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International Reflective Writing

South Africa

Diana Ferrus

Born in Worcester, Cape Province on the 29 August, 1953, the third born of six children and the daughter of Ann and Jacobus Ferrus.  Diana completed her BA degree with Industrial Psychology and Sociology as majors in 1993. She started BA Honours (Women’s and Gender Studies) in 1997 and completed in 1999. Currently completing Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies. Thesis topic: “Black Afrikaans women writers: the joy and frustration of the writing process.” Diana belongs to a women’s writers group called WEAVE (Women’s Education & Artistic Voice Expression) and in 2002 their book ink@boilingpoint was published. Her short story, “Sarah will be home, a story of restoration” and her poem, “I’ve come to take you home”, a tribute to Sarah Baartman is included. Diana Ferrus writes in both English and Afrikaans. She is also a founder member of “Bush Poets”, an all women poet group from the University of the Western Cape. “Bush” was the derogatory name given to the institution in the early sixties. Diana proudly adds: "We coined the term!"

I've come to take you home*

I've come to take you home -
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.

I have come to wretch you away -away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!

I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands                   

I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.

I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white -
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.


Sarah Baartman, at rest at last

Lucille Davie

12 August 2002

Sarah Baartman, displayed as a freak because of her unusual physical features, has finally been laid to rest, 187 years after she left Cape Town for London. Her remains were buried on Women’s Day, 9 August 2002, in the area of her birth, the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape. Baartman was born in 1789. She was working as a slave in Cape Town when she was “discovered” by British ship’s doctor William Dunlop, who persuaded her to travel with him to England. We’ll never know what she had in mind when she stepped on board, of her own free will, a ship for London.

But it’s clear what Dunlop had in mind, to display her as a “freak”, a “scientific curiosity”, and make money from these shows, some of which he promised to give to her. Baartman had unusually large buttocks and genitals, and in the early 1800s Europeans were arrogantly obsessed with their own superiority, and with proving that others, particularly blacks, were inferior and oversexed. Baartman’s physical characteristics, not unusual for Khoisan women, although her features were larger than normal, were “evidence” of this prejudice, and she was treated like a freak exhibit in London.

The 'Hottentot Venus'

She was called the “Hottentot Venus”, 'Hottentot' being a name given to people with cattle. They had acquired these cattle by migrating northwards to Angola and returned to South Africa with them, some 2 000 years before the first European settlement at the Cape in 1652. Prior to this, they were indistinguishable from the Bushmen or San, the first inhabitants of South Africa, who had been in the region for around 100 000 years as hunter-gatherers.

Khoisan is used to denote their relationship to the San people. The label Hottentot took on derogatory connotations, and is no longer used. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, a cruel reference to Baartman being an object of admiration and adoration instead of the object of leering and abuse that she became. Baartman objectified.

An early nineteenth century French print entitled La Belle Hottentot.

She spent four years in London, then moved to Paris, where she continued her degrading round of shows and exhibitions. In Paris she attracted the attention of French scientists, in particular Georges Cuvier. No one knows if Dunlop was true to his word and paid Baartman for her “services”, but if he did pay her, it wasn’t sufficient to buy herself out of the life she was living.

Once the Parisians got tired of the Baartman show, she was forced to turn to prostitution. She didn’t last the ravages of a foreign culture and climate, or the further abuse of her body. She died in 1815 at the age of 25. The cause of death was given as “inflammatory and eruptive sickness”, possibly syphilis. Others suggest she was an alcoholic. Whatever the cause, she lived and died thousands of kilometres from home and family, in a hostile city, with no means of getting herself home again.

Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, then removed her skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled them and displayed them in bottles at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. Some 160 years later they were still on display, but were finally removed from public view in 1974. In 1994, then president Nelson Mandela suggested that her remains be brought home.

Other representations were made, but it took the French government eight years to pass a bill, apparently worded so as to prevent other countries from claiming the return of their stolen treasures, to allow their small piece of “scientific curiosity” to be returned to South Africa.

In January 2002, Sarah Baartman’s remains were finally returned, and remained in Cape Town pending a decision on her final burial place. Marang Setshwaelo, writing for, says that Dr Willa Boezak, a Khoisan rights activist, believes that a poem written by Khoisan descendant Diana Ferrus in 1998 played a major role in helping bring Baartman home. Boezak says: “It took the power of a woman, through a simple, loving poem, to move hard politicians into action.”

Whatever the reason, Sarah Baartman is home, and has finally had her dignity restored by being buried where she belongs - far away from where her race and gender were so cruelly exploited.



Michael Cope

Michael Cope was born in Cape Town in 1952. His father was the distinguished novelist Jack Cope. In addition to being a poet, he works as a writer, designer and goldsmith. He has published a novel, Spiral of Fire(David Philip, 1986), a volume of poems, Scenes and Visions (Snailpress, 1990), several chapbooks of poetry, and extensively on the World Wide Web. Ghaap, Sonnets from the Northern Cape is from Kwela Books. He is a veteran performer of poetry, and has made a CD of jazz & poetry with Chris Wildman, Everybody Needs.

Michael Cope’s poetry celebrates the particularity of image, person and story, while evoking a recognition of how each minute particular simultaneously resonates into the wider living system. Implicit in this approach is a critique of the globalizing systems of business, money and power which obscure this way of seeing. While attempting to articulate the ecological, social and spiritual cost of such development, the poems suggest, through a variety of voices and genres, the possibility of an other view.

