Dithaba di a bua (The mountains speak): Drawing on our histories to make sense of our present

By Published On: 10th December 2021

Image Source: Pexels

The Anti-Racism and the Gender Justice and Reconciliation Projects were in Calitzdorp, Western Cape from the 25th of October to the 3rd of November 2021. The underlying mandate of the projects was to conduct engaging and fruitful conversations and workshops with the community members of Calitzdorp on issues that relate to anti-racism and gender-justice.

Through the work of the IJR, this was undoubtedly my first time learning of the small town of Calitzdorp, much less having the privilege to visit it myself. This made me reflect on the many forgotten and hidden gems of our country that are deeply rich in history and culture, but have been marred by colonialism, apartheid, and poor governance in the post-apartheid era.

The drive from George Airport to Calitzdorp is a picturesque one, with breath-taking mountains that feel as though they speak to your spirit. As though parts of you, have known parts of them, for a long, long time. In Sesotho, the saying goes “Dithaba di a bua”- The mountains speak. There is something to be said about the ways that we can transgress intergenerational trauma and begin to make strides to access intergenerational healing, through tapping into the richness of our histories and cultures. There is much to learn and inherit from our histories, that do not render pain and trauma as our sole condition. This would be far too one-dimensional and unimaginative. The intergenerational conversations that took place in the dialogue space reminded me of this.

Through the lengthy 8-day programme; we were able to facilitate engagements along intergenerational lines, beyond gender binaries, and across sexual identities. What became apparent was that in the midst of government neglect and disillusionment with elected representatives; the community itself- particularly its youth and LGBTQIA+ activists, had taken it upon themselves to enact change in their community. This was evident in the ways that they spoke to one another, how they spoke about their community, and the ways in which dialogue participants were constantly in processes of self-reflexivity and in pursuit of care and sensitivity towards one another.

The main aspects of the program were the conversations on anti-racism, the Gender Justice and Reconciliation Project’s toolkit review, a zine-making day, as well as the launch of two publications (Brave Conversations- A Guide for Inclusive Anti-Racism Dialogue and the Racial and Gender Reconciliation Visual Archive Series), and the Gender-based Violence Online Information Centre. While it was important to successfully launch the publications and the website, the moments that truly took centre-stage were those that fused creative expression with dialogue. This was evident through the zine-making process, which saw participants engaging in a day of arts and crafts and connecting with their inner-child to make sense of complex questions around identity and identity formation- particularly as it pertains to the creations of masculinities and femininities. The launch of the publications and the GBV information centre which took place on Sunday, 31st October, also brought community members together for a time of showcasing not only the work that the IJR had been doing in collaboration with IJR ambassadors and the community of Calitzdorp; but to also showcase the immense wealth of talent in the town.
Most notably was the intergenerational transfer of knowledge in the arts when it comes to the traditional Riel Dans in the region. Young people have come together to draw from an existing and living archive of knowledge, and because of this, have been able to piece together parts of their cultural legacies. Through the Riel Dans, young people have been able to situate themselves within something greater- a heritage that tells the story of a thousand years.

During our time in Calitzdorp, the team, ambassadors, and dialogue participants, embarked on a trip to Oudtshoorn, for a heritage tour of the Cango Caves. This was an experience enjoyed and treasured by all. Being able to understand the importance of preserving heritage landmarks, and what this means for the preservation of indigenous knowledge, languages, and cultures, was significant. The resounding message of this particular trip was the reality of lost histories, and the ways in which hegemonic knowledge systems have deliberately erased the contributions of the Khoi and the San people in present-day South Africa, rendering much of what we know inaccurate and with many missing parts.

The trip to Calitzdorp truly demonstrated the importance of intergenerational conversations and what can be achieved when young people co-create a space to not only reflect on history, but to also find avenues for joy, healing and understanding amongst one another beyond age, heteronormativity, and gender-binaries.

Gcotyelwa Jimlongo, intern at IJR

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