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African Renaissance

Asking for forgiveness, fixing pain and the language of blood

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There’s alchemy in daily prayer when you release that element of the weariness of the world. Humanity when you witness the profound harm that human beings can cause to others, their folk, their tribe and their people. Beautiful boy, who are you (you meant an awful to me at one time and then we had a bad falling out). The canvas was propped up like trees. Here books taste like the sea, sea light falls through the pages, it tastes as if I’m coming up for air, doing laps in a swimming pool princely blue.

It has that image of waiting in the wings, the silhouette of forgiveness, and a portrait of the selfish, hungry me, that half-living thing I worship. With books there’s the fastening of the mother tongue, an endless stream of consciousness fascination and catapulted wonder framework, freedom of imagination in the method-actor’s abandoning all rules of engagement on the stage. Books honour tradition. They say, ‘Here is the exit route you have been following all of your life before anything wounds you any further.’ Do men also have to struggle with equality, is there a nausea to solidarity?

Putting on my ‘information science’ hat: I love Hemingway. What writer out there doesn’t? What tortured poet doesn’t? I’ve been fascinated with his life and his women, his circle of friends, In Love and War and that he used to be a journalist. I do like American writers but not as much as like books written by people who write about themselves. My favourite book that I go to all the time is ‘A Moveable Feast’. I ration it. It’s a short book so I know it is not going to take me a long time to read it. I know what it meant to be homesick, hungry, poor, starving artist that only known survival kit was ‘family’ because I’ve lived my whole twenties like that. His close-knit circle of friends and his wife who had a baby on the way.

He would sit in a French cafe and eat onion soup with big chunks of bread and drink coffee and think and think, watch the world go by, observe everything around him. His life was simple. He was a very complex, complicated man and so were his stories. He lived it. He wrote it. Some of his stories were exquisite masterpieces that were very simply written and he became a legend. His writing was a brightening force in the world. (Why do so many writers like drinking coffee? I love drinking coffee because it makes me think.)

Let it just wither away: (Whom do you love, whose writing do you keep on going back too religiously? Don’t think about copying them, their style is their style and they have their own technique. Copy them in secret. Take words out that stand out for you. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about a lot of imaginative things. He has inspired a lot of my newer work. I would never dream of copying him because he was truly a master at what he did but I’ve begun to look at a bigger picture and all the details that God is included in. Rilke, he never lectured on his opinion on religion or God but that is not something that I want to do. When people inspire you, they want to hear ‘the outspoken you’, ‘your voice’.) All my teachers and mentors have helped me along this far. All my English teachers especially. But you must if you can speak in other languages write in your mother tongue because we don’t have enough mother tongue languages in our side of the world.

Only Moses in the Wilderness: So, all I see is young artists and they ask me how they can publish their work, how they can become better writers? It has nothing to do with becoming better at it. They are already there. You have to be committed to your craft. You have to take vows. There’s a sacred contract between a writer and a book. Some of us become so wounded in the process of rejection (we see it as

abandonment) that we never go back to what we’ve been called to do in the first place. We forget we are poets. We are writers. We are struggling iconoclasts. We are all part of the iconoclastic-family. We are futurists. We are sculptors. We’re already there. We just needed the elegant mathematics to help us along. Sometimes we neglect ‘the gift’. There’s a kind of alchemy in your head when you begin to write.

It has its own machinery and all it asks of us is this? Write anything. It might not be perfectly edited. Just don’t censor yourself. You need grit. It is going to take you far wanderer like Moses in the wilderness.

I was born into the wild of this country. A wilderness of steel wasteland; sky and street shadow me like the white sun, yellow moon, star Hiroshima, moon Nagasaki people, thumbprints trapped on pages of long overdue library books. There are incidents that cannot be accounted for and the world is still, even when coming home from the sea. Sand like diamonds in my shoes and my hair. There’s already a set rhythm, a resurrection of a child to a woman; a drowning woman in half-life, a wild flailing thing. Bloodlines visible from the neck down in peacock-blue circles, which slip beneath the surface, like threads no one can see. There was another woman in the house, my doppelganger. Grief burned her in a rush of women-speak. So, as cat wrestles with bird, a mess of feathers everywhere and as red dots appear, I feel light-headed like I could disappear into thin air, with the mercy of flight because you, the sane me is no longer here.

