Ticking the Box Marked ‘Other’
Kim Sanssoucie was born in Durban but has also lived in Cape Town and Johannesburg (the city where she currently resides). She is a writer and actress but her CV reveals many other strings to her bow. The Dirt Road, a play that she wrote and starred in, is a recent accomplishment of hers. The play ran in both Cape Town and Johannesburg this year but it has also been performed at the Grahamstown Arts Festival and was taken to Paris and London. The play revolves around an inter-cultural relationship between a Coloured woman and a Xhosa man exploring the issues that arise between them. The play sought to reveal the difficulties that manifested due to existing societal divisions.
The Dirt Road is set in the home of the two main characters and there is a sense for the audience that they are intruding on something intimate. Monologues given by the characters help to draw the audience further into the personal space in which the play is set and this is what gives the audience the chance to feel a part of the events. This works to encourage an emotional participation from the audience as they are confronted with issues that arise in contemporary South Africa.
In an interview conducted with Kim about her work and her experiences as an artist in South Africa, she discussed how she aims, through her work, to ask questions to which she does not have the answers and is attempting to reflect her own reality in the work that she produces. Her work looks at South Africa as it is now and the story in The Dirt Road attempts to address divisions between culture and gender and how this affects relationships.
Kim describes herself as a minority within a minority. Classified as “coloured” but coming from Durban, she grew up speaking English as her home language and was culturally different to the idea that most South Africans have of coloured people. Without a clear identity, it is her lived experiences that become of greater significance, lacking an environment that fostered a strong cultural heritage.
When ticking a box on a form in South Africa the label ‘other’ confronts us as a seemingly archaic attempt at categorizing people where those who do not fit the constructed categories become ‘The Other’. The question, “what are you?” is one that, frustratingly, gets asked regularly and is a source of angst for many South Africans as our society seems to be constantly trying to figure out within which box people belong. Like many South Africans, Kim’s lineage is full of many cultures and races. Her surname is French and there is French-Creole on her father’s side. On her mother’s side there is German and her family tree has branches that are Zulu and Xhosa as well as British. It is an array of heritages that her family was prevented from getting to know because of apartheid. Heritage day is complicated for her as Kim and her family attempt to come to terms with what heritage means to them. It was difficult for her when, for a long time, she tried to base her identity on a heritage that was unknown to her and her writing became a way to help her get to a point where she understood that her voice was OK, which was something that she had not felt before.
“Moving forward, when I get asked to tick a box, I think I’m just going to tick the box ‘other’ because I don’t prescribe to any of it,” says Kim.
The Dirt Road is a part of new conversations that are needed in South Africa intended to get people to consider what identifying as a specific race means to them. What does calling yourself ‘white’ mean? What does calling yourself ‘black’ mean? What does calling yourself ‘coloured’ mean? There should be consideration that race is a construct that divides us and it arose from our country’s history. This becomes truly apparent when failed attempts are made to define the ‘coloured identity’. The Population Registration Act of 1950 defined a ‘coloured person’ as “a person who is not white and not native” and in an attempt to categorize and label people, their true heritage is lost. People need to be able to forge their own identity outside of those to which they have prescribed.
Race and culture are not the only topics that arise in The Dirt Road. Gender also features in the play as the environment that woman are confronted with on a daily basis and how this impacts on their relationships is explored. Kim draws on the words by Evelyn Cunningham that, “Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors”. These words present us with an indication of the strength of women, which is particularly pertinent as large numbers of women in South Africa are forced to endure violence at the hand of a partner. Kim uses the term ‘equity’ over ‘equality’ as she describes the fight that needs to take place in South Africa towards greater rights for marginalized groups. This concept speaks to the need to understand the privilege that already exists in our society when doling out equal treatment whether this be between genders, races or cultures.
The Dirt Road is part of the new art that is coming out of South Africa that is confronting the ideas of race and gender and there is great value in the telling of contemporary South African stories that address these issues. As Kim says, “We need voices in South Africa and I am one of those voices. It always comes back to what is authentic. What is your lived experience? Everybody’s story matters.”
Writing: Anthea Taylor
Photography: Obakeng Molepe