This land is mine, but it isn't

A few weeks ago I went to see my aunt and as we were talking she tells me that my current place of residence is in the same location as where my grandmother was a domestic worker in the 80s. This area is, of course, located in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg, where people jog, walk their dogs and cycle in the morning before work. Where the gates of our complexes are manned by men old enough to be our fathers, uncles and brothers. But sometimes these men are young enough to be our peers, where our not so distant childhoods were similar and only circumstances determined our conflicting realities.

At the time, this little fact that my aunt shared with me seemed insignificant but it got me thinking about how things in my family have drastically changed yet also stayed the same in just two generations.  A granddaughter of a domestic worker and a daughter of a cleaner now lives in an area where her grandmother spend most of her years looking after other people and their children. Her children only saw her during holidays and needed a dompas to visit during school holidays - only to be confined in the maids' quarters of Madam's house. In just two generations, my lineage has somewhat changed.




This land is ours, but at the same time it really isn't. The leafy suburbs of Johannesburg know my ancestors, they have walked this earth and it was built on their backs. But when they became too frail and too old to serve this land, they were kicked out to retire to their poverty stricken villages and their daughters and sisters were sent to replace them.  How is this different from slavery?
But now, almost three decades later, I am living here. But I don’t own the land. I am merely renting an apartment so I can also go to work and pay my dues in this Johannesburg. But I am not living in the maids’ quarters. I am living a reality that my grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, could have never imagined.

This little fact about my family made me both happy and sad. Once more I was reminded of the tragedy that is our country.

Today I woke up terribly missing my father's aunt, Moloko Pilane. She is the woman who raised me. She died in 2005 and only now I am learning to grieve. I also feel a deep sense of loss for my maternal grandmother, Kgomotso Molapisi, who died in 2004. They were both domestic workers and this is my ode to them.