So, what if I know these playing fields like the back of my hand; these frontiers and borders of my own childhood making. I wish you were here daddy. Darkness comes to me even when I am lying in a hospital bed but I’m not bitter just tired. I’m past that stage. When that wave comes there’s a thrill. They have a name for it. They’re calling it clinical depression. I am the one who has to live with it.

I am ‘the experiment’, the case study under observation who cannot sleep in the dark. There’s a mirror above the sink in my room and bars at the window. I don’t think ‘they’ the establishment wants us to think that we’re prisoners though. They want us to be safe, to feel as if we are well looked after. My mother can’t even look at me when she comes to visit with my dad.

They make excuses for the others, the rest of the family, the cousins I never see anyway, the aunts and uncles that seemed to have vanished into the thin blue air, my brother and my sister. They harp on that they’re tired, they’re studying toward their examinations and then (it took me years) before I realised, they were on their own emotional journey and I was on mine. And if three different individual’s journeys weren’t destined to meet then I had to make peace with that.

But somehow, they forgot that I bleed like they do. I’m human. Doesn’t everyone bleed? Everything tastes metallic here even the texture of the sandwiches we get served at tea and before we go to bed. The Milo makes me gag but I drink it anyway. It’s warm and milky. It fills me up. There’s a routine here like the military. I have grown accustomed to the nurses outfitted in their navy. They move like ghosts.

But the thing is the in-patients move around the building and the rooms in exactly the same way. Here in the hospital reality is blurred into a mix of auditory and visual hallucinatory images and sometimes there’s something schizophrenic about mealtimes, the scrambled eggs, fish fingers on your plate, the voices coming from the next bed or room during visiting hours. Yet it gives me a sense of comfort to know I am surrounded by the nurse’s physical health, their emotional wellbeing that I am certain they take for granted for, with their soothing choirgirl-choirboy voices, neat little haircuts and flashy, toothy ad-perfect and mint-fresh grins. You get to do a lot of imagining and resting when you’re four to a room in high care. You have all the time in the world to sketch in compositions, write notes to your self, have whole conversations with your self about the girl who left in the middle of the night with an ambulance. She wore black all the time, even black nail polish and told you to watch out for her, that she was a Goth and could invoke a higher power.

Then there was the woman who woke you up in the middle of the night and told you that she was the reincarnation of Jesus. She wanted to read Scriptures to you, quote it at you. But it was the middle of the night and you weren’t resting anymore and you didn’t want to imagine the end of the world at midnight, so you told her she could tell you in the morning what the future was going to be like. You were sleepy, your head like wool, just about to fall asleep so you told her before you turned around to go back to bed. You weren’t being brave just nonplussed. There were days when courage failed me and when I had no voice to speak of or opinion. There were just the chemicals interacting in my bloodstream nourishing me, feeding, overwhelming hospitalized me. All my stamina was leaking out of me and I was left apathetic. I didn’t want to eat with the other people. It was a pretty room with cheerful curtains at the window, wooden tables and chairs.

It was supposed to feel homey.

But I found sanctuary in my bed, the white linen with the word ‘hospital’ written in blue, bold letters with thread, with me feeling blue as well but not so bold as all that. I could feel the sky as I walked outside. It was a sensation that I thought an addict would probably feel. I remember my flight from Johannesburg as if it was yesterday and the impulse of the recollection of the powerful flow and energy of the haze that came with it. I remembered feeling that all sense had left me and all I was left with was intuition. This was wrong and that was right. Red signaled danger to me as if something not of this world, alien and subversive was trying to contact me.

There weren’t voices in my head but everything was heightened. My insomnia and confusion and when and if I was confused the world around me was a television world.

And there I was the camera, seeing, viewing everything around me as if it was a kaleidoscope or a foreign film with subtitles in a language I couldn’t understand. Noise was louder. Traffic was a line of cars blocking my way through to get back home to my parents. All I wanted was the two of them looking at me with pride and love, loving me in the state I was in and addressing it. I knew by instinct that they would know what to do. I wanted peace. I wanted quiet. I told the cab driver to turn his radio down and I refused to pay him. I said that I had no money. But he was determined in his own way. He said that I had to pay him. So, I told him to wait and knocked on my front door.

Everyone was still sleeping. No one knew I had come home. No one knew that anything was wrong yet. I still had the ghost of a blue shirt and cigarettes and the language of first love inside my heart, parading around my head as if I had given it permission to be there.

