Siya Twani portrait

Written by Siya Twani

I am a Motivational Speaker who speaks in schools and businesses, on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion, Resilience and Mental toughness.

My name is Siya and I speak in schools and businesses across the country and internationally. Like Nelson Mandela I am a man who stuck my neck out like a giraffe and spoke up against the Apartheid regime. This resulted in me being arrested, tortured, and put in prison for four years. I have a lived experience of facing, the odds, and reinvented myself by defying the regime in letting my voice be heard and recognised as co-equal. The struggle for belonging has been my life long struggle. I went to prison because I wanted to create a South Africa and a world where all of us as human beings can experience the joy of belonging, not just some but ALL OF US TOGETHER.

Our children are dual heritage. My children have struggled with belonging and acceptance or not being accepted for who you are.  

My youngest son is Sipho. When he was about nine years old, Sipho and Megan were friends at primary school and one Friday after school Sipho went to play with Megan at her house. On collecting Sipho I noticed that he was covered in white powder, before I could enquire Megan said, ‘Look Siya I made Sipho white like me.’  I said, ‘That is so lovely Megan’, as she was just an innocent child, wanting a friend to look like her. All Megan’s dolls were white and so thought because all her world is white therefore Sipho as friend needed to be white. It was an innocent gesture and attempt of acceptance and inclusion. She wanted Sipho not to feel different.  

Now fast forward to when we moved from Essex to Edinburgh.  Now in Edinburgh one beautiful summer’s day,  I decided to take my three beautiful children to a park to play on the swings at a local park. As we entered through the gate, myself and my children were subjected to racial abuse, called monkeys and told to get out of her you are dirty, you brown people. They taunted my children. They went on to say, ’You are not welcome here’, and my children broke down in tears. I approached these ignorant white kids who were never exposed to a people of different colour or background. They all ran out of the park. Three of the older teens came back to the park to apologise. I then took that opportunity to educate these young people and expand their horizons. I asked them, can you imagine what it must feel like being spat at, called names, being bullied all because I was different? Can you imagine the power of your words, attitudes, and behaviours towards my children? I went to ask them. One day how would they feel if their own children were subjected to racial trauma and abuse.   They were stunned and all they did they kept apologising and their apology was accepted as I said to them. it takes a strong person to apologise for their mistakes. 

I wish I could say that was the last time that my three little children were subjected to racial trauma and abuse. That incident is stuck in their minds as they often reminisce about it and how big daddy protected then form those empty-headed idiots.

In writing this blog I do not want you anyone of you as readers the impression that either myself or my children had persecution complex. It was our daily bread” our daily experience of being a dual heritage family in predominantly white village just outside of Edinburgh, called Black Hall and by the very nature of the demographics was predominantly white. 

My daughter who was then 10 and my son who was then 8 were the only dual heritage children in the whole school. Again, the demon of racism that taunted me growing up in South Africa was now tormenting and terrorising my children and impacting on their mental health and wellbeing. I remember my daughter having cultural and racial identity crisis. One day she locked herself in the bathroom bleached herself because she wanted to be white like all the other kids in the school. She took the scissors and cut her hair off because it was not blond like her mums and the kids in the school. These two stories of my children’s lived experience and their struggle of belonging or not belonging is a real one to this very day. When people see my children, they don’t see white people first they say black children because they are not “pure white” like everybody else around them.

To this day my children live with this creative tension that, for white people they will never be white enough and for black people they will never be black enough. They are in no man’s land. I went to prison in South Africa so my children and my grandchildren could experience the joy of belonging and not have to go through what I went through because of racially divided South Africa.  Not so long ago in this country there were signs in the 60s saying, No blacks, no Irish, no gay, no Jews and no dogs.

It was Dr Martin Luther King in his famous speech ‘I have a dream’…….  who said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  The question I ask myself is …why should they be judged in the first place whether they are black, white gay or not gay, trans or not, short, or tall?

The incident I related above of those young people in the park. They did not realise the impact of their words, attitudes, behaviour and the racial trauma my children suffered as the result of their ignorance. Because really, racism is a child of ignorance.  They did not know how it would make my children feel for the rest of their lives. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ those words cut deep into the psyche of my children, and profoundly affected their mental health, wellbeing and sense of belonging.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

My passion is to educate, empower and expand young people’s horizons about Diversity & Inclusion That is why I speak in schools and delivery inclusion and diversity workshops and promoting mutual respect. Celebrating diversity and not seeing diversity as a threat but as a strength that unites all human beings. Because there’s only one Race …The human Race.  

In my culture we do not have the concept of stranger danger. Every is potential friend or a friend you haven’t met yet. The word for community in Zulu is Umphakathi meaning we are together on the inside. No one is excluded or marginalised, picked on, we all experience the sense of belonging to one another. 

In the stage play and movie HIGH SCHOOL Musical : After Gabriella and Troy successfully perform their song (“Breaking Free”), Ms. Darbus gives them the lead roles, making Sharpay and Ryan understudies. Both teams win their respective competitions, and the entire school gathers in the gym to celebrate (“We’re All In This Together”). Chad asks Taylor out, and Sharpay makes peace with Gabriella. We need to be curious, embrace, celebrate diversity and respect differences and not see differences as threat but as a strength. 

This is what drives me into schools because as Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which we can change the world”.

As a passionate, engaging educator I have moral obligation to educate, empower and enthuse young people to make this world a better place to live in.

Instead of putting flour on my face… let’s put flowers in each child’s life so they can thrive.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela