The Duplicity of Winter
On this the eve of the early days of August the coastal city of Cape Town I found myself bathed in the deceptive glow of Winter sun. If I were just to trust my eyes the piercing sharp and clear scenes of the day would suggest that today is no different from the now distant days embraced by summer’s warmth.. And yet if I am to allow myself to feel the slight chill in the air, carried by sweeping infrequent wisps across the ocean, then the raised hairs standing sharply on my arms in protest might suggest something quite different. The shivers running across my spine each time I walk through the shadow cast by concrete ivied towers, lecture halls and moldy statues remind me crisply about the clear yet illusive and immaterial boundaries that define inclusion and exclusion.
The duplicitous winter sun reminds of those difficult to hold things like that which separates warmth and is ascribed the “powers” of embodying the will of the so called “public good” and the “people”.. including of course those who we like and those who we declare our enemies. This separation re-read as a question rings between my ears as I find myself, among countless others lost at a university perched at the foot of a mountain which has its flat table-like apex ironically defying the tiered classed society that lies beneath it. Arriving in this city as a student and having anchored my life in this castle it has become increasingly clear that while it may be tempting to pack up and leave tomorrow, the “demons” reside not in the concrete of the campus but the psyche of my mind that has come to know the duplicity of the cape’s winter sun all to well.
Being barred from the campus for a month at the start of the year, in one of the more recent of university management’s targeting efforts was an interesting experience for me. I can only imagine what has been for students and some workers from late 2015 (and over the generations) who have effectively paid a severe price for their chosen mode of political expression – actualized through exclusion, expulsion and generally the act of being ostracized. I have found the act of being prohibited from a space, in the context of political contestantation against the white establishment, was markedly different from the passive exclusion many of us would describe as motivation for our earlier politicization. It was different in the sense that you kind of get to feel the force of vague and abstract concepts like “law” and “rules” in the hands of people who bend them to fit the shape of their purpose, it was and is an instructive lesson for many who faced the sword.
Much as the seasons drift at their own pace from one to another, never quite the same as they were before and yet reliably cyclical, I find myself struggling to understand the nature of “history” both how it is weaponised and how it is constructed. In the height of moments of intrigue even tangentially related items, things, words and relationships are put under the microscope and surfaced for their crucial relevance in “important” unfolding times. Letters, essays, pictures and paintings published in one moment disappear into the ether meaning little and yet when the same expressions find themselves colliding with the contours of malleable historical moments they find themselves no longer gaseous but liquid-like, causing ripples in the material of history inciting change and catching fire downstream.
These questions and thoughts have made me shift my site of writing. It has become harder to right about things closer to home, especially when “our” malleable historical moment has begun to become rigid and fraught in some ways. It feels as though the problems particular to “you” have become so small and insignificant in the wake of a world that is unfolding at a rapid speed that defies my capacity to comprehend much less act in response to.Yet there is this incessant pressure to respond. At all times.
It has been a year where reading very complicated things has brought me back to revisit simple questions.
Such a time of growth has shown me of how far the road to travel ahead really is and how things are never quite a simple as you’d like them to be. I have met people of great courage but I have yet to come across anything close to perfect people – which ultimately I have decided is good news..
With each passing day the winter sun appears to be growing warmer and I can feel it will not long before I am lamenting about the burning heat of tomorrow, for today I take sanctuary in the pensive moment contained within the duplicity of winter.