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Born To Belong Nowhere

Born To Belong Nowhere

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Born To Belong Nowhere

187 Seiten
2 Stunden
Jan 16, 2019


Born to Belong Nowhere is an odyssey that recounts the wanderings of a young African girl who was compelled by an oppressive apartheid regime to leave her country at a fairly young age and travel alone into the unknown continent of Africa. The story sets off on the scenic mountains of the Eastern Cape where a young Xoliswa describes in vivid detail, how the brutal and oppressive laws of the apartheid regime began to shape all aspects of life in South Africa. Parts of the memoir read like a series of cinematic montages that intricately alternates between the rich historical tapestry of South Africa’s past and Xoliswa’s struggles to come to terms with the destabilising practices of a hegemonic administration in an uncertain period where the spectre of death shadowed young black men and women. Of particular interest however, are the spellbinding and heart-wrenching chronicles of her escape from South Africa to Lesotho and her experiences in Nigeria where she spent the bulk of her years in exile.

Born to Belong Nowhere is written with great attention to detail and narrated in a manner that makes it easy to read but it is also pertinent to point out that some of the stories in the book are so humorous that it would be a shame not to share them with a younger generation of South Africans who will not only find value in the book’s historical exposition but also appreciate the fact that it has been recounted by the rank and file of freedom fighters.

About the Author
Xoliswa (Margaret) Skomolo is a retired university teacher, researcher, and community development practitioner with a passion for story-telling and a keen eye for observing different cultural and human behaviours, and these traits are well illustrated in this book. Born and bred in a political family in the era of apartheid, and introduced into the politics of liberation at an early age, she fled South Africa and lived in exile for 28 years across four different African countries.

Jan 16, 2019

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Born To Belong Nowhere - Xoliswa Skomolo



Memoirs of a Rolling Stone


Xoliswa Skomolo

Copyright © 2018 Xoliswa Skomolo

Published by Xoliswa Skomolo Publishing at Smashwords

First edition 2018

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without permission from the copyright holder.

The Author has made every effort to trace and acknowledge sources/resources/individuals. In the event that any images/information have been incorrectly attributed or credited, the Author will be pleased to rectify these omissions at the earliest opportunity.

Published by Xoliswa Skomolo using Reach Publishers’ services,

Edited by Colleen Figg for Reach Publishers

Cover designed by Reach Publishers

P O Box 1384, Wandsbeck, South Africa, 3631








Chapter 1. Where it all Started

Chapter 2. Arrival and Childhood


Chapter 3. Baptism by Fire

Chapter 4. Beginning of Exile Life

Chapter 5. Settling into Exile Life

Chapter 6. Returning to the Fatherland


Chapter 7. Going Back to My Roots


Chapter 8. Second Childhood

Chapter 9. Tales from My Father


This book is dedicated firstly to the memory of my parents, John J. Skomolo and Nomahlubi V. Mbelu. Secondly, to all the generations of South Africans who never had personal experience of growing up and living in an apartheid state. To them, I repeat the words of Nelson Mandela, who said: Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign!


My first acknowledgement and gratitude goes to my son-in-law, Abiye Opuamah, an accomplished writer, who put aside his own work to proofread and edit this maiden contribution of mine to the world of writers. Next, they go to my friends and relatives, who always listened to my life stories and wondered why I could not put them down in writing. Most persuasive of these was my cousin Rev. Dinga Mpunzi, whose preview assessment of the manuscript was highly appreciated. Enkosi Dontsa. They also go to my childhood friends Dr. Zonke Majodina and Professor Ntozintle Jobodwana whose inputs were a great inspiration to me. The analysis of this work and inputs by my friend and former colleague Joy Letlonkane were invaluable. Lastly but mostly, they go to my children who are always there for me, ensuring that my aging is graceful and happy. I thank all these people from the inner chambers of my heart.


For many years now, friends and relatives have been prodding me to put down my memoirs. I eventually decided to start working on them and see how long it would take me to complete them. Also, I wish to request my Creator to extend the bonus years I have already been given, to allow me to complete this work. I think what motivated my friends and relatives to urge me to write down my memoirs was that they saw that I am a story teller by nature—a trait I inherited from my father. So, whenever I told stories of my experiences around the world, they would say, Why don’t you put these stories in a book? They would make for interesting reading.

