Smiley missed his mother’s touch and her kisses, which felt like the smooth, ruffling of feathers. She worked as a domestic worker what people where he lived in the location called a kitchen girl in the house of a wealthy white family in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. When his mother was still around, they used to go and get fish and chips at a Coloured fish and chip shop called Sea Flight. There was a picture of a hake next to the words of the name of the shop. His mother told him what the name of the fish was. He liked to look at that picture of the fish. He often walked past that shop now.
He no longer had enough money with him to go inside and buy the meal that he used to with his mother.
Captain who was known as the leader of the gang Smiley joined. He called it ‘a king’s meal’. All they got when they knocked at doors in the well-to-do suburb of Gelvan Park in Port Elizabeth was peanut butter or jam sometimes on stale bread but they ate it because it took the hunger pangs in their bellies away. Some people gave them sour, bruised apples that looked like it gone through a few rounds with Mike Tyson in the ring.
He lived near the sea but all he could do was splash in the waves at the shallow end with his mother watching him pensively from nearby. He watched the surfers enviously as they went out on their boards. He wanted to surf the waves too but he knew he was too little.
When he was seven years old, he was dumped unceremoniously at his grandmother’s house. His mother said they were going for a visit. He had not seen his grandmother for a long time. His mother told him she had come to the hospital when he was born.
“Bastard. Bastard.” The other children of the neighbourhood stood around him calling him names. Dancing and singing at the top of their voices Smiley stood in the middle of all that noise bravely blinking back tears and a knot caught at the back of his throat.
When he went home, he told his mother about what had happened. She did not say anything for a long time. They were in the small makeshift kitchen with the pot cooking pap on the black ash and embers of coals.
Flames were licking on the ground. She stared into space gravely before she answered. “You are different from other children. You will always be different from other children here in our community. You are special. Always remember that and I love you. You’re my guy.”
Smiley never knew his father. He never knew what he looked like or what his name was. He didn’t even have a photograph so he could have a picture of his father in his mind to see whether or not they looked like each other.
Smiley was afraid. For the first time in his life, he was without his mother’s protection and love to shield him from the brokenness and heartache in the poverty-stricken area where they lived. These guys were different from the ones who lived near his shack in Blikkiesdorp’s shantytown. For one they didn’t call him names.
He was tired of listening to his grandmother’s warnings of the gangs in the area who were recruiting young, vulnerable children to do their bidding. There were gang lords wandering the streets night and day.
They had tattoos inked on their arms and coins jingling in their pockets. Paper money brushed against their fingertips as they counted it out to buy cool drinks and fast food for their friends.
They gambled with dice at the side of the drive thru at Nando’s bothering the people who drove up who ordered expensive meals, burgers and chips, flame-grilled children doused liberally with hot sauce. The sweet, delicious smells that came out of that place made all of the boys’ mouths water and drool.
“Hey, you. Come here.” He seemed bigger than the rest of them. He looked as if he was the leader. The others even looked smaller than he did.
Smiley walked forward slowly.
“Did you make anything today?”
“No. Not really.” Smiley answered truthfully. “I didn’t make anything.”
“What’s your name?”
“Smiley.” Smiley said.
“My name’s Bennie. We’ll do the introductions with the other guys later on.”
“This guy is wise. Check this china. He isn’t a ‘moegoe’. Join us.
We’ll protect you.”
Smiley wiped his tears and snot away with his arm. His jersey had holes in. There was a huge gaping hole where his elbow was. When it rained, he got wet and cold. There was chill that ran through his whole body.
He was used to wearing his shorts now and walking barefoot on the streets of Port Elizabeth. His new hang out with his new friends was the Kwik Spar in Beetlestone Road.
He saw the people’s stares. It was hard to walk with his chin up. He could see how different he was from other children his age.
“Here. It’s gold. Have you ever tried it?”
Smiley shook his head. Some of the other boys were game for anything but Smiley liked to take his time and think through things; new ideas that were presented to him.
“It’s glue, man. It’s magic. It can make you fly. Are you a man or a mouse?” Bennie made a fist like Rocky Balboa. Smiley remembered watching that movie one Friday night with his grandmother in her house. He remembered her kindness and how she had spoilt him with a toffee apple after church one day.
