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Ovi Symposium; forty-second Meeting Ovi Symposium; forty-second Meeting
by Edwin Rywalt
2015-01-03 23:25:10
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Forty-second Meeting: 1 January 2015

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 42: South African Apartheid and the American Civil Right Movement: A special relationship.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Mandela, King, Biko, Robinson, Jackson, Belafonte, Obama, Giammatti, Lewis, Massesy, Cleopatra, Sappho, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Birscoe, Ramsey, Streisand, Redford, Williams, Eliot, Pound, Rhys, Ford, Coelho, Sexton, Frank, Plath, Jonker, Dickinson, Nortje, Salinger, Styron.

Table of Contents for the 39th Session of the Ovi Symposium (1 January 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “N. Mandela and M.L. King: South African Apartheid and the American Civil Rights Movement: a Special Relationship.”

Section 2: “Gender and Class: The Explosion of the Northern Areas Gangland.”

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In this 42nd session of the Ovi Symposium which opens the new year 2015 we explore the special relationship between the American Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and outline its broad historical-philosophical parameters. Abigail George dwells on the more personal existentially poetical and psychological-social aspects of those movements. There is much to reflect upon here as we examine the common aspects of the two movements and how in many ways they complemented each other and were essential for the achievement of a more just society, one of those achievements being the proposal of the total elimination of racism, bias and discrimination from the face of the earth.

These considerations are more than ever relevant nowadays in the light of the current ongoing debate in both countries and continents as regards police abuses and use of force which, paradoxically, is taking place at the same time that we have an African-American sitting president, when we thought, perhaps a bit misguidedly, that racism had all but been defeated in America and South Africa. I suppose we need to rethink such a premise without however yielding in any way to the temptation of despair and cynicism. While admittedly utopia may nowhere be found on earth, it does not follow that we ought to reject it as an ideal and an aspiration. We must not be naïve about the existence of evil in the world, but at the same time we must continue to retain and implement what Ignazio Silone dubbed “the conspiracy of hope.” It may be a difficult balance to achieve but it remains indispensable for a more just and harmonious world.

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1

N. Mandela and M. L. King: South African Apartheid and
The American Civil Rights Movement: a Special Relationship

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Nelson and Winnie Mandela at the grave of Martin Luther King Jr., June 1990

There is a noteworthy “special relationship” between the African American US community and black South Africans. It is rarely mentioned and is in fact often ignored and neglected. Yet, it remains vitally important for the cultural identity of both people and countries. The bonds it has successfully forged over many years have resulted in greater freedom and democracy for the two nations and even the two continents.

While America’s civil rights struggles helped to inspire South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 where South African police killed 69 peaceful demonstrators, became in turn a clarion call for civil rights activists in the U.S. Moreover, the black power movement in America, during the 1960s and 1970s inspired the “black consciousness” movement in South Africa under the leadership of Steve Biko, whose tragic death in police custody was commemorated in the 1987 film Cry Freedom.

All this is worth mentioning, but it is Mandela’s story that solidified this special relationship between black South Africans and African Americans, for Mandela symbolized the fight against apartheid in much the same way that Martin Luther King Jr. symbolized the American civil rights movement. During the black power era, Pan-Africanists saw South Africa as the crown jewel of a continent undergoing a renaissance of freedom and decolonization. By the 1980s, US African-American activists were leading a national anti-apartheid movement led by Trans-Africa founder Randall Robinson, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and activist Harry Belafonte, designed to pressure American corporate and federal power to stop investing in a regime based on racial oppression.

The anti-apartheid movement swept college campuses, offering a new generation of activists, including, famously, a young Occidental College student named Barack Obama, a chance to join a social movement. I was a graduate student at the Yale University Graduate School at the time, and still remember the spirited student protests and sit-ins in front of Yale President A. Bartlett Giammatti’s office. Eventually Yale heard the message loud and clear and eventually divested itself of its investments in South Africa.

After Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, he came to represent the struggles on both continents, and around the world, for a world free of racial oppression. By the time Mandela visited New York City later that year, he was universally acknowledged and received as a global statesman for human rights. African Americans looked upon Mandela as inspiration and guarantee of the power of social change and political transformation. Both the Black Panthers in America and the African National Congress (both powerful but non violent movements) discovered common ground in their political struggle, civil disobedience against unjust laws and dissent against apartheid and racism.

Rep. John Lewis, the former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who was severely beaten during the 1965 Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, characterized Mandela as an “extraordinary human being” who showed no malice toward “those who arrested” and brutalized him for decades. As he put it: “He must be looked upon as one of the foremost activists of our time, one of the most committed and dedicated human beings to human freedom, and the liberation of not just the physical body—but of the mind and spirit of people.” Indeed, Mandela’s extraordinary courage during his 27 years of imprisonment continues to inspire those people around the world who wish to stand up to oppression and injustice.

