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Sawubona by Lindani Mchunu

I have always loved this greeting. SAWUBONA, loosely translated it means ‘we see you’. I always loved it because it meant no one goes unnoticed, no one goes unacknowledged, but most importantly no one is alone. It said one is part of the whole and the whole is aware of all its parts. In New Zealand, they have the HONGI- two individuals pressing their noses together. It is a symbol of sharing the breath of life and creating unity between a foreigner and the locals.

If you had to google all the various ways cultures greet and acknowledge each other as well as strangers, you would certainly be amazed. What I took way from the research is that all people around the world value culture and tradition, they define themselves by customs and superstitions. People long for community, even those that fight for individuality want to do it with like-minded people in a community. There is so much implied in a greeting.

I then pondered on my own language, culture, traditions, customs and superstitions. I wondered how much of my being Zulu informs how I view the world. Am I able to let go of my conditioning when I am faced with new possibilities and an opportunity to grow beyond that which defines me? I believe every human being longs to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be witnessed and confirmed to be indeed alive! Relationships fulfill this function very well. Whether it be family, friends, lovers, or colleagues, a person is confirmed alive through others.

Of course it is wonderful to be seen by those that know you, for they confirm to you every day that you are you. Yet what of those that do not know you? What of their confirmation? What of their acknowledgement of your presence? Does a human being have the same longing to be seen, or acknowledged by strangers? And if indeed a stranger sees you, what does the individual wish the stranger to acknowledge that could be communicated without prior knowledge of the person observed?

Before I open my mouth and utter a word, whether I choose to speak in English or Zulu, my observer has already concluded that I am a black man, of a certain age and build. All this is apparent from just looking at me. Indeed I am a black man, of a certain age and a certain build and if one described me as such I would agree. Yet those are all just adjectives that describe the subject. The problem comes in when the adjective becomes the subject. In one of my many encounters with racial profiling in my life, I was invited by an elderly white gentleman at the Club to go and meet one of his friends who happened to be having lunch with some other friends.

As I approached with the gentleman, the table was quite jovial and the person I was supposed to be meeting was in conversation, so I waited until his friend got his attention. The friend then made a gesture to me and said “please let me introduce you to”, before he could finish the sentence, the gentleman I was supposed to be meeting looked at me and said “no thank you I don’t need anything right now, I already ordered”. I paused and smiled. The gentleman who brought me to the table was immediately and visibly embarrassed and corrected his friend. I greeted and said nice to meet you and walked away.

All the waiters at the Royal Cape Yacht Club are black. I was wearing colours similar to the waiters that day, one of them being my skin colour. My skin colour, places me in a certain category before I even speak. That is the way of the world. The world reflects my skin colour in a specific way and tells a narrative about me that I had no hand in writing but am bound to by association. The world does not only do this to people who have my skin colour, the world does this to everyone in varying degrees.

This snap shot assessment that the world gives us, will never be in our control. Even when you walk into a room of people who have the same skin colour as you, they will make some solid assumptions and conclusions about you. An old white man decided that I was a waiter one day. A white old man decided that I was a board member one day. A white old man said I write really well and decided to share my writing far and wide. Most recently a few white old men decided that I should join them in their business. They wrote about it and listed some qualities about me that had nothing to do with the colour of my skin.

A white old lady once saw me and said: “has this place become a circus”. I’m not sure what kind of circus animal I look like, but that is what she saw. A white old lady once came up to me after I made a speech, kissed me and told me I am amazing. The world gives you a lot of feedback, some is true and some is false. It’s not about what you want to hear, but more about how you want to be seen, acknowledged. I would like to make sure that the members of this club see our academy kids. See them for how they would like to be acknowledged, not for what they represent through association to a colour.

I would like to thank a few people today. I would like to thank them by name because I want to say to them SAWUBONA.

Phil Wade – Marine inspirations, Mallorca Spain. Phil the work you are doing, is very close to my heart. Bringing opportunity to those less fortunate than ourselves is the ultimate tribute to life from an old man. You are saying it must go on. You have lived and you have decided that the show must go on. Thank you, Phil, thank you for everything your organization has done for us at the Academy, from trips to Spain to the new Tablets we will soon be issuing.

Ann Weller – Eduflex e-learning online platform. Ann is a member at the club who overheard me in a meeting one day, talking about our academy and the need to support our young sailors academically. Ann offered us an e-learning online platform for our grade 10- 12 learners, for free. Then she went on to help us develop our sailing manual into an e-learning online self-assessment platform for our theory and practical learn to sail programme. Thank you Ann, because of you I will be speaking louder in my meetings.

The list of thanks could probably go on forever. I cannot end this letter without making special mention of John Levine – who served on our committee for two consecutive terms, only stepping down recently to assume a more senior role at the club. John came to introduce himself to me one day. He said he really enjoyed my newsletters and what I was trying to do at the Academy. I thanked him as I do most members who take interest in what we do.  John, it has meant a big deal to this young black man for you to see him beyond what meets the eye. Thank you for your invaluable contribution to our Academy and I hope we continue to make you proud.

I always knew that this Academy was going to be a community project. The RCYC member’s community project. Let’s keep building.



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