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African Renaissance

South African gang film Four Corners

Abigail George

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We are being erased into the background as if we are extras on a film set. We must begin to communicate the threads of the entire rape of a near wasted generation. Wasted by tik and marijuana. If they are not wise (where do they get the wisdom from), if they do not have the courage to pray and to change the circumstances that they are living in (if they were not taught those values) what will happen to the mulatto a century from now?

Coloured street gangs do believe in cultural unity. They call the gang a brotherhood. They call the brotherhood a family. Blood is thicker than water. These are dangerous life studies. There is a life science but little literature on what the promulgation of the Group Areas Act, the history of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa has had on stories, on investment in, on the self-discovery of the mulatto. He is not White. He is not Black. It is too late to develop positive Coloured youth because they are so far removed from the fabric that makes up the modern world, and that marks them with the psychological framework of the experiment of a pilgrim because in a way we are all pilgrims. We are all searching for something that will intoxicate us with life.

We want to see all living things, all animals with their own intuition and sensibility. Not crime or criminal tendencies. Not addictions.

Addictions to sex, pornography, drugs and alcoholism. The girls are sex machines bringing children into the world when they are hardly equipped to deal with family life or raising children with echoes of values and norms. Belief systems.

Not only do they exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but they also display a racial tendency towards Black youth and Black women. Black people in general. It is really destruction amongst these self-saboteurs at its most basic level. The grassroots level. The only people who will survive are the middle classes. The elite. The educated. If you fit into any one of those classes then you are home free in a sense. Home is a dirty secret but it makes the gangster saintly amongst his peers. Coloured youth are on a mission to destroy themselves, their families, the people that they love, admire, worship. They are even on a mission to kill, to maim to murder. This is no ghost story.

There have always been gangs. That is simply nothing new.

Heartbreaking stories of utter abuse at the hands of adults who in retrospect had to devote themselves to family life and their children but there have also been Coloured men and woman, great thinkers, leading intellectuals who are now fostering innovative theories about families who live in poverty. Theories about sexuality. Spiritual poverty.

In the end, at some point in our lives we all experienced racism. We were all on the receiving end of it or we gave it out. If you are an educated mulatto you have got it made in a sense. You can be philanthropic in your endeavours. You can help those who cannot help themselves. If we lived in a perfect world everybody would have the same opportunities, the same choices, challenges, obstacles facing them, decisions to be made no matter what the colour of their skin was, the same education (does this mean that everyone would be educated and brilliant. Intelligent and lucky.)

Opening up the Pandora’s Box of the drug addict and all you will come to witness is nothing but a skeleton fused with self-portraits of self-hatred, selfishness and ego wasting away. Looking nothing at all like their real age. Unfortunately, we live in a permissive society.

It is a society that gives us the go ahead or the permission if you will to go ahead and do anything with your life.

The world will never get sick of prettiness. Men will never get tired of it like they get tired of gender and class taking over the world or being lectured on it. Men never get tired of taking the inexperienced virgin to bed. That love-affair. I say this again. That there is an invisible press out there. An invisible propaganda. Visionaries who have and will always show us the right way. Entertainment has and will always show us the wrong way.

I do not understand the sexuality of young girls. How they promote themselves in the workplace. The relationships they have with older male figures, father figures. It is as if they draw up a sacred contract. The man has all the common sense. The girl dreams and meditates of her prince. In the end everything is outweighed, destroyed and the girl returns to her mother in the heartland of the city she found herself in months before. If there is a baby in the works, she will give birth to the baby and fall in love with the child to the extent that she will keep it, raise it. But does she have the oomph? Does she have the will and the drive to raise a child on her own or will she succumb to silence, to isolation and to rejection from her peers? Despair, hardship, loneliness?

She was not the wise one in the relationship but it will be months before she realises this. It was the man with all of his common sense who was the wise one and who knew how things in the end would naturally turn out. The mulatto girl has a disembodied frame but she will with an intensity raise her child. Her problems will become part of the child’s consciousness and something usually will be deformed.

Mannerisms will be abnormal as the child grows older if there is no father figure. Etiquette will be a castle in the sky. The boy will grow up to be a rough through no fault of his own. It once again depends on the mothering, on the family structure. If there is a close-knit family structure. A nuclear family or a blended family of half-brothers and half-sisters and a stepfamily perhaps the child will be saved. Perhaps.

