Who are you?


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Questions around identity, who are you?

Writer: Cristle Mokwape

What’s your name? It’s a basic question we ask when we meet someone new. Even children learn to ask it. And the answer is simple, right? Not for me. Check out my name at the bottom of the page: Cristle Mathapelo Mokwape. When someone asks for my name, a dozen different answers and even more questions spin through my mind.

Like me, you probably have more than one name too. Am I correct? These names might have been given to you to represent your family history. If you have a single name, I’m imagining that you’re telling yourself it must be cool for someone to have a choice in names. Quite the opposite, for me, it’s been a burden. Yup, I get judged for the name I chose to say. Let me give you an example; say I’m asked for my name, after a brief mental debate, I’ll maybe say Cristle. The person asking would then ask what my “real’’ name is. Translated, this means because I’m black, my answer can’t be right so then I say “Mathapelo’’.

What angers me is that the person will say “oh you can’t have an English name” and “oh, your name is too long or too difficult to pronounce so I’ll shorten it to Mthabi”. Now the meaning of my treasured Tswana name is non-existent. I could go on and on about the remarks people make. The story gets juicier, but I won’t…

South Africa is known as a Rainbow Nation, a country made of many different religions, cultures and traditions. But what happens when the lines of the rainbow blur and you find yourself – like me – shifting between cultures and traditions? Between English and Tswana names? Where do you fit? How do you define yourself? How do others want to define you?

LIVE had a chat with 17 year old Lumanyano “Unity’’ Mzi.

He sits comfortably on a couch in his parents’ living room in Delft. The house is decorated with music instruments from a drum kit, guitars, amplifiers and speakers, just to name a few. He tells us his story of how he grew up with a Rastafarian family, started playing music from the age of six, playing six instruments and eventually finding his way into a Christian church.

Lumanyano says: “My love for music is what led me to the church I’m attending. Every day I walked past the building, I would hear band practice. I eventually walked in. Not long thereafter I started playing drums for them. When I played at the church services, I realised that I liked the things the pastor is preaching and could not find many differences between Rastafarianism and Christianity.’’

The nickname “Unity’’ is also a direct translation of Lumanyano. In his case, however, it’s not just a direct translation. “I think I was given this name to unify the different religions and cultures that played a role in building the person that I am today…”

You’re probably asking how he managed to make such a big decision and followed it through. To someone else, Lumanyano’s decision to “change religions’’ might seem like he’s letting go of his origins. He says: “It was easy for my family to accept the decision I took because some of them were already church-goers.”

Lumanyano doesn’t see a reason why, like me, he gets judged for living between two worlds. His advice to those who are trying to ‘find themselves,’ culturally speaking, is that it’s best to ‘learn other cultures and languages by having friends from different walks of life’.

There are those of us who make an effort to get along with people by learning their languages and cultures. We chose not to be ignorant and judgemental towards others. The least you can do is acknowledge that people live the way that’s most comfortable for them. If we claim to be a rainbow nation, let’s remember that we live in a modern world where people are supposed to feel free to express themselves in whichever way they want.

Photographer: Mawande Sobethwa and Dylan Louw

Designer: Tammy-Joy Wicomb