01 June 2011

Africa, where art thou? by Abigail George (Book Excerpt)


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 – 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 not a black South African. I am a coloured African who represents a disenfranchised, marginalized youth who are on the whole ignored, seen as an unwanted burden because we do not seem to fit the mould – rich and educated. Our lives are shadowed by loss until we stop for death.

When are the leaders in this country going to do something about the demotivated youth? I question everything, I am curious about life, our inhibitions, and the secrets 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 babies’ mouth to start educating themselves about the world that they live in today. We, as men and women have to discover and cement the original and 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 reckless and endanger yourself and you will believe in nothing.

You will have no faith in yourself to accomplish great things with humility and small victories with wisdom at tremendous sacrifice.

In due course racism in the 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 is) will come to an end, though not soon enough and the scourge of the Group Areas Act (as much as it is hard to believe) will resurface again and 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 over a hundred years before which must now be undone. It was not a struggle of one man alone. The Freedom Fighters who died so I could be writing these words right now in relative freedom from forces that would antagonise me, spirit me away and interrogate me, 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, 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 resonate within us and we will tremble and we will become weak but that is strength. You only have to look at Mahatma Ghandi to see why it is so, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Vincent van Gogh, the German composers, the French writers, the Nobel prize winners in South 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 that is violent, disturbing 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 love is thick like honey, 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 someday 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, rich, 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 wherever I go, secretly like a rogue. Forgive me. Africa, you are in a class of your own.

Abigail George, Port Elizabeth
4 October 2005

Fire in Bosnia 1992

The international press talk
In tongues reminiscent of old
Breathe air through iron lungs
Here the colour of death is bold.

War wounds are like stigmata
Earth signs pale in comparison
They wash over you like a downpour
Of rain over a suit of armour.

Residents in a crumbling community
Are much like a sculpture
An ethereal intrusion
In the eye of the beholder.

A poem about a war

The children are terrified – their memory
is worth so much more than wild beginnings
which must always be improved.
But aren't children always terrified in war?
Peace is like an angel food, an angel feast,
The new war is too abstract like normal
– it spills the truth beautifully like a serum.
The ground is dirty, cold and wet – the air stale.
Child soldiers: the enemy are boys just like you
Playing at safe, the hunter, the nomad, the warrior,
Lacking common sense, daring to play at gunfire,
cowards – positively small and insignificant.
They forget the loveliness of a simple life.
Their childhood is interrupted - all they see is red.

It is at first light when everything seems improved.
Love in war is like a death trap - it swallows
you whole like relevant case histories.
Children have been cast into an abyss indiscriminately,
there is no cure for this life, no substitute for lost dreams.
Mothers and children are sickened by this invasion.
At long last like the forgotten you are dead to me – the air is still.
Immoveable, crushing, cheating death – the wrong fit,
I've been waiting for this for a lifetime – the day
a child will say with maturity, their soul electrified –
Remember me? I am no longer invisible – scarring is finished.
I remained human – whole – all this time you were here.
War – your fiendish role is now diminished.
Sons are celebrated – red seeping into the ground is gone.

Death of a River

My name is Mary Savier she said
Do you come from the church, I asked her
No, she said – she came over the bridge
Near my house – the house where the bell
does not work
From the other side where I
have never been or seen – not even as a child
Where people do not drive cars
All the time to where they want to go
And live in fancy houses
And use words like ‘context’
Or ‘retrospective’ to express themselves
It concerned matters of the heart
She wanted news
Life is like that
When there is a death in the family
Like a straw that flows in the stream
And the death of a river filled
with tumultuous life in the ocean
People gather around us – enriching our bodies
Reminding us not to be afraid
To love again.

The Accident

There has been a death
A drowning in a river
A crowd has gathered to pay their respects
Emergency services are doing an effortless, bold drawing
Of printing a memory and identity
On the child’ body.
Circling, signalling and issuing warnings
that this is what will happen to you in life
this is what will happen to you
if you cease to pay attention.
Your forehead will cease
To bulge in concentration
There will no longer be
A glimmer of a smile regarded
As shyness or wariness
Towards the kindness of strangers
Your soul will be invisible
Your body; a sum of parts.