A Bomb-Blast Came out of the Dark

a bomb-blast came out of the dark
we heard people running, got dressed
went out and ran with them
we stood talking not far from where
pieces of the station lavatory
were sharded on the pavement

(a statement about the bomb the next day
claimed it for the freedom struggle)

we went back to bed and continued
making love in the excited dark

and when we exploded we fell into each other
and burned with a light fire and lay
tight together  wet with sweat

and a star shone into the bedroom
where we'd parted the curtain
to look at the people running


speech by one who is afraid;
speech which is afraid of fear;
speech which teaches subtle terror;
speech to cause another fear;
Inner speech which skirts the edge of fear all night, knowing
   the lip of the black abyss filled with the subtle inner fire of alarm
   Inner speech which runs the news CNN massacres running
   down the street people and black smoke pain breaking
glass loss loss loss
talk which makes the speaker fear:

talk anticipating pain;
talk about or inducing fear, spoken between midnight and 4:00 am;
inner speech of absent pain, or contingent pain;
silent talk of loss;
talk which remembers old hurt;
talk recollecting ancient fear;
talk of fear of the parents, or of their loss
fear of anger

words of worry — a stone in the breast
words of dread — a flame in the belly
words of fear — a rag in the throat

words of terror — mud holds the feet


A Historian visits 

A historian visits South Africa.
Most "white" people he meets
   fear the future.
   They see only
   "more violence"
   "less money"
"a hard time ahead."

But he also finds that a minority—
   religious people,
   organised women,
   some NGO members
   —the people who still carry on
for peace and for democracy
have a careful optimism.

They say:
   "Things'll improve."
   "We're learning to work together."
"There are many small victories."


Olive Schreiner


Olive Schreiner, the daughter of Gottlob Schreiner and Rebecca Lyndall, was born in Basutoland, South Africa, on 24th March, 1855. Her parents were missionaries and the family lived in an isolated part of the Cape Colony. 

In 1865 Schreiner was dismissed by the London Missionary Society when it discovered that he had been engaged in trading activities. The family experienced a long period of poverty. Attempts by Schreiner to start his own business ended in failure and he died a broken man in 1876. 

Olive found work as a governess and then taught at the Kimberley New School. In her free time she began work on a novel about her experiences in South Africa. When Olive had saved enough money she travelled to Britain with the objective of becoming a doctor. While working at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh Olive heard about the Women's Medical School that had been established by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake. Olive moved to London where she began attending lectures at the Medical School. Olive also began going to socialist meetings and during this time became friends with leading radicals such as Edward Carpenter, Eleanor Marx and Bruce Glasier. 

Schreiner was introduced to George Meredith who worked for the publishers, Chapman & Hall. She showed him the novel she had written on life in South Africa. He was very impressed and the Story of an African Farm was published in 1883. The novel tells the story of Lyndall, a woman living on an isolated ostrich farm. The book was praised by feminists who approved of the strong heroine who controls her own destiny. Acclaimed by the critics, the book sold well in both Britain and America. W.T. Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, claimed that Schreiner was "the only woman of genius South Africa has ever produced". 

Soon after the novel was published Schreiner developed an intimate relationship with the writer, Havelock Ellis. They both shared the same views on sexuality, free love, marriage, the emancipation of women, sexual equality and birth control. Although they often lived apart, they wrote letters to each other for the next thirty-six years. 

Schreiner followed Story of an African Farm with two collections of short stories, Dreams (1891) and Dream Life and Real Life (1893) but the two novels she was working on at the time, From Man to Man and Undine, were not published until after her death. 

In 1894 Schreiner returned to South Africa where she married Samuel Cronwright. Her only child, died sixteen hours after being born. Schreiner continued to write and her next book, Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland (1897) was a strong attack on Imperialism and British racism in South Africa. However, as a pacifist, Schreiner was unwilling to give her full support to the armed rising that led to the Boer War in 1899. 

Women and Labour was published in 1911. Although Schreiner was disappointed with the book, it was immediately acclaimed as an important statement on feminism and had a major influence on a large number of young women. A strong supporter of universal suffrage, Schreiner argued that the vote was "a weapon, by which the weak may be able to defend themselves against the strong, the poor against the weak". 

On the outbreak of the First World War Schreiner moved back to Britain. Over the next four years she was active in the peace movement and worked closely with organizations such as the Union of Democratic Control and the No-Conscription Fellowship. 

In August 1920 Olive Schreiner returned to South Africa. Four months later she died suddenly on 10th December, 1920. She was buried without religious ceremony next to her daughter at Buffels Kop, overlooking the Karoo Desert.

Source: Spartacus Educational:


Woman and War
From “Woman and Labor”

In supplying the men for the carnage of a battlefield, women have not merely lost actually more blood, and gone through a more acute anguish and weariness, in the months of bearing and in the final agony of child-birth, than has been experienced by the men who cover it; but, in the months of rearing that follow, the women of the race go through a long, patiently endured strain which no knapsacked soldier on his longest march has ever more than equalled; while, even in the matter of death, in all civilized societies, the probability that the average woman will die in child-birth is immeasurably greater than the probability that the average male will die in battle.

There is, perhaps, no woman, whether she have borne children, or be merely potentially a child-bearer, who could look down upon a battlefield covered with slain, but the thought would rise in her, “So many mothers’ sons! So many young bodies brought into the world to lie there! So many months of weariness and pain while bones and muscles were shaped within! So many hours of anguish and struggle that breath might be! So many baby mouths drawing life at women’s breasts;—all this, that men might lie with glazed eyeballs, and swollen faces, and fixed, blue, unclosed mouths, and great limbs tossed—this, that an acre of ground might be manured with human flesh, that next year’s grass or poppies or karoo bushes may spring up greener and redder, where they have lain, or that the sand of a plain may have the glint of white bones!” And we cry, “Without an inexorable cause, this must not be!” No woman who is a woman says of a human body, “It is nothing!”

