From Zandisile To Zion: Letters To Our Children

Myself I have a morbid fear of procreating. For a myriad of reasons that are perfectly understandable even to me. For one I hardly have enough material resources for my own upkeep; so why would I bring another being onto the world knowing that I’m not able to provide for materially. That’s just cruel. Another reason is my personal freedom; children necessarily limit this. There’s also the matter of who I procreate with; would it be possible (and will I have to) to share the responsibility or would one person have to have the last say? How would this conflict affect the child? The conflict is inevitable as no two people are the same. Also my fear is that having a child will ultimately lead me to being a father – with all its patriarchal connotations. One major reason is that with white supremacy still intact; it’s possible my child will be born black. To subject another human to blackness is an unforgivable sin.
The above, however, I have solutions to. For one; getting economic freedom for myself is no rocket science. Also the value placed on personal freedom can always be superseded by the value I place on the offspring. The issue regarding the mate can be solved by surrogacy or patriarchy. And I think I have the balls (hehehe) to deal away with fatherhood and try out something better, more humane. Lastly, Juju’s got this! The revolution is safe in his hands – e se kgale we’ll be able to truly say ‘when we were black’. My point is I have options to manoeuvre; where I seem to have an empty arsenal is on this question: WTF does one say to his offspring?

My biggest fear is that I don’t know what I would teach my child about life, about myself, about herself and people in general. What do you say when a five year old asks you why a beggar is dirty? Is there really anything you can say to a child that will not somehow fuck them up? Can one avoid instilling their insecurities, fears and prejudices in their children? Is it possible to not miseducate your child? As a matter of necessity I think you must lie to your child; children should not be expected to bear the truth. But how far can these lies go? And how can you prevent them from being the basic underpinnings of the child’s ideology? When do beggars stop being ‘free spirits’ and become the marginalised of an uncaring society? And most importantly; how much can one (if at all) burden the child with their hopes, expectations and dreams? Lastly, can a child have its own life totally divorced from the parents?

In seeking answers to these questions I turn, as usual, to music. There I find three popular songs from parent to child. Two beautiful failures in Lauryn Hill’s “To Zion” and Simphiwe Dana’s “Zandisile” and Tupac’s colossal failure “Letter To My Unborn Child”.

I call them failures for the mere reason that they fail to provide a satisfactory framework of what to say to one’s child. I take these songs to be some sort of a Founding Manifesto between parent and child, and by extension between the child and the world. The axis upon which future relationships will revolve. I find that what they say does not augur well for a healthy relationship in relation to the questions asked above.
Tupac provides a very grim picture of life to his unborn child. But more than this he seems to be relaying his own pain in life and almost using this as an excuse should he fail his child. He opens his ‘love letter’ by telling the child that ‘ever since [his] birth [he’s] been cursed’ and goes on to tell of this curse. He adds that the child ‘can never understand ‘til [they] trade places’. This realistic grim picture is what leads him to ask “Will I raise my kids in the right or wrong way?” He is anticipating failure, probably because he himself was failed by his father.

Seemingly he suffers from the same malaise I’m suffering from, he begs the lord: “Tell me what to say”. 

He seems to be going for the cold truth, but what effect does this have on the child? Does it not apriori turn him cold? To hear your father tell you from the word go, “on these cold streets, ain’t no love, no mercy and no friends” surely makes one at the very least a bit hard to get along with. If a child comes into the world trusting nobody, as Pac advices in his parting shot, it doesn’t augur well for the building of a strong society. Pac sells no lullabies to his child. He positions himself as the only one who can ever truly love her; as evident in his fear that should he “pass away, will [his] child get to feel love?” 

“Being black hurts” he says in this grim love letter, he gives the child no hope other than to have a better life than him. And we know that Pac didn’t have the best of lives.
A better life that Dana guarantees for her Zandisile, “we’re outta the woods” she says, “the worst is over.” The worst, probably, that Pac has gone to great lengths to describe. Dana promises Zandisile that all of that grim reality is over, which she unlike her mother will never see. Here there’s hope. 

