On 18th July 2008, I had the privilege of attending Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday celebrations in Hyde Park. We were kindly given complimentary tickets to see one of my heroes and five years later today, I turned my bedroom inside out in search of my ticket stub (I keep all of these!); but sadly to no avail.
It actually really bothered me because this would be the photo for my story today. The photo now is of my father as a baby in 1935 with his mulatto mother.
Well, everything has now changed but change can be good and we adapt. And so too, my story will change.
Madiba had to adapt to his environment when he became 46664. A number in the system however, he never lost his name, his heart, his soul, his fight, his spirit with us....his people.
My paternal grandfather was born in the late 1800s to at least one Chinese parent, in South Africa. This in itself is very strange for me because the 19th century is associated with great grand or even great, great grand; not as close as a grandparent. No one knows too much about him, apart from the fact that he married my grandmother when she was only 16 and he was already into his forties. Estimating from my father being born in 1935 and he being the third of four children, with a six year gap from the first born, I assume my grandfather was born between 1885-1895. I will spell his name phonetically as there are no records of his original name. Hoseki Chee Ying.
Slaves and indentured labourers were nameless and story-telling would be our way of holding on to who we are and from whence we came.
Hoseki made his way from South Africa to Trinidad & Tobago in his late teens, cramped on a ship, escaping the wrath of capitalists and the empire, probably the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. He may have travelled with someone because there are traces of him with a family called "Marley" in Sangre Grande, the Northeastern part of the island and also of him working in a shop in Barataria, Northwest central. He became a part of the Chinese Association of Trinidad & Tobago and he assumed the christian name John Charles Chee Ying. There is a group photo of them, taken perhaps during WW2. I remember seeing this photo lying around in a drawer somewhere in my father's house. Such few remnants of his existence.
My grandmother, Evelyn Maud, who he would marry, was also an interesting mix; but as with Hoseki, her exact parentage is hazy. We know her mother was black and from Barbados and it was obvious, that her father was white. His surname was Smith.
Not only was my grandfather escaping a slave environment when he fled from South Africa....he was escaping apartheid.
He ran and won.
Madiba stayed and won.
Happy birthday, Madiba. We will continue to fight against what my grandfather left behind in South Africa that is still happening in many parts of the world and we will continue to honour you for what you continue to represent.....