by Sade Langa
Sisonke – togetherness
This word carries so much weight, at least for me. The word, to me took a new meaning for me eight years ago. It meant, “you don’t need to share DNA with a person for them to be your family”. I understood that whenever I needed it, there would always be someone to catch me when I stumble or fall.
I asked some of my friends what the word sisonke meant to them, and this was their feedback:
My friend Thabile said: Siyancedana (we help each other), by praying for one another, listening to each other and being there for each other however we can.
The majority of them used phrases and words like; unity, togetherness, we are in it together, we are one, love, peace, one goal, same boat, and solidarity.
To me sisonke means counting on a stranger. This stranger, who has become a part of my life and family, so much so that in everything I do I know I have to consider them because I know they consider me to. I come from a very small family, brought up by my grandmother who taught me the sense of Ubuntu (a philosophy of human generosity), I will forever be grateful to her for teaching me such a great value. It is with this value that I have managed to have this modern family I have found in strangers. Growing up, my sister and I were taken care of by Gogo and Khulu (grandmother and great grandmother). Although it was not easy, my Gogo was a driven woman. She made and sold clothes and did not let her circumstances shape her future. She managed to build us a grand home, ensured we went to school and even managed to buy herself a car.
I did not have much of a relationship with my mother. She was like a visitor to me. She would come December for the Christmas holidays and would bring clothing. When Khulu passed away my Gogo decided it was time for my sister and I to go and live with our mother so that she could take responsibility of us her children as she felt she was ’too relaxed’.
Moving to Johannesburg was difficult. Suddenly I did not have a bedroom of my own. We all stayed in one bedroom and shared a house with strangers. Living with Mama was not as cool as I had thought it would be. Sure there was no one to nag about homework anymore, but I soon realized I had to assume a motherly role as well at 14. Gogo asked me to look after my little sister. I then realized why, Mama was there but not really there.
As years went by I had become my little sister’s guardian and spent most of my time behind the house we shared with strangers, listening to music and dreaming of a day I would break free from that life. I was too consumed with taking care of myself and assuming a guardian role for my sister that I never had a chance to deal with how I felt and what was going on with me when I reached puberty.
When I started working, I found a place of my own but soon realized it wasn’t going to be as I had envisioned because I actually had family responsibilities that I had not thought about, first born (my little sister) and my son! I soon had to get a flat mate whom I was asking to pay half of the rent yet I stayed with two people. It seemed unfair to them. Shortly after that my Gogo passed away. My best friend gone, the person I could call and cry like a baby to on the phone was gone. The one person whom I could tell everything and anything was gone and soon realized I was in trouble.
Because of my background, I always knew I wanted the best for my son, even if it meant me giving up the luxuries of this world. Most people never understood why one would pay so much for education. It was because I did not have the opportunity for such an education. I strongly believe if I afford him all the opportunities I can, he does not have to follow in my footsteps and will live a more comfortable life than I had. I wanted to pave a great future for his generation to come. I had to live small.
When I met Zanele Muholi, I was happy because it was a perfect arrangement. Muholi was always travelling, even when s/he moved in, s/he wasn’t really there, s/he was overseas and moved her belongings to my flat. This allowed me some ‘freedom’. Little did I know that this person would become a part of me forever. S/he became a person who was there for me and my family, no matter what.
Therefore sisonke to me means Thabile Buthelezi and Zanele Muholi. They have become my family and through them I have now extended family that regards me as family and will do anything for me, I will also do the same.
Sisonke to me means having complete strangers become a part of your family and a huge part of your life. It means caring, loving and taking care of them.
With all this said, in order for one to have family or love, you have to have an open heart. Some call me gullible because I always give my heart, but I do not mind as I believe in human beings. I am grateful to my Gogo because I am a proud lesbian woman who has values. She instilled in me some strong values. She instilled in me Ubuntu!
About the author: Sade is a poetic activist. She is a lesbian mother, caring partner and loving sister and friend to many other black lesbians.