There is little doubt that the South African struggle against racial apartheid mirrored, in many respects, America’s painful history of struggle against Jim Crow: segregation, denial of constitutional rights and profiling and murder by law enforcement and represents a shared history of suffering that forged a special bond between those two communities and movements.

What is the current status of this special relationship briefly outlined above? Suffice to say here that next year will mark two decades since South Africa elected its first black—and first democratically elected—president. Both the U.S. and South Africa have experienced enormous changes since that time, highlighted by President Obama’s presidential election. However, those achievements have been tempered by bitter realities on the ground in South African Bantustans and American inner cities; realities mentioned and ruminated upon by Abigail George in the next presentation of this Ovi symposium meeting, but the relationship, marked by so many historic and contemporary parallels, continues to be an important gauge of the health of democracy, racial equality on both continents.

To add some particular facts on this paradigmatic special relationship here are some pertinent statistics: as is well known, from 1949 though the early 1990s, South Africa was ruled by an Afrikaner Apartheid regime that made race the basis for law and politics, systematically excluding black Africans from their civil and national rights, empowering white Afrikaners alone. The social statistics produced by that regime, however, are not so different from those produced by ordinary every day legal and social practices in today’s United States; in fact they are quite similar. Impunity for white policemen who kill Blacks is one commonality between the two societies. Here are those statistics:

1. Rates of imprisonment: Incarceration rate per 100,000 population in South Africa under apartheid (1993): 368. Incarceration rate per 100,000 Black males in South Africa under apartheid (1993): 851. Incarceration rate per 100,000 African-American males in the United States under George W. Bush (2001): 4,848 ”

2. Residential segregation: Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton University. Declared that composite measurements of geographic segregation on a zero-to-100 scale show that South Africa in 1991 measured in the low 90s, while many American cities today rank in the high 70s to low 80s.”

3. Homicides: Massey also writes that “Johannesburg has a murder rate of 30.5 per 100k and Cape Town has one of 46 per 100k, comparable to Chicago’s 1992 rate of 34 per 100k. As in Chicago, its homicides are geographically concentrated. As in Chicago, South Africa’s cities are immersed in a country with a prevalent gun culture. Both places share a long history of segregation.”

4. Black-White intermarriage rate: In 2010 in the US, about 13% of the 2 million marriages were inter-racial, but only 11% of those (33,000) were white-black marriages– i.e. 1.6% of total marriages. Interracial marriages were forbidden under Apartheid but in post-Apartheid South Africa they still only account for about 1% of such relationships– a heritage of Apartheid (“the proportion of whites married to other whites fell from 99.6 percent in 1996 to 99.2 percent in 2001.

5. Police violence: In Apartheid South Africa, white police engaged in almost arbitrary violence against  blacks. In the light of today’s killings of unarmed blacks by police currently being protested in several major American cities, the perceptive reader can draw his/her own conclusion about the comparison to today’s US.

Plenty of food for thought in those statistics. They cry to heaven for redressing!

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2

Gender and Class: The Explosion of the Northern Areas Ganglands

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A Presentation by Abigail George

Other races in South Africa see us as clowns. They have always seen us as clowns or interlopers and whose fault is that? Again and again society has to be blamed. Wars and history. Mothers, siblings and offspring. They do not think of themselves as being a part of humanity, of building humanity or their own potential. They live in a world of their own making and in this realm or sphere they practice ultra-violence, aggression, and brutality. Sexual violence is nothing to them. Rape is a certain means of pleasure-fulfilment. It is an annihilation on the victim but we also have to look at it as a symbol. A symbol of submission. The victim is made to be submissive and humiliated. Secluded from the avenues of interpretations and ceremonies. Religious ceremonies, rituals between two consenting adults and a water baptism for the child or children that is born from that union.

On the undersurface we also have to look at the mental health of the mulatto. Illness and disability in the Northern Areas. It has become an intricate yet underground culture amongst those who live on welfare or social grants in South Africa. Rape is a symbol. It supports a historical pattern of mental illness. It is an example of phenomenology. I spent my childhood, my holidays at the sea and an adolescence avoiding it. These are the echoes of a scholarship girl. An ambitious girl readying herself for the world of academia and education. Why is it that this is what I hunger for? What do the Cleopatra’s and Sappho’s of the world hunger for?

And what the next girl hungers for in line is a sexual relationship. She is in search of intimacy in all the wrong places. In their search for pleasure they will find themselves amidst instant gratification. Satisfaction. Wish-fulfilment is the name of the game. The sexual transaction and pornography. We are talking here about a complete annihilation of heirs. Sons and daughters. Mulattos every one. Born from interracial relationships. Born out of wedlock. Here, we are not talking about the cultured, those who read with a passion, have a library at home or a study full of books, follow their survival guide according to the laws of society, the elite, the moneyed with their investments tucked away safely in the bank, whose children follow their dreams and fulfil their goals at tertiary institutions.