Olive Schreiner, an open letter to conscientious objectors
published in the Labour Leader (16th March, 1916) 

At a time when the beloved youth and the splendid manhood of all our nations, Turkish and English, Russian and Bulgarian, German and French, are pouring forth their life's blood for some Ruler, some Flag, some State, some thing which seems to them the highest good, shall we who believe that the beacon light which burns before us is the brightest and largest the soul of man has known - a light which is destined to shed itself over the whole earth till the petty competitions and hatreds and antagonisms of races and States are melted in its brightness. You are standing for the religion of the future.


Afzal Moolla: Freedom

Afzal Moolla was born in Delhi, India while his parents were in exile, fleeing Apartheid South Africa. He then traveled wherever his parent’s work took them and he still feels that he hasn’t stopped traveling. Afzal works and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.


for South Africa’s liberation

The shackles have been cast off.
Chains broken.

A people once squashed,
under the jackboot of Apartheid,
are free.

Free at last!

Freedom came on the 27th day in that April of 1994.

Freedom from prejudice.
From institutionalized racism.
From being relegated to second-class citizens.

Freedom came and we danced.
We cried.
We ululated as we elected
our revered Mandela.

President Nelson Mandela. Our very own beloved ‘Madiba’.

Black and white and brown and those in-between.
All hues of this rainbow nation,
rejoiced as we breathed in the air of freedom and democracy.

Today we pause.
We remember.
We salute.

The brave ones whose sacrifices made this day possible,
on that 27th day of April,
18 years ago.

Today we dance.
We sing.
We ululate.
We cry.

Tears of joy and tears of loss.
Of remembrance and of forgiveness.
Of reconciliation and of memories.

Today we pause.

We acknowledge the tasks ahead.
The hungry.
The naked.
The destitute.

Today we reaffirm,
that promise of freedom.

From want.
From hunger.
From eyes without promise.

Today we also wish to reflect.
On unfulfilled promises.
On the proliferation of greed.
On the blurring of the ideals of freedom.

Today we say.

We will take back the dream.
We will renew the promise.
We will not turn away.

Today we pledge.
To stand firm.
To keep the pressure turned on.
To remind those in the corridors of power,
that we the people need to savor the fruits of the tree of freedom.

And till that time,
when all shall share in the bounty of democracy,

We shall remain vigilant,
and strong.

And we shall continue,
to struggle.

And to sing out loud,

“We shall overcome”.

Source: Posted by Knot Magazine, Fall Issue: 2012:


Albert John Luthuli: Tribal Chief and ANC Leader

Albert John Luthuli, the president of the African National Congress, was an African politician and teacher. A noble man and an adamant leader, Luthuli fought for African's rights to equality and justice following a non-violent resistance. Before elected to the presidency of the ANC, he was the president of his tribe and the leader of around 10 million black Africans in their non-violent struggle for civil rights in South Africa. An anti-apartheid leader and president of ANC, Luthuli actively participated in the movement against the White minority Government in South Africa and the 'pass law' introduced by the government to circumscribe the freedom of movement of Africans. Throughout his struggle, he was banned, arrested and poisoned several times by the government, which only reinforced his determination and commitment to the cause; he succeeded in establishing peace and equality for his country people despite theses roadblocks. In 1960, Luthuli was honored with Nobel Peace Prize for his role in African Civil Rights movement.

Childhood & Early Life Luthuli was born in 1898 near Bulawayo in Rhodesia as the third son of Seventh-day Adventist missionary John Bunyan Luthuli and Mtonya Gumede. After his father’s death around 1906, Albert Jon Luthuli moved to Grout Ville in South Africa, where his mother had spent her childhood. With his mother's support, Luthuli went to a local Congregationalist Institute for his primary education before he took admission in a boarding school called Ohlange Institute.  On completing a teacher’s course from a Methodist Institution at Eden dale around 1917, Luthuli took up a job as principal in an intermediate school in Natal. In 1920, he attended a higher teacher’s training course at Adams College with a scholarship provided by the government and joined the training college staff afterward. Albert Luthuli was elected as the secretary of the African Teacher’s Association in 1928 and subsequently its president in 1933.   

Initial Career and Personal Life Luthuli was an active member and an adviser to the organized church. During his early life, he served as the Chairman of the South African Board of the Congregationalist Church of America, the President of the Natal Mission Conference, and an executive member of the Christian Council of South Africa. He married his colleague Nokukhanya Bhengu in 1927 and the couple settled in Grout Ville, where their first child was born in 1929. Later the couple had six more children. Albert Luthuli was heir to a small tribe of around 5,000 people in Gout Ville which was led by his grandfather. Though Luthuli hesitated to take the responsibility, as it demanded the sacrifice of his job and financial security; he finally became the chief of his tribe in 1936. He remained on the position until 1952, when he was removed from his office by the government. While on position, he took major responsibilities acting as the representative of the central government and his people.   

Anti- Apartheid Activist In 1936, the government imposed total restriction on non-white community, circumscribing every aspect of their life. Luthuli’s concern for all black people made him join ANC (American National Congress) in 1944. The Africans were denied the right to vote, and in 1948 the government adopted the policy of racial segregation, known as ‘Apartheid’; the Pass Laws were tightened in the 1950's. The objective of ANC was to secure human rights for the black community, bringing them the rights to justice and equality.   He was elected to the committee of the Natal Provincial Division in 1945 and soon after, he became the president of the division in 1951. The following year, he came in contact with other ANC leaders and decided to join them in a struggle for justice and equality for all South African people. He organized non-violent campaigns to raise voice against discriminatory laws and racial segregation. He was charged with treason and was asked to pull out with the ANC or leave his office as tribal chief. Luthuli refused to do either and subsequently, he was fired from his chieftainship. In the same year, he was elected president-general of ANC.   

