There’s something about being in the presence of greatness, of history. Albie Sachs spoke last night, at the opening of the new exhibition, ‘My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery’, at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum. It’s as if not only the people listened, but the ancient stones in the cobbled courtyard, the walls that have watched such atrocities happen, the new spring leaves of the trees peeping over the roof, the very air particles, all turned and listened to a man who can only be described as the epitome of dignity, a man who fought, tooth-and-nail, for this country to be free and fair.
Between 1653 and 1856, 71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town, and housed in the Slave Lodge, stripped of everything, including their identities. The new exhibition, conceptualised by Gavin Wood of Geometry Global and photographed by David Prior, highlights this loss of identity, with a calendar.
Each month features a person who carries that month’s name. Slaves, brought to South Africa from predominantly Indian Ocean countries, were named according to the month they arrived, their real names carelessly discarded.
The photos are gorgeous, the stories both heart-breaking and beautiful but, mostly, important. These are the stories of us, South Africans. This is a part of our history, our legacy, that has often been neglected.
Dr Bongani Ndlovu reminded us of the presence of the past. The Slave Lodge Museum, with both its permanent exhibition and this new one does just that: it reminds us of where we came from, which is vital to help us decide where we want this country to go.
The Iziko Slave Lodge Museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. The exhibition runs until 31 March 2017.