Jonathan Butler is in my estimation one of the greatest South African musicians of my generation. I spent many years listening to the song below as I wrestled with leaving my life in the US and returning to South Africa.
I remember bumping into a Haitian-American colleague at the airport and she asked me how I felt as I finally set aside three decades of American life.
"I have no keys. No house keys, no office keys, no car or motorcycle keys. I feel scared and hopeful," I said as I patted my jeans pockets.
"Write that story Ridwan. If only so you and yours will know what it means to live in doubt and impermanence," my colleague said.
We were catching the same Delta flight to Atlanta and sat together. Her ordeal of living in doubt and impermanence became clearer to me.
The world is in crisis and transition. What is to become of belonging in these contexts, I thought? And I remembered my best friend Mark's remark that "you may return but you never go home again". In many ways he was right and I will be the first to admit that the thought of leaving South Africa never leaves me.
"You young enough to reclaim that part of your life and your origins. Go tell your story and write. You must write. People will want to know. They will read you," my colleague pressed on.
Just yesterday a close friend called asking why I had not started to write if even as a singular resistance against the nationalistic revisionism that has my dad, Sobukwe, Imam Haroon, and many others almost erased.
And so the project toward retrieving memory must start in earnest now that this lost chapter in Pretoria plays out.
It won't be easy. There are other more important voices that must rise too. How that must look still baffles me even now that I have a few keys in my pocket.
Left my father’s landTo become a manBut I can’t let goI can’t let go
I found the greatest gift of allFreedom and independence calledHere I stand completeOn my own two feetI can’t let go
There’s so many famous rivers I’ve crossedSo many many beacons left and lostI have played to win and paid the costBut I can’t let go
As I walk my old stomping groundA flood of memories are unboundFeeling guilt insideDid I do things right?I can’t let go
... It's in my soul ...