Upon landing at the cape, slaves were stripped of everything. Even their names. As property, they were re-named at their slave masters’ whim. For many, this was the calendar month in which they arrived.
This calendar holds the stories of the families of those slaves who were bound to the name of a calendar month. It begins in May in celebration of the day South Africa officially adopted our new constitution on the 8th of May 1996, and – finally – freed us all.
NOT A DAY SHOULD PASS WHEN
WE DON’T REMEMBER OUR PAST
My grandfather never talked about slaves. That was a very quiet subject – we never talked about that. What I know about slaves I learnt in school, but we never mentioned slaves in the house.
But I am proud of my surname. From what we were until now, I’ve excelled. If I’d stayed there, I wouldn’t be here today. I had to better myself, and I don’t want my children to be like me. I want them to be better.
“We shouldn’t be embarrassed about our heritage. It’s slaves that built the country. What they sold, we ate. We’ll never hear the true stories. We’ll never hear the full stories. We’ll only hear the stories that have been painted.”
I went to work because we were seven children and I was the oldest and I had to help my mother. So I had to start working to get the other siblings to school and get them educated. I educated my son and my daughter at college level, and we could actually lay a good foundation for them so that they can prosper.
I’m not concerned about what names they gave us under slavery. It was the hard way to start building South Africa. From now we can just build on the name and be proud of where we come from and where we’re going to as the Junies family.
“I don’t think enough has been done - when I was young, I didn’t know that we had some kind of history in slavery. And I started at the age of 13 to work, so slavery was part of my life.”
I want to find out more about the family history. I’m happy to be a Julie. I’m very proud to be a Julie. They are so far spread away out of each other now. It’s so hard to come together. We always call a family reunion and that is what we’re busy doing now, because they want us to come together in the new year as a family.
Because the children are big and they don’t know each other.
“I didn’t know that slaves had calendar month surnames. It makes me feel good because I’m one of them. And it makes me feel good to see there’s something being done.”
You must be family if your surname is August.
Somehow, we must be connected. It’s good to know that I’m also in there somewhere - I am an August, so I was part of that. My grandfather was fair-skinned and he had green eyes and straight hair, my grandmother was brown, she was dark, with smooth hair - they were actually a mixed couple.
“I am very proud of my surname. I’ve come a long way. My family has been here since the beginning. I’m part of the Cape.”
It doesn’t mean that today I’m still a slave. I think you, as a human being coming from that background, should try to make things better, to try to help.
Because you know exactly what the suffering was about.
“The name is strange, but I cannot be embarrassed because it comes from a slave origin. Because of slavery, we, as coloured, are here today.”
Just last week we had a funeral in our family. My eldest sister died. And I knew her, but I didn’t know her children. I became more curious, wanting to know what more is there about our history that we don’t know.
What I’ve learned is that the slaves were brought to Cape Town from what is now called the Waterfront. They used to get off at the docks. Also I learned that the reason why we have the different names like October, November and those names – it was the time when our forefathers was brought to Cape Town, and they were brought in that month.
“Our parents never told us about our origins. In the era I grew up, older people were very secretive about their past. You were the child and I’m the parent and you don’t ask any questions.”
The Novembers came from Madagascar way back in the 1800s. Pniël was part of a farm, Papiermolen, that was given to the slaves freed in 1834, but they were actually released in 1838. The original idea was for them to get their own piece of land and for a home to be built on it and also that a church must be built - and a school.
That’s why there’s a lot of emphasis in this town about education. It’s a way to get away from the slavery mentality.
“I don’t think enough has been done. I don’t think justice has been done. Too many things is being swept under the carpet. The real stories isn’t brought forward. I think people don’t want to be connected to slavery.”
A lot of the Decembers, Novembers, those families, a lot of them come from the slaves. But a lot of the children...
if we had slave origins, I’m not sure we’d know that history because it has not actually been recorded. And some of it has been misinformed. You’ll see that foreign people teach us about our own history, which does not make any sense to me.
- xxx December, grandson to Regina December
“Actually, I quite see it as an honour. It’s really an honour to me. I don’t see it as anything to be ashamed of. I think everyone should be a part of their heritage.”
I heard there were October, September, January and February in Pniël. August is also a calendar name. June, October, November - I’m not sure if there’s a December. You can talk your heart out, talk about where you come from. And in your years of suffering, it is great to talk your heart out, because you feel relief.
Because there was suffering in those years, there were many years of suffering.
“My grandmother and grandfather used to tell me how they suffered. Until now, I didn’t know that they were descendants of slaves.”
Your original surname was totally ignored because, after all, you were property. It depended on the month you arrived at the Cape. You came in groups on the boats – right, you’re March, January, February and so on.
Everything was hidden from you. We discovered that from my mother’s side, her history’s better recorded because they were Scottish. As black, you were treated as a non-entity. And I’m sorry about that, the history that wasn’t recorded.
The Februaries? They became better people; better than many people expected them to become. They didn’t just stay a slave, or subjected to some laws. I’m very proud of my surname because there’s a story to it; there’s a heritage to it; embarrassing those that ill-treated the slaves. Because above those circumstances they still rose.
“The history of slavery is about us. You mustn’t forget your roots – we tend to forget that too easily. Your roots make you who you are. I’m just a product of history. It’s what I make of myself: that is the difference. If you choose to lie down, then you stay down. But it’s your choice to get up.”
We got up - and so did the sons of my brothers. But not all people. I found myself on the factory floor. And I had to educate myself on the factory floor, went for training in the ministry, later went to university. My name is Leonard Abraham Maart. I was born in 1934. I am 81 years of age this year.
“If people knew more about slavery, people would of known their origins and how to move forward. If we knew where we come from and we saw other people arising from the ashes, then it would have made a big difference.”
What’s in a name? I was born with it and I’m sticking to it because my fathers and my forefathers had that name. This has really awakened something in me to find out something about my family history. My eldest brother passed on, my youngest brother passed on, my mother passed on, my father was first to pass on – I never knew him.
It’s only my sister who is 82 years old, and myself. I must find out where we come from.
“Mine is a story of hope. I treat slavery with disdain. All people are the same. I’ve learnt such a lot about mankind as a whole, that’s why I abhor slavery.”