“What does Smiley mean? Is that really your name?” Michael one of the younger ones asked him.
“That’s my name. My mother used to call me that before she left.”
“My mother also took the high road. She was good for nothing. I was always hungry. There was always nothing to eat in our house. It wasn’t even a house. It was just a tin roof with four walls. The bricks and plastic black bags that the rich use for garbage, rubbish kept out the rain. We slept under the kitchen table. We had to sleep like a school of fish in a tin of Lucky Star pilchards. When I woke up in the morning I was always stiff and sore.” Bennie said quietly.
“All we ever ate was Lucky Star pilchards if we were lucky.” one of the younger boys piped up
“What was your mother like, Smiley? My mother died when I was very young. They put me in a home.” Michael was full of questions. He never left Smiley alone these days. He was always hanging around.
“Not a home bru. It was the local children’s orphanage.”
“Well, are you or aren’t you?” Bennie leaned over and grasped Smiley’s hand.
“Take a hit. It’s heaven. It’s paradise. You won’t feel angry, lost, hungry or alone. Your little belly will feel as if it’s feasted on KFC or Chicken Licken. Take my word for it.”
Bennie’s voice was thick and slow. He swallowed the smoke, beads of sweat on his forehead. His hair was long and dark, limp and damp at his neck.
“Come on junior, give here, I’ll light it for you and show you how to inhale and don’t forget to hold the smoke in your mouth or else you won’t feel the high head on.”
Bennie laughed aloud, “Hold on tight. This is mos your first time.
‘Ouens’ we’ve got a first timer here. Die ou’s a glue virgin here.
Hold thumbs for him. When I wink just let go and all the pain that you feel here will go on top here.” Bennie pointed to his heart then his head. “Like magic it will disappear. It’s more beautiful than a daydream.”
“If you’re lucky maybe you’ll see you mother and you can ask her why she left you.”
Captain was in a bad mood. Somebody nearly ran him over with his car when he was pulling out of a parking space at the Kwik Spar.
Bennie left home because his father was an alcoholic and he decided just to take off because he didn’t like the ‘vibe’ at home anymore.
His mother was always crying in front of him. He had a younger sister and an older brother who was never at home.
Michael had met up with someone that belonged to Captain’s gang at his school. Moegamat and Muneeb were brothers who both had ran away from home. Sometimes they went back and reunited with their family but they always returned to the streets. There were seven hungry mouths to feed back home; seven hungry mites.
Captain’s past was a bit dodgy. He never spoke about his parents. If he did, it was with a sneer.
Smiley took another hit. He felt as if reality was slowly slipping away from him. When the buzz came it settled his jangled nerves. The edges of his pain was becoming denser, less intense, turning into a haze of black then red connect-me dots. He began to feel crazy beautiful. He was floating high above the clouds above the ‘lost boys’
who made their home on a patch of grassy field at the side of the off-ramp where cars were coming off the freeway but he couldn’t see them anymore.
The cars streaming headlights didn’t blind him. The lights had a haunting glow at night. He was tired of begging for small change. He couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread with that money. He was tired of the irate, irritated, annoyed faces leaning back into the leather-comfort of the expensive, posh cars that drove by that ignored him when he begged from window to window. Often when they saw him coming, they would quickly turn up their windows shutting him out; that hurt. The rejection felt like he was dealing with his mother’s moods all over again.
He felt the curve of the knife’s handle in his pocket. Bennie gave it to him for protection. “You don’t have to use it. But knowing it’s there gives you an advantage over any ou that tries to cross you or harass you.” Smiley had decided to make up his mind about Bennie and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bennie had his faults. He smoked, he swore, he pushed around the other ouens and said he was the boss, second in command when Captain wasn’t around. He did give orders sometime when Captain went off but he was okay. Smiley knew the others wouldn’t mess with him with Bennie around. He always got food. He had a nice place to sleep. It was warm and dry. He had a fleece blanket that they had got at the Catholic Church; St. Martin de Porres. They sometimes stood barefoot, their clothes threadbare in line to get a cup of soup and sandwiches on a Tuesday morning. Many different kinds of people would come. The ‘lost boys’ would hang around on the steps outside of the church.
