Monday, 24 November 2008

Ripeness is all

The van of political circumstances culminated to most South Africans, who were concerned by the wrong turn the politics of the country under the tutelage of the Tripartite Alliance had taken, answering the call of Terror Lekota to attend the National Convention at Sandton. Most of us who started this year as members of the ANC, albeit uncomfortably so since the purging that followed the present leadership of the ANC at Polokwane, never in our lives thought we could leave the ANC. But the unilateral decision by the NEC of the ANC to recall the former president of the republic, and the comedy of errors that followed that decision, was the last proverbial straw. We found ourselves caught between our beliefs and erratic behaviour of the leadership of our political home we’ve given our lives into, which we felt no longer correlate with our values and beliefs.

After making numerous means to engage our leadership our voice was ignored, nee, marginalised because we happened not to be of certain persuasion, or rallied behind certain individuals during the Polokwane presidential race. Surveying all this we felt we needed to find other means to reinstate the ideas of Freedom Charter we cherish. We felt we needed a consistent political party that must stand outside the lure of false politicking where we’ll be able to identify leaders that’ll take seriously the practise of our democracy, moral imperatives, social and economic justice. Leaders who share our social view and moral principles. Who’ll not just give symbolic self-expression to these values while readily disregarding them in promotion of group interest, or sacrifice them to party interests.

Coming from the National Convention it was clear that the majority of South Africans share our values. It put paid to those who regard us just as disgruntled members of the ANC, bitter because we lost or didn’t get power at Polokwane. The formation of the Congress of the People is not the winter of elite few’s distress but an answer to deeper aspirations of all South Africans. It is birth pangs of something beautiful and sublime for democratic freedom of our country that has long been pining to be born since it became clear that the dream of full non-racialism has not been fully realised even in the governance of the ANC.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is quoted to have, when asked why he disagreed with Plato, whose protégé he was, answered: Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is the truth. Those of us who emerge from the struggle heritage of the Liberation Movement still hold the ANC dear, but dearer still is the truth. Therefore, sober and free from prejudice of ANC bashing, we’ve decided to forge a new way to consolidate and advance the democratic gains for our freedom. This demanded extensive soul searching and maturity on our part, even emotional and material sacrifices. Like an older child who has decided to leave his parent’s house, following the eternal law of growth, we took on this step that must never be taken for granted, or whose significance must not be underestimated. Ripeness is all, as Edgar remarked in Shakespeare’s remarkable drama, King Lear.

We all know the story; the dementia of the old king, put suspicion and hating against his own children, making impossible for them to remain home. It is with that feeling we left our political home to forge ahead to more freedom and diversity. We repeat. We should be better than our grumpy old men, and try never to use barbed tongues against our parents.

As we leave our home, fate strangles our hearts to free our heads. We take the responsibility of an older child to find our own way. We are aware that we must be vigilant, guard against blowing our inheritance with whores of foreign customs. Instead, like Joseph, we go before our brethren to plough the fields of Egypt, where we must gather granaries to bolster us when the drought comes. There’ll come a time when our fathers will send our brothers to seek food from our granaries. Like Joseph, we should be kind and not vindictive even then. We must share with them what we’ve learned as we all resume our much to a better life for all. For now, Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither: / Ripeness is all.

The shape of every historical present is structured by anticipation of a possible better future. We believe the Congress of the People is our best available means for the country to move forward against exhausted politics and ideologies. We need vigorous means to promote conditions for our freedom and democracy that are not determined by factional powers of the day, but based on strong ground of constitutional values. We need effective means to combat corruption, to move away from the endless schisms, empty barrelling and petrified vanity.

If anything our recent political experience has demonstrated that we should never again allow ourselves to be mystified by the lure of nostalgia into giving political power that serves power-interests and dead sloganeering. Even at the price of being called reactionary, anti-revolutionary, or labelled counter-revolutionary dissenters; we must never allow it again. Ranting of counter-revolutionary and all have become outmoded to the language and realities of our times. Our conditions have shifted. We need new politics to fit our era and social aspirations. We need ways and means to interpret even to those who do not yet see what the spirit of freedom fluttering within our hearts is doing. For too long we’ve been going in circles around the walls of Jericho, it is time we go to a higher place, to bring down the shackles of our mental slavery.