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A South-African Mulatto

The only wait for the intelligent girl child is education. Families are now being replaced by friends. Addiction is like politics. You either take to it like water off a duck’s back or you watch people from afar sitting on the park bench like a vagrant and watch the angelic shine of the faces of children as they feed the ducks with their mothers and their nannies close at hand. Young males like that blame God. They think to themselves that they were not deserving of the world that they live in today.

Human nature will always be and is exploratory. A manifesto of sorts. The drug addict, the male has this inner life but he has an outer world too. He is not as wise as he think he is. There is the suffering of the world in his heart. There is discontent too. He does not believe that life is short. That the distance from here to there is death and life. A continuum. And now we come to religion, to the church, to the vindication of the rights of the church. A journal filled with common sense written by sinners. These mulattos do not think they can change the world. How very wrong they are. How very wrong these princes are. They can be pioneers. They can be rebels. They may even be angels but somehow along the tracks while they were sitting in their school benches these young men were lost. All I ask is when are these prodigal sons returning home, if ever. When will they choose the pilgrimage, the seat of the soul, the fact that charity begins at home, the influence of mentors, the self-help of motivational speakers? I am afraid if they do not want to be lectured to then there is unfortunately no other easy way of saving these addicts from their own addictions.

The youth who is an addict has found a way out. Escapism. The exit from his problems, the poverty in the wilderness and the wasteland he finds himself in. You see I think that they feel powerful in the brotherhood, in the gang, in the ‘family mode’ so to speak. They did not have mothers. They did not have mothering. They did not have fathers and if they did their fathers were absent fathers who led them down the same garden path they were at. Humiliating their wives, domestic violence, alcoholism, womanising, addiction, violent brawls, death but we must never forget that all of the people who are responsible for murder, for the violence outside and inside of taverns, the explosion of the Northern Areas ganglands are also in some ways vulnerable. More vulnerable than you and I think. It is a pollution of the mind. Nothing, no positive outcome can grow there and if that is the case then what does the future hold for the mulatto. Light eyes. Fair skinned. Skin brown like the texture of sun. Straight hair.

What science does not tell us is that our gene pool is a primordial soup. Mankind originated from Africa but what has happened to the mulatto is this. Our ladders of chromosomes are responsible for knitting our brain cells together, and our future, our present does not determine the past. The mistakes we made. Forgiveness. Feminism. The female writer, thinker and intellectual is no match for the male counterpart and vice versa. I feel I have to talk about feminism again because the female mulatto is exploited in South Africa. I can only talk here of my own experience. She knows not of any other life. Sex for her makes her the alpha female amongst her clique. Her group of friends. It makes her popular but far too late she realises she has become popular for all the wrong reasons. She is ‘easy’. She is already lost once she has walked across the threshold been folded into the arms of an older male figure, a father figure or a fumbling boy and lost her virginity. As soon as she falls pregnant the boy or man denies that he is the father and what is she left with but shame but now she has something to love. Now she has a family, intimate relations with a newborn. She is now a mother and nobody can take that away from her.

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For the Coloured/mulatto girl, our flower, our dark child, she uses her sexuality as a prop. She thinks to herself in the face of the struggles she endured as a girl child, a young adult, an adolescent in high school that now all her desires will come true with the guy of her dreams but of course that is not the case. Many girls who find themselves in this situation go on to have a string of dead-end relationships in which sometimes children are born from different fathers. You might think to yourself these young men and women just cannot seem to help themselves. Between the young woman and her mother there is often animosity and the origins of jealousy.

So now I turn to history. I turn to the falling of the Berlin wall. I turn to the holocaust. What does that have to do with a marijuana smoking youth, with his second child on the way with a different mother you may ask? It has everything to do with emancipation. Oppression in the worst possible way when you have to have an unregistered gun or access to one. Women are emotional creatures. Men are violent by nature. Throughout history the mulatto was a slave. Throughout modern life the mulatto is still a slave even though she is educated. Even if she went to university. Even if she attends church and takes Holy Communion. She is a slave because there has never been one woman amongst her lot that has been a philosopher. There are teachers, yes. There are mentors, yes. There are church women, yes. But they are also slaves. If the mulatto has no White equal then she is still a slave with the mentality with a slave.

The men in the brotherhood of the gang almost have a kind of religious life. There is the initiation where they have to prove themselves. Of course, it will mark a turning point in a young man’s life if he is accepted into a gang. For the young men of the Northern Areas to be a gangster is the only way of life that they know. I do not know if that is sad. I know what it is to suffer but I cannot imagine their suffering. I have suffered from clinical depression but I cannot imagine what their home life, their family life must be about. I often wonder how they think always trigger happy and this perplexes me because we do not have to live in a world like this.

So researchers must study the phenomena that exists not only in the sub-economic areas and suburbs of the marginalised and disadvantaged mulatto. The youth live in an oppressed state of mind, state of being, and a state of flux. It is essential to see, to discuss, to debate why this is still dominating after centuries, after generations, after the referendum, the Rainbow Nation and the African Renaissance until we become experts at exposure. Who are the victims here? The native who was taught English in a mission school. The Black girl who was raped by her slave owner. Exposing the invisible chains, the walls of punishment we must begin to see it with insight.