Of course, when they took one hard and long look at me they knew something was wrong. Was it drugs? No, it wasn’t drugs. I had to say that with commitment. My mother gave me money to pay for the cab. In the days that followed I wrote on walls (my own brand of graffiti), I drew pictures in my own blood. I pasted broken glass on cardboard and called it ‘art’, flipped out when I was confronted and colored as if I was in school for beginners again, calling the faces in a rainbow of watercolors ‘my angels’. I would take a knife when everyone in the house had gone to bed, the one with the sharpest edge in the kitchen drawer and just to take ‘the heat off of things’ I would ‘cut’ myself (though not very deep). Just enough to wound my spirit, to remind myself I was alive, part of the living, a human being. My parents were nice about it in a sane way. They would tell me how sick I was making myself.

I had to stop doing that (they didn’t like the pictures I was drawing), that I was still their child, their daughter and that they loved me. I wished they had said that over and over again. I wish I could remember them saying that they loved me over and over again but my mother began to see past the things that I was doing and on the whole my father ignored me. He had his own depression and his own questions. For my mother it was obvious that all the turn of events in the household since I returned from Johannesburg was psychological in origin. So the role she had played in my father’s life since they were married was one she had to repeat with me. I don’t know who brought up the discussion of ‘going to see the psychiatrist’ first. I can’t remember very well how I got there only that I was in a hospital.

There was a passage with lots of white doors and names of doctors on them.

Receptionists sat with ledgers in front of them writing down the name of the next appointment, soon this scrawny, lovely face though one with her hair bobbing around her face would write down my name and the date for my next appointment. Soon I came to one of those doors and it was my mother who opened the door. I can’t remember if the door was already open but I do know this. She was the one who was holding my hand, leading me in, into my future and not my father. It has taken me over a decade to confess this and no one thing, unfortunate event, a death in the family has led up to it. She’s gone, gone, gone, a lot of people who knew the private and the public persona of me could have said. I didn’t listen to anyone’s negativity but my own. People stopped talking to me. It was then that I decided on the doppelganger, the two me’s, the blue, depressed me with the sorrowful face and the intense writer of ‘into the black divide’ poetry.

Then there was the other me, the manic interloper intertwined with that most intense part of me together like yin and yang. The one couldn’t exist without the other. I was all of nineteen with youth being ‘the grass is always greener’ side on the one hand and on the other side darkness was always visible. And at some point food in all of this, the ‘wasted decade’, all that time I had lost became my friend, the best friend with the sweet face I never had. Food would smile at me all the time, love me when I was up or down, reward me when I was anxious or raging, furious at myself most of all because all I had to do was to take a pill. There was one for sleeping, one to stabilize the mood and then there was one for the depression. Other people’s lot in life was hell and compared to theirs mine was a corner of paradise. Before I became ill, diagnosed and really started to suffer I liked eating cake and then I started loving it up too much.

Stuffing the cream and the butter icing in my mouth and licking my lips. Broccoli was boring and vegetables too nutritious. I slowly started to hate the mirror, that most perfect looking glass. If the eyes are the windows to the soul I soon felt that I could never meet that gaze that was once so fiercely independent of other people around her again. I had failed so many people, my grandmother, my mother and my sister, modern society. I had wounded my self with serious intent.

Lesser, although I don’t like to think of any person in this human race as being lesser, mortals have been punished for that. I still do not like to think of what women my age are doing. The wild, single life or the quiet home life of newlywed bliss.

Those who are of the marrying kind and who celebrate their birthdays with their friends eating restaurant suppers in seafood restaurants. I am not that kind of woman. I left that power-driven, power-hungry world behind me. It didn’t embrace me anyway. I know what other people think of me and the way I live in. It doesn’t fit in with society’s norms and values. I do not value the material things of this life.

I sense more the spiritual basis and home of things. I hold that dear.

I hold onto it for life. It moves me in this golden aftermath, graces the internal, what I feel is most pure. It is what I hope to glide on from this world to the one in the hereafter.

