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African Renaissance

The way out of apartheid South Africa

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Miss Gilbey taught Speech and Drama. Every Friday afternoon as the car speeded down the highway en route to her studio cum house I would learn a poem about ducks or gypsies parrot fashion. As my mother or father said the words out loud to me, I would recite them back verbatim. I was six years old fashioning a posh, whitey English accent with clipped tones that did not win me any friends back at the school I went to and especially on the playing field during break. I was six years old. I had not begun to straighten my hair yet to look like the blonde, horsy looking with long teeth, fair or dark, golden-haired, freckled, hockey and tennis playing children who had names like Miranda who joined me when I started going for lessons. She drilled, ‘Speak with expression, expression, expression into me.’

The first thing I noticed is that they weren’t self-conscious like me.

They were brimming with confidence, made friends easily while I had to battle with bullies who mocked me by imitating my voice that was beginning to change at the predominantly coloured school that I went to. The first time I went to Miss Gilbey’s studio I went with my mother who was taking elocution lessons but she stopped soon after taking me. I sat there, in a corner on a bench, my back against a cool wall, felt in my pocket for the candy my mother had given me and started licking away at a red lolly that tasted like cherry making what my mother told me afterwards in the car were ghastly sucking noises that perturbed the dear old Miss Gilbey.

Every now and then I would catch her looking at me and I would smile at her. She never smiled back. Her eyes felt like laser beams when they connected with mine. I felt them keenly. Only later on the way home with my mother scolding me for bringing that sweet inside with me would I realise that I had been very irritating like only a child could be; completely oblivious to what the grownups around her were thinking without being told that she had done something wrong. Later on when I had moved onto Sharon Rother’s, a past pupil of Miss Gilbey who had done her licentiate, Speech and Drama studio in Walmer, which was held in a room adjacent to a church, Miss Gilbey also moved on.

She moved all the way to Montagu with her sister who suffered from bad bouts of asthma. The air there would be good for her, I reckoned. Two women living on their own for most of their adult life; when did they ever come into contact with men, I wondered? In the aisles of a supermarket when they shopped for groceries going down a long list of perishable items? Did a man ever call Miss Gilbey ‘a good girl’ or ‘you’re a beauty, sweetheart’, wink at her, put his arm around her waist and walk with her for awhile while asking her what her name was (her name was Marjorie and I couldn’t ever imagine even if I tried very hard now that any man, even a brazen man or a boy could call her by her first name) and where she lived and would she like to get a bite to eat.

Perhaps some hot tea and a steak and kidney pie with gravy in a restaurant at a hotel. The English men I had been taught by were gentlemen. They were quiet intellectuals, academics, teachers, soft spoken lecturers at universities and introverted and bookish.

What did the life of a spinster feel like? What did the life of an unmarried woman who did not have to cook for a husband, a small child or children, who never hovered and cooed over a crib of a pretty new-born baby? What did a woman over fifty who was past the age of flirting, the cunning moves of seduction do for fun? Did she attend church, bible study with other young women; serve tea at the end of the Sunday morning service with crumpets and sandwiches made with fish; pilchards and sardines or cheese and tomato or egg with dollops of mayonnaise or chicken, wilting lettuce and mayonnaise, cakes, petit fours, biscuits made with coconut and almonds all laid out on tables with white table cloths?

Was that the appropriate behaviour for a woman her age, a lady? Had there ever been a man in her life? In the time I imagined when she was young had she ever corresponded with a young man writing letters filled with lover’s nonsense that only made sense to them, not to the outside world. Did they write about their unfolding passion, their wonder at their innocent love, the madness of the war, the burning houses, flames licking attics, bedrooms, roofs, charred flesh, bodies burnt beyond recognition?

Did they write in code, draw entwined hearts made out of paper? Did she ever seal the letter with a wet, crimson kiss that peeled off her lips or did she ever put her feet up in the afternoon and watch the soaps as a middle-aged woman or quiz shows as a girl?

Did they even have a television now in South Africa? I knew Miss Gilbey didn’t do that because she gave Speech and Drama lessons every afternoon during the week. I was the only coloured child amongst whites. But I didn’t, not for a long time, see myself as being the only coloured child amongst whites. I played with them because I was a child and when you are child words like racism and prejudice do not ring incessantly inside your head like say in the head of a representative of the local government, the president, his cabinet or a community leader who was voted into power by stalwarts, comrades, communists and people who believed in Biko’s Black Consciousness.

Had she ever gone swimming with friends when she was as old as I was when I first started coming to see her? Had she ever clutched her mother’s hand frightened of the road outside her house filled with screaming cars? What were her parents like? How did she come to live in South Africa? Did she grow up during the war; when bombs rained down from the black skies in England, was she ever stuck with other people, families robbed of their men in bomb shelters? Was she a liberal? She obviously didn’t believe in the politics of the day because she had taken my mother and then me on. So, in her own quiet and independent way she was rebelling against the government.