Bans Soon after his selection as President to ANC, the government imposed a ban on him that restricted his movement and prevented him to hold public meetings in South Africa. The ban expired after two years, upon which he went to Johannesburg to attend a meeting and before he could reach home, another banned was imposed on him, confining him to a very short radius of his home. The ban remained for two years. These bans came as an attempt to affect his popularity among the people, weakening the civil rights movement.   After the second ban expired, Luthuli went to attend an ANC conference in 1956, and was arrested again and charged with treason. He was released in December, 1957, when charges against him were dropped after initial hearings. Luthuli faced his third ban in 1958, when government imposed a five-year ban, prohibiting him from publishing anything and confining him to a radius of 15 mile of his house. The ban was temporarily lifted in 1960 and he was arrested and set as an exemplar for demonstrators against the pass law. One final time the ban was lifted in December 1961, when Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.   

Umkhonto we Sizwe Luthuli as an active leader of the civil rights movement, worked with Nelson Mandela. Though Luthuli played a key role in the planning and conduct of the civil rights, in December 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched without his sanction, making him feel dejected and isolated. In 1962, he became Rector of the University of Glasgow and served till 1965. The forth ban followed again in 1964, confining him to a very short vicinity of his home. In 1966, Luthuli met Robert F. Kennedy United States Senator, in South Africa and the meeting successfully drew attention from across the world towards the hardship and injustice South Africans were exposed to. In 2004, he was elected 41st in the SABC3’s Great South Africans.

The Chief Speaks

It was the discrimination between white and nonwhite that prompted nonwhite Africans in 1912 to establish the African National Congress. Its founders were nonwhite Africans who had obtained a higher education, either abroad or at home, in the days when they still had the opportunity to do so. At first the African National Congress tried to influence political development by means of petitions and deputations to the authorities, but when the attempt proved fruitless and new laws restricting the rights of nonwhites were passed, the African National Congress adopted a more active line, especially after 1949. It was in the mid-1940s that Lutuli began to participate in this work of the African National Congress, of which he became a member in 1944. He was elected to the Committee of the Natal Section in 1945 and in 1951 became president of the Natal Section. In December, 1952, he was elected president of the entire African National Congress, a position he retained until the organization was banned by the government in 1960.

It was during these transitional years of adopting stronger action, based on boycotts, defiance campaigns, and strikes, that Lutuli came to influence so profoundly the African National Congress. He says himself that the Congress never passed any specific resolution to the effect that its struggle was to be pursued by nonviolent means. Actually, however, it has been waged with peaceful means, a policy at all times supported by the Congress administration. Lutuli himself has always been categorically opposed to the use of violence. Within the organization he has had to overcome opposition from two different quarters: from the older members, who supported the more passive approach, and from those members - mainly the younger ones - who wanted to make South Africa an entirely nonwhite state.

As a result of Lutuli's participation in the more active struggle of the African National Congress, the government presented him with an ultimatum: he must either renounce his position as a chief or give up his seat in the Congress. He refused to comply with either of these alternatives and was immediately deposed as chief, whereupon he issued his significant declaration entitled "The Chief Speaks", which concludes with the words: "The Road to Freedom is via the Cross." In his declaration, he says:

"What have been the fruits of my many years of moderation? Has there been any reciprocal tolerance or moderation from the Government, be it Nationalist or United Party? No! On the contrary, the past thirty years have seen the greatest number of Laws restricting our rights and progress until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all: no adequate land for our occupation, our only asset, cattle, dwindling, no security of homes, no decent and remunerative employment, more restrictions to freedom of movement through passes, curfew regulations, influx control measures; in short, we have witnessed in these years an intensification of our subjection to ensure and protect white supremacy.

It is with this background and with a full sense of responsibility that, under the auspices of the African National Congress (Natal), I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today, the spirit that revolts openly and boldly against injustice and expresses itself in a determined and nonviolent manner...

The African National Congress, its nonviolent Passive Resistance Campaign, may be of nuisance value to the Government, but it is not subversive since it does not seek to overthrow the form and machinery of the State but only urges for the inclusion of all sections of the community in a partnership in the Government of the country on the basis of equality.

Laws and conditions that tend to debase human personality - a God-given force - be they brought about by the State or other individuals, must be relentlessly opposed in the spirit of defiance shown by St. Peter when he said to the rulers of his day: Shall we obey God or man? No one can deny that insofar as nonwhites are concerned in the Union of South Africa, laws and conditions that debase human personality abound. Any chief worthy of his position must fight fearlessly against such debasing conditions and laws...

It is inevitable that in working for Freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: the Road to Freedom Is via the Cross."


Jeremy Cronin

Jeremy Cronin grew up in Simonstown, South Africa, where his father was a naval officer. He became a Marxist during his student years at the University of Cape Town and the Sorbonne, where he gained his MA in philosophy. In 1976 he was arrested for distributing pamphlets for the banned African National Congress. His seven years in gaol as a political prisoner gave rise to the poems of his only volume, Inside (Johannesburg, 1983), which won the Ingrid Jonker Prize in 1984 . He spent three years in exile in London and Lusaka before returning home in 1990 , and is on the executive of the South African Communist Party.
Prison freed Cronin from the fear that lyricism is self-indulgent in a context of oppression: his personal suffering became part of the collective suffering and resistance of his comrades. This African humanism is enhanced in many of his poems by indigenous diction and oral repetition, and his work is perhaps best encountered in performance.