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

The Cemetery Of The Mind

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This is me. The voices are inside my head. Calling me. Speaking in ancient tongues. They talk and talk and talk. The damage is done. The damage is done. I wanted a child while I was still young. They think of science in masculine terms. The humanities and creative writing in feminine terms. There’s a gap for you. There’s an excursion into the remembering mind. The shaking woman’s interesting double life. I think of the anatomy of my loneliness. How everything in life is a mystery. I am waiting for sleep to take control of my aching limbs, my physical form. I invest the past into insomnia, for no fight is worth it. What are we fighting for anyway? He’s not here, they’re not here. No one can hurt me now. Marilyn, the hunter. Diana, the hunted. I want to live before planting love. Your fingers feel like ice slipping to the bones of me. They thread my bones to my being. Give hope to my flesh. Now I just want to live, but there are days when I am tired of wanting to live. The washing flutters in the breeze, men and women have been kind to me, and I have a lust for the gulf between us, how I’ve imagined you my entire life. Country of Adam’s rib, country of blood, stone and wine. Her teeth bite into my pose. There’s my unbearable sadness. Watching you satisfies me. I go all cold sometimes. The tiredness, the energy. In a perfect world you would have been free. You would have set me free. Your womb fashioned me. So, I write for the passionate outsider. The woman was displaced. The female dispossessed who lives from one day to the next in psychological extremes. I am that woman displaced like Jean Rhys. I am the dispossessed female. And the woman that I love, whose womb fashioned me is my mother’s.

I think of all the time we have wasted sibling. All the love that is gone. My loneliness grows like plant sap. Like water in wild places. All the fight has left me as I chase the sea. I wake, I chase the sea. Rabbit is gone. Don’t tell me about your secrets. Don’t tell me about your love, sibling. Leave me like you have always left me. Leave me standing here by the bright lights of this city by the sea. I always wanted your love. You were always high on life. The extrovert with friends. You erased me from your life so effortlessly. From your kingdom. I think we have said it all. The love is gone. Gone from your world. Gone from my life. They say I have a death wish. I’m hungry for it. The ghost of my spirit is hungry for it. It is cold here. Winter is coming on strong on this radar. This illusion sticks around like the Seine. I wish I was a ghost dropping off this radar. I feel sick. You make me sick. I lost the proof. I think of all that I have sacrificed. Think of myself as a crime and a victim. Sibling, you’ve found love. We’re passed the object of forgiveness. Nothing I can do about it. You’re the daughter of the Czech Republic. Let me take you to the low of the city. I am wearing my glasses. Keeping my attitude. I think of your German boyfriend with his artistic fingers, sensitive face. How again someone else replaces me in your life. Bipolar takes all. Bipolar thinks that love is evil, that love means war. My mother never brought me sanitary napkins in the hospital. Never brought me clothing to wear. I walked around like a zombie. When she came, she spoke to the other patients there at the hospital. Looking for a friend in a stranger. She left me alone. Standing there. I was her mirror image.So bulimia and anorexia nervosa found me.

She holds all the power, all the cards. The woman who ate everything. I never had your heart. This takes some time to explain. Let me understand you. Let me understand this. Out of reach, you’re always keeping busy. I’ll always be the same. When I was in love, I was in love with my own shadow. My heart’s bruised. I think all the time of how close to death I was. The renal unit at the Livingstone Hospital. My life is the diary of a volunteer. On the imagined wings of a bird in flight, I come to you. This message comes to you. This love letter comes to you, my mother. Theories have long since disappeared. The image of the soul. The twin image of our soul has vanished. Nothing gets better here on this side of the world. I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore. It is only my pride, your ego that lends itself to a new philosophy of the advanced world. I’d like to leave the world random. But I no longer want to examine the past, aftermath, aftershock, shielding the echo of the shadow, my bruised shadow. We have nothing to say to each other anymore. Only the visions remain. The words are all gone now. You grow out of it. No, not bipolar. The vision you had of yourself in high school. Where you would be five years down the line, a decade. It is just me giving up my consciousness for another. You grow out of the authentic. It is coming back to me. The collect calls I made home from the hospital. Abandoned there. Younger, I was arrogant. Life was so easy, comfortable, and happy. Not anymore. I wish I could say I have achieved my personal goals, fulfilled all my wildest dreams. What am I holding onto? The self that is a soulless misanthrope. The universe is amplified. Birdsong in the air. The leaf falls. It is just gravity.