After the uprising of the riots in the Northern Areas where shops were looted and badly damaged. When people lost their lives, family members, businesses nobody was discriminated against in the Coloured sub-economic areas. Was there a Third Force involved as people would like us to be inclined to be believed? Was the special branch involved? These are facts that ordinary people will never know. The Democratic Alliance has a foothold in the Eastern Cape now which is now one of the worst off provinces in South Africa. If you want to believe that violence and murder was the order of the day those days of the riots then violence and murder, looting was the order of the day. I see the territory on the fringe that is before me. The districts. The suburbs. The life and times of the elite who live behind their high walls, their electric fences, their security fences and dogs in White suburbia. It comes to me in heightened frequencies.

Violence is reality in post-apartheid South Africa but it is also surreal. It is also a hallucination in Technicolor.

Otherwise violence is an excellent metamorphosis when studied alongside individuals who committed themselves against fighting in the struggle against apartheid. I cannot give it all up to my imagination anymore. I must believe like Anne Frank that there is some good in people and some bad but that there is good in them also. There was a death, many deaths and bodies lying in the street. I cannot account for the names and the faces that have crossed over to the hereafter.

We cannot all be monks and nuns. Violence tends to disrupt the order in society, cause maladjusted behaviour, in the end what is its purpose, what meaning does it give life?

In this world, like I have said before we cannot all be monks and nuns but we can write. We can write poetry about the horrors of life, how terrifying it still is to live in a racist post-apartheid South Africa. If we write we can diminish and erase somewhat of the melody and the blankness of the ultra-violence of the minor earth and the major sky. We will never forget about burying the bodies of the men and women who lost their lives in the riots like we can never forget the struggle. The camps in Tanzania. Conversations and moods are spiritual and bipolar in a sense when people talk about old-fashioned days. We are haunted by those days. We want to relive them because for us there was some vitality at flying solo before marrying, before the school lessons and homework of children, the milk of human kindness and tenderness.

Now I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy finding the kingdom of God within himself, writing his letters to Ghandi, writing his confessions and finally finding peace within himself. I am also reminded of Hemingway, the writer driving ambulances during the war. River Phoenix, the actor stumbling out of a club in the early hours of the morning, blinded by alcohol, his veins pumped full of barbiturates. He later died of a drug overdose. F. Scot Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby drinking bourbon.

Virginia Woolf’s waves, Lily Briscoe, and Mrs Ramsay. You may ask yourself what does Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Venus and Serena Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Jean Rhys, Ford Maddox Ford have to do with gangs and gangsters. Ganglands and guns going off in the middle of the night. They make me forget. They make me forget about the children I will never have, that I have not picked up a racket in over ten summers.

They remind me that there is truth and beauty and in the final analysis that there will always be room for psychoanalysis in the world.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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African Renaissance

Letter to genius African poet Beaton Galafa

Abigail George

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Dear friend, in the lateness of the afternoon I would like to give you some books as a gift. I think of you in Malawi. Today, it was one of those summer days that seemed to go on forever. Somehow this realization makes me feel quite sad and empty. Sent out three sample chapters today. My first outing as a novelist. Oh, such a perfect day filled with good intentions. I think of xenophobia and poverty, the haves and the have nots, old age that is rooted in poverty, death in cities, the lethargy of particles and atoms and the spaces between them, and how this is not such a good time for me. It is hot weather. I try most of all not to love when I am writing, and to be loved in return. I feel overwhelmed.

 I think of Uzbekhistsni sheep in winter as the season advances upon us. I think of the letters I am leaving behind from the diary of a poet. It is important to keep notebooks. Daylight is fading fast outside. I am Virginia Woolf. I am Jean Rhys. I am Petya Dubarova. I am the twins Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. In my father’s house I exist in an age of innocence, and live with a quiet courage. In the centre of this wasteland is a fragmented summer filled with decay and sabotage. I think of Christ in the illusion and genius illumination of this world. Standing in this asphalt jungle, while I realise that I have no link to the outside world. I can see the similarities between this world and the universe. The familiar and the unseen going the distance. This was supposed to be a poem about Black Consciousness, the mysteries of my sorrows, constellations beyond the trees, and emptiness. That emotional rollercoaster ride. It will be hours until I sleep. What is prayer, and the search for hope in the middle of a starry night. I search for a common ground in my writing.

