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African Renaissance

The Fort: The Oliver Tambo University

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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.

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.

African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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African Renaissance

Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic

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coronavirus people

I always wanted to be an African writer living and working in Paris. Eating onion soup and fresh bread rolls at a café for lunch but mostly I am a woman reading, translating work through editing, writing and working in the macrocosm of the narrative that is modern day Africa. I am a woman who feels compelled to tell stories. It is a fundamental part of my day and one of the basics of my life. I want to be honest, but it hasn’t brought me happiness all the way. I go outside and loneliness meets me there. It is too authentic for its own good. It smells like spirit and behaves like wild horses. I admit that I am like water. I am tired of braving hospital life after braving hospital life again. Swimming against the tide of the kindness of strangers. Those nurses and caregivers. Covid-19 there, there, there everywhere and then manifesting inside of me.

What to do with illness? The aberrations of mental illness and physical illness. What to speak of it and to whom? I drink coffee. Too much coffee. Underneath all that coffee is a field. A field of illness. Health is wealth. But I have realized this much too late. The pills glow at night and during the day I take them with gulps of water. My mind palace is awaiting harvest. Too divine. Every day is a day of hope and recovery and renewal. There was a man in the picture, but he is gone now. I thought a man was going to save me. But he didn’t. Now he sits in a house, occupied with thought and calling. All I have ownership of is purpose. It is capable of many beauties. Many things. Once I was in love. Now I find territories to conquer and one of them happens to be life itself. I am a warrior with intent. I am happy, content and satisfied to be a puppet again engineered by the ways of a materialistic society. A puppet named outsider. I don’t pay attention to my mother as often as I should have. I chide myself. I should have been more on her side, placated her more, laughed more with her then I wouldn’t have been rejected by her I tell myself. Now that I am older, I don’t know what truth is anymore. Most of the time life perplexes me. In all my life Rilke has been in my hands like summer. I dance towards battle.

There is certain kind of darkness visible in my nerves. I have known and lived alongside suffering emphasized by psychological insight. It has been majestic in the way that only inconsolable sorrow can be. I am too primitive for this world. I have known love but not enough of it to marry and be happy. My brother says there are married people who feel deeply unloved and who are unhappy. There began to be patterns in my life that marked me, and the world seemed to reject the sunlight inside of me, inside the ancestral worship, Christian psychiatrist of my head. On returning home I began to step out in faith. I watched Joyce Meyer. I wanted to be worthy. Even comets have the air of having a complex about them. Time has a refrain. It is leaving me and with its return come all the stars of the universe. I wanted to know more, do more, I wanted to know what my inheritance was. I remembered myself as a bone thin girl in my twenties wanting to be ambitious but already jaded of the people around me, in their spiritually diminishing crowds. Their mystery attracted me. Their personalities seemed to reject the introvert that I was. I always viewed it as a rejection of me. Rejection of self I suppose.

My mother’s destructive self-sabotaging behavior milking my father’s manic-depressive personality. My own dark struggle with mental illness defined who I was for much of my adult life. My middle sister made her escape to Europe, my paternal family into the church, establishing the bonds of close-knit nuclear family, religion and my maternal family into wealth and privilege. The quiet honey of money. Rich and thick. I found a spiritual habitat in writing poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy and stream of consciousness writing was unleashed. I found there that life shimmers in both joy and solace. I found the edge of the impossible in reasoning, balancing and prayer. We tend to find the human being in the minority, the lesser being in the outsider and locate glory in the majority. In the pages of my diary I find the destruction of the earth there, moral being. For as long as the man was in my life, he was wondrous, and I felt tethered and I discovered that the empirical nature of childhood functions as the creative’s unweaving. When I wrote I felt bird flight in my veins, bird flight in Provincial Hospital, bird flight in my brainwaves, in the cavernous vibrations of my body and something was manifested.

It felt as if I was manifesting the exposed. The spiritual embodiment of the plains of the journeys we mature in confidence in, the districts of human nature, the rooftops of the birds and while society paints the iris, we contemplate the beauty in the world. On the wings of the unpeeled, the astonishing, the extraordinary the capable scientists flutter in the medical fraternity, on the cusp of innovation in pharma. I am left to glitter. Like an octopus I wade into the supreme self-correcting depths. There was an otherworldly renewal to my limbs when I recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 and life felt supernatural to me. Everything was faster, faster, faster and I began to live in a magical reality. Millions live life like this. On this precarious edge of the device of breathing with this kind of survival mechanism built into them. When you descend into illness you also descend into a kind of sustained despair that never leaves. That seems to float like the leaves, that has the hardy vertebrae of branches, the activity found in furious churning of the gulping mouth of a shaking fish. I never contemplated my own death in the hospital.

I never contemplated that life would go on, that I would recover, that I would write again. The day was filled with silence and longing in the ward filled with young women. Psychotic. Aggressive were words that were used. I had my period when I was admitted to the hospital. The depression I had when I got out of the hospital had the body length of an elephant. It curled up inside of me like a snake connected to my bones in the fetal position. My mother had a kind of tender fragility leaning towards sainthood when I came home. My father was sad. My brother did not pick up the phone when the hospital telephoned him to come and fetch me. I had been discharged. My mother told me he had feared the worst. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital. My mother explained they were not ready for me to come home yet. What did that mean, I wondered? I still don’t know how I made it through that passage of time, fought my way through. All I know is I still need to heal. I still need to heal and that takes practice and getting used to, engaging, involving yourself in the pursuit of daily activities, not words.

Things are returning to normal. My brother wants to get away to Canada now. Even the holy is visible here in my childhood home. Incarnated here if it is possible to use a word like that. It feels as if some days there is an anointing on everything that I touch. The day is golden and bright with promise. You don’t come all the way back from the experience of near death. I want you to remember that.

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