Click to buy Print Edition Home Page African Writing Online Home Page  
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsMemoirsFictionPoetryThe Call to ActionArtReviews

  Adaobi Nwaubani
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Ando Yeva
  Ayesha H. Attah
  Bobby Gawthrop
  Brian Chikwava
  Chuma Nwokolo
  Crispin Oduobuk
  Fela Kuti
  Fiona Jamieson

  Florence Nenakwe
  Funsho Ogundipe
  Genna Gardini
  George E. Clarke
  Grace Kim
  Isabella Morris
  Isobel Dixon
  Ivor W. Hartmann
  Jane Bryce
  Kobus Moolman
  Meshack Owino
  Mwila A. Zaza
  Patrice Nganang
  Petina Gappah
  Rudolf Okonkwo
  Samed Aydin
  Tanure Ojaide
  Tola Ositelu
  Uche Peter Umez
  Unoma Azuah
  Uzor M. Uzoatu
  Wole Soyinka

Submission Guidelines

African Writing Archives




We spend our lives looking for home — even if we’re not aware of it. A CD stops halfway through a song, before the chords have had a chance to wander back to the tonic key, and inexplicably, we’re left with a sense of expectancy. Perhaps this explains our need to know what happens at the end of a book, the conclusion of a movie, or even the punchline of a friend’s story —  this need to know that the characters have come to a place to breath, a sense of completion. And when they don’t, those of us who hang on, those of us who haven’t yet realized that this life is about the search that might never deliver what we’re longing for, feel cheated and robbed.
As I drive past families strolling with young kids, dogs taking their owners for walks, the health-conscious twentysomethings running, and the occasional cyclist, all taking advantage of the cooler twilight air, I realize that I’ve left home far too early and will probably be the first to arrive at tonight’s event by at least 20 minutes. But I’m already in the car, so I carry on out of my suburb for a drive through Stellenbosch, in the direction of the setting sun.
It only takes me about five minutes to hit mid-town Stellenbosch, and I decide to head through Coffeeshop Central. Not that this is the official name of this part of town, but within this area of three or four blocks you’ll find yourself in the range of at least twenty restaurants and coffeeshops, a number of boutiques, speciality and art shops, and apartments targeted specifically for the tourists and the richer Stellenbosch locals. In those five minutes I’ve left behind the relaxed feel of Suburbia with its grass-fronted houses, flowering gardens and traffic-free streets, and headed into a mess of anorexic one-way streets already quite clogged with cars. Although Stellenbosch’s business hours can be  frustrating (most shops close by 14:00 on the weekend), this is Friday night. And this means that most of the restaurants and coffee shops I drive past are looking lively, not only because of the patches of blue, red, white light from building signs and insides splashing across sidewalks, but also because of the tables and chairs sprawling further and further across the sidewalks as saturated restaurants end up colonizing pedestrian walkways. This always looks rather charming as you drive by, but ensures that the passerby is occasionally forced to waltz a way through an obstacle course of people, chairs, tables, lampposts, trees, all without falling off the sidewalk or onto cars-parked-incredibly-close-to-the-curb.
But this glamorous, dressed-up, commercial feel is a bit too frenetic for me, so I carry on down and turn off into several sidestreets, eventually finding myself amongst many of the university reses and student houses. It’s a Friday night and everyone’s kuiering. Firelight from braais in apartment frontyards flicker as I drive past, and music from hastily put-together stereo systems pounds competitively against neighbouring systems. Girls and guys appear from nowhere into light cast by streetlamps or, with typical student abandon, into the light cast by the headlights of oncoming cars, and disappear again with shrieking laughter into the darkness. All this action effectively means that both sides of the two-way streets are packed with cars, turning two-way streets into some of the most congested one-way streets in town. While waiting for an oncoming car to pass (there’s no way we’re both going to fit through at the same time), a thought irreverently flashes through my head: “So this is what cholesterol must feel like.” At that moment, it’s clear that Stellenbosch is bursting out of its seams.