And because of the violence against me, I have zero tolerance for violence. And because of the mental cruelty against me, I have zero tolerance for mental cruelty. They have defeated me. The family, the cousins, the aunts and the uncles. I am done looking for love in a home that puts me up against the wall. I am lethargic now. Not wanting to talk. Not wanting to talk to anyone. I am on my own now. Alone. All I have is loneliness. That’s the kind I am. The voices say, Petya Dubarova, to stop talking so much and to become a good listener, an effective listener, an efficient communicator. Revealing the purpose and value of others as God sees fit, as I connect with the universe. To transcend the negative, the voice tells me Petya, I also have to transcend the pain of the universe, the loneliness of the universe. I have to remember birth, rebirth, saturation. I have to move on from one phase of personal growth to the next level. From maturity and the confidence of maturity, to death. But it is difficult and tiring to be forgiving of myself, to be grounded in self-love and the world around me dearly, or, for life. And then there’s this nourishing sense of spirituality that strengthens me daily. I am a stranger waiting for the train worshiping sharp objects eating eggs, chicken and soup. I live in a dark house born of green figs in September on a Sunday afternoon. A dark house born of a writer in a cage sheltered and protected by the light from all the activities of harm. While watching the first snow of a June winter, with the falling snow the road inside finds bipolar me again. High on life. Low on life. Numb on life. Dead to life. And then I realise I am never going to see uncle Rabbit again.

Ever. He died on a Thursday evening of a heart attack in a hospital room while I exhaled a pose. While I overcame my evolution at home typing out my third novel. I have the fear of love, of falling in love on my side, of sexual intimacy, of being made to feel vulnerable in front of another person. I am crashing. I am crashing into the waves chasing the sea of Petya Dubarova, and there will always be those who lecture me. I think the world, and my siblings have made me toxic. And I remember the day my sibling’s girlfriend showed me her tattoo. He must have a thing for a girl with tattoos. I don’t know. We aren’t close anymore. What happened in my own father’s life is happening now in my own. The estrangement from the middle earth of the inner family, of the immediate family. I make cinnamon toast or eat peanut butter straight from the jar with a butter knife, and I try not to think of writing confessional poetry, or, the fact that I’m not loved by siblings, or, cousin, or, aunt, or, uncle, or, distant relative. I show them my rewards like arrows. Only I see the columns of light in my arrows. Yes, I’m done. I’m done. I’m going nowhere. I’m going everywhere. Jagged little pill in my mouth. Rush of water down my elated throat. I really wanted to see her tattoo. Why, oh, why am I so surprised that she gladly showed it to me. Bipolar has made me frightened of everything. Of landing on the ash heap like other people’s sorrows. I think of my own sorrows. I’m left thinking of how important it is to keep correspondence, journals and copies of your work. I think of my own father and mother living out this kind of perfect life.

My mother had a spacious house, they had two cars, and she had to raise three children. Two daughters and a son. She didn’t teach me to have that. To invest my life in children. To invest my life in sons and daughters. I know my roots and they go deep like a ninja-warrior. Now I find myself living vicariously through Dorothy Parker, and Maya Angelou. I think of the mute wind. I think of the constant rain at my window. I think of what I see when I see wildflowers. Cemeteries, ghosts, the apparitions, the voices in my head, hallucinations. There are days when I am just writing to get by. I keep telling myself it is not hopeless. All is not hopeless. That this life is what I have been given. My siblings think they know it all about bipolar. Even more than me. I can’t understand a word that they possess about mental illness. They give it to me, not as a gift, but as something to control. I think of the difficulties of my father. The difficulties of a young mother having to accept a manic-depressive husband. Nobody caught me when I fell. Contradictions keep me busy for a while. I try too hard in relationships. I was a teenage runaway falling away to the waterfront of hospitalisation. The perspective was clear. The view of my life settled. I had the beauty of language. It gave me interconnectedness. The relationship I wanted. I was on a sailing boat that caught the wind. On my way. On my way. Then the mania would come, or, the clinical depression, or, the attempt to take my own life, or, the suicidal thought, and I would be derailed again from the perfect life that I had lived before. I would be abandoned and forgotten by my mother.