“Maybe it’s time you move on to something else. A smoke?” Bennie said with a half-smile. “I’m taking you under my wing. You can be my protégé. That’s a pretty word, hey. I think you’re ready.”
Smiley couldn’t hold the smoke in his mouth. Bennie just laughed.
“Jislaaik, you’re still a baby.”
The ‘lost boys’ of Stanford Road, Port Elizabeth didn’t go to school.
They didn’t know what ‘special needs education’ was, ‘unconditional love’ or a mother’s touch; a father’s discipline.
The only lessons they learnt were hard ones; abandonment, rejection, hunger for love and attention, neglect, lessons of struggle where they were misrepresented and misunderstood.
He felt like a baby sucking his thumb. It was as if he had unknowingly pressed a button marked ‘let’s ride this pleasure rollercoaster’. It shot like whiplash through his veins and he shivered. He didn’t shiver from the cold but from this good, fuzzy feeling of warmth that was beginning to emanate from somewhere inside of him.
At last he had found the secret to the pursuit of happiness and all the loveliness in the world. It was in this bottle of glue. He drew circles in the dirt with his thumbnail. There was a guy in the parking lot that was waiting for someone to come out of the shop who gave him a vetkoek with mince and he hadn’t shared.
He was so hungry he just ate it up on the spot. Afterwards his hands were oily from the grease from the vetkoek. He wiped his hands off on the back of his already dirty and tattered shorts. Threads were coming out of the pocket on the left hand side. He hardly put anything in there anymore. If he did forget and put something in there it usually got lost.
He used to wear a bandana on his head on cold nights on the street before he joined up with Captain. His grandmother had given it to him and Smiley had treasured it but when Bennie had first seen him in it he had jokingly said, “Na, man that hood’s for sissies. You’re not a sissy boy are you? You’re not a mama’s boy?”
Smiley didn’t know what a sissy boy was. He didn’t dare and ask even.
He knew the other boys would probably laugh at him. The name didn’t sound very nice.
“Man that was so bad. We all wanted a piece of that vetkoek.” Bennie said later. “Captain was watching you. The thing is we all watch out for each other. But don’t worry about it, just don’t do it again.”’
Smiley thought he was being warned about something, he did not take it that seriously though but that was how life was like on the streets.
You did not just look out for yourself anymore. The ‘lost boys’ had become his family now. They had become his home away from home and they had done a lot for him.
They had accepted him. They had not thrown him away, rejected him and made fun of him. He never felt alone now. There was always someone around to shoot the breeze with, play with, gamble with, talk to when he felt sad, hungry or on the point of tears. There was always someone around who knew where to find something nice to eat. It was amazing sometimes what the rich and well to do would through away and what they regarded as old food, stale or what they wasted.
Sometimes the boys would go to the dump or the drive thru. When it rained, they all stuck together under a thick tarpaulin. They huddled together to keep warm, they cupped their hands to their mouths, breathed out warm mists of sour air. It soon felt stuffy under there but it kept away the fierce, howling wind that drove chills and shivers up and down their spines.
Living on the streets was a raw experience. It was not for the faint-hearted. You had to be brave and loyal to your gang. Lo and behold, they would seek revenge out on you if you betrayed them. You had to have your wits about you. You had to be born with street smarts. Smiley thought he was born with street smarts.
His eyes were red-rimmed and the pupils of his eyes were wet, dark, dilated; they stared at a blue nothing in the distance. At first, he felt as if he was choking but that feeling soon passed and gave way to a heady rush of warmth that bubbled to the surface like the fierce orange lava of a volcano. He sucked again, this time deeper, inhaled until it felt his lungs would burst and shivered like a fish. He closed his eyes. Colours flashed brilliantly in front of his eyes.
Reds, yellows, pale blues. They all came to him like the colours of a kaleidoscope or all the magnificent colours of a rainbow after the downpour of spitting rain.