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Boy,16, arrested in gangland killing

We are being erased into the background as if we are extras on a film set. We must begin to communicate the threads of the entire rape of a near wasted generation. Wasted by tik and marijuana. If they are not wise (where do they get the wisdom from), if they do not have the courage to pray and to change the circumstances that they are living in (if they were not taught those values) what will happen to the mulatto a century from now?

Coloured street gangs do believe in cultural unity. They call the gang a brotherhood. They call the brotherhood a family. Blood is thicker than water. These are dangerous life studies. There is a life science but little literature on what the promulgation of the Group Areas Act, the history of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa has had on stories, on investment in, on the self-discovery of the mulatto. He is not White. He is not Black. It is too late to develop positive Coloured youth because they are so far removed from the fabric that makes up the modern world, and that marks them with the psychological framework of the experiment of a pilgrim because in a way we are all pilgrims. We are all searching for something that will intoxicate us with life.

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Gang member condemned to life in prison

We want to see all living things, all animals with their own intuition and sensibility. Not crime or criminal tendencies. Not addictions. Addictions to sex, pornography, drugs and alcoholism. The girls are sex machines bringing children into the world when they are hardly equipped to deal with family life or raising children with echoes of values and norms. Belief systems.

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Not only do they exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but they also display a racial tendency towards Black youth and Black women. Black people in general. It is really destruction amongst these self-saboteurs at its most basic level. The grassroots level. The only people who will survive are the middle classes. The elite. The educated. If you fit into any one of those classes then you are home free in a sense. Home is a dirty secret but it makes the gangster saintly amongst his peers. Coloured youth are on a mission to destroy themselves, their families, the people that they love, admire, worship. They are even on a mission to kill, to maim to murder. This is no ghost story.

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South African gang film Four Corners

There have always been gangs. That is simply nothing new. Heartbreaking stories of utter abuse at the hands of adults who in retrospect had to devote themselves to family life and their children but there have also been Coloured men and woman, great thinkers, leading intellectuals who are now fostering innovative theories about families who live in poverty. Theories about sexuality. Spiritual poverty. 

In the end, at some point in our lives we all experienced racism. We were all on the receiving end of it or we gave it out. If you are an educated mulatto you have got it made in a sense. You can be philanthropic in your endeavours. You can help those who cannot help themselves. If we lived in a perfect world everybody would have the same opportunities, the same choices, challenges, obstacles facing them, decisions to be made no matter what the colour of their skin was, the same education (does this mean that everyone would be educated and brilliant. Intelligent and lucky.)

Opening up the Pandora’s Box of the drug addict and all you will come to witness is nothing but a skeleton fused with self-portraits of self-hatred, selfishness and ego wasting away. Looking nothing at all like their real age. Unfortunately, we live in a permissive society. It is a society that gives us the go ahead or the permission if you will to go ahead and do anything with your life.

The world will never get sick of prettiness. Men will never get tired of it like they get tired of gender and class taking over the world or being lectured on it. Men never get tired of taking the inexperienced virgin to bed. That love-affair. I say this again. That there is an invisible press out there. An invisible propaganda. Visionaries who have and will always show us the right way. Entertainment has and will always show us the wrong way.

I do not understand the sexuality of young girls. How they promote themselves in the workplace. The relationships they have with older male figures, father figures. It is as if they draw up a sacred contract. The man has all the common sense. The girl dreams and meditates of her prince. In the end everything is outweighed, destroyed and the girl returns to her mother in the heartland of the city she found herself in months before. If there is a baby in the works, she will give birth to the baby and fall in love with the child to the extent that she will keep it, raise it. But does she have the oomph? Does she have the will and the drive to raise a child on her own or will she succumb to silence, to isolation and to rejection from her peers? Despair, hardship, loneliness? She was not the wise one in the relationship but it will be months before she realises this. It was the man with all of his common sense who was the wise one and who knew how things in the end would naturally turn out. The mulatto girl has a disembodied frame but she will with an intensity raise her child. Her problems will become part of the child’s consciousness and something usually will be deformed. Mannerisms will be abnormal as the child grows older if there is no father figure. Etiquette will be a castle in the sky. The boy will grow up to be a rough through no fault of his own. It once again depends on the mothering, on the family structure. If there is a close-knit family structure. A nuclear family or a blended family of half-brothers and half-sisters and a stepfamily perhaps the child will be saved. Perhaps.

