What I Did This Past Holiday

Remember when you were a kid? Remember when you got back to school after the holidays the teacher would get each of you up in front to tell the class what you did? Remember show & tell? I do, I especially remember in class one (grade one) getting up and telling the class that my father had died over the holidays. The teacher was horrified and I was taken to the headmaster’s office and my mother was called in. It is one of the few memories I have of that time of my life. I guess my young mind just blocked it all out to protect itself from the trauma. Anyway, this relates to what I am going through at the moment. In 2015 my mother passed on and I really struggled with it in 2016 and it was doubly tough over this festive season period. I have been plagued with bad dreams, ghostly disturbances (really not joking) and spells of dark melancholy. Her passing has weighed heavily on me.

ad&dadAbove: My brother & I (standing) with my Dad just before he died

So anyway this is what I did over the holidays:

Firstly, I actually got 2 weeks off from work which I have not had in 3 years. I worked over the last 2 Christmas periods so that I could take that time off later in the year to lecture at the university I am doing my Masters at. I really love lecturing so the sacrifice was worth it but I have to admit to being really worn thin by the end of 2016.



So yeah, 2 weeks!  For Christmas and the days around it I watched all the Harry Potter movies: 2 on Christmas eve , 2 on Christmas day and the rest on the days following. I have to say that it was quite a surreal experience to watch those kids go from 10 to 20 over the span of the movies. How much weirder must it be for the actors?!! All in all though, they seem to have handled fame at such a young age pretty well.


A lot of child actors really do not, the cast of Diff’rent Strokes being an example. Diff’rent Strokes, an American sitcom, was about two black kids from Harlem who become part of a wealthy white family.  I remember the fact that it appeared on television in Apartheid South Africa at all was a huge thing! I was a kid when it was on and had a crush on Dana Plato who played Kimberly Drummond, the rich guy’s daughter. She was cut from the show in 1984 when she became pregnant because it was felt the teen actress no longer fitted their wholesome image. Her career dwindled after that and she became a drug addict. In 1991, out of sheer desperation, she held up a local video store with a pellet gun.  Grabbing less than $200 from the register, she was arrested by the police only minutes later. She died of an overdose on May 8, 1999, at age 34. How sad is that? The sitcom, which also starred Gary Coleman (cute and cuddly and at the height of the show’s popularity earning 100 000 dollars per episode) and Todd Bridges, launched Plato and her cast-mates into instant stardom. Their newly-found fame resulted in the young stars abusing drugs and alcohol. Addiction plagued all 3 actors’ lives as a result.

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Everybody Loves Raymond is another sad example. In 2015, one of the young stars committed suicide.  Sawyer Sweeten played the role of Geoffrey Barone in the popular sitcom from 1996 to 2005. He starred alongside his twin brother Sullivan as well as his older sister, Madilyn. He was just 16 months old when he started on the show, and quit acting altogether when it ended after 9 seasons.  The 19-year-old Sawyer shot himself while visiting family members in Texas. The autopsy revealed drugs in his system.


As you can see, death has been on my mind a lot lately. And, yes, it does happen to all of us. Things do not end well or happily ever after for us. So it is all the more important that what you do with your time makes a difference. Measure your life out in 10 year blocks and you will see how quickly it is over once your childhood is done. Zero to ten and ten to twenty seem to take forever but after that it’s gone in a blink. I look at those young actors who had so much handed to them and how they squandered it and it makes me sad. Granted those are extreme examples but most of us are guilty of this. Use the time, good fortune and talents that you are given wisely!

OK, so that was a bit of a detour, sorry…back to what I did this holiday:

So whilst in this dark place contemplating how quickly life is over, on sheer impulse I decided to get out my little seaside town, choked as it was with holidaymakers, and flee to the mountains to see in 2017. I frantically searched for accommodation over that New Year holiday weekend, not really expecting to find any. But low and behold, I did, and really affordable too.  I was fortunate enough to find a vacancy at a place called Mountain Park Hotel situated in the little farming town of Bulwer.


