Society

Human beings are made from the same blueprint

sara

Sandra Laing (left) and her screen character Sophie Okonedo in the 2008 movie “Skin”. PHOTO | COURTESY

douglaskiereini-img

Summary

  • The mesmerising story of Sandra Laing is available on Netflix under the title “Skin”.
  • Last month, the white side and black side of President Thomas Jefferson’s descendants spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with his black slave Sally Hemings after his white wife Martha Wayles died.

When Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut in 1498, a new gateway to Asia and the Far East from Western Europe around the Cape of Good Hope was opened, necessitating the establishment, and safeguarding of trading stations en route.

The Portuguese landed in Mossel Bay in 1500, explored Table Bay two years later, and by 1510, had started raiding inland. Shortly afterwards the Dutch sent merchant vessels to India via the Cape route, and in 1602 founded the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

Due to the value of the spice trade between Europe and their outposts in the East Indies, Dutch ships began to call sporadically at the Cape in search of provisions after 1598.

In 1648, two Dutch sailors Leendert Jansz and Nicholas Proot were shipwrecked in Table Bay and marooned for five months before being picked up by a returning ship. During their stay, they established friendly relations with locals, who sold them sheep, cattle, and vegetables. Both men presented a report recommending the Table valley as a fort and garden for the east India fleets.

Following the support of Dutch navigator Jan van Riebeeck, Heeren XVII authorised the establishment of a fort at the Cape, and this the more hurriedly to preempt any further imperial maneuvers by Britain, France, or Portugal.

Van Riebeeck, his family and about 80 VOC personnel arrived at the Cape on 6 April 1652 after a journey of three and a half months.

Their immediate task was to make gardens “taking for this purpose, the best and richest ground”, and following this, to survey and determine the best pastureland for grazing of cattle.

Dutch sailors appreciated the mild climate at the Cape, which allowed them to recuperate from the protracted periods of service in the tropical humidity of Southeast Asia.

VOC fleets bearing cargo from the Orient anchored in the Cape for a month, usually from March or April, when they were supplied with fresh water and provisions for their return voyage to the Netherlands.

European employees were repatriated to the Netherlands upon completion of their contract or remained at the Cape as “vrijboeken” (free citizens) upon successful application. If their application for free citizen status was successful, the company granted them plots of farmland measuring about 36 acres, which were tax exempt for 12 years.

They were also granted tools and seeds. The activities of these free citizens were, however, severely limited by the company and other attempts to control the settlers resulted in successive generations becoming increasingly localised in their loyalties and national identity and hostile towards the colonial government. There was also a shortage of unskilled labour which the VOC resolved by importing slaves from Angola, Madagascar, and the East Indies.

In 1662, van Riebeeck was replaced by Zacharias Wagenaer as governor of the Cape. Wagenaer did not take kindly to the free citizens whom he described as “sodden, lazy, clumsy louts… since they do not pay proper attention to the slaves lent to them, or to their work in the fields, nor to their animals, for that reason seem to be wedded to the low level and cannot rid themselves of their debts.” He also observed that many of the unmarried free citizens were beginning to cohabit with their slaves, with the result that 75 percent of children born to Cape slaves had a Dutch father.

The first recorded instance of a colonist identifying as an “Afrikaner” occurred in March 1707, during a disturbance in Stellenbosch.

Fast forward to 26 November 1955, Sandra Laing is born to two white Afrikaner parents Abraham and Sannie Laing.

The problem is Sandra is dark skinned and has frizzly hair and this is at the height of apartheid. Her father underwent a blood test and the results were compatible with him being the biological father.

The hatred, rejection, and heartache at the hands of the authorities, her teachers and her family sent shock waves across the world. She had the same blood as her parents, but she was rejected because her mixed heritage was manifest while theirs was invisible.

Her condition, though rare, is not unusual and is known as a “throwback” or more technically as “polygenic inheritance”. During a court hearing to determine Sandra’s racial status in the 1960s, a genetics expert stated in his opening remarks that “most Afrikaners have black genes” much to the shock of his white audience. From the history above, I have demonstrated how this came about.

What happened to Sandra is such an example of apartheid at its most cruel that her story is taught as a chapter in the history of South Africa at matriculation level, the final year of senior school.

The mesmerising story of Sandra Laing is available on Netflix under the title “Skin”.

Last month, the white side and black side of President Thomas Jefferson’s descendants spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with his black slave Sally Hemings after his white wife Martha Wayles died.

My wife, Joyce, has long, silky natural hair and I am told her grandfather was an Indian working on the Uganda Railway in the late 1890s. I don’t know how much Dorobo blood I might have myself.

Perhaps the only true originals are Adam and Eve.

Ultimately, we are made from the same blueprint but none of us can claim OEM (original equipment manufacturer) status!