I would be abandoned and forgotten by my siblings, by relatives who told me that they wished they could be of more assistance, but they had their own problems, or, uncles and aunts would just ignore me. With the onset of mental illness in adolescence, my life became more complicated over the years. I became a hunting and gathering woman of current trends forecasting for a blog that I wrote, ephemera from my paternal grandfather’s life, and phenomenology. I became this rather complex vessel (never studied further, never had the sunny road of the marrying life, or, those sons and daughters, and strange, I had always been madly in love with children my entire life), and in the end it was language that accepted me, not family, not siblings that had looked up to me once when I had the normal life, the kind of life accepted by family. There would be all this ignorance and sham surrounding my mental illness. I became known as the storyteller, I would make up stories, and this would do the rounds. So, I am threatened and cajoled, told in no uncertain terms by my sister that I am not living. She never phones home to speak to our father, elderly and infirm now. Weak and limiting and limited, and I tell myself that what matters most is recovery. Coming out of that despair and hardship and release of relapse. Now I think back to the early days of the initial treatment of my bipolar, the hospitalisation of my bipolar when I became something of a pill popping zombie, then an insomniac, and then there was this return to normality, to home-life, but also terrifying ignorance in the family, also terrifying ignorance around the sufferer, and stigma.

The discrimination of living with the bloom and smoke of mental illness. I keep telling myself pain births creativity. That it is the motivation for pursuing God. Must be more Eckhart Tolle, or Gary Zukav than me I suppose. In the hospital people may want to be your friend. But outside, you become like strangers again. You return to a kind of semblance of your previous life. You find people don’t want to know you anymore. Release from hospital always brings me back to writing, to my childhood. To the swimming pool in Gelvandale where I was baptised, to a picnic in Port Alfred. Yes, I found baptism and God. And sometimes, just sometimes, the writing annoys me, or, I get annoyed with myself, and sad, as if my work is almost incomplete. Almost as if I am not living up to my own expectations. And every time upon my release from the hospital after my meds have been adjusted, I have to open a new door, learn to live a new life again. It’s difficult, but I have endured this. I have survived. I remember that I have strategies, goals and actions. As my father did before me. I hate it that I blame him. I hate it when I say something that hurts him, and I see him wince as if I have slapped him very hard across the face. I mean, I am used to embarrassment, and humiliation, and people unfriending me with a kind of energetic efficiency. I have to work on self-love daily. I pray daily. I try to be kind but it is like making an anonymous donation. And every year I promise myself more self-love, more personal growth, more prayer and meditation, more reading, and I make an action plan out of it for the next six months. To the lighthouse.

To the lighthouse I go. There are days when I talk and talk and talk. There are also days when I cannot meet your gaze. When people’s faces look different to me in the morning light. When I’m afraid of Virginia Woolf. Society allows many things to happen to you when you are mentally ill. I’m always putting my trust in people, and being let down badly. Balance is everything. All I can think of is that I am a novelist now studying the craft of writing with every narrative that I write. That I am a poet. And a bipolar life can be as healing as rain with a savage kind of violence. At least that’s the way that I see it. Bipolar itself, there’s still so much that we don’t know. What I hear most often from other people who live with bipolar, is this. That I wasn’t always bipolar. I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t need to take a sleeping pill to sleep. Maybe there was a traumatic incident in your childhood, or, long term abuse, or, you were never loved by a parental figure, or, there was a kind of stress or burnout that you couldn’t deal with. I’ve been there. Uncle Rabbit is gone. I’m still here. I still get to live life with purpose and meaning and truth on my own terms, and there are days when I feel like a tragic figure caught in a storm. There are days when I want the world to see me. There are days when I don’t want the world to see me, because I don’t think that they’d understand me, but there are also days when life is infinitely more beautiful. There is an image that I manufacture every so often in my mind whenever I feel like it. I see the picture of a little girl, and she is loved. Bipolar is not on the scene yet. Her life is not derailed yet. She is eating watermelon on the beach. The sun is going down. She is laughing with her boy cousins. Smiling for the camera. Smiling for all the world to see.