We must move to the next step of our liberation. Political emancipation, to be final, must also involve the liberation of self also from self. Slavery comes in different forms and is, more than anything, an internal mental disposition. We should not allow ourselves to be blinded by outmoded politics. Times are a changing. Nothing must obscure the complex diffuse of our naturalising social reality towards human dignity for all. Failing which the glories of our past, fast fading into empty sloganeering, would be nothing but just that, past. With the establishment of the Congress of the People the stage is set yet for the new trial of our invention.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

All We Have Left Unsaid (Book Review)

I usually avoid books that win literature accolades for simple reason that I, almost always, end up confused about why. I’m happy to say Maxine Case’s book, All we have left unsaid, proved to be slightly different, a wonderful surprise despite the fact that it was a winner of the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in Africa.

In a nutshell, the book is about two sisterly-motherly loves and growing up in South Africa during the late eighties. It is a personal painful story of discovery, and panting means of trying to stay at ease with the world. Danny (Danika), whose older sister is called Lili (Lilian-Rose), is a protagonist. She begins her narrative over her dying mother’s hospital bed. Naturally, the poignancy of the situation takes her back to their growing up years. The usual kitsch and tat follows, which in this case lacks complexity and depth. The hard truth, as written by Jessa Crispin concerning these kind of memoirs is that; Either your book must be exceptionally written (a trait hard to find in memoirs these days) or you must have done something exceptional. You must have travelled to the underground or the heavens and come back with fire or golden apples or at least a little wisdom. It can’t just be, “Daddy hit me, mommy got cancer” — everyone has a sad story, and it is possible to go through a trauma or experience something significant without gaining any insight.

On other matters; it is strange that in South Africa I should complain of an over edited book (we are known to be sloppy in this department). But Maxine Case’s book is over edited. The style of writing is taught and taut, as is fashion in our times. Such style of writing suites well a short story genre, where the reader is challenged to stay at his / her alert best to the end. In a long work things get to a point where it feels like you’re being pulled by a tight rope, or listening to jarring notes from a tightly pulled guitar strings. That’s where the machinery starts creaking.

All we left unsaid is an easy read; an easy read with habitual use of active voice that, at some stage, makes for forcible writing. It maintains a certain level of, not invention, but performance that makes a reader feels like he’s being dragged by the ear by a headmistress. Our era believes that sentences of description or exposition must always be lively and emphatic; like, for example, in Case’s book, the penultimate passage of page 42:

My father comes home all the time now that my mother is pregnant. He still brings us biltong and still lifts me in the air, but he doesn’t play with me as much as he used to. He also does not fetch me from school.

I know that conjunctions are passé in our era, but we tend to forget that it helps to insert them now and then, just to lift the strain on the reader if nothing else. The paragraph would have been fine even if written as:

Father comes home all the time now that mother is pregnant, bringing us biltong and lifting me in the air though he no longer play with me as much as he used to. He no longer fetches me from school either.

It may be that this style of writing breaks all modern rules of tautness by substituting transitives in created actives, but this creates space for continuous flow in the reader’s mind, rather than all the abrupt ends and immediate beginnings. The point is made better by William Strunk, Jr. in his educative book Elements of Style. “[A] writer may err by making his sentences too uniformly compact and periodic, and an occasional loose sentence prevents the style from becoming too formal and gives the reader a certain relief.”

The tendency of shortening sentences, simplifying diction, and throwing confetti of platitudes (some thing Case’s book suffers from I am afraid) shows patterns of increased pandering to the lowest common intellectual denominator. It is worse when it is combined with mockery of complexity and analysis that is sometimes regarded as wit in out times.

The book All we left unsaid reads like a chic-flick version Shirley Goodness and Mercy. Only it lacks true narrative transport because it has very little natural psychological insightfulness. It is not a work of art but a good read for those who want less introspection (strange thing considering the subject), and more intrigues of contemporary sensationist novelists. It is not in the calibre of Marian Keys (my obsession on the genre), but then again it is Case’s debut book and I for one am looking forward to her second attempt.