Read more: Jeremy Cronin Biography - ( 1949 –  ), Inside, Tri-Quarterly, 69, Critical Arts - African, Poems, Inside, and London 

Motho Ke Motho Ka Batho Babang (A Person is a Person Because of Other People)

   By holding my mirror out of the window I see
   Clear to the end of the passage
   There's a person down there.
   A prisoner polishing a doorhandle.
   In the mirror I see him see
   My face in the mirror,
   I see the fingertips of his free hand
   Bunch together, as if to make
   An object the size of a badge
   Which travels up to his forehead
   The place of an imaginary cap.
   (This means: A warder.)
   Two fingers are extended in a vee
   And wiggle like two antennae.
   (He's being watched.)
   A finger of his free hand makes a watch-hand's arc
   On the wrist of his polishing arm without
   Disrupting the slow-slow rhythm of his work.
   (Later. Maybe, later we can speak.)
   Hey! Wat maakjy daar?
   -- a voice from around the corner.
   No. Just polishing baas.
   He turns his back to me, now watch
   His free hand, the talkative one,
   Slips quietly behind
   -- Strength brother, it says,
   In my mirror,
   A black fist.

Group Photo from Pretoria Local on the Occasion of a Fourth Anniversary (Never Taken)

An uprooted tree leaves

behind it a hole in the ground 

But after a few months 

You would have to have known

 that something grew here once. 

And a person's uprooted?

Leaves a gap too, I suppose, but then

after some years . . .
There we are

seated in a circle, 

Mostly in short pants, some of us barefoot, 

Around the spot where four years before 

When South African troops were repulsed before


Our fig tree got chopped

down in reprisal.–

That's Raymond 

Nudging me, he's pointing

At Dave K who looks bemusedly

Up at the camera. Denis sits on an upturned

Paraffin tin. When this shot was taken 

He must have completed

seventeen years of his first
Life sentence.

David R at the back is saying

Something to John, who looks at Tony who

Jerks his hand

So it's partly blurred.
There we are, seven of us

(but why the grinning?) 

Seven of us, seated, in a circle, 

The unoccupied place in the center

stands for what happened 

Way outside the frame of this photo. 

So SMILE now, hold still and


I name it: 


For sure an uprooted tree

leaves behind a hole in the ground. 

After a few years 

You would have to have known

 it was here once. And a person? 

There we are

seated in our circle, grinning,

mostly in short pants,

 some of us barefoot.

to learn how to speak

jeremy cronin

To learn how to speak

With the voices of the land,

To parse the speech in its rivers,

To catch in the inarticulate grunt

Stammer, call, cry, babble, tongue's knot

A sense of the stoneness of these stones

From which all words are cut.

To trace with the tongue wagon-trails

Saying the suffix of their aches in –kuil, -pan, -fontein,

In watery names that confirm

The dryness of their ways.

To visit the places of occlusion, or the lick

In a vlei-bank dawn.

To bury my mouth in the pit of your arm,

In that planetarium,

Pectoral beginning to the nub of time

Down there close to the water-table, to feel

The full moon as it drums

At the back of my throat

Its cow-skinned vowel.

To write a poem with words like:

I’m telling you,

Stompie, stickfast, golovan,

Songololo, just boombang, just

To understand the least inflections,

To voice without swallowing

Syllables born in tin shacks, or catch

The 5.15 ikwata bust fife

Chwannisberg train, to reach

The low chant of the mine gang’s

Mineral glow of our people’s unbreakable resolve.


To learn how to speak

With the voices of this land.
we would like you to know
ana castillo
We would like you to know
we are not all
nor revolutionaries
but we are all survivors.
We do not all carry
zip guns, hot pistols,
steal cars.
We do know how
to defend ourselves.
We do not all have
slicked-back hair
distasteful apparel
unpolished shoes
although the economy
doesn't allow everyone
a Macy's chargecard.
We do not all pick
lettuce, run
assembly lines, clean
restaurant tables, even
if someone has to do it.
We do not all sneak
under barbed wire or
wade the Rio Grande.
These are the facts.
We would like you to know
we are not all brown.
Genetic history has made
some of us blue eyed as any
German immigrant
and as black as a descendant
of an African slave.
We never claimed to be
a homogeneous race.
We are not all victims,
all loyal to one cause,
all perfect; it is a
psychological dilemma
no one has resolved.
We would like to give
a thousand excuses
as to why we all find
ourselves in a predicament
residents of a controversial
how we were all caught
with our pants down
and how petroleum was going
to change all that but
you've heard it all before and
with a wink and a snicker
left us babbling amongst
We would like you to know
guilt or apologetic gestures
won't revive the dead
redistribute the land
or natural resources.
We are left
with one final resolution
in our own predestined way,
we are going forward.
There is no going back.


Joe Slovo: What Room for Compromise?

Joe Slovo was born in Lithuania in 1926 and moved to South Africa with his parents at the age nine. His father was a van driver in Johannesburg, and Slovo worked as a dispatch clerk for a chemist while studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he graduated with BA and LLB degrees. He volunteered for the South African forces during World War II and was subsequently active in the Springbok Legion, a radical ex-servicemen's league.

Slovo was an active member of the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) from the 1940s and after becoming an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar became well known for his work as a defence lawyer in political trials. He married Ruth First, daughter of SACP treasurer Julius First, in 1949. The following year the couple was among the first 600 people 'named' in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act, and thereby subjected to various restrictions.

Slovo was a founding member of the Congress of Democrats in 1953 and represented the organisation on the national consultative committee of the Congress Alliance created at the time of the call for a Congress of the People. In 1954, he was banned from attending all gatherings under the Suppression of Communism Act, but continued his political activities covertly.

Slovo contributed to the drafting of the Freedom Charter, but was unable to attend the Congress of the People in Kliptown because of his restriction order. He watched the proceedings through binoculars from a nearby rooftop.

In December 1956 Slovo, together with other Congress activists, was charged with treason. He acted as a member of the defence team as well as being an accused. During the preparatory examination of the Treason Trial, as it came to be known, he was charged for contempt of court when objecting to the magistrate's handling of the examination, but was acquitted on appeal. Treason charges against him were dropped in late 1958.