The reason I never countenanced these requests for me to write my memoirs was because I have never really believed in autobiographies, although I enjoy reading most of them. I have always viewed them as blatant ego projection. My thinking has been that if you are worthy, people will undertake that task for you, without you asking them to do so. However, seeing how much the world has changed since I started to exist seventy-five years ago, and the speed with which it has changed in the past thirty years, I feel that it will be worthwhile putting down my experiences of the old world in which I grew up, in the form of a book. These days, we can’t even tell stories to younger generations as their whole lives are consumed by technology.

The simple stories we know about our families, our clans, our tribes, the heroes of our people and the wars they fought were not written down. They were passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. My generation may be the last to have benefitted from this rich cultural legacy of our people before technology set in.

In South Africa, when I was a young adult, up until I went into exile in my early twenties, there was no television. Radio offered snippets of apartheid propaganda and little in the way of entertainment for the people. In the rural areas, we sat around the fire roasting corn and listening to stories from our parents and grandparents. In the urban areas, we sat around the Welcome Dover stove or mbawula (an improvised perforated tin stove), listening to the same stories. We knew who we were, who our ancestors were, where we came from, what our clans and totems were, and we could recite izibongo (praises) of our clans.

We learned two versions of history. The one we were taught at school, written by those who colonised us, and the unwritten one we were taught at home, which we accepted as our true history. We never mixed the two. We dared not answer from the home history to history questions at school. Otherwise, we would fail our exams. For instance, we were taught at school that the cause of many of the Cape Frontier Wars between the British settlers and amaXhosa, was that amaXhosa were stealing their cattle, and when the British went to retrieve the stolen cattle, a war would ensue.

At home we were told that after each battle in which amaXhosa had been defeated, the settlers would take their cattle as booty. AmaXhosa would then plan a strategy to retrieve their cattle, usually doing it in the dead of night or to get back their territory from which they had been evicted. This would trigger another war.

In most of these wars, amaXhosa were defeated because of the superior weaponry of the British, but they often scored victories in many battles, especially the night ambush ones. In fact, they never regarded themselves as having lost a war. They only retreated to regroup and to come back and attack, sparking another war. Nine major wars were fought between amaXhosa and the British settlers in a period of about twenty-five years. This was apart from small skirmishes that took place frequently in between wars. AmaXhosa were eventually crushed and totally subjugated because of the tragedy of Nongqawuse in 1856.

Nongqawuse was the prophet of doom, who claimed to have divinely communicated with ancestors who ordered the Xhosa nation, through her, to kill their livestock and burn their crops in anticipation of an appointed day when they (ancestors) would resurrect and return to drive the settler invaders back into the sea, and restore the wealth and peace the Xhosa nation had known before the invasion by these settlers. This tragedy is referred to as The National Suicide in History.

It is speculated that this tragedy was stage-managed by the colonialists with collaboration from some missionaries, to break the power of amaXhosa, and permanently end the cat-and-mouse wars that had characterised the British settlers since their arrival in the Cape, early in the 19th century.

So, at school therefore, when we were asked, What was the cause of Frontier War Number so and so? we would answer, Xhosa bandits went to steal cattle from the settlers. We dared not write, AmaXhosa went to retrieve their cattle which had been forcibly taken from them by the settlers.

Our folklore is rich. Its mythical content is juxtaposed with factual content. The lessons of life that we learned from the fables and idiomatic expressions that were told to us so very often made us who we were in our respective cultural and language environments. These memoirs are therefore a journey through four generations across four eras of the socio-political evolution of the country known as the Democratic Republic of South Africa today.

They start from the era of my great-grandfather; he was a soldier in the imfecane wars and a nomadic wanderer thereafter. Then they go to the era of my grandfather, an organiser of an early settlement after the great migrations caused by imfecane wars, to the era of my father—a beneficiary of western education and a participant in the African resistance movement against colonialism. Lastly, they deal with my own era of resistance to colonial apartheid and they also cover the lives of South Africans in exile. They only touch the surface of the current era of post-apartheid South Africa.

The memoirs are not about me as such, but about the space in which I have walked in the infiniteness of time. We are all pilgrims walking to the destination of infinity, and we form a mosaic of complementary pieces on that pilgrimage wall.

It is also hoped that these memoirs will stimulate other freedom fighters to tell stories of their own lives, both in exile and at home. Most of the liberation struggle stories written are about the leaders of the struggle. These are people like Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Slovo, Tutu, Sobukwe, and others. Not much has been told about the lives of grass roots, and rank and file, freedom fighters.