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Eastern Cape Province in South Africa

After the uprising of the riots in the Northern Areas where shops were looted and badly damaged. When people lost their lives, family members, businesses nobody was discriminated against in the Coloured sub-economic areas. Was there a Third Force involved as people would like us to be inclined to be believed? Was the special branch involved? These are facts that ordinary people will never know. The Democratic Alliance has a foothold in the Eastern Cape now which is now one of the worst off provinces in South Africa. If you want to believe that violence and murder was the order of the day those days of the riots then violence and murder, looting was the order of the day. I see the territory on the fringe that is before me. The districts. The suburbs. The life and times of the elite who live behind their high walls, their electric fences, their security fences and dogs in White suburbia. It comes to me in heightened frequencies. Violence is reality in post-apartheid South Africa but it is also surreal. It is also a hallucination in Technicolor.

Otherwise violence is an excellent metamorphosis when studied alongside individuals who committed themselves against fighting in the struggle against apartheid. I cannot give it all up to my imagination anymore. I must believe like Anne Frank that there is some good in people and some bad but that there is good in them also. There was a death, many deaths and bodies lying in the street. I cannot account for the names and the faces that have crossed over to the hereafter. We cannot all be monks and nuns. Violence tends to disrupt the order in society, cause maladjusted behaviour, in the end what is its purpose, what meaning does it give life?

In this world, like I have said before we cannot all be monks and nuns but we can write. We can write poetry about the horrors of life, how terrifying it still is to live in a racist post-apartheid South Africa. If we write we can diminish and erase somewhat of the melody and the blankness of the ultra-violence of the minor earth and the major sky. We will never forget about burying the bodies of the men and women who lost their lives in the riots like we can never forget the struggle. The camps in Tanzania. Conversations and moods are spiritual and bipolar in a sense when people talk about old-fashioned days. We are haunted by those days. We want to relive them because for us there was some vitality at flying solo before marrying, before the school lessons and homework of children, the milk of human kindness and tenderness.

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The Numbers Gang: South Africa biggest gang

Now I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy finding the kingdom of God within himself, writing his letters to Ghandi, writing his confessions and finally finding peace within himself. I am also reminded of Hemingway, the writer driving ambulances during the war. River Phoenix, the actor stumbling out of a club in the early hours of the morning, blinded by alcohol, his veins pumped full of barbiturates. He later died of a drug overdose. F. Scot Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby drinking bourbon. Virginia Woolf’s waves, Lily Briscoe, and Mrs Ramsay. You may ask yourself what does Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Venus and Serena Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Jean Rhys, Ford Maddox Ford have to do with gangs and gangsters. Ganglands and guns going off in the middle of the night. They make me forget. They make me forget about the children I will never have, that I have not picked up a racket in over ten summers.

They remind me that there is truth and beauty and in the final analysis that there will always be room for psychoanalysis in the world.

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Creative Writing: Out of the Picture

By Abigail George

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She asked her clients to call her Angel. The truth was that she preferred it that way. It made it easier somehow. It gave her a level of confidence and of discretion. It was important to her. It gave her a deep and innate sense of freedom and a sense of control. In her line of work she believed that behind everything lies the power of desire.

What men really desired was fantasy and a world in which they believed that they had an absolute and total sense of control. Out of the picture she created for herself she hid behind a portrait of herself created in smoke and mirrors; another grown up fantasy; a fairy tale.

Her real name was Cynthia. She had a happy childhood growing up in New Brighton. It was a location on the outskirts of the city of Port Elizabeth. Her parents always loved her unconditionally although they didn’t have much money. They more than made up with the love and peace and joy that reigned in the poverty stricken childhood but it was love that taught her how to lie. It was her parent’s love.

She liked to go to the cinema. Sometimes she would go with a girlfriend at the weekend. It allowed her to escape from the problems that she had, the addictions she faced, the cruelty and the pain and the sadness from the booze that surfaced from time to time that she had no control or say over. She would buy herself a coca cola and a box of warm, buttery popcorn and treat herself. She imagined leading the life of a film star, being famous, wanted and adored. Being rich and being accountable for nothing. The lives portrayed on the screen that confronted her mesmerised her to the point that she experienced an impenetrable sadness. Bollywood enchanted her.

She wished her weekends were uneventful. Not so predictable. Not so boring even sometimes when cars didn’t stop. When nobody looked her way with so much as a glance in her direction or paid her any attention. She had a sister but they were not close. She could scarcely remember the last time they had spoken a decent or kind word to each other. When they were together they tolerated each other. They had a quiet respect for each other when she was still living at home terrified to leave, to be on her own and to leave her child behind so that her parents could raise him. Her sister, Imogen’s independence frightened her. She didn’t want or need a man to get what she wanted. She was educated. She had a degree and a posh accent and an English name.

Her first thought for the New Year was, “If it feels so wrong then why am I still doing it?” She got drunk, went looking for a fix, got high and let someone feel her up in a dark alley outside of a rowdy nightclub in Central. She knew in the morning she did not get paid and was very angry with herself. She did not look forward to meeting with Sammy, her sleek pimp later that day for his share of the deal. She couldn’t remember anything. It was a blur, a drug-induced haze. There were often nights when she had those but she was pretty so she could always make a quick buck if she needed to on the side.

