The Meaning of Isivivana

The isiXhosa word ‘isivivana’, which may be written as ‘isivivane’ in isiZulu, means a cairn, a mound of stones or pebbles.

The first person to suggest this name for the building was Brenda Skelenge, a Khayelitsha resident who is currently the proprietor of Café Isivivana. Brenda’s translation was “a pile of wishes”.

Professor Zakes Mda explains: “You find these cairns a lot in the Eastern Cape as it was the tradition of the Khoikhoi there to have them at strategic sacred places. A cairn used to grow because when as travelers passed they added their own stones for good luck.”

The cairn had a religious significance for the Khoikhoi, and they were sited at crossroads. The Xhosa people adopted this practice without the same religious significance, but as with the Khoikhoi the adding of a stone was associated with asking for good fortune. In Sesotho the cairn is called ‘sefako’ and has the same meaning.

Prof Njabulo Ndebele has explained to us that Isivivana is associated with a journey, “with a crossroad or some outstanding place… where it is a good idea for each traveller to add their own stone… to bring them good luck.”

All of these ideas speak to the centre now known as Isivivana. It is a place that is the product of many people adding their own stones. These are stones of struggle and dreams. It marks a crossroads for organisations that have waged campaigns for social and economic justice for years as they set down roots for another generation of struggle. The centre also sits at a figurative crossroads for Khayelitsha as it fights to emerge from an apartheid past as a dormitory township beyond the city into a new present where a full civic life is asserted and achieved even in the face of continued exclusion. The centre is a place for all comers to build their own pile of wishes as they join movements, read in the library, enjoy good food, watch films, receive legal advice or meet with friends.

And here is Zakes Mda, officially opening the Isivivana Centre and giving his explanation of the meaning of Isivivana.