Reflections on an Introduction to a Poetry Anthology Entitled ‘Africa, Where Art Thou?’
It is very hard to fall in love with something and give yourself over to it completely. Why do I write? I pay attention to what came before and then I fast forward to a time when I sense people will come after me (when I am no longer here) who will survive their own possession of a third World War inside their minds more than anywhere else. I think about their lives and what impact my writing will have on them in the future. Nothing has really seemed to change for the teenagers, the so-called phenomena of the ‘lost generation’. I write for them too (those who have not known any happiness or peace of mind in their lives, any warmth or emotional sensitivity. I feel love for them and empathy and this is the only way that I can express what I think and feel because when I speak, the words are not often there) who are growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in my neighbourhood. It has made me want to claim an identity for myself that is not a bitter pill to swallow. I am an African writer who represents a disenfranchised, marginalised, underprivileged youth who are on the whole ignored, seen as an unwanted burden because we do not seem to fit the mould of being rich and educated. Our lives are shadowed by loss, found in the translations of the warring factors of life and love, the measure of loss until we stop for death. When are the leaders on this continent going to do something about the demotivated youth? Why don’t we have more role models in Africa who lead their lives with Christian morals and values in the very fibre of their being? I question everything. As a writer I am curious about life, our inhibitions and the secrets and lies we shelve and that we go our whole lives not divulging. I want women who work in the real world to help empower girl children who have low self-esteem, come from single-parent homes, who are dependent on grants to fill their baby’s mouth and malnourished belly to start educating themselves about the world they live in today. We, as men and women have to discover and cement the original, the sincere, the authentic and the destinies of young outstanding African men and women in time and history as beloved and cherished men and women. Without an identity, first and foremost, you will never believe that you can do anything.
You will inspire nothing, you will be false, transparent, a fake, reckless and endanger yourself, and you will believe in nothing. You will have no faith in yourself to accomplish great things with humility and reach and undertake small victories with wisdom at tremendous sacrifice. In due course racism, xenophobia, prejudice, sexism, ageism, cities across South Africa where the Group Areas Act was enforced (the racism of which we never speak and pretend it is not there even though it still exists) will come to an unholy demise, a sticky end, though not soon enough for the want of trying and the scourge of all these daily challenges that we face, the chills that it comes with that run up and down our spines will resurface again and again until it is dealt with in a manner deserving of its severity. Amandhla awethu! It has begun. The true Freedom Fighters, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren survived the aftermath of a reversal of what happened in South Africa and came to the fore when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1994. Whatever happened, the beginning of colonialism that became the rule, the norm, the status quo and the law of the land and with it came the first heartfelt stirrings of oppression a little over three hundred years ago has now slowly with the width of a thread become undone. It was not the struggle of one man, woman or youth alone. The Freedom Fighters who died so I could be writing these words right now in relative freedom, occupied only with the art of creative expression and artistic license, from forces that would antagonise me, spirit me away, interrogate me, those Fighters died so we could survive. So that the ghosts that haunt us to this day, concealed in the lives of generations present and past could finally come to light, rest in matters of the rhythm, beating, drumming of our collective hearts, be seriously addressed, be debated amongst great theorists and futurists and be put to rest. Our relationships with each other’s cultures and races have been tender and strained but through the penetrating intellect of our writers and poets all of these stories will be told, their beauty will be resonated within us and we will tremble and we will become weak but that is the meaning and purpose of strength, courage and determination. You only have to look at Mahatma Gandhi to see why it is so, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Vincent van Gogh, the German composers, the French writers, the Nobel Prize winners in Africa, Ingrid Jonker, Bessie Head’s life and masterpiece ‘Maru’ and Susan Sontag. Strength is not a display of something equalling Samson’s brute strength, something brutal, violent, disturbing, aggressive and insensitive and an evil crime against humanity. Strength is a miracle, probing, truly magnificent and otherworldly. Africa, Africa, Africa you are mature, thoughtful, haunting, your energy blazes with the fury of two suns, your sons and daughters, sometimes you are paper thin, you make me run wild and free into the future. You chose me out of everyone to fall in love with you. I hope that all the children of Africa, past and present will feel that way about you. You are an infuriating but always forgivable child. You have filled my heart with so much beauty, stuffed it full with fire, exotic life and governed it with wrath. You soothed my brow with a feverish anticipation of what came after the next word. You leave me bedazzled and formidable every day. I take all your treasures with me wherever I go, secretly like a rogue. Forgive me. Africa, you are in a class of your own.
In closing, the world is not the same for women as it is for men. And so we come to reflect upon humanity from an African sensibility, the spirituality, the God, and gods, and the primitivism of the African female poet. We find that the African feminist familiarises herself with comforting rituals in the face of engendering equality, and peace in the childhood of her children, her self-imposed exile as a writer, and a poet in the landscape of timelines, the flesh of illness, her despair, and utter desolation, isolation, suicidal depression, cosmic bloodlines, and imagination. What does she yearn for? Not to fail, not to discriminate, but to create art, but to express herself, discover the interrelation (although her psychological and cultural framework is primitive) between the memory work of the role of art, creative expression, and the equilibrium of space, the personal space of the artist, and time. The African female poet walks wounded. In all seriousness she worships her wounds. Her wisdom comes from her life experience, and her journey from spiritual poverty, to the wealth of unbalanced dissonance. From the pinnacles of childhood to adulthood she recognises her place in the world first as a daughter, then as wife, and then as mother. Things of the spirit, of soul consciousness, consciousness-thinking will always come first. And the retrieval of all of those things comes to us whether in life, or death. In all of the roles she plays as mother, daughter, wife she is submissive (except as artist (existential phenomenologist), feminist (sage), matriarch (oracle), when she is creator, thinker, intellectual) but as I say only to a certain extent, but when in the glory of her wisdom she accommodates the psychological construct of the masculine she has already won her freedom, an identity, and a fractured psyche, a disseminated ego is no more, and so she challenges conventional wisdom. The messenger (the artist) changes the message’s (in the personality, in the growth of process, and in the progress from generation to generation) meaning, the context, the narrative, and the stream of consciousness thinking. Art serves to improve humanity. Art is a wilderness history. Art is the invention of woman. Art is the invention of man. There remains a duality between the two that needs to be acknowledged in the African Renaissance.