When she was little she wanted to reinvent the world. She thought the world around was amazing and magnificent. She lived in a snow white cocoon. She wanted to become the world’s first female president. She wanted to visit the Amazon jungle but society didn’t want smart, clever or intelligent, classy or sophisticated women, what they really wanted was pretty, sexy, beautiful women, sensual lips with sex appeal, snaking, generous hips in clubs and bars. Even the working world wanted women who knew when to be quiet. It was useless she realised this pathetic, nagging feeling that she always got at the beginning of the year. The start of prosperous new beginnings. What a joke! What a laugh! The only thing it was good for was a laugh she decided.

When she was little life was so simple. When she was afraid she could hide behind her mother’s skirt. When she was afraid and lonely, when she had been teased and her feelings were hurt, tears, spit and snot streaming down her face she knew she could count on her parents to comfort her but as she matured it became more difficult to turn to them for help and guidance. She thought that they were too old-fashioned although they were very loving and that they didn’t know anything about modern society.

How she became a prostitute in Central in Port Elizabeth nobody knew. She was a drug addict. She had a pimp and a clique of girlfriends. At the weekends they would do their hair at the beauty salon. They would primp or curl or relax or braid their hair. During the week she would raid the malls for beautiful, tight and sexy clothes to wear and lure men. She never saw her parents anymore. They thought she was studying economics and they were looking after her two year old son Selby. She sent money home regularly.

What she feels is non-existent in the interior of her mind. What her soul sees is another matter. She always wanted to live in a world where she felt she belonged and a world in which she felt she was inferior to no one. She rather wanted to be a fake somebody than a real nobody. In a myriad of patterns, just like a kaleidoscope death always seemed to venture near her life. She realized when she was ready; she would walk through that door that led to a safer path, a more relevant and unique journey to amazing new possibilities, amazed at her confidence.

The men - her clients showed her a world that she could not understand - a world that meant detachment from meaningless encounters. She played with darkness, talk of intimacy hinting at trouble looming like a giant war machine ahead. She wanted to live, she wanted to survive yet she was a stranger to good news, to small indulgences like happiness and beauty. She often asked herself why did she live, why did she survive by all means possible.

She was a girl when she met the world head on. She was prickly, jaded and abusive. The world saw someone who was tense in the eye of the storm and connected to something greater than herself. She felt there was nothing good in the world except examples of good men who had by default become described as being bad men who did nothing to make up for their reckless behavior.

The world through darkness on her strengths illuminated her vanities and shone a light on her innocence that scratched through all her sensibilities and cracked the veneer of her surfaces. Of course she decided to free her mind of all her inhibitions once she had reached the big city and once she had found a suitable candidate - a suitable boyfriend. Talent will always persist; that is the remarkable beauty of giftedness but not youth and beauty and she was eager to lose her virginity - she was eager to become a woman. She wanted to be wanted, accepted and cherished but instead she thought she was asking for too much.

Once upon a time she had an office job doing administrative work when she was younger. She sought out female friendships for the first time. Instead she was loathed, gossiped about, humiliated, hated and had to work out for herself that she had to ingratiate herself with the older male in the office than the females and leave the women be. They would neither befriend nor mentor her but she decided she was wiser for it in the long run. She vowed she would never let any man intimidate her, fluster her or frustrate her. But old-fashioned values got the better of her in the end.

She wanted to be respected, remembered, not for love affairs best left forgotten and taken seriously. But she was still a romantic at heart. She leaned back into the sofa and closed her eyes. She had so many wonderful memories of Johannesburg. Positive ones as well as negative which she tried to shut out as much as she could. She blurred the features, the motions, the handsome faces, the leering faces, the screaming mouths, the enchanting chanting lips, the green plants in full sun or shade and the sunshine that felt like powder against her cheek. It felt soft and forgiving and ticklish.

Remember me for the girl I once was, she tried saying to herself in the empty room. Her depression was like a big, terrible shadow over her that threatened to overwhelm her with its strength. It shut out the light but kept the darkness within - the enemy within. The invasion of the depression instructed her writing in her journal. It informed her of her every move and half the time she lived in fear of it. She lived in fear of the day when it would no longer sustain her and then what would she do?

Today she had a thousand things going through her mind. She dreamed that something special and wonderful would happen to her. Life was not made up of multiple choices; instead it is made up of infinite choices that we have to risk common sense and a cure for life for. She breathed a sigh of relief. She was no longer married to searching for a cure for the unexpected penalties of life and the wretched failures of missed opportunities. Traces of sadness lingered across her face. Was it unhappiness, or was she ultimately searching for tenderness in relationships that were fleeting. Social issues were still relevant and important to her.

When she walked the streets at night chilled to the bone waiting for warning signs of the showdown with police again she reminisced about the time she grew up in New Brighton. When she was happy and wanted for nothing. But even when she was a little girl she wanted the bright lights of the big city that she watched from afar. For now her son was completely out of the picture even though a day did not go by when she did not miss him; think about him; long to put her arms around him.