He felt free and liberated. He did not have to explain himself to a grandmother that refused to tell him who his father was and where he came from. He usually pressed the issue further but his grandmother just rocked back and forth on her pink settee with a man’s handkerchief in her hand, dabbing at her dry eyes. She directly ignored him. He asked her repeatedly, did he have his father’s name; did he carry any of his father’s genes but her response was always the same. A grandmother that pretended his mother might come and visit him on his birthday or Christmas.
He could see the dump that was the ‘lost boys’ playground. Bennie’s face as he blew rings of smoke out of his mouth. He could see his mother’s loveliness. Her face had not aged. There were no lines or wrinkles around her eyes and her mouth.
All he could see was a tunnel vision of white light ahead of him and he reached out for it until it swept him away like a dream and folded him like the tender loving care of a mother’s love in its arms. He became one with the light. All fear left him. All the secrets that he kept hidden from view, sealed tight like the contents of a jam tin scattered away. He was invincible. The light bedazzled his senses before it made him fall unconscious to the ground.
Bennie cradled Smiley’s head in his hands, tears streaming down his face. “Captain, we can’t just leave him here. We must do something.
He’s not waking up.”
Captain tilted his head with a defiant smug air. “You know no one will stop even if we tell them what happened.”
Just then a beat down bakkie drove past them. A man with kind eyes looked out of his window. “What’s up chaps? What’s going on here? Need some help with your friend, Sonny?”
Captain turned his back and began to walk back to the ragged patch of field where the ‘lost boys’ made their home.
Bennie swallowed hard and tried to hold back his sobs. The man parked his bakkie on the side of the road, got out and came over to where Bennie and Smiley were.
“What happened? Is it drugs? Did something get out of control here? If you need my help I’ll take him to the hospital.”
“Will they help him there?” Bennie asked still sniffling.
“If not, they’ll have me to deal with.”
Bennie sat in silence next to the man with the kind eyes as he drove through the now deserted streets of Port Elizabeth to Livingston Hospital in Korsten. Night was falling. Smiley was still unconscious.
Any minute now, Bennie thought to himself, Smiley would wake up and go back to being his old self. He hadn’t though completely recovered from seeing Smiley slumped over like that his back leaning into a dry bush; drool at the corners of his mouth.
The man with the kind eyes carried Smiley’s almost comatose body into the hospital. Bennie followed closely behind. The night nurse on duty grimaced when she saw Bennie but the man with the kind eyes spoke to her firmly and quietly. Bennie couldn’t hear what he was saying. He just stayed close. The nurse drew them to a bed but told Bennie to stay put. He sniffed. She ignored him.
She closed the curtain around the bed. It swooshed on the ground.
Bennie was left staring at the ground at his feet. He knew his clothes were filthy. He didn’t like the bright white lights here. It reminded him of getting high. Here there were adults around who frown on that behaviour. He longed for a soft, clean towel, a hot bath, a toothbrush, scented soap. Bennie shifted his feet from side to side.
He could feel the gaze of the woman who took the incoming calls on him. He knew she was watching every move he made.
Smiley could feel his mother’s touch. He could feel her hand gently stroking his forehead, putting a pressure on it that was soft, comforting and familiar. He heard her call his name. He could sense her presence. Smiley closed his eyes. Where was the noise of cars rushing by? Homeless people, school children shouting to each other, laughing, men in blue overalls, people going to work or coming off a shift, the other ‘lost boys’ weak from hunger walking by his favourite spot where he liked to sit in the morning catching some sun, watching Bennie running through the empty spaces between the passing cars.
All he could hear now was silence. Was this what Bennie was talking about? Was this heaven? He could see things and hear things from memories from his childhood days walking with his mother in the location, watching her bend over, hand on her hip cooking pap and vegetables for them. Sometimes they had white Tastic rice but that was a luxury they could ill afford.
Images of his previous life when he still lived with his mother came to him like an offering in the collection plate on a Sunday morning in church. It seemed to him as if he was going on a long journey into his past. The pressure he had felt on his forehead soon moved to his heart. Smiley felt as if he was wearing a suit of armour; heavy and thick, the visor blinding him as well as shielding him from a life in translation, shielding him from a mother’s love in translation.