My heart takes flight.

The rubbish heaped at the water’s edge –
Elegant waste nonetheless there is a
Purity about the shape of the child’s head
Dirt under the fingernails is proof of evidence
Leaves and grass scribble randomly on the surface
Dust settles in the remainder of shadows, nooks and crannies –
a shower giving rise to a flutter of a thousand things
They could not find your shoes, little one
The young mother was cradled
By the arms of other young mothers and
Other residents of the community
In love, who is king and who is the slave?
How many times a day
Does this role reversal take place?
In life – I have discovered
The only solution for a broken heart is
To fall in love again and that it is only through
a news bulletin that our own empathy becomes visible.


Sacrifice spills over
Grows a root gravely
Settles like scent or dust

Let's put a stamp
And a seal on
That mouth of yours

Once bitten
Twice shy
Go away fool

You foul rogue;
Oval eyes wet
And black,

Obsidian moons
That rise out of nowhere
Glistening like fat

Like flowers
Blooming at night
Bait me like a hook saboteur

I man the shore
Like a well-oiled,
Golden lifesaver

Your twist and shake is like a fish
Your fingers grip wildly at air
Transmit your attitude elsewhere

You are done for hovering coward
Swipe at me again and I will smash
You to smithereens

Little man, skinny as a tick;
Fingers like frilled fissures
You're tarnished and thick.


Where have all the good gone – they have all died young
and we become like scavengers while megalomaniacs plot,
mercenaries do not surrender; they skulk and hide in the shadows.
You shall not plot anymore as protest writers come to the fore
Mercenaries will surrender, yes, they will be exposed
For as long as they undermine they defy justice and integrity
And pursue evil for their own wilful gain; power has twisted their minds
Diana, the princess of hearts is gone, gone, gone
But landmines are still here
Someone got hold of Ken Saro Wiwa, Chris Hani,
Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel
There are many more who witnessed atrocities and who paid
For our freedom with their lives.
Was Diana thwarted in her eagerness to get rid of those horrid mines?
Did those master minds in the Oval office or even 10 Downing Street
prefer her death to her furious life?
They would prefer promises, lies instead of decency and truth.
I, yes I, shall never fear those shadows.

Diana’s tragedy has removed a leading proponent
of the devastation caused by the colonial masters
We are scavengers, regal and wild like the generation
Those have come before us who embraced exposure even
In hunger, daily starvation, dying states of emergency
Stewing, stewing for all of eternity that lingers like tenderness.
The west is like a piece of splendid coloured glass –
glittering, transparent, decadent and it eventually gives way to decay
I do not thirst for their pre-arranged symbolism
I do not hunger for their restlessness, it only cools my anger
And offers me a brief respite to know how thankful I am
to my bloodline, to Africa that you, Africa are ancient gold
and in the beginnings of a regenerative state.
As all protest writers have said before, ‘Let us venture now
where our forefathers were brave enough to do so before’
Let us instinctively gather our collective histories that remain
Africa is ancient – it has made me humble.


I have a secret to tell you with my mouth cupped to your ear
You are as inescapable and permanent as the moon
You black dog as black as night, a ball cold, cryptic
Of mass destruction
As restrained as the sunlight that prettily dissolves
In the pink sky requiring no assistance like a dangerous,
Terrifying aphrodisiac or futile labour from physical witnesses
You are as untouchable as the death of loneliness.

Destination anywhere – the night is over
I am by the time I finally get to you saved and transfixed
Will all my mercurial rituals be translated and resolved?
Shut out the noise, shut in the light, consequence, copycats
compared to African deities, mother-tongue, absolution,
the sun, the safety of numbers of fixed independence.
I have once and for all shut out all tension and conflict.
I am now as intelligent and interesting as ever.