She sometimes imagined what she would say if she was being secretly interviewed by a local journalist on why she became a prostitute. She imagined what she would say, what she would be wearing, what she would be thinking, what she would pray not to reveal about her heartache and most of all what her parents would feel about the choices she made as an adult.

Intrepid journalist: Why did you become a prostitute?

Angel: I didn’t choose this profession, it choose me. (These words rang inside her head).

Intrepid journalist: That is a very pessimistic view of the world around you.

Angel: But it’s the truth and you must know here in no man’s land the truth, honesty is the best policy is complete bullshit. It varies from day to day. Just like one’s circumstances.

Intrepid journalist: How does society benefit from prostitutes?

Angel: We render a service.

Intrepid journalist: What do you prefer to be called?

Angel: Laverne. That’s my real name. I prefer my real name. Angel lives in a surreal world. That is not my reality. In my daily life I prefer Cynthia. That’s what my friends call me. That’s what my father named me.

Intrepid journalist: Do you regret this life that you’ve chosen to lead?

Angel: That is like asking me if I regret being born. How can I say that when I brought a beautiful child into this world? I gave birth to him but he doesn’t belong to me. He belongs, as Khalil Gibran says, to the world.

Intrepid journalist: Can you share an extract of what you wrote to your child in your journal?

Angel: Why is my body telling me to have a child, this child? I won’t have it. Only until I am able to feed it, nurture it, clothe it, educate it and care for it. I didn’t know the sex of the baby but I guessed. I knew it in my bones like a machine knows its settings, functions, gauges and buttons. One day your smell, your skin, your tousled hair will be unfamiliar to me but not to another ‘mother’. You will call someone else mama. But I prefer it that way to remain nameless and invisible because I know that we will never be able to repair our relationship.

Intrepid journalist: You have been honest and straightforward with me. Now let me be honest and straightforward with you. I am sick of hearing your tired, lame, pathetic excuses and your stories. You can change.

Angel: Now I am sad. I was a temp once. Can you believe it? I worked in an office and answered phones but I thought I was talented. I could do something else. Now can you guess at the intensity behind my words, the radiance of my smile? I take each day as it comes. It is filled with disturbing surprises, accidents and fires that I can’t put out and incidents that fill me momentarily with unease and shame that leave me ill, black and blue. When I crash and burn it is chemically-induced. I just take a pill and tell the world to leave me alone. I want to be alone. Loneliness doesn’t scare me anymore but the end of the road does. The street is littered, no, scattered with bodies that are unlovable, unlikable. At night a body farm. Creatures of a dark underworld where there is no escape from. They seek the comfort and the stroke and caress of strangers who twirl their hair in their fingers, who tell time with their fingers. The body is a temple of delight for them.

Intrepid journalist: What does self-help mean to you?

Angel: Getting my next fix and sleeping until noon the next day.

Intrepid journalist: What do you regret the most?

Angel: I won’t see Selby’s boyhood, childhood and youth. I won’t watch him grow up into a man. I won’t counsel him, give him advice, listen to his prayers at night or hear him say, “Mommy, I love you.” or “Help me with this. I can’t seem to get it right.”

Intrepid journalist: What do you think people who knew you when you were little would say now to you when they see you and what you’ve done with your life so far?

Angel: People would give me the cold shoulder in my old neighbourhood if they knew what I did now to put food on my table and clothes on my back. Perhaps they would find it interesting, curious. I don’t know why but the word envious is also on my tongue. I am free to do what I want although there are boundaries there that are drawn by me, for me by other bystanders, other people and congested crowds but there is a secret I want to tell you. Nobody really knows what I do for a living just by looking at my face. It is a well of loneliness.

Intrepid journalist: What is the most favourite part of your body?

Angel: My eyes because the eyes are the windows to your soul. You’re smiling but it’s true.

Intrepid journalist: Do you sleep with married men?

Angel: Of course I sleep with married men. Some take their rings off. Some lie and say they’re divorced or separated. Who do you think frequents the bars and clubs I go to? Mostly well-off, middle-class? The tourists are stinking rich. There is no class struggle in my line of work.

Intrepid journalist: Do you believe in soul mates?

Angel: As hard as it may be for you to realise, yes I do. I believe in God too. Does that surprise you?

Intrepid journalist: It’s just because I don’t understand. You’ve made certain choices in you life.

Angel: God doesn’t judge me or what I do for a living, people do. People are cruel and intolerant.

Intrepid journalist: What does a girl like you do for fun?

Angel: I escape. When my face is pale and wan I put some lipstick on, some rouge. Hope I don’t look as old as I feel and go to out to a club and dance with my friends. We celebrate life in our own way. After a while this feels normal when you’re wired or buzzed out of your mind. When it gets really bad I do mix some pills with the booze to take off the edge. It’s hard. Life is tough for everyone. Every person in this world has their own problems to deal with. Sometimes I just put a CD on or listen to the radio, chill, lie on my bed and think about rubbish. It makes me sad sometimes. Life, the noise on the streets, all that loud banging, screaming, the music that comes out of the clubs over the weekend, the girls and their pimps and the drugs, the substance abuse, the missionaries that try and get us out of this mess and come to church and pray for us.

