Wednesday, October 04, 2006

In 1999 I spent a summer working as a resident advisor for the summer school of my alma mater in Boston. A young South African (aged about 16 at the time) was sent to me so that I, as resident South African, could check on her progress and how she was settling in to a strange environment. I asked her how things were going. "Fine," she responded, "but people keep asking me about apartheid and I don't know what to say because I never studied history."

I don't think I've ever recovered from the shock. It must be how people who survived the Second World War feel when faced by young people today. The difference in meaning and understanding in the words "Lest We Forget" to respective generations.

Don't get me wrong. On the one hand I am thrilled that in such a short space of time society can begin to feel "ordinary". On the other hand, it is vital to remember how close we are to darker and more difficult times. Petrona has some interesting reflections on the British suffragette movement, which has similarly close associations of times changing for women in Britain. It is not so very long ago.

In my last post I mentioned banned persons. One of the most difficult challenges for those banned and under house arrest was the ruling that one could not attend social gatherings, a gathering defined as "more than one other person." The following poem captures the futility, stupidity and loneliness of Apartheid law. I should add that this kind of experience was widespread. For purposes of clarity, a "koppie" is a small hill; the "Special Branch" were Apartheid-era secret police.

THE WEDDING - Hugh Lewin, South Africa, born 1939

Solly Nathee
stood alone
on the koppie overlooking his home.

Solly Nathee
alone on the koppie
stood watching his home
where his daughter was getting married.

The guests
at the home below
were feasting the bride and the groom.

Near Solly Nathee
on the koppie
sat the Special Branch
watching
to see that Solly Nathee
banned from social gatherings
behaved himself
at his daughter's wedding.

The guests
at the home below
feasted the bride and groom
then walked
one by one
up the koppie
to shake the hand of Solly Nathee.

Solly Nathee
at his daughter's wedding
stood on the koppie overlooking his home
alone.

from EXPLORINGS: a collection of poems for the young people of Southern Africa compiled by Robin Malan.

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6 Comments:

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5:14 am  
Blogger equiano said...

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9:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello Equiano, I did leave a real comment, or thought I had - unfortunately Blogger must have eaten the comments and I am afraid I cannot now remember what I said (it seemed interesting at the time!). Your blog settings only allow you to comment on your blog if you have a Blogger account. I think I had been timed out, and the act of signing in destroyed my comment.

You can go into your settings menu to allow anyone to comment on your blog, and switch on "spam verfication" at the same time, which would stop "people" like our friend above from spamming your comments (hopefully).

all best
maxine.

7:59 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Thank you Maxine, you're a genius as usual. My blogging abilities are yet in infancy. I've made some adjustments and hopefully this will improve things!

10:14 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

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All my best
Maxine.

8:47 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

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And enough of this "infancy". Your blogging skills are great, from where I sit.

8:49 pm  

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