Bullet shots and the echos of stun grenades pierce through our halls of learning. Cries, prison walls and burning doors and walls aplenty.
2016 has been that sort of year.
References, at times forced – and often theatrical, emphasise the memory of the 1976 student risings in South Africa that marked a deadly and decisive shift in the struggle against formal Apartheid.
Today, in the week of news of arrests and blooded wounds of friends, comrades, dear acquaintances and folks I’ll never get to meet, I’m reminded of a different memory of ’76. One frozen in song, melody and percussion.
“I’d like to be yours tomorrow
So I’m giving you some time to think it over today
But you can’t take my blues away
No matter what you say, hey
You can’t take my blues away
No matter what you say
What you say, hey, babe
Written by Michael Jackson, released in the self titled album “The Jacksons” (1976) Mowtown.
Blues away, today. Embodies the deep blue sorrow and mourning of the ongoing fight for the great dreams deferred.
“Free Education”, “Free Decolonised Education”, “Now!”
Chants, slogans and demands that in truth cut through the statistics and figures crafted around, above and underneath them. The chilling resonance of the call for a “different” future in the face of authorities who are prepared to shoot, imprison and ridicule you for thinking otherwise.
The “future” entangled in the promises of a tomorrow always seem out of reach and give one the sense that we are running towards a moving horizon with no end in sight. When trapped in a bubble of action-inaction, political events, revolt and protest it’s often difficult – I’ve found – to imagine they world beyond your feet. Every moment, comment, affirmation and rejection is amplified multi-fold ringing through your body-consciousness. It’s difficult not to feel guilty, or perhaps pressured by the trajectory of things that appear within grasp – a phone call – or even a walk away from where you are especially in moments of crisis.
What is one to do? In the midst of cyclic violence, pain and imminent immense personal loss for large numbers of people?
This pressured moment, for me on a personal level, has brought to center notions of belonging and the problematics of place and identity and longing. What does it mean for me to be here? Studying where I am? Participating in struggle. Who am I in relation to the fight that is being waged for social justice?
Not easy questions, although I probably don’t need to tell you. I am a second generation university goer with my parents not only having gone to varsity but having had the opportunity to go on to lecture at what is now Walter Sisulu University. It has been difficult from the start to relate to them on the issue of the protests for many reasons, some of which are glaringly problematic. On some level I hope they understand that through the clear evidence of what education has meant for our family life it is essential we participate in whatever what makes sense for us, from our different positions, to bring that opportunity to fruition for other people.
And yet there feel clear limits to a dream. Both historically and evidenced in our unfolding times. It is difficult to want to continue my studies in an environment when so many lecturers and authority figures in my department, faculty (and so on) have come out so viciously against the protests. How does one go back to work in a laboratory where others outside are engaged with private security and excessive policing while those around you decry yourself and others like you “terrorists”.
Pain, acceptance – you can’t take my blues away.
In ways that are difficult to express in words right, there exists deep pain, scars and trauma on the wars waged between those who call each other comrades and those who ridicule and defame with the intention to bring others to harm.. as well as with those whose sheer ambivalence to situation has caused many deep depression and shock.
I can’t help but wonder if there is in fact a place for me here. Perhaps for practical reasons this is a thought deferred for tomorrow but you can’t take my blues away – nor would I want you too.
One of the few things I’m sure about, is the need to fight and support those who continue to resist for their self determination and for the possibility of communitarian principles in a world that continues to claim that neither is possible and whose protagonists dare to assert is not even desirable.
Fight on, embrace the blues. Feel the texture of your wounds. Even the ones that don’t bleed. Even the ones not forged by bullets.
But remember tomorrow is another day, and on this road we’ve got a long way.
“Tell me what you say, babe
Say, yeah, babe
You can’t take my blues away
Tell me what you say
What you say, yeah, babe
I’ve got the power, doin’ it out
Say anything ’cause I’ve got this feeling
Say I, I’ve got the power
Come on, yeah, come on”