You make me feel
What are you waiting for? Where are you gone now?
I’ve been watching you for what feels like forever
Captivated by your youth, sensitivity, your future,
Promise, level headedness, by your feeling, example
Of personal triumph, beastliness; your art and habits
In love and hate bewitching and demanding.
My outrage is a thin black line.

Silence has become a relic
The pills have disappeared into thin air
All my life this waiting-game has been fine and exhilarating
When you finally return
No direction has sparked a change or transformation
In me: only now your silence instructs me, it strikes
a peace of mind, the ghost world that was once there
Before it vanishes in a blur, I am transfixed by the ether.

Your tenderness is refined, undeniable
I am brooding and terrifying: I abandon
and idolise you cautiously like glass within your boundaries
While you find my company, amusing and appear to be relaxed
We are alike in more respects than one, you devil, awesome and direct
Your staying power is inspiring and calculated
Your solutions terrify me, my resolutions do not stick.
You appear to be for the first time what you do not seem.

Please do not yield to metaphysics, decay, silence,
You miraculous, complicated terrible scar
Will I succeed? Will this black smile survive?
You have never let go, ranted or rivalled me
When morning comes I am a reborn goal-oriented extremist
Please never leave, nothing compares to you
You have replaced the intelligent occupation of the sun
Finally through common sense you are dismissed, we are through.


Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
Why can't I remember most days?
My name is English, the town that I've lived in
For all of my childhood and my date of birth, that I know.
Trivia, current affairs, vacant rooms, wards are rendered obsolete
Wherein we are all governed like some drowning thing by fate
But you wouldn't believe me if I told you.
Not even if I say, 'My life so far has been surreal.'
I am shut in, shut out, like the sound of silence calling
At the end of visiting day it is almost as if to say
When the melody dies, as if to say, you loved me
Because you told me so, the eyes never lie.
Through the eye of the needle I am almost invisible
My heart is on the mend, pumped up, pumping for joy
Internal becomes external – a white landscape
Of Nothingness, vapour like fog, crushing, numbing, still
External becomes internal – red, fuchsia, gold, burnt sienna, golden glow
Flashes of brilliance, of growth quickened, vanity, progress and my
Natural vision restored, granted, desensitised and sedated
When we are demotivated, unable to define or to remain
Unmarked by what lies at the bottom of our 'aloneness',
Our 'alien nation' –
moulded between shadow and shape on a canvas
The stunning light that always seems to surround me,
transform me, transfix me, bedazzles me
For now, I have simply declared myself a voyager, a passenger
Hoping all is not lost in the enemy that is time.

Africa, where art thou? was written by Abigail George, and is an excerpt from her book of the same name.
(Drum Beat Media, May 2011)

Copyright © Abigail George 2011.

I am a writer of short stories, articles, personal essays, a memoirist, diarist, grant writer and poet who was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1979. I studied film and television production for a short while at Newtown Film and Television School in Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa which was followed by brief stints as a trainee at a production house, studying Business Administration through correspondence, Bible School at Word of Faith Christian Centre in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and studying creative writing through the Leisure Study Group’s Writing School via correspondence again.

I have been published widely in print and online in journals and magazines in South Africa namely Litnet and on Litnet’s Blog, Sun Belly Press, Botsotso, Carapace, New Contrast, Kotaz, Timbila, Echoes Literary Journal, Upbeat and Tribute and online in Africa in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Turkey and Zimbabwe and internationally in the United States, England, Finland and Canada.

I have received two grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg. In 2005 for a poetry anthology entitled, Africa, where art thou? and again in 2008 for manuscript development for a collection of short stories entitled, The Origins of Smoke and Mirrors. In 2010 I was published in the following anthologies; Poems for Haiti (Poets Printery), Animal Antics, and Soulfully Seeking (Poetry Institute of Africa).


StoryTime: Weekly Fiction by African Writers.
All works published in StoryTime are
Copyrighted ©.
All rights reserved.