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Tales of race and struggle from a South African optimist

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture. She is the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’.

Despite the number of times that South Africa has stumbled, I remain forward-looking and hold an abiding faith in the people of South Africa to achieve the impossible.

First published in Daily Maverick 168

I started writing publicly in 2013. I have always written articles for work-related matters but I had never provided general sociopolitical commentary publicly until 2013. Like so many, I have always been a person with a lot to say about the state of my world but I was too shy to share my opinions publicly. I was terrified of getting it wrong and being criticised.

Around 2012, I had started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is my favourite writer and who, at that time, wrote for The Atlantic. His writing inspired me to try to find the words to frame my reality and my point of view. His writing beckoned me to find my own voice and to be in dialogue with the world, which can be at times both unforgiving and awe-inspiring.

I came of age during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. My political orientation has been largely shaped by Nelson Mandela’s presidency.

Because I was very young and impressionable at the time of South Africa’s transition it ensured that my default position is that of optimist who believes that South Africa can be better than what it is.

I am an optimistic civic activist who is also plagued by the complicated issues of race in South Africa.

I now live and work in the aftermath of the Mandela presidency, trying to balance my optimism with my frustrations and guarding against being taken under by a seemingly infectious pessimism. My views on race were shaped by parents who lived under apartheid but wanted to make sure I did not carry the same baggage; however, it seems despite their best efforts I have inherited the same struggle.

I have studied in white schools while living in black townships. I have worked in white corporations while trying to define my political identity. I have studied in the US where I experienced the weight of race as a minority rather than as the majority, which I am in South Africa.

I have tried to process all my experiences through my writing.

And now, after seven years of writing, my first book – Made in South Africa – A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress, will land in book stores across the country on 17 October 2020.

In my book I examine with a searching vision some of the events that have shaped my experience of a South Africa with incredible potential but weighed down by persisting racism, cultural appropriation, sexism and corruption, all legacies of a complicated history.

My outlook is also shaped by my experience of clerking at the Constitutional Court for Justice Edwin Cameron, which deepened my respect and admiration for the South African Constitution and what it really means for a resilient people to continually strive to live up to its moral and legal standards.

Despite the number of times that South Africa has stumbled, I remain forward-looking and hold an abiding faith in the people of South Africa to achieve the impossible.

I titled my book Made in South Africa because I believe that the best and worst of who I am and cannot be separated from the best and the worst of my country.

To hate South Africa is to hate a part of myself. To love South Africa is to love myself. To believe in South Africa is to believe in myself and what is possible. DM/DM168

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  • Well done Lwando! I look forward to reading your book and couldn’t agree more about one’s internal struggle for hope growing up in the duality of South Africa.