Bessie Head, an author, teacher and journalist was born to a white woman and black man on this day in 1937. When Bessie’s maternal grandparents found out their daughter was pregnant, they sent her to a mental asylum.
She was brought up by foster parents and then by the Anglican mission orphanage. Head trained as a primary school teacher and taught for a few years but in 1959 she began a career as a journalist. She wrote short stories for Johannesburg’s Golden City Post a weekly supplement that was related to the more famous Drum magazine. Her work for Drum magazine won her a reputation as writer.
Although she died at the age of 49 in 1986, her legacy lives on, the day after her death, Bessie’s thousands of documents in the form of letters, books, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, bank statements, and more — were gathered together and transferred to the Khama III Memorial Museum. Her photos, writing desk, and typewriter are on display in the Bessie Head Room of the main Museum. The Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest award, was bestowed on Bessie Head in 2003, seventeen years after her death. This award is also on display.
1. “I once sat down on a bench at Cape Town railway station where the notice “Whites Only” was obscured. A few moments later a white man approached and shouted: ‘Get off!’ It never occurred to him that he was achieving the opposite of his dreams of superiority and had become a living object of contempt, that human beings, when they are human, dare not conduct themselves in such ways.”
2. “It seemed to be a makeshift replacement for love, absenting oneself from stifling atmospheres, because love basically was a torrential storm of feeling; it thrived only in partnership with laughing generosity and truthfulness.”
3. “A discipline I have observed is an attitude of love and reverence to people.”
4. “And if the white man thought that Asians were a low, filthy nation, Asians could still smile with relief – at least, they were not Africans. And if the white man thought Africans were a low, filthy nation, Africans in Southern Africa could still smile – at least, they were not Bushmen.” (Maru)
5. “Love is mutually feeding each other, not one living on another like a ghoul.”
6. “…This seemed to Makhaya the greatest irony of Christianity. It meant that a white man could forever go on slaughtering black men simply because Jesus Christ would save him from his sins. Africa could do without a religion like that.”
When Rain Clouds Gather
7. “I am building a stairway to the stars. I have the authority to take the whole of mankind up there with me. That is why I write.”
8. “Poverty has a home in Africalike a quiet second skin.It may be the only place on earth where it is worn with unconscious dignity.”