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African Renaissance

Harper Lee’s sigh towards God and the signature psychology in her writing of To Kill A Mockingbird

Abigail George

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To Kill A Mockingbird, cover

There is blood in our silence, and in our silence the milk and honey, assertion and defiance of language lives and breathes. In our projections from the past, of our cultural background and history, and so, we are transformed by the social and political evolution of the lonely and simple, the mood of innocent and innocence lost and frighteningly dysfunctional country that we live in. I touch on the Mockingbird book for a number of reasons. Why would it inspire a South African poet living in an oblique African narrative, writing in the context of a divided self with emotional vigour. Meditative scenes and the climate of narcissistic visions of the dominant patriarchal landscape, the consumerist environment that we live in now.

Nelle Harper Lee, was she a pioneer stylistically, a visionary writer ahead of her time, or, a one hit wonder who just disappeared from public life never to be seen of or heard from again until her death? What exactly did Harper Lee fall victim too? The voices of her characters inside her head, her craftmanship, the assault of the popularity and critical success of the Mockingbird book. Were all calling to her, speaking in tongues of stigma change and brutal racial discrimination, the inner self, the system of the nuclear family, alienation, self-imposed isolation in a small-town setting? It deals with paranoia (so she was both eminent author, and feminist thinker) as an epidemic, to the freezing response of the strangeness of personal grief.

The nostalgic sentiment of childhood barricaded under the gaze of progress, dissemination of information, and the policies of racial conflict, racial hatred that is still an act of terror at the heart, the root cause of our neurotic behaviour all over the world. Audience and censure interplay in the novel. Any kind of discrimination is a fork in the road, the other side of silence. This other voice of racism perpetuates the struggle of divide and conquer, separate but equal. Hate is night. Gazing into the past. It is very much an absent waking from reconciling falling to the land of the European, being classified as Non-European. Race relations is an emergency continued on the universal horizon.

It is still setting the maladjusted stage in this modern age, in this society. The book also talks about causal issues of objectification, the anxious fear and ‘montage of heck’ subjugation that exists in the paradigm of a small-town community, the racist gender bias leaning towards the traitorous, fearful figure of Boo Radley who rejects the community, and is rejected in turn, giving up a life contributing positively to society. My response to this is to be a parting realist.

The same fears in this book are the fears that I have. The happiness in this book cancelled out the discrimination in my own life. That is why I read female writers so voraciously. The comedian, the exploratory-novelist who dissect the issue of post-coloniality in their literary pursuit, the experimental-novelist, the children’s writer, contemporary female poets, but when it comes to male writers, I only stick my neck out for Updike, Hemingway and Salinger.

Those are the books I grew up with in adolescence. The Music School, A Moveable Feast, and Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t know any brown novelists. Any poets who were of mixed- race descent. There is recognition of Harper Lee’s sign towards God. The sign is a sigh. She is statue-like. The Harper Lee when the Mockingbird book was finished had the finesse of a bird, of a swan. Her features destroyed like blue sky by rain when she disappeared from view. Hidden, shielded from the publicity machine by her editor.  Her sabotage by the roughs of this world. Both men. Mainly women. She plays this game. This game she knows so well. The anxiety and discrimination of anxiety. The undertaker is menopause. Eyes cast down. In the name of extinction, the dodo’s modus operandi, out about her pain, she tells herself to write everything down. She must. She must. In the name of the night watchman (for she is the night watchman), she must. She simply must. And yet light appears. And yet light appears. I am slowly going insane this time because what it comes down to for me is living in a brown South Africa. Not so much elegantly so. Growth via belonging are elegantly slow in those fields. Being a poet in a brown South Africa. Being a novelist in a brown South Africa. Wanting to be a pioneer on the same basic grounds that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were for those times. Politics is politics is politics. People are people. It comes from our childhood. If we grow up to be racist, now, whose fault is that really? Are we too defined by the class regime?

Something distilled now appears to transcend the established automata of To Kill A Mockingbird. All I see is darkness all around me. Now all I hear are the voices from the dark past. I tell myself that they are angels. But sometimes the things they say and tell me are hellish territory and I know then. That I am bound by oath and oar to boat and rope. The hangman’s noose. And everything is a political movement in the book. The father is a lawyer who loses the case of a lifetime, while his children grow up in this autobiographical account of racism in the Midwest. Lest we forget. Time is longer than rope. The gospel truth is that what Harper Lee wrote about then, it is a universal story.The flexibility of stigma and the spinning wheel of discrimination have shaped South African history for the longest time. It is a different kind of war. What in childhood shapes you,it evolves you into adult life.It is both mandate and contract. Other lives have other languages. Racism is central to the story, a muse, ‘the’ muse, a symbol of what has been lost and possessed, the dual images of both. It is a brilliantly sacred account of a complicated transforming wound for these times that we are living in. The light echoes. It is the end of another day. Tomorrow we wake up and the line of disparity continues. We live in denial, denial, denial, as if discrimination and the social system of race, and class, and struggle, and liberation is a falsehood. Believers are like the leafing owl and the flaming bowl of the moon. I just want something simple to believe in, that’s all.

Our norms and values make us who we are as a country, as a society, divide us too as a country, as a society. The religious say it is our duty to pray, and the politicians want our vote. The newspapers print what they think is the gospel truth. It is important what our novelists write, think. It is significant. What a poet’s response is, is this. As advocacy body, outreach, confessional analysis. The poet is fulltime activist. They can write in rhyme, in verse, or, meter.Words count for something, is what Nelle Harper Lee presupposed in the Mockingbird book. Regardless if it was before my time. I listen and I listen and I pay attention because I too want to put my best pioneering effort forward. There is freedom in creative expression.

As writers, novelists, you don’t write for the establishment. You don’t write to make a name for yourself, for glory, for name and fame and to put away money in the bank for your retirement, or, to secure financial security for yourself and your family. You write to impact and change the world around you for the betterment of humanity. You want your voice to create a force for good. Far away, I think of Harper Lee making notes as she made breakfast, or, sitting at her typewriter punching out a manuscript, changing the ribbon as I did when I was a teenager. She never married. Never had children. Never wrote more than two books. I have written ten, and I’m still going. Churning out poetry, novels, short stories, essays, plays.

My motivation will always be just to transform one life, one sociological perspective, one crisis of identity, one vision comparatively at a time, one strategy,one history. One reality.

Therein lay Harper Lee’s profound brilliance. Her triumph was her appeal to reason. To challenge the status quo of every nonconformist thinker.

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

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African Renaissance

The Fort: The Oliver Tambo University

Abigail George

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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.

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African Renaissance

The Teenager and Suicide

Abigail George

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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.

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African Renaissance

The forgotten world of female silence (around issues of mental cruelty and abandonment)

Abigail George

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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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