She was making a political statement. At thirty-one I imagine the woman, the child, the girl and then her middle-aged. Didn’t she ever want to be a wife? Growing up I thought as a very young girl, a child, that everyone wanted to be a wife but at thirty-one and the divorce rate globally so high, the only people getting hitched are those blinded by the alluring volcano that is love. They are not conscious of the other person’s imminent flaws yet, how arguments can erupt from seemingly nowhere, the cancer of talk of divorce in the interim wild in the air while you and the other person in the relationship is waiting to make up. They are not conscious yet of the fall out of an illness that will later on strike the family or an intense, lingering depression that manifests and steeps itself into the bones of either the wife or the husband or the small child whose homework is overlooked over the breakfast at the kitchen table while the parents of that small child or children, who wants the attention of both of the adults his or her features resemble while they are at war with each other over some petty, childish thing.

A thing like who had to take the garbage out, who didn’t come forward and help to make the unmade beds, the smears of toothpaste in the bathroom’s basin or whose turn was to wash the dirty dishes in the sink and put it in the dishwasher. Miss Gilbey must have died already in Montagu; perhaps in her sleep, in her bedroom. Perhaps she is buried there now. Who visits her grave, puts fresh cut flowers on it, clears away the old ones, throws the brown water out and puts clean water in the pots or jars or bottles? Even in death she is a mystery to me; these two lonely sisters in a world of light of their own making; their contemporaries with double chins, sagging bosoms, grandchildren, wearing too much make-up, wearing hats to church that bloomed roses, smelling of perfume.

Miss Gilbey had a solid air about her when I first met her. As if she knew she belonged in the world. She always had a pot of tea on her desk that she poured with poise, a jug of milk, a pretty cup and saucer with patterns of flowers on; very English, very proper, very old-fashioned. She sipped her tea as we recited our poems out loud correcting our enunciation, willing us to speak fluently, with emphasis, willing us to reach for that gold star she would stick in our books that we children pasted our poetry and monologues from the books of Winnie-the-pooh in. If she was satisfied with how our vowels sounded, how we articulated the poet’s language, how invested we were in executing the lull of the text, showing the full range of emotions that was expected of us as a spirited ghost or a highwayman we would see a gold star shining off the page, blinking up at us.

In the room filled with a breeze that felt as cool as a humming fridge (we didn’t have air conditioners in those days) as my voice bounced off the walls of the studio, as I watched the backs of the white children’s heads, tufts of dark or golden hair escaping from ponytails, still in their school uniforms or sport kit sniggering.

There was nothing, nothing said of the forced removals that took place in 1964 in South End in what was once a diverse and cosmopolitan suburb filled with Indians, Malays, Muslims, blacks, whites and coloureds living together harmoniously; religion, awash with their culture at times of thanksgiving and holiness and their loyalty, their faith in their different Gods and to each other were their pillars of strength.

There was nothing, nothing said of the unrest that was brewing in South Africa, the daily disdain and underlying aggression in chars as they faced their employer’s, men and women; comrades being picked up by the Special Branch or plainclothes policemen or police spies, being detained after being questioned, brought before a court of law, imprisoned on Robben Island. There was no talk of a coloured man called Georgie Botha’s apparent suicide in this room where my voice rose and rose and rose higher and higher making an imprint, burning it, a hole in the head of Marjorie Gilbey. In the heads of those privileged whites who also came to the studio. I wanted to achieve what they had.

All those gold stars stuck in their books. I didn’t mind the silver ones but gold spelled something marvellous; something magical.

Something accomplished wonderfully; magnificently. I never got red stars. Seeing a red star gave me a start, a headache started throbbing, butterflies in the pit of my stomach started to flit as if I had failed a test at school, got all the sums wrong, spelled the words incorrectly. You only got a red star when you hadn’t learnt all the words to the poem, stammered and needed prompting from Miss Gilbey. There was no talk of the Rivonia Treason Trial, George Bezos, what was in the newspapers about it, the stories that were running internationally and a man called Mandela.

There was no talk of coloured men like Dennis Brutus and the poet Arthur Nortje who was born in Port Elizabeth, in South End which was now a suburb where white people lived comfortably, well off behind their high walls, their dogs and electric fences. Nortje later won a scholarship to study literature at Jesus College at Oxford. It was on Dennis Brutus’s recommendation that he got that scholarship. But I was only six and didn’t know anything besides school and my family. I was just a colored girl, innocent and wide-eyed, six years old with skinned knees from playing amongst the teachers’ cars, wearing North Stars when I came to Marjorie Gilbey’s Studio for Speech and Drama.