The tunnel vision of white light was blinding him now like the midday sun. He trembled, shivered, like the shake like a fish caught in the air by a fisherman before the life is snuffed out of him. His legs were skinny. Would his own mother recognise him now if she saw him in heaven or would she recognise him by his smile, his jolly, cheerful, belly laughter or the almond-shape of his golden-flecked, shining brown eyes?
There was no turning back now. It was done. Smiley heard his name again. He felt a manic panic rise up in his chest. He recognised that voice. It was one he had longed for a long time to hear again. He had hoped, wished and prayed for it. He turned around and ran into his mother’s waiting arms.
He could see that the end of the tunnel was in sight and the white light slowly faded away leaving him within a shell of darkness like a shroud, an invisible magician’s cloak that swallowed him whole. The drumming of his heart became a faint whisper.
The Fort: The Oliver Tambo University
The main reason for this proposal is that many, if not all, my teachers at the South End High School received their education at the aforementioned university (Fort Hare). It is also remarkable that all the leaders, if not most that ran the African countries under colonial rule received their training at this university. Circumstances beyond their control made it necessary for them to travel from all over Africa to the university. The university is situated in a small town in the Eastern Cape of Alice. In childhood, our footsteps are created in the future. Africa’s hands are my hands, but my hands are also the world’s.
This proximity gave it the peace and tranquillity which was so essential for a university centre. The name of the university is taken from a stalwart of the ANC who travelled the world to obtain support, political and financial, for the African National Congress. He not only met with world leaders but also built up a network which served a significant role in the military wing of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Words cannot express the significant role that Oliver Tambo played in not only the African National Congress, but also the African Renaissance. The Fort is like the Harvard of America, (producing world class leaders).
The African Renaissance will now give a ripple of hope to millions across Africa, those living in exile abroad, and those living in a kind of self-imposed exile. Growing up, I sought the company of introverts like myself. The beginner is always the pioneer. The graduates of the Fort were/are still pioneering. Pioneers, men and woman ahead of their time. At the Fort there has been a history of rewards and accomplishments during the apartheid years, as well as post-apartheid. There is no turning back at some point in our lives. You either accept your destiny, or you don’t. It is not a question anymore of what will become of us, but our ignorance.
My teachers, says Dr Ambrose Cato George (leader, activist, community leader, visionary, educationalist, Inspector of Schools, author), who were trained at the University of Fort Hare included the following. Professor Dennis Brutus, Mr Frank Landman, Mrs Peterson, Mr Lionel Adrian, Boet Simon, Clive Accom, Helen Baillie, Lizette Baillie, Dudley Nagan, Siva Moodley, Arthur Renze, Sidney Jeggels, Graham Adams, Dr Billet, Ephane King, and Sarah Phillips.It is pioneers that will elevate the have nots to triumph. To forgive and to forget the origins of the smoke and the mirrors of past, not to live in the past is paramount.
Other graduates included such luminaries such as President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Commandant Oliver Tambo, Brigadier Chris Hani, Dr Robert Mugabe (President of Zimbabwe), the President of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda (President of Zambia), Patrice Lumumba (President of Congo), Kwame Nkrumah (President of Ghana), Reverend Allan Hendrickse (President of the Labour Party). Black headmasters from all the top high schools in South Africa were trained there during apartheid. We must use technology, make advances, educate ourselves about artificial intelligence. Nowhere is journey’s end.
The university was established through the co-operation between various religious denominations. They were the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, the Presbyterian Church, the Anglican Church, and the Methodist Church. They consulted with one another, there were long discussions, debates, and educational discourses on the structure that the university would take. At this juncture it is necessary to point out that the university had originated from Adam’s Mission which was formed at Amanzimtoti in Natal. Follow that road, I say to all graduates, and it will lead you to all of your dreams, your goals. Passion.
There was a residence for each of the church groups.In charge of each residence was a warden of the church. The CU (Christian Union) was the main gathering hall for the students where all major functions and church services were held.Sports and Recreation played a major role in the lives of the students who attended the university. It was centred around rugby, soccer, cricket, and athletics. The sportsmen and sportswomen travelled all around the Eastern Cape to compete in the different areas like King Williams Town, Makhanda, Alice (those were the main areas). They also played netball and hockey. Aluta Continua!