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African Renaissance

The YCCC and How It Changed the Future of South Africa

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This was the pre-apartheid education that we received when we were still at school. I was 13, 14 years of age at the time of the promulgation of the Group Areas Act in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which then led to the forced removals and people literally being ‘dumped’ in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth. Dr Neville Alexander came to Port Elizabeth on two occasions. The YCCC-organisation (Yu Chi Chan Club) was primarily based on guerrilla warfare as is expounded by the leader of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Se Tung. It elucidates in his long walk to freedom, as well as his account in the new democracy as is expounded by his books and writings. These ideologies played a key role in formulating policy in the fight of guerrilla warfare against the Nationalist Party government. It is imperative to mention that the textbook for the organisation was Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara which was slavishly followed by discussions in the organisation. Other books included Partisan Warfare by Lenin, as well as Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

This took a lot of preparation and in-depth discussion groups took place based on these classic writers. It was imperative that these books were simplified and applied to the unique situation in South Africa. Dr Alexander and Ali Fataar, the then banned member of the executive of the NUM (New Unity Movement) came to Port Elizabeth to do exploratory work in creating fertile political groundwork for establishing the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement) groupings. They visited areas like Korsten, Schauderville at night where they held underground discussion groups on the non-collaboration and the ‘Ten-Point Programme’ which at that early stage were very important and relevant documents. These were lengthy discussion groups which took place throughout the night. However, it crystallised into a solid branch of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), Korsten branch. Further exploratory work was conducted in the area before these two stalwarts could return to Cape Town.

As a young student (16 years of age) we had the opportunity of meeting with people of the calibre of Dr Alexander at a very early stage in our political careers. This took place while we attended the CPSU (Cape Peninsula Students Union) group at our residence in Lloyd Street, Cape Town. This group grew rapidly as more and more progressive students became interested in the finer progressive political ideologies of the CPSU. We met regularly every fortnight and the discussions took place until the early hours of the morning. The topics included Bantu Education, Coloured Education, Bush University, Students Representative Council issues and the like. We also organised regular meetings on camping trips on Table Mountain where extensive politicisation took place on advanced political ideologies such as capitalism, imperialism and world ideologies of the day. We became acutely aware that our home got the attention of the security police. However, this did not deter us from becoming acutely aware of the intrusion of capitalism and imperialism and the like. It was at a very young age that I became involved in student politics which has its origin in political activity.

The forced removals, the Group Areas Act, the political upheaval caused havoc amongst particularly the young who were influenced by teachers who belonged to the Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department) and the TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa). The city was ablaze with political activity which in a short space of time demonstrated deep into the youth. This needless to say was influenced by political youth in the Western Cape. What was affecting the students in the Western Cape was, alas, also affecting the students in the Cape, particularly Gqeberha. At times, the situation became extremely volatile and out of control. Organisations like the NUM (National Unity Movement), Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department), TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa) reigned supreme. It was also apparent that the ratepayer’s organisations which were formed to fight against the rapid erosion of management committees.

Many public meetings were held with F.A. Landman and Dennis Brutus (vice-chairman), who were at pains to point out the disadvantages of the Group Areas Act. Many groups were formed which included the ANC, the PAC, the Unity Movement and allied groups were mobilised. It became apparent that the Group Areas Act was not going to go through a very easy passage. The organisations were not unified in their actions and this gave the opposition deep inroads into progressive thinkers. As a student group at the University College of the Western Cape we were invited to SOYA (Society of Young Africa) meetings in the Mowbray Minor Hall on a Sunday afternoon. For the first time we witnessed serious altercations among the members of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), and this included Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams.

The topic of discussion was on Angola and the chairlady of the meeting Miss Wilcox clearly did not understand her mandate. Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams tackled her on the political aspects of FRELIMO Liberation Front of Mozambique). It appeared that two factions had now developed in the meeting. It was really a fisticuffs kind of thing. It appeared as if Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams were at loggerheads with the present discussion leaders of the main group. The matter came to a head when the chairperson asked Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams to leave the meeting. However, before that could take place Dr Abrahams announced to the meeting that all those who believed in democracy would leave the meeting. I was one of the Western Cape students who felt urged to leave the meeting with Alexander and Abrahams, which we did and met again at No. 2 Swiss Road in Lansdowne for a follow-up meeting. Officially, at this meeting there was information about the YCCC (Yu Chi Chan Club). Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams felt no animosity which the meeting gave them as they left.