She writes in a journal about what she thinks and feels but most of all when she feels sad and alone. When she feels she can no longer cope with the deception and lies she has told her parents. She wanted freedom and liberation from her daily life of creating a fake identity and persona.

One day she decides to go to the sea to reflect upon the changes she can make in her life. She is ambivalent. Does she make the right choices, the right decisions that could ultimately lead to her happiness or does she stay in limbo? She stares at the foam between her exotic, polished toes, the waves and the seagulls flying overhead and thinks about all the mistakes she made in her life. The things she said or felt when she was younger that she can never take back. What legacy would she leave behind for her small child?

The street life, the street beat, the rhythm and the lights taught her how to exist on a busy planet no matter how lonely she was. She defined love in glowing, refined terms and multiples; with couples with shining faces, families and incurable romantics. She was convinced that looks lie too. The look that she wore on her face that said she chose this life - to burden herself with the vulnerability of all men - their black, deceptive thoughts. She thought that nobody chooses a life of deceit, where company was merely a diversion, they are forced into it.

The sea reminded her that all life was temporary. She shaded her eyes with her hand as she looked out across at the horizon. She had made so many promises to her parents, her sister, to herself that she did not keep. The water was choppy but she felt strangely moved and comforted by it as if they were in the same boat together. She felt flummoxed by her circumstances. It wasn’t the first time. She was articulate. She sometimes wrote poetry alongside her entries in her journal. She wrote long letters to the child that she was not teaching to read, teaching his letters or his alphabet. She tried to explain through tears why she decided to do what she did. That leaving him with the only two people who she loved and trusted the most in the world was done with the best of intentions.

Saturday nights are wild. Foreigners are fabulous. They tip well, generously. They are gracious and charming when they haven’t had a drink in them. Sometimes they will even go as far to buy her food but going home to an empty, dirty flat marks the end of the midnight fling. It leaves her sad. They sometimes murmur about the tracks on her arm or smoke a joint with her.

There are some amongst the locals who just want someone to listen to them about their boring, depressing or stressful lives, their fat, sexually unresponsive wives and their bratty children who always need attention. So she folds her arms, puts her feet up on the bed, pretends to look at her expensive fashion magazines when they go to the bathroom to pee and listens to them and imagines the strange highways with bewitching streetlamps that brought them together on that particular night. It leaves her with pangs of love and in turmoil, depressed, restless and ready to do something awfully reckless that she will later regret in the morning.

She found the words in books soothing, zooming with a buzz and a life all of their own. The flow incessant, moving and revealing of who she was born to be. It gave presence to what was missing in her life. They were slow to burn and were not filled with the riddles, conspiracy theories, codes of everyday life that she had to fulfill.

Her fingertips ran over the sentences of Paulo Coelho’s ‘Eleven minutes’ seeking solace like the blind reading Braille.

She tried to memorise the words in the poetry of Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Ingrid Jonker, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Nortje and the books of Virginia Woolf, J. D. Salinger and William Styron. Words, metaphors she didn’t understand. All of her life she watched her sister chase her dreams and seemingly fulfill all of them easily.

She lived in constant fear of silence, rejection and isolation. Some nights when the depression seemed like she was sliding into a private hell she wondered what the rules and the strategies were of this game called life. She was tired of taking chances and sick of her life. She was tired of the bed sheets stained with urine and of her rooms smelling of vomit in the morning; the black dirt and blood she drew under her fingernails. Books, writing and reading were the only things that kept her alive and kept her sane. She knew she had more in common with the hobo sleeping on the grass outside the mosque than she really wanted to believe. Her life was slowly ebbing away and there was nothing she could do about it.

In her dreams she was always near water. It was never out of her reach. Be it a white, moonlit beach, a princely blue swimming pool, the ocean, a black river, a silver bay. She was always drowning, fighting to come up for air, she could feel the pressure of something or someone pushing her, holding her down, refusing her solace and grace above the water. But before she could succumb to the water below she woke up drenched in sweat, coughing reaching for a glass of water that she kept in a glass on her bedside table.

It was a pale September when she returned to her parents’ home in New Brighton. Selby, her son had grown. He son is now ready to go to school; he is six years old. Her sister greeted her with open arms; with a warm embrace that she did not expect. Her sister who worked as a receptionist in town got her job as one as well. The after-effects of her previous life still lingered long after like the fierce trauma of a war zone but she was no longer the outsider, the black sheep of a so-called ‘normal’ family. She no longer felt trapped when she fell asleep at night. Daily she felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Her strength and her will to live was now renewed.

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 END  OF 42nd SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (01/01/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting -

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