Our liberation struggle was a collective effort of different strategies in fighting one war. Some were physically active—the MK guerrilla armies, the stone throwers, the mass-action marchers, and the bombers while others were less physically active. The latter group comprised the intellectuals, the journalists, the professionals, the policy makers and propagandists. Whatever roles they played, their stories form part of our liberation history, and need to be told.

So, it is in this context and spirit that I attempt to take the reader of these memoirs to the life and times of a simple African girl whose life got complicated by forces that were beyond her control. I hope this book will be valuable even to the technology generation when they one day might wish to peer into the world of those who lived before them.

Thank You.

Where it all Started

King Matiwane of amaNgwane, in his westward-bound imfecane wars, after crushing all the tribes on his way from Natal; was stopped short by King Ngubengcuka of abaThembu as he and his army were approaching Mthatha. Ngubengcuka, in anticipation of the onslaught by Matiwane, requested the British Colonial Governor for the Cape Colony, Lord Somerset, to help him send an army to crush Matiwane.

Indeed, on 28 August 1828, Matiwane’s army was annihilated at a village called Mbolompo, just outside Mthatha by the cannons of Captain Dandus. He commanded the British battalion of heavy artillery against Matiwane’s spear-wielding impis (army). Matiwane returned home a broken man. Some of his few surviving soldiers returned with him, and others remained and scattered all over the Eastern Cape.

It is said that Matiwane was on a mission to conquer King Hintsa and take over the land of amaXhosa as his own kingdom. As Mzilikazi moved his imfecane northwards, Matiwane moved his westwards. Unlike Mzilikazi, whose imfecane ploughed through territories that were not yet under any organised colonial control – and who was able to defeat many of the northern tribes to establish his Ndebele kingdom across the Limpopo River – Matiwane was not so lucky. Colonialists already had a formidable footing on the territory he was gunning for.

Therefore, it is speculated that the reason why Governor Somerset was so ready to assist Ngubengcuka was because he saw Matiwane as an added threat to his own government, which was at that time still engaged in cat-and-mouse battles with amaXhosa on the west side of the Kei River during the Frontier Wars. To allow another strong enemy – especially of Shaka-trained soldiers – to enter the fray would be suicidal for his government. So, Matiwane’s army had to be crushed right there, not just with rifles but with cannonballs, to ensure total destruction.

One young survivor of Matiwane’s army, by the name of Sikhomolo kaHlongwane (my great grandfather) wandered widely, crossing the Drakensberg Mountains. When he reached a village called Mjanyane, he fell in love with a young maiden and decided to marry and stay put. They begot a son whom he named Mbizela (my grandfather).

Soon, a feud over cattle ensued between him and his in-laws. This made him to resume his wandering, this time with his wife and child. They crossed the Orange River and saw a beautiful mountain on the slope of which he decided to make a home for himself. He named this place Qhimira, which means mountain. He built himself a homestead inside the mountain gorge near a sprouting spring whose water flowed in a never-ending stream. The geographical location of this place today is about forty kilometres north of a small rural town called Sterkspruit, in the district of Herschel in the Eastern Cape.

During this era, there were many wandering refugees fleeing from Shaka’s imfecane wars of aggression; they were all searching for safe places to settle, far away from the Zulu impis. Many of them were not even aware at that time that Shaka had already been killed. So, in time, more people came to settle around that mountain and formed a small vibrant community of livestock-rearing peasants, who used the valley below for growing their crops of maize, wheat, millet, and vegetables such as pumpkins.

My great-grandfather’s homestead was called Engxingweni (literally meaning inside the mountain gorge) because of its location inside the mountain gorge. He became the self-appointed chief of the village, helping to recommend and allocate sites to newcomers to build their homesteads, and allocate fields for them to grow their crops.

During these developments, his only son Mbizela grew into a strong man, taking over his father’s role as the village community leader. He married three wives and had twenty-two children, the very last of whom was my father. By the time my father was born, Christianity and schools had arrived in that area, so my father had European names—John Joubert and was locally known as Dyubhele.

It was around the 1860s/70s, that missionaries arrived in our mountain region. Their evangelists were Africans who had been converted to Christianity earlier in the century in the southern part of the Cape Colony. They combed the mountain villages preaching the word of God. Mbizela had little interest in these strange people and the things they said, especially about this God who

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