But that’s not something that I want to think about right now when I feel as though I need an escape from people, buildings, the busyness of modern living. A few streets later I’m taking the drive out to Jonkershoek National Park. The road is an elongated snake’s wriggle, curving between entrances of farms and homesteads, following the trees with their rich summergreen foliage ever onwards. And it is on this road that I’m reminded that Stellenbosch is a valley, here on this road dominated by mountains on either side. A bubble, some would say, a tiny piece of Neverland where you don’t ever have to grow up or live anything less than a semi-charmed life. By this time of the evening, the craggy, jagged mountains are a purple-black against nightblack sky. All that can be heard is the swish of my tires on the gravelly roads and the fullness of night silence. Occasionally, through gaps in the trees I can see lights from houses that appear like giant fireflies. And driving past the forestwood encroaching onto the road, I imagine the luxuriant vineyards beyond that I cannot see under the cover of darkness.
Then I remember that I actually have an appointment. I glance at the car clock and turn into a driveway. I reverse and head back the way I came.
Why a place feels like home to one person is rarely translatable. Try as we might to pinpoint exactly what it is that changes a place into the place, we’ll never articulate this in a satisfactory manner. And that, in part, is its magic – that this feeling resonates so deeply inside you that it escapes words. 
In some ways, it is easy to describe Stellenbosch. It is a small South African university town not far from Cape Town, situated in the heart of the winelands. The predominance of leafy, squirrel-populated oak trees give credibility to the town’s nickname Eikestad (lit. ‘Oak town’). Little water furrows line many of the main streets, providing not only the air of old-world charm expected from a town as established as ours, but also many a parking and driving hazard to drivers not yet used to the possibility of ending up in their ditchlike depths. Protected historical buildings peer out unapologetically from the shadows cast by modern flat complexes, their old age according them a certain respect. University buildings regularly purge themselves of streams of students escaping from class. During summer, many an air-conditioned double-decker tourist bus can be found halting traffic as a tour guide sees something worth pointing out to the slightly pale (or, if they’ve already spent some time in the South African sun, alarmingly red) European tourists. It’s charming, endearing, and eclectic. Easy, right?
Yet, for some reason I feel as if there’s something I’m leaving out. And it becomes clearer later that evening as I’m watching some performance poets. One group, the Khoi Collective, is made up of two Cape-Flats-Afrikaans accented guys, and one guy of distinct Khoi heritage. Two of them play a mix of Khoi instruments, and the other strums a semi-acoustic guitar while his huge afro bobs along. They keep the audience entertained with hiphop rhymes, instrumental beats, and jokes that fall naturally into the spaces of missed cues and forgotten words. Before they end, they tell us, they want to play us a song. However, they apologise, it might feel as though it’s been put together hastily, but that’s because it has. Written in the last 24 hours, it stems from the nostalgia two of the members felt while reminiscing about the little dorpie they’ve come from. They start playing, and although the poignancy of this song is undercut by their evident uncertainty, they all fall in to sing the chorus lustily. Wild applause follows. But they have to end their act now, as they’ve already performed for double the anticipated length of time. Next up, a French-speaking African refugee who only learnt English when he arrived in South Africa three years ago. And as he draws images of home for his audience with his words, it’s then I understand: I haven’t described a Stellenbosch that has space for them. Not them, nor the Asian violinist providing background music earlier in the foyer. And writing them out of Stellenbosch is not my call to make, for Stellenbosch has place for them all. I know, ‘cause for the Asian violinist at least, Stellenbosch IS home. I know, ‘cause that’s me.
Why do babies cry at birth? Because at birth, we are shoved into a frightening new world. We cry for we have been forced to leave the only home we know. When we burst out, we scream while smiles descend on faces to greet us, not understanding our unworded cries... And so we scream louder, splitting our souls into a thousand fragments sent hurtling through the air – sent hurtling with the force of our wails to find a new home. And so it is, that one day we might find ourselves feeling that we have come home when really, we have just found another piece of ourselves.