During the state of emergency in 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre, Slovo was detained for a four-month period. Slovo was one of the earliest members of the military wing of the ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe, and regularly attended meetings of its high command at Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia. He left the country in June 1963 on an 'external mission' and a month later police captured the remaining key figures on the high command, including Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. A month after the arrest, Slovo's wife - Ruth First - was detained for almost four months. On her release she left the country, together with their three daughters.

Slovo continued to work for the ANC and the SACP abroad and in 1977 moved to Maputo, Mozambique, where he established an operational centre for the ANC. In 1982, Ruth First was killed in a parcel bomb explosion in Maputo. Two years later, Slovo was forced to leave Mozambique following the signing of the Nkomati Accord between that country and South Africa. In January 1986, a British court awarded Slovo substantial damages against a South African newspaper group over a report in The Star newspaper that he had orchestrated the murder of his wife.

Slovo was chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe until April 1987, a member of the central committee of the SACP, and served on the revolutionary council of the ANC from 1969 until its dissolution in 1983. At the ANC consultative conference held in Zambia in 1985, Slovo became the first white member of the ANC's national executive.

Following the death of Moses Mabhida in 1986, Slovo was appointed general secretary of the SACP. Early in 1987, the SACP asked the ANC to relieve Slovo of his MK position as a result of the pressure of his duties as general secretary of the SACP. As a result he vacated the position of chief of staffs of Umkhonto we Sizwe in April, but retained his position on the ANC national executive and its political-military council.

In June 1989, the SACP congress adopted a new programme of action to replace its 1962 guidelines. It is accepted that the strategies of armed struggled did not rule out the possibilities of negotiations and compromise. In January 1990, Slovo circulated a document entitled Has Socialism Failed?, indicating that the SACP would commit itself to a multi-party post-apartheid democracy, freedom of organisation, speech, thought, press, movement, residence, conscience and religion; full trade union rights for all workers including the right to strike; and one-person, one-vote in free and democratic elections.

The SACP and ANC were unbanned in February 1990, and Slovo's name as party general secretary, but in 1991 he retired from this position largely because of ill health, he was subsequently elected party chairman at the SACP conference held in December 1991.

At the ANC conference held in Durban in July 1991, Slovo was reelected to its national executive committee. He also served on the ANC's national working committee.

During 1991, Slovo served as a SACP representative on the National Peace Committee. In December, he was present at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served on its working group dealing with constitutional principles and a constitution-making body and process.After the 1994 elections Slovo was elected to the cabinet where he served as Minister of Housing until his death on 6 January 1995.


Who's Who in South African Politics IV: Pg 291  


Negotiations: What room for compromise?

Joe Slovo opens the debate on a negotiations strategy

Sooner or later we will be back at the negotiating table. I believe that it is urgent to arm ourselves with a more adequate theoretical framework within which to determine our approaches. Some of our responses have been too ad hoc and have sometimes been influenced by a passing mood and a passion generated by an event or a particularly outrageous pronouncement by the other side.

The starting point for developing a framework within which to approach some larger questions in the negotiating process, is to answer the question: why are we negotiating? We are negotiating because towards the end of the 80s we concluded that, as a result of its escalating crisis, the apartheid power bloc was no longer able to continue ruling in the old way and was genuinely seeking some break with the past. At the same time, we were clearly not dealing with a defeated enemy and en early revolutionary seizure of power by the liberation movement could not be realistically posed.

This conjuncture of the balance of forces (which continues to reflect current reality) provided a classical scenario which placed the possibility of negotiations on the agenda And we correctly initiated the whole process in which the ANC was accepted as the major negotiating adversary.

But what could we expect to achieve in the light of the balance of forces and the historical truism that no ruling class ever gives up all its power voluntarily? There was certainly never a prospect of forcing the regime's unconditional surrender across the table. It follows that the negotiating table is neither the sole terrain of the struggle for power nor the place where it will reach its culminating point. In other words, negotiations is only a part, and not the whole, of the struggle for real people's power.

It should also be clear that the possibility for and the relative success of negotiations have little to do with mutual trust, or good faith, or some special chemistry between leaders. We are negotiating with the regime because an objective balance of forces makes this a feasible political strategy. Negotiations that are based on vague psychological criteria are bound to mislead and falter. Of course, where there is some reciprocal trust, then that is a bonus.

What then is the more precise place of negotiations in the-liberation contest? It is clearly a key element or a stage in the struggle process towards full and genuine liberation. It is a key element because it holds out the possibility of bringing about a radically transformed political framework in which the struggle for the achievement of the main objectives of the national democratic revolution will be contested in conditions far more favourable to the liberation forces than they are now.

In other words, we can realistically project the possibility of an outcome for the negotiating process which will result in the liberation movement occupying significantly more favourable heights from which to advance. This will clearly be the case if, among other things, the tri-cameral parliament is replaced by a democratically elected sovereign body and executive power is led by elected representatives of the majority. If this comes about, the balance of forces will obviously have been qualitatively transformed in our favour Four considerations flow from the above analysis:

Firstly, the immediate outcome of the negotiating process will inevitably be less than perfect when measured against our long-term liberation objectives. If such an outcome is unacceptable then we should cease raising false expectations by persisting with negotiations. On the other hand, if it is strategically acceptable then a degree of compromise will be unavoidable. And we must not fear to be up-front about this reality with our mass political constituency.

Secondly, we should not underestimate the danger of the counter-revolution in the period following a major transformation. The extreme right will target sections of the white community, in particular the incumbents (hundreds of thousands) in the civil service, army and police who fear for their jobs and for their economic future. Precisely because racism gave them a monopoly of skills and experience, their potential for destabilising a newly born democracy is enormous. Hence, in addressing areas of compromise, we should also consider measures which will help pre-empt the objectives of the counter-revolution and reduce its base.