It is interesting to note that although Rhodes University was very close to the Oliver Tambo University, there was very little contact between the two. With regard to the staff of the Fort, it consisted of Professors and Doctors from overseas. The principal at the time of writing was Professor Z.K. Matthews. Others included, Professors Webb, Galloway, and others.We are closing the doors on the past now, preparing for a reawakening in the education processes on the African continent. It is the beginning of a new world. The struggle continues, but victory is ours. It is this victory that is activating our faith, and inter-faith levels.
For without faith, there will be no progress, no perpetual growth, no resurrection of creativity, and imagination. The courses of study were a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Zoology, Botany, and Geology, and of course in the field of Humanities, such as, English, Afrikaans, African Languages, Biblical Studies, and Anthropology. The course for the Education diploma included History of Education, Psychology of Education, Method and Administration of Education. Also included was the methodology of the respective subject material. Position is not as important as your innermost kingdom.
The fact that Coloured and Black students could study together, learn each other’s culture, made it possible that the Fort Hare could become a centre of non-racialism. The first CANRAD. This aspect of the life at the Fort Hare very enriching for people like Henry Pearce. Henry was also a very good rugby player which made him an active member of Fort Hare’s rugby team. The females were active members of the hockey and netball teams, which made it possible for males and females to compete on a non-racial basis. However, the invaluable contribution that the Fort made to non-racialism came to an abrupt end. Hierarchies’-born.
With the passing of the Bantu Education Act of 1963. This also brought to an abrupt end of Coloured students receiving non-racial education. This made Henry Pearce bring an end to his ideas of a non-racial education for his entire family. He was very disappointed, and made immediate plans to leave the country. Henry applied for a passport to leave apartheid South Africa seek greener pastures in Australia. He however was not happy in Australia and came back to South Africa disillusioned, and having to send his children to Coloured (of mixed-race descent) schools. There is humanity in all of us. In our phoenix-bloodline. Rise!
However, his vision of education at the Fort Hare made it possible for him to become a successful subject advisor in the CAD (Coloured Affairs Department). Perceptions are adopted realities. The working-class experiment, the affirmative action experiment, social cohesion, mobilising the youth, the Renaissance. The working-class hero is something to be. There stands my mother, tarnished like seed, with the scent of wood on her painfully arthritic hands. There stands my father, a war veteran. There stands my slave ancestry, my Saint Helenian ancestry, my South African ancestry, my elders, and all the authority figures, units in my life.
And later Inspector of Schools where teachers were struggling with the transitioning period from apartheid to affirmative action. We will have two nations. The elder will serve the younger, the apprentice will surpass the master. Write down your future goals for this year, and encourage, encourage, whenever you can. I intend, as all pioneers, to leave a legacy. In my humble opinion, God’s mandate. People’s opinion about me does not matter. World leaders come under scrutiny, every decision that they make from their family, to their choice of life partner, to their world vision, holistic vision in other words. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You think as a graduate you have achieved much knowledge, and yet, when you enter the workplace you find yourself on the bottom rung of the ladder. I think of the kitchen table wisdom of my mother, up nights with my flask of coffee, studying into the early hours of the morning, cramming for an examination, writing up assignments. I had deadlines to meet as a student. The proudest moment comes when you realise that all that toil and sweat was worth it. We all have what I like to call ‘mannequin envy (we want what we cannot have). I’ve been there myself. I entered the teaching profession because of another maverick-educationalist.
Neville Alexander was born in Cradock, in the Eastern Cape. The exact date of his birth is unknown. He attended the Roman Catholic School where he obtained distinctions in all 7 of the subjects which he sat for his matric examination. He won a scholarship to attend the University of Cape Town to do a Bachelor of Arts(Humanities). His major subjects were English and German. When he obtained his degree which distinction in English and German, he won a scholarship to do his Honours, and wrote a Master’s thesis on a literary figure in German. Neville, with this remarkable distinction won the Humboldt scholarship.
Later obtaining his Ph.D. degree Magnum Cum Laude at a German university. While Neville was studying for his doctoral degree in Germany, he made contact with liberation movements. Fidel Castro (leader of the Communist Party, in Cuba. He travelled extensively and met with, and was received by world leaders. One was Ben Bella (left-wing leader in Algeria). On his return to South Africa, he took up a teaching post at theLivingstone High School in Cape Town.He taught me humility was the name of the game. It is your responsibility, graduates, pioneers, to make informed decisions about your life. To believe in God.