Of course it would be a great injustice to not audit, even if in passing, the context in which the songs are written. Although the songs come to our consciousness only three or four years apart, they were obviously written at least almost ten years apart. Pac is disillusioned with the ‘gains’ of the civil rights struggle while Dana is glowing with the hope of the rainbow nation. For Pac, being black hurts, for Dana it hurt but is now a place of rebirth. Of possibilities.

Hence she sends out her Zandisile into the world to be a hero. “Yenza njalo Zandisile.” She implores her. “Remember Zandisile,” she reminds her, “you’re my inheritance.” She burdens her. Dana informs Zandisile that it is her turn to take the baton, but luckily for her the path is much more conducive. And this methinks is the duty of any parent; to provide them a conducive environment for them to grow and prosper. Poor Zandisile is burdened with eating the fruits of the struggle. She must be grateful; she must fulfil the dreams and aspirations of those who made it all possible for her. Of course she must also be wary not to be the youth that ate uhuru.

But is this not a false send-off? Zandisile, her “hero”, is indeed being compromised with these myths that all is well and the world is her’s to conquer. In short; she’s a mouse made to believe she’s a cat.
And does Zion fare any better? Much like Pac Ms Hill opens her ode on an apologetic tone, “one day you’ll understand.” As with the previous two, Zion is also burdened. He’s burdened with being his mother’s joy. Only if you’ve never been loved by a black woman would you not know what a disabling burden this is. One cannot even begin to account for the love black women have heaped on us – even “thank you” sounds blasphemous. Ms Hill puts Zion in a great predicament by casting him as the joy of her life. What can the poor child do to keep his mother’s joy in tact? Rather we must ask the inverse; what should he not door to take away his mother’s joy?

In the first verse Ms Hill does what I feel to be unfair on both Zion and those who told her “to be smart”. As I mentioned before I do believe that certain truths have to be hidden from children; this one should have been buried for eternity. She intimates that she was advised to abort Zion. I don’t think anyone would want to know that they could’ve got aborted. And Zion would necessarily wonder who are these people who didn’t give his existence their thumbs-up. Already, much like Pac’s child, he’s coming into the world having beef. This revelation also burdens him with the need to prove that “his life deserved a chance”, that having him was, contrary to popular belief, a smart move.

Lauryn is not as grim as Pac nor as dreamy as Dana, and this is where I think Zion might fare better than the other two. She hopes to “keep [him] from the perils that will surely come”. She gives him reality, that the will surely be perils. And she doesn’t sell him any dreams that those perils will most definitely be overcome – all she does is pray that she can protect him. The tone of the second verse is such that it gives Zion a sense that he is to be loved for his mere being. “How beautiful if nothing more

Than to wait at Zion’s door.” This gives him assurance that he ought to be, or can expect to be loved – unlike Pac’s child who could only ever expect love from the father.
What is learnt? One must agree with Pac that their offspring deserve a better life than they had – but this should not mean that anything better than this is fine. As Dana seems to be doing; we all know how our parents always refer to the brutal dramatization of apartheid they experienced in a bid to show us how much has “changed” or how “lucky” we are. Yet we know that we are in no different position than they were. In fact one could argue that we are worse off. 

The world is a grim and ugly place, ain’t no question about that, but is this how we should paint it for our offspring before they even get to experience it? Or should we paint them an ideal and ready them to fight for that ideal when reality strikes? Or maybe sometimes we ought to just say nothing and make our offspring understand that “I got you back!” What ought to constitute the parent/child relationship Founding Manifesto?
P.S. It also worth noting Dana’s “Inkwekwezi” which mirrors, if read from the parent to child Founding Manifesto lens, her sentiments in “Zandisile” but less dreamy. Here the child is sent out into the dark void to shine, to brighten things up. To not let the darkness swallow her up, even it means to shine in solitude. Another manifesto from Dana is “My Light”, which mirrors Ms Hill’s “To Zion” in most aspects. It simply impresses upon the child that he is his mother’s happy refuge. For now let us resist the temptation to ask ‘refuge from what?’ lest we cast a gloomy light on the song.
P.P.S. There is of course a sure solution we’ve been entirely ignoring: don’t make babies!


  1. Malizo kaMadzikane.

    Having failed to heed the advice of the PPS I returned to this and now I’m more worried than ever. I have not even made the news public because I have no joy in the fact, just paralysing worry.

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