By: Lindiwe Dhlamini
TW: suicide, depression
I am sure most of you are wondering what is going on with “Pam Dhlamini” – I know most of you still call me that, its new I understand it is not easy on me too, just be patient with yourselves and me learning and unlearning is a violent process. The name politics are the beginning of this process because somewhere along the way I lost myself in the pain that came with the name Lindiwe. I was told that my name is Lindokuhle, it is a beautiful name, meaning… actually I don’t have to translate it to those who do not know, go do some research.
I was given the names Pamela Lindokuhle, but now the trick is, there were three Lindokuhle’s in my house growing up, so there had to be a distinction when calling any of us, two ‘girls’ and one ‘boy’. Binaries that I despise using however, be shared along the way in this journey. Shortening names is a thing in Africa, as well as worldwide. It is easier. The ‘boy’ was immediately called Linda, and I and my other cousin could only be told apart due to our skin tones; for instance, I was called Lindi ‘omnyama’ and she was called Lindi ‘omhlophe’.
I was the darker one. I still am and loving it. Growing up in Soweto or any township at that time there was a stink of assimilation to whiteness, from face creams that our mothers, aunts and sisters used to look lighter skinned, to the relaxed hair, wigs and all that jazz. Sometimes the colourism obsession extended to Afrophobic slurs and this was/still a norm. Colonialism socialised us to hate our own as black people and love the other, namely white people, while the other just loved their own and hated us. For instance, sometimes I would be called ‘Shangane’ this is a derogatory term to refer to Tsonga people and this was done to me because, as there is a belief that Tsonga people are ‘too dark skinned’.
At the time all of this was happening, I was roughly about five or six years old and it grew with me. Even my friends would call me Lindi ‘omnyama’ when we were playing. Being dark skinned that time meant you were ‘ugly’. Assimilation to whiteness was on fleek. It was only when I moved to the paternal side of my family that I was only called Lindi and it felt really good to just have my name and not share it. However, whenever I visited the maternal side of the family there was always that violence of being reminded how dark I was and thus meant I was the ‘ugly’ one. I was young, obviously, it was not big deal then but as I grew older it started to affect the way I saw colour. It was violent and I even made a big deal about never wanting to date yellow bones, saying that taking pictures with them meant I would be the ‘ugly’ one and wooooah! No one wants to be the ugly one on any pics especially if those pictures are going public.
The internalised hate of my skin tone grew with me, and there was a time where there was a trend of using a shoe polish (Light brown – Kiwi or Nugget) it made dark skinned people ‘lighter’, remember don’t judge it was a thing and it used to work because, I won a lot of beauty pageants with that polish on my face LOL! Also, this whole shoe polish conversation is age revealing and that is for later on this journey. This whole name change thing is a bit funny because back home everyone already calls me Lindi(we) it is only people that I met later in my life around the year 2000s and assimilation to whiteness was at its highest peak in my life. Furthermore, being known as Pam meant that I was closer to whiteness and thus was a ‘Better Black’ I mean, it is easy for one to twang when your name is Pam, it is easy for white people to pronounce it and definitely would be easier to make white friends.
The name politics started being an issue for me when I started falling in love with my dark skin, by that time I was exposed to reading material that I never had access to growing up. Reading more on Blackness was violent as if forced me to confront my colourism issues that I had ran away from for a very long time. I had to start falling in love with Lindiwe but there were other issues that were stopping me from fully embracing her. Changing my name is a BIG deal to me, because my first suicide attempt happened with the name Lindi ‘omnyama’ when I was fourteen years old. Making peace with my depression and first suicide attempt means going back to being Lindiwe and embracing it, because that is part of who I am and the time for running is over!
Everything that I have been through in the past year with the student activism it forced me to interrogate a lot of things about my life, my depression, my past and my identities. I made the choice to be part of the decolonial project under the banner Rhodes Must Fall (RMF). As much as there is drama now, this movement was the best thing that happened to me, it helped me made sense of what I was taught in lectures better. Especially, the topic on intersectionality, even though we just discovered that to Black cis het mxn that intersectionality is Bullshit, and race is the most important struggle for Blacks.
I was an activist long before coming to university of Cape Town (UCT) but my activism was the kind that I kept undercover for many reasons. 1. I was deep in the closet with my family and community, I was not ready to deal with the rejection that came with coming out as a lesbian mainly because I was raised as a Christian. 2. It is highly connected to the name politics and other things that will be revealed as the journey unfolds. 3. Hey, come on I was Pam Dhlamini the ‘model’ the hot ‘lipstick lesbian’, I couldn’t risk getting caught or I would be blamed and shamed for being queer. So I guess it is safe to say being a Fallist saved my life or rather it helped me find myself. Fallism came at the right time where things were not making sense in my life, and UCT was not giving me the answers I was hoping to find.
Lindiwe is back with a bang so get used to it.
As a fellow Fallist once wrote; “Decolonial project waits for no one” (Matandela, 2016). This is one of the many reasons why I had to leave to make peace with the past and come back stronger than ever. Also, for me to know that self-hate is real and that learning to love myself means acknowledging everything I have been through.
Read more about the ‘Still I rise’ journey as it unfolds, more reasons for the name change will be shared as I carry on this self-healing adventure. You are probably wondering why I am choosing Lindiwe instead of the given name Lindokuhle, well that will explained as we go along.
Lindiwe Dhlamini is a Fallist, social justice activist and a student at the University of Cape Town currently studying towards a postgraduate degree in Gender and Transformation at the African Gender Institute (AGI). Lindiwe is the Founder and Director of Injabulo Projects an NPO that conducts an Anti-Bullying project in high schools, an Incest survivor project and LGBTIAQ+ support project.
For more of the series click here.
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