Give further of yourself. Never hesitate to be kind. Do not become complacent in your faith and understanding. Each of us have an ability. We were not meant to be just consumer, manufacturer, wholesaler, client, and producer. Keep a healthy frame of mind. Do not become negative at any given point, or, moment in time. Give courage to the broken, and to the broken-hearted. Stay out of politics, and the political world if you must, but feed the hungry, and clothe the poor. Address veterans. Speak to them. Everyone is a born storyteller. Everyone has a story to tell. So, be a miracle-worker. Be angelic. Be apostolic.
The two mentors that I had in my life as a student at the University of the Western Cape (also known as Bush University) was both Neville Alexander and a man who later became known as advocate, stalwart, comrade, and fellow intelligentsia Fikile Bam. Alexander and Bam met at the CPSU (Cape Peninsula Students Union). Perhaps one day, daughter, they will say of me, that I was a kind of Hemingway-figure. When we lose in love, we must never lose the preparation for the next love, whatever that might be. In the early hours of the morning, I think of restoration as a turning point. History’s vigour as a jewel in the dust.
The Teenager and Suicide
The escalation in the number of teenagers who have suicidal thoughts, attempt suicide and commit suicide has called for a reappraisal of this sad state of affairs. One of the saddest phenomena of the late eighties and nineties in America is the teenage “suicide cluster”. Groups which are acquainted with each other and who choose to commit suicide.
Often many reach stressful points in their school lives, underachieving or they become underachievers academically. They fail a standard like matric. There is a failure in getting admission to college, Technikon or university, being unable to get a job and their parents do not have the finances to see to their material and spiritual needs.
These young people come from affluent homes or less financially well of families, from homes with caring parents or form broken homes.
The majority of teenage suicides occur under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In some cases, young would-be suicides do not necessarily have all the symptoms of depression, but could instead be extremely angry, impulsive or reckless. In many cases parents, educators, and friends have no idea of how serious the suicidal intention is until the attempt has been made. The contagious nature of teenage suicide is fuelled by the mass media as people often mimic what they see on television.
Society has become more rootless in the last thirty years with family life becoming more fragile, and in many cases being non-existent. Teenagers have less and less support during the crisis period in their lives.
Recent studies indicate that between 44 to 66 percent of teenagers who attempt suicide come from broken homes. In many cases both parents are working and the teenager is alone at home most of the day.
In many families, there is the existence of severe conflict and there is a lack of communication with the teenager, in addition, the family may be in denial that problems exist in the family. In present day America as well as South Africa, there has been a decline of religious and ethical values. This leaves many teenagers with a spiritual and emotional emptiness. Further, in South Africa promiscuity, child abuse, paedophilia, violence, rape, HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted diseases, and the radio, television, internet and magazines have resulted in a decline in the existence of a personal value system and a value-based educational system. According to Freud, 80% of teenage suicides occur when a youngster is depressed, while the other 20% of teenagers’ attempts show impulse disorders, such as excessive anger and acting out. The latter group may threaten suicide in a manner to get their own way.
Most suicidal teenagers have suffered a major loss such as parental divorce, a death in the family, moving, breaking up with a girl (boy) friend, social humiliation or failure in school.
Lack of communication is often the essence of the teenage suicide event. Alarming research reports indicate that teenagers today spend an average of 14 minutes a week talking to their parents. While by the time the teenager matriculates he or she will have spent 15, 000 hours in front of the television.
The abuse of drugs and alcohol has also increased the teenage suicide rate. There is no doubt that alcohol and drugs contribute to the rapid increase in teenage suicide rate by lowering impulse control, increasing depression and impairing educational and social successes.
The pressures on our children, especially teenagers are tremendous. Are we only to pay heed when there are more teenage pregnancies, an increase in the incidence of HIV/Aids, greater stress and an inability to cope? Add to this the greater incidence of substance abuses such as alcohol and drug addiction, more suicide attempts, more successful suicides and the destruction of the fabric of the future for our children in a non-racial democratic South Africa.