Thirdly, the key test for the acceptability of a compromise is that it does not permanently block a future advance to non-racial democratic rule in its full connotation. Therefore, to avoid such a compromise we must have bottom-lines from which there can be no retreat even if it means abandoning the negotiating table and adopting other options. Here too we must be up-front about where we stand.

Fourthly, to test the acceptability of a negotiated agreement, we need to weigh up the package as a whole and not get bogged down in its individual elements. For example, the passion generated towards the lead-up to CODESA- 2 by our 70% concession on the special majority required in the Constituent Assembly was totally misplaced. Had our package as a whole been accepted we would have scored a most positive advance in the negotiating process. Its rejection by the regime indisputably left us in occupation of the moral high ground.

In regard to the above considerations, it is necessary to emphasise that we should not allow the necessary bargaining postures within the negotiating process to inhibit us from taking our membership (and therefore inevitably, the whole public) into our confidence in relation to seminal strategic perspectives.

The argument that we should keep the other side in the dark, especially when it comes to possible compromises, has a valid place in the art of negotiations. But it becomes both harmful and counter-productive when it also keeps our support base in the dark in really vital areas; it will eventually attract charges of "sell-out" and departures from accountability.


Our negotiating team should be given the following mandate:

The future constitution must be adopted by a democratically elected sovereign constitution making body (CMB), representing all inhabitants of our 1910 borders and arriving at decisions democratically without a veto by any other body.

The only limitation on the sovereignty of the CMB will be a required adherence to the principles of CODESA's Declaration of Intent and such other general constitutional principles which the key actors agree should be binding. This does not include the powers and functions of future regions which must be determined by the CMB.

Effective structures must be put in place which will ensure a free and fair election.

Acceptable time-frames must be provided for the whole process as well as acceptable dead-lock breaking mechanisms in constitution making.

The tri-cameral parliament and its executive arm must be automatically dissolved upon the election of the CMB which shall also have ordinary legislative functions during the interim.

The legislative instrument which makes provision for constitutional continuity and which empowers the CMB must not have the effect of substituting CODESA for the CMB in the adoption of the constitution.

Quantitative Compromises

We must distinguish between what I choose to call qualitative compromises which imply a surrender of the whole or part of a substantive demand and quantitative compromises which allow for a degree of elasticity within otherwise fixed parameters.

Quantitative compromises should not be problematic although, even here, we have experienced tendencies to confuse detail with substance and to demand mechanical adherence to a mandate through thick and thin. Our negotiators should, for example, have flexible space to decide in the hurry-burly of negotiations whether (as part of a bargaining package) to concede 9 months in place of 6 months as a time-scale for the holding of elections to the CMB.

It is not conducive to effective negotiations to demand a reference back to the whole organisation on every such concession. As long as the concession does not, in substance, conflict with a key bottom-line mandate, some immediate flexibility is permissible. Indeed, without such flexibility our negotiators would be seriously disadvantaged.

Qualitative Compromises

Qualitative compromises do not arise in the course of the give and take of day to day negotiations. They constitute a clear departure from major policy positions. After obtaining a mandate we made concessions on a number of such positions including the following:

We conceded special majorities for constitution making and the Bill of Rights, and special regional involvement in the determination of the final boundaries, powers and functions of future regions. We also agreed to a process whereby the illegal and illegitimate tri-cameral parliament will "empower" the CMB through a legislative instrument. We also offered a power-sharing executive during the period between elections to the CMB and the adoption of the constitution.

In determining whether it is permissible to make any further qualitative compromises we need to focus on some of the issues which have loomed large in the regime's positions. Among the positions on which a retreat on our part would be impermissible are the following:

a minority veto of any sort in the constitution making process as a whole, either through a minority-loaded second chamber some other device.

the entrenchment of compulsory power sharing as a permanent feature of a future constitution.

the determination by the negotiating forum and not the CMB of the permanent boundaries, powers and functions of regions and (linked with this) whether the future South Africa should be a unitary or federal state.

binding the CMB in such a way that a future democratic state would be constitutionally prevented permanently from effectively intervening to advance the process of redressing the racially accumulated imbalances in all spheres of life.

Compromises of the above sort are unacceptable because they would permanently block a future advance to non-racial democratic rule in its full connotation.

There are, however, certain retreats from previously held positions which would create the possibility of a major positive breakthrough in the negotiating process without permanently hampering real democratic advance. Let me at once grasp the nettle and specify some areas in which compromise may be considered as part of an acceptable settlement package.

a "sunset" clause in the new constitution which would provide for compulsory power-sharing for a fixed number of years in the period immediately following the adoption of the constitution. This would be subject to proportional representation in the executive combined with decision-making procedures which would not paralyse its functioning.

as already emphasised, the constitutionally entrenched boundaries, powers and functions of regions is the exclusive province of the CMB. It is, however, imperative that we immediately elaborate our own policy positions on future regions in all essential detail. Without, therefore, in any way impinging on the sovereignty of the CMB, is it unprincipled to attempt to reach a bilateral understanding between the two main parties to the negotiations on positions in relation to regional powers, etc., that both main parties commit themselves to support in the CMB?

There are two other categories which lend themselves to publicly committed agreements which do not have the status of constitutional principles binding on the CMB. These are:

i. General Amnesty. We must continue to insist that there is no link between this issue and the release of political prisoners and that, in any case, the decision must be left to an interim government of national unity. But this should not prevent us from indicating now that, as part of such a government, we will support a general amnesty in which those seeking to benefit will disclose in full those activities for which they require an amnesty.

The proclamation of such a future general amnesty could be the subject of a bilateral agreement which would spell out all the conditions under which we would give our support (cut-off dates, establishing who did what, etc.).

ii. An approach to the restructuring of the Civil Service (including the SAP and the SADF) which takes into account existing contracts and/or provides for retirement compensation.

