Letter from Limpopo: Thabiso Sekhula shares the beauty and complexities of raising a light skinned baby as a dark skinned mom in rural Limpopo
It took me 23 years and moving to a new province for varsity to be able to wear shorts, mini-skirts and dresses. Crazy, because I rock them.
You see, I’m the darkest of all my siblings. And having our great-grandfather being an actual white man, my siblings are light-skinned and the rest of our family is coloured, with the surname Webber.
Growing up black in any society where there was colonisation, survival depended on assimilating, straightening your hair, bleaching your skin and speaking the best English and Afrikaans. Even in 2023, these things still rear their ugly head.
Despite the natural hair revolution and dark-skinned men and women now being represented as industry beauty standards, it is still very much a colourist society and the terrible comments which plagued my childhood still find their way into my life as an adult.
And despite having grown up to love my skin, my colour and my people, there are levels to the struggle.
Genetics are an interesting thing. I have now learned that trauma manifests throughout generations and in many forms. I have a son who is the same shade of skin as I am, a gorgeous boy who has never felt anything but love for his skin colour because he’s growing up in a society that embraces his skin — well, mostly.
A few years ago, I had a daughter who came out looking like the reincarnation of my coloured grandmother. And I’m not lying, because — look at that picture.
To put it mildly, the comments I receive when I walk with my daughter in my home village are weird. People will comment on how beautiful she is and how lucky she is to be light-skinned and not like her mother’s colour. How lucky I am to have a light-skinned child. Some even go as far as asking if I’m sure she’s mine, no jokes. To which I respond, no, I stole her from the hospital.
By having this baby, I was suddenly plunged into a world where I had to defend how someone with my skin could have a baby this light.
In 2023, I realise the world moves at different paces, and while the world was embracing dark skin, the village would be much, much slower. A big part of this can be accredited to how TV shows, especially those that air on free channels and basic subscription TV packages, still play content from the early 2000s. During those years, content mainly excluded dark-skinned people from TV. These channels also aired a lot of skin-lightening advertisements.
I love my son and hug him a little more and reassure him that he’s beautiful because I wouldn’t know who is saying what to him in my absence. Kids can be cruel. These are also kids raised by the same adults who made these comments to those like me as a kid.
These hateful words come out as naturally as a greeting. In the same way an old school friend who hasn’t seen you in 10 years will greet you and immediately say how fat you have gotten – in that affectionate manner with a side of poison.
But I know deep down that as I could learn to love myself, it’s through conversation that we can break these bad habits. And if they would only ask me, I would tell them that my daughter is the shade of my late mother and my grandmother.
She is the embodiment of the woman who raised and loved me. She is the daughter I asked for after my mother passed on. And she was born two years and two days after my mother passed, the most beautiful sign that everything would be okay. And that’s what I see in her skin.
It took me so long to overcome my insecurities and to know that it will still take more generations of kids who are made fun of for their skin colour. They will have to learn the hard way to love themselves because the world has bigger problems right now than focusing on the self-esteem of little girls and little boys who feel unloved.
What could go wrong?
Pictured above: Thabiso Sekhula and the daughter she asked for
By Thabiso Sekula