Dr Alexander was described as a dark horse by my father. As with all leaders, the maverick visionaries and profound thinkers, brilliant intellectuals, and having the primitive wonders of both wisdom and intelligence, for these men ahead of their time their faith was shared only by their comrades in the struggle. These stalwarts have taught me that it is the tendency of every man, woman and child of every race, of every faith to embrace every other man, woman and child of every race, and of every other faith. Indeed, it is rare. Indeed, it is exceptional when it happens. Language is a bridge. The language is not of love, but of respect. It is the flesh and blood of mother tongue language that divides us. It is respect that conquers self-pity, arrogance and narcissism. There is no one identity. Yet there is one moral code. Multiculturalism has changed the order of history, moral ambiguity, cast a spell on the doctrines and phenomena of religion. In humanity, in this human world, these leaders have taught us purpose on earth, the awareness of self, lack of ego and the finding of our identity in existential relativism, pedagogical and counterfeit phenomenology. Multiply achievement and you get the candy shop of the poetic horrors of over-abundance, the romantic weariness of decay and the complex strength of popularity.

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African Renaissance

Truth and the third wave of the pandemic: To be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated

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Photo: Atharva Tulsi/Unsplash

I have endured the worst possible case scenario. Being locked up in a mental institution for six months while in my late teens, early twenties. Even though I was of sound body, mind and soul. I am 42 years old now and I haven’t come all the way back from that experience. Everyone wrote me off when I returned home to Port Elizabeth as Gqeberha was known in those days but worse was to follow. Inhumane treatment from those closest to me, rejection from society. I was taught that I had a mental disability and would never be able to work again, hold down a steady job or earn a monthly income. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to now live on the fringes of society since I would be unable to make a positive contribution to society. For twenty years this continued. I had to all intents and purposes not only given up on myself, my personal success, development of my potential and fulfillment and engagement in a relationship that would lead ultimately to my future happiness. The goal of marriage and having a child, bringing children into the world and raising a family was not only put into the distant past, I thought that it would always be non-existent for me.

I would spend my time listening to sad music, love songs on the radio and wonder why it was not me caught up in the scenario of having a relationship with the opposite sex. I sank even further into the pit of the hell in f despair and hardship. I virtually had lost control over my life, received a disability grant which I did not spend on anything which I personally needed. Family considered me to be the proverbial black sheep of the family. When I got angry at the way I was treated I was certified. My rights were taken away from me. I was verbally, mentally and emotionally abused. I did everything in my power to be loved and accepted by both my maternal and paternal family which is why I believe so strongly today in dismantling the stigma that surrounds issues concerning mental illness and depression mania, euphoria and elation (however mild or all-consuming it might be). At this late stage of my life I have become an advocate for mental wellness. To stop the fight and curb the alienation and isolation of sufferers of mental illness. I want people from all walks of life to realise that people with mental illnesses can enrich our lives and can make a positive contribution to society.

I myself have always sought solace in writing. I have found it to be an instrument for change and therapeutic as well.

I have firsthand knowledge and experience of being called anything from schizophrenic to being diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder and because of the heavy psychotropic medication I have taken over the years I have had a host of illnesses presenting themselves. Chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, an underactive thyroid, chronic kidney disease, gout and heart disease. These diseases manifested themselves early on in my life before the onset of middle age when they would be more prevalent in someone who would be prone to these sorts of illnesses because of not living a healthy lifestyle.

I take each day as it comes now and live in the moment. I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have a mean temper and constantly have to watch what I eat, watch what I say and how I react to people who treat me as him I am a second class citizen because of everything I have been through in my life. Truth be told I always knew I was different. The depression started in childhood for me. I was always an overachiever. I would come home in the afternoons after school but no one ever helped me with my homework, told me either that they were proud of me or believed in me or loved me for that matter.

Everyday I am a work in progress. It is tough dealing with moodswing but that is the currency I deal in and the territory that borders my sense of self-control.

I have been called many names. None of them pretty or lovely. I have had zero support from my immediate family and my estranged family has complete written me off and washed their hands off of me thinking there is nothing they can do for me. This has been very hurtful and even has made made me feel quite suicidal over the years and in my hour if need, my hours of silence, pain and collective trauma I turned to God, prayer and meditation in my hour of need. At the time of the outbreak of the pandemic I got corona and was admitted to the psych ward at Provincial Hospital here in Gqeberha. I had no medical aid and was once again at the mercy of the system but I survived hell and that harrowing experience again to live to tell the tale of how to overcome the impossible, to live and to learn, to remain humble and kind even in the face of adversity and cruelty.

Loneliness, abject poverty, homelessness can either kill you or make you realise that you are powerful beyond measure and I have realised that I am powerful beyond measure.

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