"South Africa" by Akwasi Ansah
Last year I was invited by the Netherlands Consulate General in Cape Town, to come to South Africa to perform and host seminars and workshops. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that they invited me. When I asked: “why me?”, I received the following response: “Akwasi’s style, content and deliverance resonates with the type of Dutch artist to be showcased in a country like South Africa, given the history between the Netherlands and South Africa, as well as the strong links between Dutch and Afrikaans.”
A few weeks later when waiting in line to go through South African customs, I could hardly fathom that I was in Africa. Is this really Africa? How come I’m the only black person in this room of white people? Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind, it just baffled me. I was then called over by the extremely friendly customs officer who smiled at me and with the typical South African rolling pronunciation of the ‘r’, she said: “Akwasi, welcome to South Africa my Dutch brother from Ghana.” We saluted one another and I walked on, passport in hand.
I was invited to represent the Dutch government in South Africa through performance and spoken word. Everything was organized down to the last detail: from an elegant hotel to restaurants; even my Mini…everything was in my name. Note that I’m not traveling alone, my girlfriend came with me to simultaneously carrying out my interests as an artist.
Everything seemed to run smoothly until I arrived at the hotel and was completely ignored when picking up the hotel key. I do understand after all, that I’m here with a beautiful woman, so I let my girlfriend take care of it.
I then had my first performance in Cape Town which was a great success and I couldn’t wait to do it again. But first things first: food. The table had been reserved in my name. I politely greeted the waitress with a “good evening”, yet my words didn’t seem to reach her. My girlfriend on the other hand was welcomed with a friendly greeting. After giving them my name we were shown to our table. I felt invisible, which is strange because I should actually have stood out among the other guests; everyone was white, most of the staff members too, except for the servers… they were black.
My light of complexion coloured girlfriend was getting agitated because up until now I haven’t been spoken to in any of the restaurants or hotels by anyone. For me it was clear: My girlfriend is my spokesperson and sometimes also my wildcard, but the darker the color of your skin, the more invisible you sometimes become.
“Sorry for being black” is the title of a spoken word text I wrote back in 2007. As I recited it to the mixed Cape Town audience it appeared to still be highly relevant. Amazingly enough, at the end of my performance I was greeted with an unforgettable standing ovation from the South African rainbow audience; white, coloured, indian, black, everyone. “Who could’ve known that a young black man from the Netherlands deals with the same issues that black people in South Africa still deal with?” This still resonates in my head.
Unfortunately, when we moved from the hotel in Cape Town to the one in Wellington, it appeared that a lighter complexion is still preferred. Isn’t it crazy that I flew eleven hours, all the way to the most southern tip of Africa, only to realize that things are the same as in the Netherlands? While on my way back to the airport and looking out over the townships, I positively looked towards the future and proudly raised my black fist out of the window of the moving car. We do matter!
Akwasi Ansah (@Antonkarel)
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