Zuma has become the 21st century Saartjie Baartman
I am a descendent of those who were dispossessed of their land; coerced into disposing of most of their prized livestock and then compelled to pay an onerous poll tax to the colonial administration.
Broke and risking lengthy jail sentences if they failed to pay the tax, they were forced to abandon farming and migrate to Durban and other urban centres where they were to feed the colonial economy's avaricious appetite for cheap black labour.
Like many others who made the trek down the coast to swell the ranks of the then-emerging black proletariat, my ancestors were made to strip naked in public and - like cattle - walk through a dipping tank filled with disinfectants before they could be allowed to live and work in the city. All in the name of "protecting" the city's inhabitants from the diseases allegedly borne by natives from the inland.
Even when the native happened to have been born in the city, like many of my father's generation, he still had to be subjected to the dastardly deed of having his genitals exposed in public for city officials to decide if they were healthy enough to work or had to be deported to some "homeland" in the yonder. And this was as late as the 1970s.
You don't believe me? I'll let the late Steve Biko, who spent a few years of his tragically short life in the Banana City, tell the story.
"You are made in some instances to stand naked in front of some doctors supposed to be running pus off you, because you may be bringing syphilis to the town, he tells you," Biko told a Judge Boshoff during the trial of a group of Black Consciousness leaders in May 1976.
"Now it is inhuman the way it is done. Three people are lined up in front of him, all naked, and he has just got to look at all of you. Now I must feel that I am being treated as an animal, and as you enter the room where this is done in Durban there is a big notice saying: Beware - Natives in a state of undress".
This practice of forcing "natives" to be in this "state of public undress" wasn't a mere aberration on the part of sadistic Durban city officials. It was common racist practice across the country.
Surely we have all seen the disturbing pictures taken secretly by the courageous photojournalist Bob Gosani in the 1950s of black prisoners at Hillbrow's Fort prison being forced to do the degrading "Tauza dance". To perform this compulsory "dance", prisoners had to be stark naked and expose their private parts to wardens to prove that they were not concealing any contraband.
That the Fort, or Number 4 - as the notorious prison was commonly known then - now forms part of the Constitution Hill precinct, the home of democratic South Africa's most important court, is testimony to the giant strides we have taken as a young nation towards healing our deep and painful wounds of the past.
This national reconciliation was not as a result of some inexplicable miracle. It took a lot of hard work, political maturity and magnanimity on the part of most South Africans.
It demanded of us that we be more sensitive to each other's history and regard our diversity as a point of strength rather than a source of racial division.
But recent events, especially the currently raging debate over Brett Murray's disgusting painting of President Jacob Zuma, demonstrate that we are rapidly losing sight of what has so far made our country - with all its fault lines - work.
I am all for freedom of expression, which includes the right to artistic creativity. But such a right should be exercised with utmost responsibility and respect for human dignity - especially given our country's history of racial humiliation and oppression.
What has been most disappointing for me about the debate is the refusal by Murray and his cheer- leaders to acknowledge that the painting, which portrays Zuma posing with genitals exposed, reopens old and painful wounds.
Flawed as Zuma is as the head of state, husband and father, no one deserves to be humiliated in that way. Especially not in a country with a long and shameful history of publicly putting its black males in "a state of undress".
As one outraged reader wrote on one of the websites this past week, it is difficult to look at that painting without concluding that Zuma is being turned into a 21st- century Saartjie Baartman.
Even with the best constitution in the world, we would not succeed in building a stable and economically successful home for all unless we all acknowledge where we come from and avoid actions and utterances that would make some believe that despite a new flag, they remain second-class citizens who can be stripped of their dignity at will in the land of their birth.