I was born in 1993, meaning I am a 90s baby – a born-free, one of the best generations ever. I was born at Pholosong Hospital, in a township in Brakpan called Tsakane, right about the same time the late Chris Hani’s coffin was lowered into the ground. My uncle decided I would be named Christopher, after his late grandfather, Christopher Tshowa III, who died a soldier in the South African army in the mid-50s. And I would also be called Chris for short, in honour of Chris Hani, one of the greatest souls to ever grace this earth.

It wasn’t easy growing up in the streets of east Joburg, especially carrying the names of people who had passed on, icons in the community. My family reckoned their spirit would live on in me and I would go on to achieve great things in life. I was simply expected to make it work … but for a long time, I didn’t buy into any of that, no disrespect.

I was fond of the dead (may they rest in peace) but the way I saw it, the dead are dead. They lived a full life and did all they could in the time that they were given, and therefore they shouldn’t be bothered by those of us who are still living. They should be allowed to RIP after they have died. To me, expecting their spirits to live on was like trying to bring them back through other people. This wasn’t fair.

So I took it as a mild curse to be named after dead icons. I tried going by my first name but no one seemed to pay any mind to me. I switched to my third name, which essentially means the same thing as my first name, but people didn’t budge. They insisted on calling me by my middle name.

People came up with different variations of the name Chris, but it always ended with “Chris Hani” and getting thanked for “fighting in the war against oppression”. I would smile, nod my head and say, “It was a pleasure bhut’wam.”

The name problem wasn’t helped by the fact that my older sister, Mazet, encouraged me to read and write from an early age. We would play in our backyard and pretend we were in school – she taught me everything she knew. So I could read by the time I was barely three years old. Once people noticed I was a bit of a whizz kid they started on a whole new line of ‘Chris’ stories. They told me I was off to discover great things, more than Christopher Columbus ever did. Maybe I’d be the next heart surgeon – like Chris Barnard.

I learned to take the compliments, and moved on with my life. I was still a kid and I had a burning need for learning: my mind was soft and absorbent like a sponge and I exercised it and kept it fresh.


Tell us: Is there a story behind your name?