Forgiven, but not forgotten. There was a home and a family that belonged to you. You have revealed your true self to me and now I must do the same for you. Coming home from the sea, I make myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen after dropping off archival material at the South End Museum for the perusal of the curator and his secretary. Ice in my veins. Held captive by words and dead poets. Haunted by the genocide in Rwanda, capitalism, imperialism, Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, and Tanzania. The world is burning now. Soldiers are turning into dust. I am a robot. Drinking her coffee, barefoot in jeans with her hair tied back with a scarf that has orange flowers on. I am also a volcano lover, compatriot, and poet swimming in this large cup of tears that I drink from.

This state of despair and unhappiness is organic in nature. To live the winning way I have to write, to become conscietized in this global political climate. These brutal lectures are the harvest of Maya Angelou and Oprah’s friendship. Let this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between two poets. One from Malawi, and one from South Africa. For to question everything in life is a powerful meditation on this landscape of information, and to question nothing is like saying that poets are both the life, the living dynamics, and the death of what defeats modern society. We are Moses in the wilderness of funeral decay, and there is a kind of grassroots silence in that reckoning with the vivacious rapture of the world, and the human being’s physical body, and emotional, mental and verbal blank slate incomplete and stainless.

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African Renaissance

Why I write: The autobiography of a poet

Abigail George

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Why didn’t you love me mum like Paris, across the valley’s face, the blood-instinct of the poet’s existence, about diaries and the man who can’t be moved. Your skin was a working class experiment. This resurrection life is now in me. As you say. As you say. Impossible for the grave and lithium to keep me down. You never told me that you were ever, ever proud of me, of all of my academic qualifications, the fact that I turned out to be a poet, that I have written 10 books. You are the paper tiger empress. Worthy of that title, mother. I map out my life. The bite of Port Elizabeth, the human zoo of Mossel Bay, the volcano of Cape Town, the greeness of Swaziland, my slave ancestry of Humansdorp, winter in Johannesburg, the Northern Areas where I have lived my entire life as Bay poet. I think of all the areas of my life that have played major thematic roles in my writing life. I think of this goalless unplanned day. You have successfully breezed through life. I have not. I am middle-aged and I am still struggling with this. The lack of mother love, tenderness that can only come from a kind of custard apple nourishing home-cooking.

Tiredness and ill health, exhaustion and fatigue have ruled my life. You were the exact opposite, mother. You were tennis legs, conjured up prime rib amongst the men in this meat town. I was the consummate actress fading into the background. Fading from view. Every detail of my life, the noise, the distractions, the indifference to relationships, mental and physical health, compared to your enigmatic one. I was the prizewinning intellectual of the family. I lived my childhood and adolescence in an ice house. You were the florist, arranging flowers, my life for yours, and so, we lived vicariously through each other. I lived your dreams. You lived mine. I say the wrong things. You are right. Always right. I expect too much of people. It is only because of the high expectations you had for me mum. You were hypersexual, hypocritical, malicious, vindictive to me your flesh and blood daughter.

We share a gene pool. We share a bloodline. I have led a solitary life in your shadow, mum. A non-eventful life. You had two daughters. I would read dad’s textbooks on philosophy, theology, religion, art and literature. The way I am going to deal with the past is to pretend that I never existed in it, only received circumstance after circumstance after circumstance. I have been quiet, infinitely reserved, morose, in a predictable fashion. I tell myself this. I am happy being alone. I am done with your mental cruelty. I am done with dealing with issues of trauma, and not healing. Not receiving any kind of reward for it. I was only happy when I was the birthday girl, or the arrogant ballerina, seduced by my father’s inner sanctum.

Whenever he was writing up his research for his thesis, watching television without a beer, or, nursing a whisky tumbler in his hand, or in his study working at his desk, that was pretty much his inner sanctum. I adored him for that. For the perfect childhood he gave me. Mum did not choose me. Even as a child I watched myself carefully in her presence. Dad took me to church. Church gave me grace. Expounded the virtues, the nature of man, and the life of Christianity. Media and film school taught me about the panache of Spike Lee and addiction, and the Brahma Kumaris taught me about karma, the powers of positive thinking, and meditation. Whenever I worked at something I made progress with it. My writing is very much the private me. I am perpetually exhausted with the idea of being the poet of moving people who do not want to be moved by my growing bouts of ill health, loving people with exquisite vigour who refuse, refuse to love me unconditionally. Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, maternal, estranged, immediate and paternal family.

