I may have a heritage which stretches from the mountains of Afghanistan and the south-east of Malaysia but the victor in me largely resonates with my African identity. These are the sentiments of Zaynura Jehan Dolley, whom I recently interviewed about her interesting ancestral background. Zaynura asserts that Africa is her home, a part of her identity, and a place where her heart resides. Read below.
How would you define yourself? What shapes your identity?
My name is Zaynura Jehan Dolley. I am 23 years of age, I reside in Durban and I am currently studying towards a Law Degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
I would define myself as being tolerant, iron-willed and ambitious. My identity being shaped by having cognisance of the behaviour and attitudes of other people and an objective view of justice and injustice. This helps me to determine who I do not want to be and what I will not tolerate.
How would you describe your heritage?
From the mountains of Afghanistan to the South East of Malaysia, my ancestors found their way to Africa as merchants and slaves – I would say my heritage is diverse and very mixed!
How is African-ness a part of your identity – and what are you most proud of as an African?
I think the essence of the African identity is the journey of triumph. Those that travelled here to seek a better life set out to make it thus – in Africa. And those who were forced here in servitude or slavery (as were the Indian and Malay) – have endeavoured to build lives better than what was ordained for them by their oppressors – in Africa. But most importantly, those who were historically enslaved and systematically disadvantaged at every turn – have triumphed over hundreds of years of injustice and persecution here in South Africa!
Therefore, yes, there is an African-ness in my identity and it comes from the very essence of overcoming hardship and attaining victory over adversity. It is striving to beat the odds and the journey of triumph.
What are you most concerned about as an African?
I am concerned that intolerance and deep-rooted hatred poisons the very earth we have sunk our roots into and draw nutrition from. I feel that history has shown us that far too often, the damage rendered to a people oppressed culminates in the then-oppressed becoming oppressor. We must, as the educated, as the visionary be ever aware of this cycle of abuse and ensure that in South Africa that cycle ends with us.
Is there a misconception about your culture, language and identity that you would like to see addressed?
Ultimately I feel like we all still do not interact and socialise as well as we should. For me, it is not so much about misconceptions but rather a word of encouragement to my fellow Indians – to my fellow Muslim – to embrace the diversity and brilliance of the cultures and differences around you. Revel in them and make friends outside of your little bubble – trust me, the bubble is small. We are the generation that will have to push for development of this country and this nation and we cannot do that if we don’t even know, let alone understand, the man or woman of a different nationality that stands beside us.