The mental health of children and adults in any society is essential for its happiness and wellbeing. All South Africans must acquaint themselves with all aspects of depression so that they can play a role in fighting teenage suicide.
The forgotten world of female silence (around issues of mental cruelty and abandonment)
I think of victims of abuse. Have I been a victim of abuse all of this time, all of these twenty years? Father says I have to go to work now. Not for the first time, I was the last solar runaway hiding under the sun. I would drink cinnamon milk. Imagining it to be the elixir of winter’s sure footing’s split personalities. Here is the news that still frightens me to death. My father’s death. My mum’s death. I feel little and lost and empty without the awareness of their love. It is Saturday. It erodes me to a small death. Breaks into my grateful light. Into this cocoon that guides me, that enters me. It has been a long, and boring day. There are angels that surround me now. I have fallen in love. Imagining the birds singing opera. I think of my life without books, without writing. It would have been no life. I think of survivors of abuse. Victims of abuse. How am I one of them paid in full, secure in the knowledge that I too will face death head-on one day. I have started to wear my hair like Woolf. Think of the hours of silence that pass me by. Itis much too late to have friends now. Sit around a table, give thanks, and partake of a meal in a fancy restaurant. I think of my first love. He is gone. He is gone. Like the blue in the sky, and the eyes of the cloud people who move like salmon in the air. I no longer wish to be centred in the bloom of youth. I am no longer perfect. Can’t get the stink out of this human stain. I feel so animal. I feel this trauma so electric.
Surrounded by a band of mercy, and older women whom I have disappointed. My sister is in Berlin for Christmas this year. Thinks she of me, does she miss me, is she proud of me, or is this goodbye? This is a prayer, an innocent prayer. This is a holy prayer. I think of the men in my life. They have all moved on by now. I am just messenger now. Poet. He has taken my sister away from me into the world of the Germans. Does he love her? Has he fallen in love with her? The world takes away everyone from me that I love. Give her back to me, Berlin. I love her so. But it has all come to me too late. So, I turn to prayer, and ask for the gorgeous price of health. The one I love is gone. Sister, and daughter walking on Rilke’s cobblestones. All I have are her songs. Listening to her music collection is like an input into her heart. I bless her. Let her remain vigilant, and loved, always, always. I take the sword and swallow it. I take the pain. My sister is dazzling and profound and urgent in her all of her requests and invitations towards the opposite sex. She is independent and wealthy. I am an artist. I struggle. I live in poverty. There’s a fragility to my happiness, and a frailty to madness. I think of all forms of violence. Think of taking my life again. Cannot see another way out.
My sister’s rescue dog Zooey rests her head on my knee. My sister is a sexual being, and there is something divine about this. About having this energy. She is both sensuous and loving, ardent and adored, thoughtful showcase and talent when it comes to choosing her lovers. I have none. I am not a sexual being. I am a meteor, pale fire in my eyes, I am acting, I am also fake, and monstrous in my behaviour with the ones I love. I am reductive. I am oppressor. It is my sister that I oppress. I only wish to emancipate myself through her. Live vicariously through, but that is no life to live whatsoever. I want to love, but I have left it too late in my life. I want to have cherished friendships in my life, but I am like spring. Here, and then gone again. I have fears. I have doubts. I have insecurities. I have anxieties. I am a triple threat to any man.
All I want is a kiss. All I want is a kiss. But then I will be done for. I got fat, then I got old. I got unattractive, lost the weight, and then became attractive. But what do I do with all of this newfound attention, and pleasure? I have fought pleasure all my life. It is not of my own doing. It came from childhood. Awkward chapters of childhood. All I ever wanted was to be beautiful. I thought that that would be enough. All I ever wanted was to be a sexual creature, a wife, and mother, a loving spouse, and supportive partner. I have failed miserably, miserably, miserably at being a woman. It is just so sad. And then I think of the origins of the Khoi in the Eastern Cape’s Kat River Settlement. Religion and doctrine, church and indoctrination, baptism and not being baptised. Accepted by Christ, and not being accepted by Christ. They are my origins too. I am Khoi. I am Krotoa.
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