They are daft organisms crawling on the churning belly of the whale of this life that I have absolutely nothing in common with. Other families belong to nuclear families. I never did. I am trying to grasp the ceaseless evolution of this life, this poetic life, the writing life, the dark edge of my own life in void and in flux, the black holes and starry wonb of vivid and brilliant introspection, the clandestine assignment of my physical and mental reflection projecting and illuminating itself in what I create, or, respond to, reject, or, observe. And the argument always is, has been, why does everything in my life fill me to the armegeddon-brink of emptiness. Then I think of summer this year. I think of my sister visiting friends in Berlin over Christmas. Hot winds in faint light in Hemingway’s Africa. Discovering Alice James’ lesbianism at the end of her life while she lay dying of breast cancer. Salinger during the war meeting Hemingway. I think to myself who will take my mother’s place one day. Who will become the next father substitute in my life. The pouring rain is like champagne. Images of people soaking up the sun in the clouds. In the verses, there is more than just an accumulation of a lifetime gathering there. I think of Ezra Pound’s Alba, and his ‘petals on a wet-black bough’. The love of TSE’s life.

How I am the bride of nature through the shutters, how it is the supernatural that washes away my sins, I am the caretaker of conscious-reconciliation, the chief of negotiation, and chilled to the bone as the rain begins to spit down. Nervous energy like a slow war  in the air as I finish deciphering with primal instinct, this, my second novel. The Island of Petya Dubarova. I think to myself that she will undoubtedly have her fame, her glory; her breakthrough.

I am a two-armed woman trying to find a field where I can grow like faith, like potatoes, like a spreading leaf falling into a natural descent, and following the routes marked by paper ships. I am done with this village. The manuscript is done. The end came suddenly. Marked as always by fear, and anxiety. 

All I seem to feel is claustrophobic. So, now I am poet and novelist. Cobra King.

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African Renaissance

Yesterday Once More: Me, Anorexia Nervosa and Karen Carpenter

Abigail George

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There is no light at the end of the world only solemn-wounds and trees that haunt in the heavenly country where I live. Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. Reindeer of hurt planted on their tongue.

Soak this in sea or plateau. Landscape or context. Coming to poetry in the beginning was difficult for me. Words were like jam and had their own alter-ego. And then poetry loosened its soul against my own and went all-historic on me. It was poetry that took me to the sea. It was poetry that took me to the mountain. Covered me in shroud, veil, and ornamental tapestry. And sometimes in the evenings I watch the birds come home until the light of day becomes ecclesiastical.

Open the door and you will find a kingdom there. There are things that you need to know about me. I have a conversation inside my head about how some people should not be parents but they are. But they are. They fight in front of their children. They watch the news or inappropriate films. I look at my mother’s bent head over her work. I am doing this for her but she does not notice. Does not say anything. I look at her bird nose and her beak mouth and I have this urge to connect with her but she does not want to connect with me. I feel tribal towards her.

She’s an orphan in the world now. I dreamt about my grandfather last night or was it last week.

I think of the pale fire of the sea that resonates within me like thunder. Of course, I have always wanted music in my life. People are writing about modern loss now. Living in loops. I look at my mother’s bare neck. Her shoulder blades, and I think to myself that I came from that. I came from her intense psychologies. There’s the upward push of her fingers as she works. I would have put music on or the radio but she said that she works better in silence. She works barefoot like a girl, and I think of her pressing into my father’s back at night when they sleep together in the same bed, and I think of how some people should never have been parents and then.

Then I think of mine. I think of the silence in their bedroom and the last things they say to each other before putting out the light and putting their heads on the pillow. I wonder did my father always make my mother feel safe. I don’t know what that’s like. Believing in a man. Believing that he can give you the world. I think of the truth about loneliness. About how it’s all stardust, moonlight and roses. I think of the men who have been kind to my mother in her life because she was a beautiful woman and didn’t have to work hard for attention from kind or unkind men. The way that I have had to work hard for it my entire life, and I wonder if my mother has ever kissed my father’s neck like I kissed the last man that I was ever in love with.

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