilation of the indigenous people that took place way before this time, which continued into the more recent Pass Laws, Native Urban Areas Act, the Group Areas Act and others like it. Each intending to impact on various sectors of the population yet impacting on all; separated by time yet connected by legacy.

The evening walk, led by performance poet Primrose Mwrebi and supporting artists Sinethemba and Louisa was made even more poignant, being enacted against the backdrop of beautifully moody sunset. An unscheduled stop on the CPUT campus to perform her poet ‘Truth’ added a special dimension.

These walks – localised yet simultaneously extending beyond the parochial – are always inspiring and illuminating. Always proof that ways of owning stories and spaces go way beyond proofs presented by title deeds. Pedestrian speech acts indeed.

Joining with our country’s focus on ‘Reversing the Legacy of the 1913 Natives Land Act’ leaves me wondering at the disjuncture I keep experiencing when thinking about ‘legacy’ in this context. I have come to think of legacy as a positive, something to hang onto, and I can’t help thinking that ‘Reversing the annihilation (not legacy) of the 1913 Natives Land Act’ would bring home the reality of its lingering impact much more strongly.


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