A child bullied by the older kids from other standards, tormented by them as they stalked me speaking in high pitched, squeaky voices making me cry. Mandela was just a ghost of a man. The essence of the man never showed the outward shame of humiliation from his persecutors; the Afrikaner wardens who spoke English poorly at the prison on the island. He never showed pain or suffering. His spirit was the spirit of a child, unfettered. The work of his soul continued to live in the outside world, outside of Robben Island where he was imprisoned, living in his supporters, garnering more and more praise internationally.

There was nothing, nothing of men being found hanged in their cell, tortured with burning cigarettes, told to strip naked so that they could be searched or a detainee slipping on a bar of soap.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

Thoughts From the Frontline

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Photo: Keenan Constance/Unsplash

“Hip/Hop, Trap. I would describe my music as different, unique, compared to what I hear in the music industry in South Africa. It is a different sound of genre based on hip hop. In my downtime I listen to artists like Mexikodro, Playboi Carti, Diego Money, Pyrex Whippa, Lil Gotit and Sahbabii. In my life my family has been and still is a major influence, I just want to see them happy and stress free. I want to be successful so that they can spend the rest of lives living comfortably. I chose music because I believe that it is something I’m good at. I wouldn’t call myself a musical genius, or say that I’m talented musically because I’m not but, I have taken the time to learn everything that I know today, I started as a rapper, but now I am a producer as well, a very good one if I should say, I mix and master vocals, well I try to. It is still something I am learning on a daily basis and I believe that one day if not soon, I will understand that aspect of music. The guys who I record with are so gifted at what they do, we really inspire each other to take it to the next level. I would be lying if I said that I inspire myself, well maybe I do, I don’t know, however what I do know is that we can go to the next level together because nowadays you rarely see a duo or a group of rappers in the South African music industry, there are 4 of us in our group including others who aren’t full time as yet, I think that makes the odds better for us to take it to the next level as opposed to being a solo” SUPREME ZEE, CEO OF Holidae Don’t Stop!

“What inspires me to take it to the next level is basically my daughter, Family and my everyday experiences growing up and living in Westbury losing friends and family to gang violence had a huge effect on me since a young age I’ve been through hell and back if I may describe in short and I’ve realized, to make it out you really need to dig deep. This is also one of the main reasons why I started writing music. I love Music, it is my passion that is mainly why I chose to make music, ever since a young age I’ve just been through the worst writing music and articulating every word I write is therapeutic. Manifesting and having faith in God has carried me through. Major influences in my life remains God, my baby girl, my family and obviously my Team Holidae Dont Stop! We always encourage one another to do our best we definitely do bring out the best in each other and I’d say the beats that supreme Zee creates brings out the best in me personally and it’s also one of the major influences in my music career it’s only elevated since the moment we started. In my down time I listen to All types of music mostly Gospel & HDS. I would describe my music as being one in a million very versatile, real and unusually different from the usual and it has an unorthodox flow and style to it so you can literally expect only the best” TheGR8ACE, CEO and co-founder of Holidae Dont Stop!

My inspiration comes from knowing that I have a God given talent and my friends (HDS) and family that motivates me day to day to do better. I chose music because as a hobby it is something I love doing which started out in high school where I had friends that used to rap over beats and I’d just stand within the circle and listen to their rhymes and it became to amuse me when I found out that there are people in my community creating their own music, whereas in 2019, I linked with the crew Holidae Dont Stop! and it has been a wonderful journey ever since! Learning and growing at the same time. My mother has played a role as one of my biggest inspirations including friends (HDS) have been a major Influence in my life, for they always pushed me to be a better me. Not giving up on me and providing not bad advice but love and positivity. I’ve been in difficult situation in the past and I am just trying to make a better standard of living for my family, my friends as well as my community (Westbury). In my down time I listen to various genres like Rock, Rnb, Hip/Hop, Rap, Emo Rap. I would describe our music as Western Plug for it derives from Hip-hop with an offbeat including 808s and guitar and piano samples that Supreme Zee (Producer) recreates and when hearing the beat, I can automatically put my heart on it.” Bando -recording Artist at Holidae Dont Stop!

 To conclude this, we are all from Johannesburg South Africa as one of our members spread across as far as Cape Town, temporarily. Our member who are not full time are – Leiph Camp (Splaash66) Stock broker, Razaak Benjamin (Glock) Salesman and Marion Reyners (Marion The Great) Facilitator. “Our music is Bold, Iconic and timeless” TheGr8ce. Our crew is based in Jozi (Johannesburg) although we do not have a manager as yet. Our follow up record will sound similar to the “Western Plug tape” that we have recently released, followed by 3 singles. Plug is a genre that derives itself from Hip-Hop and our next single will drop in 2 weeks. The link to our music is on all platforms and the Love and support would be much appreciated. We literally wont stop! –

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African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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