The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

As Untitled As We Are (2009)

Jeanine Benjamin

I cannot be categorized by the simplistic labels you know
Confusion overwhelms you at the sight of me
I find pleasure in your intrigue
At me, the product of the lesser

I am the descendant of the downtrodden
A mixed masala of all that you oppressed
The great-great grand daughter of the not so important
The spawn of the good enough only to labour, to harvest,
To clean, to exploit
To lust and rape but not love

I am a striking exotic flower
Cultivated from seeds of India
Of St Helena
Of Malaysia
Of the Namib Desert
And natives of the Cape
And shamefully, of the colonialist seed,
Forced, as was their nature
This unspoken piece of history
I reject

Eons have passed since my people were lowly
Now I celebrate our innate rhythm
Our musical talents, our spices
I celebrate the Arab bump on my nose
My San stature, my Indian locks
You stare at my bursting lips
And lose yourself as my Khoi behind sashays past you

In this world, Pride only exists
For pedigree and purity
And royal lineages backdated
Each privileged generation, under their feet,
the solidity of a castle, preconstructed.
Climbing strength unnecessary,
Their lives' trials effortlessly imagined.

Was it not a greater task and more admirable
for those whose castles were demolished
To unyieldingly hold onto the foundation
And consistently build up, by generations, reconstructed
Till the zenith is reached

I am a masterpiece
A mosaic mystery
Of incense and rain dances and clicks
Of breyani at funerals and bredies and gemmerbier
Of Ghoema and Cape Jazz
And tolkap and gutties speel

By your thinking, your mind cannot fathom us
You oversimplify into conceivable terms
Naively dismissive, are you
Intellect, exotic beauty, sensuality, have I

Fittingly, I emerge from the meeting waters of Indian and Atlantic
And rise to the peak of Lions Head
Not by my own merits
I have been lifted by those who have gone before me

I stand here
For me, for my orphaned half-caste grandmother
For whomever of my tribe are made to feel culturally inferior
For my people's pride, and yes, are we not an African tribe?

And despite my early life's disadvantage
I rule, I take, and I conquer
With you, I smile, but my fighting slave spirit flames within my soul
The rise is inevitable


Jeanine Benjamin, South Africa