This area too could be the subject of negotiated bilateral commitments, perhaps excluding those categories of unilateral appointments and promotions carried out with an eye to the post-apartheid structure.

I am of the view that, subject to a package which would include the "bottom-lines" set out above, and subject to proper consultation with our constituency, the compromises touched upon here are both permissible and conducive to a speedier democratic transformation.

They are permissible because they will not permanently block the advance to real democracy. They are conducive to a positive break-through in the negotiation process because they address, in a principled way, some of the basic and more immediate fears and insecurities of our adversary and its constituency.

In particular, the prospect of a period of power-sharing, a shared vision of the future regional dispensation, some security for existing incumbents in the civil service, and undertakings which will promote reconciliation, will make it exceedingly difficult for the other side to continue blocking the transformation.

As a bonus, these concessions would situate us indis-putably in the moral high ground and weaken the capacity of the more extreme hard liners within the regime's camp to block an early agreement.



Mongane Wally Serote

Mongane Wally Serote was born in Sophiatown on 8 May 1944, just four years before the National Party came to power in South Africa. His early education took place in the poverty-stricken township of Alexandra and later at Morris Isaacson High – the school in Jabavu, Soweto, that would much later play a significant role in the 1976 uprising against Bantu Education. As Serote’s high school years came to a close, he joined the African National Congress. He soon became involved with the Black Consciousness (BC) movement and was inspired by the poetry that spoke of black identity, resistance and revolt.

In 1969 he was arrested and detained for nine months in solitary confinement under the Terrorism Act. In 1972, he published his first collection, Yakhal’inkomo, which went on to win the Ingrid Jonker Prize for debut poetry in English. This early success was followed by a string of highly acclaimed collections throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

South Africa during the 1970s was fertile ground for a literary revival of the silenced black voices withering under state repression. This was a defining period for the evolution of political consciousness among black South Africans, and BC affirmed and fostered black cultural values, aiding the establishment of a racial solidarity in the face of harsh oppression. The literature of Serote’s fellow writers Sipho Sepamla, Oswald Mtshali, Chris van Wyk, Mafika Gwala and Don Mattera spurred on the political ideals of anti-apartheid popular movements. Many of these works aimed at mobilising audiences; the immediate impact of drama and poetry drove the momentum for change.

Serote was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and received an MFA from Columbia University in 1979. His poetry that took shape during this period suggests influences from the Harlem Renaissance and Negritude movements, with hints that the writing of Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee and Ishmael Reed offered him a new mode for expansion and expression.

Unable to return to South Africa after completing his studies, Serote remained in voluntary exile, going to Botswana in 1977 where he rejoined the ANC underground and military wing, Mkhonto we Sizwe. Together with the artist Thami Mnyele (whose image of a mother and child graced the cover of Yakhal’inkomo) he was instrumental in establishing the Medu Art Ensemble in Gaborone.

His debut novel, To Every Birth Its Blood, (Ravan, 1981) offers a riveting insight into the political activity in the 1970s, exploring the tensions of state violence, black apathy and the shift into violent dissention. Serote’s later novel, Gods of Our Time(Ravan, 1999), outlines the growing militancy of civilians and the gathering intensity of military campaigns that ultimately contributed to the toppling of apartheid.

In 1993, his seventh poetry collection, Third World Express (David Phillips, 1992) won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. In 2004, he received the Pablo Neruda award from the Chilean government. 

Serote held a variety of positions in the ANC, returning to South Africa in 1990, when he was appointed Head of the Department of Arts and Culture of the ANC in Johannesburg. He has also served as chair of the parliamentary select committee for arts and culture. Serote was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Transkei. Until recently he was a Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Portfolio Committee for Arts, Culture, Language, Science and Technology.

Child of the Song
(for james matthews) 

so you heard the night break into a laughter
when the dogs began to howl
and now you pass the day
having heard the scream of cats making love beneath broken automobiles
and your memory
like your eyes
like your whiskers
was witness to it all
otherwise why would you ask me about nina simone
your eyes say nothing nice about the minutes you carried
nor your whiskers
because they smell of alcohol
and your memory keeps throbbing behind your eyes
otherwise why would you sing with ausi miriam
about the empty days
and the nights which shattered your sleep
child of the song
tell us

how we used to sit in the womb of the dawn
crushing the days that the future held
popping them
as if they were bugs troubling our night
and we staggered into the mourning into the street
where everything screamed: sonofabitch!

yes, the day was not ours nor the night
remember how someone's baby rushed out of the tenth floor
and crushed on the tar
his blood splashing on the flower petals in the garden
so you heard the laughter of the law
what will you say to your son
or my son, every mourning is a dangerous alley
prophets claim the future
and the present destroys them

child of the song, sing don't cry
with song and dance we defied death
the heavens are blue because they are empty
beware, my brother, of park benches
sitting there
is the last thing a fighter must do

Heat and Sweat
(for sisters and brothers who may be weary) 

so you keep looking back
if you did not listen when the past was breathing
the present erases your name
child don’t let laughter from insane strangers snatch our faces
the present is surprised at our songs
it is shocked that we still walk the streets the way we do
lost as we are
torn and bewildered by the sounds of our names
it is surprised that though the sight of our eyes staggers
and though the gait of our shadows seems to limp
we still put brick on brick and tell our children stories
so you keep looking back
even when the darkness is so thick it could touch your eyeballs
even when the darkness is such a huge space
ready with an insatiable thirst, swallowing, and even ready still to swallow
the last red drop that trickles still from your little heart,
don’t you hear the songs
they can live in the present if we let them
these songs have a prowess of our mother’s back
and the eloquence of our grandmother's foresight
about the time that never was
and the earth whose rhythm is an intoxicated dizziness
feel the wall while you walk and hold, hold
glue your eye into the distance and keep walking
move, child, move
if we don’t get there
nobody must .


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