Daughter Language – Robert Hamblin


There lies a tension in what one’s body means in the greater context of society and what it’s lived function is.

To be a white man in South Africa has me at the exciting threshold of  seeking out new ways of being, a departure point I accept, with all it’s violent troubling histories. I also accept the mercy of relinquishing it’s power now.

I long for intimate connections with other South Africans and the dissolution of the race borders where white and black South Africans still struggle to figure out what holds us apart.

My daughter is of Xhosa decent, my partner of British. I am a Boer. These three histories make up a picture of us. Our connection to her birth family links us inextricably to the social injustices of poverty and structural power abuse.

Sometimes these struggles have me grasping for practical ways to bring about a quickening. 

I imagined the three of us learning to speak Xhosa. On searching for a English Xhosa dictionary I found the oldest scribing of Xhosa written by British missionaries. Of course, on closer inspection it is not surprising to find the book filled with instructions from English to Xhosa and many other inferences designed to establish Colonial dogma and power.

Power.  A focus on this pushed race and skin tone a little to a distance for me and exposed the programmer’s language, the binary code, the 0’s and 1’s that propel my interaction with other humans. Language is one of our most fundamental programmings. It is visceral, childish and deep. We refer to our mother’s bodies when we speak of our own language: Mother tongue

It is here where from childhood a master and servant understanding has started to walk with whites. Standing at the door of this understanding I see how that this notion is written across the picture of my family and it is one of the things we are tasked with rewriting.