An Asian calling South Africa home? Yes. In the colourful mosaic of skins, cultures, languages, hairstyles, fashionstyles and faces already present in South Africa, I’ve claimed my spot ever since my family moved here when I was two. Because of my obvious difference,  I’ve often been asked questions about my identity. Some are just friendly attempts to find out how long I’m visiting, or why I don’t have an accent. Others demand deeper answers, like whether I’d consider myself more Korean or more South African. This last question began to bother me increasingly, the older I got, because I didn’t know how to answer it. Until I went back to visit my family in Korea, that is. So many people go overseas to ‘find themselves’, but realize on coming back, that their 'selves' were waiting where they’d left them all along. And being more generic than I sometimes think I am, this was my experience as well. There was one particular episode that stood out. Korea is a homogenous society and has very few people living there who aren’t of Korean ethnicity. I hadn’t realized how automatically I blended in with everyone else until after a few weeks, when I saw a white person — and was startled. It was at that moment that I realized that even though I ‘fit’ into Korea, it was in South Africa, where I was so obviously an outsider, that my heart belonged.
However, it is more complicated than that. Even though I have lived in Stellenbosch for twenty years now, I am still a South Korean citizen. Yet, I could happily live in South Africa for the rest of my life. Having said that, something prevents me from cutting myself off completely from my heritage. If my heart was truly 100% South African, I wouldn’t feel the need to correct people who assume that I’m Chinese or Japanese, something which I do automatically. Something inside is holding me back – perhaps because much of the way I act and think, I can trace back to being Korean, not South African. I do not really know where I belong, and sometimes a sense of rootlessness will shade my feelings as I interact with others who can confidently claim allegiance to one culture only. But this need not be a negative thing. I — and my fellow third culture kids — (those born in one culture and brought up in another) find that being rootless enables us to claim the-world-at-large as home. Not belonging to one place, makes every place a space for belonging. Accordingly, I am constantly realigning my identity and rewriting myself.

And that’s probably why I feel that Stellenbosch is a somewhere where I am someone. Because just like me, Stellenbosch is the draft never quite finished. Stellenbosch is a work-in-progress – a place that keeps on changing, morphing, getting new ideas, and never settling in one permanent identity. If it’s not being renovated or restored, it’s being broken down and rebuilt. But it’s more than the physical changes that it is constantly undergoing. A place is ultimately the people it belongs to, and judging by its current inhabitants, Stellenbosch will never fall into one easy category. Stellenbosch belongs to the bergie with the mohawk who lives in the parking lot at Brazenhead, playing pranks at passersby or mock-running alongside joggers. It belongs to the long-haired, sunglass-hidden, hand-bag-carrying cappuccino-drinking women at Java, comparing their latest fashion buys. It belongs to the children’s choir from Khayamandi (the township on the outskirts of town) dressed in stereotypical African print, singing for the tourists on a street corner. It belongs to the taxi driver with a minibus stuffed full of passengers, who treats the circle as a four-way stop and the four-way stop as his right of way. It belongs to the tie-dye-wearing, barefooted, dreadlocked student having a smoke on the steps of one of the local bars at ten in the morning. It belongs to the businessman dressed smartly in a workshirt and black pants, talking loudly in his phone as he walks down the street. It belongs to all of them. And it belongs to me.
Coming home is like breathing with your heart again. It is like arriving at a place you don’t need anyone to welcome you to, because somehow it is as though you have been waiting there all along, to be the first to welcome you back. And I say ‘back’, because even if you don't remember being there before, that place is a space your body recognises: where you can breathe easier, where your heart pulses less tensely, and where you know that right here, memories are waiting to be made. This does not mean that home will always remain one place – it might be a few different places that lie scattered throughout your lifetime. Whatever it is, you know. Home is that messy living room you picture, with cushions and last-drink glasses still scattered everywhere, as the pilot announces that he is about to commence landing. Home is that couch whose upholstery is worn in patches by your body, where sitting down means sinking into yourself. Home is stepping off that transit bus between airplane and airport lounge, stepping out into South African sunlight – for it might be the same sun that shines around the world, but your eyes know the light at home is different, and your pupils change their size accordingly. It is stepping into the airport, seeing a whole Smartie box of colours (black, coloured, pale, and sunburnt red) and hearing a babel of languages. At this point, you might berate yourself for still not knowing any words of most of those indigenous languages. But although you might not understand what they’re saying, neither can you quite explain why this is home. And that’s okay. It is enough to know you are back.

      Grace Kim

Grace Kim
moved from South Korea to South Africa at the age of two. Now 21, she has just finished her Honours in English at the University of Stellenbosch. She will be continuing with her Masters, on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at Stellenbosch, in 2009.

Photographs by Irene Kim

  The University




    little water furrows line the mains streets...





    an obstacle course of  tables, lampposts, trees...










Copyright © African Writing Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to