Perhaps once it was a hotel but to me it seemed more like a huge 4-storey farmhouse. Eccentric and creepy as hell I loved it there! Think the Outlook Hotel in the movie The Shining without the nasty and the murder. To be fair though it was summer and the hotel was full of guests. I certainly would not like to be stuck there in winter though, snow on the ground and just me and the ghosties! It was built by a Canadian, McMenigal, from local stone and timber, and was completed in 1942. After the 1st and 2nd floors were completed the original workers refused to work on the 3rd floor and left the area. It was completed by Italian prisoners of war (POWs). Five days before it was due to open though McMenigal died mysteriously. Immediately after his death his house alongside the hotel burned down.

bulwer8bulwer2Creepy, right? Over its history the hotel has stood empty for long periods, passing from owner to owner. Mysterious happenings have been reported and its legend as being haunted has grown.  The eccentric and atmospheric hotel is at the base of the Amahaqwa Mountain which means “the misty one” in Zulu. The building has the feel of an old Tudor homestead, with massive blackwood beams. Ghosts wander through this haunted hotel, specifically on the third floor. In fact, apparently they seldom place guests there because of this. One is definitely that of the original owner, McMenigel, who went bankrupt before he finished building the hotel. Apparently he still roams his beloved hotel today. There’s also little Mathilda, frequently spotted sitting on the large wooden staircase. Her old school desk is at the end of the first floor passage. It apparently used to mysteriously move to different locations in the hotel until it was placed in its current position on the 1st floor. This is where my room was but I didn’t bump into Mathilda, thank goodness, only her desk. The 3rd floor is super-creepy though so I was happy to be on the 1st (or what Americans would call the 2nd) floor. Mathilda has a ghostly companion, her governess, Ruth. Ruth, it is said, fell to her death from the top floor of the hotel. I also steered clear of the sauna/jacuzzi room because it has the feel of a slaughterhouse. Some guests have apparently seen blood on the walls in there. As a result of Mountain Park’s notoriety dozens of mediums and psychics have visited it, including Discovery Channel’s Ghosthunters International.










Moving on from the creepy, the area is really beautiful and I went for a number of hikes up the  Amahaqwa. There are forests and rolling farmlands, mountains and hills, and even San cave art. I definitely want to return, but in winter this time because it was super hot out there up on the mountain and no place really to shelter from the sun unless you hide out in the nearest forest. Food at the hotel was simple fare (like the rooms) but awesome and plentiful, and very reasonably priced. I had a very decent mac and cheese on one evening and the breakfast omelettes were massive. And importantly, the staff were great!


OK, so 2017 is here, and we are at last rid of vile 2016. Trump straddles the 2 like some great, hairless King Kong as Time’s man of the year, and now the US President. He is so similar to our own morally deficient Zuma it is frightening!


New Year’s resolutions?: I definitely want to submit my Master’s dissertation this year. I have also been accepted into the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (South Africa’s 2nd democratically president, wedged between the saintly Mandela and corrupt Zuma) where I will be completing a programme on Afrikan Feminism and Gender which is really massively exciting. I guess what I am saying is that 2017 is going to be an extremely busy academic year! I am seriously amped!!




Living Art

So in my previous post I shared some of the artwork I created for a fundraising auction for the rape victims support group called GRIP. Dealing with such a horrific theme set me thinking about this whole culture of rape and how it is possible for a person to do such a thing. It is just terrible that the thing men fear the most about being incarcerated is what women have to deal with every day of their lives: the possibility of being raped.
Here are some things you should know:
When Interpol released the staggering statistic that one in two women living in South Africa will be raped in her life, the South African Police Services stopped releasing rape statistics. Instead the authorities began categorizing rape under sexual violence. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) states that only one in 13 rape cases are reported. An estimated of 500,000 rape cases take place in this country, every year! It is also estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.
Horrific! But why are we surprised? We have a president who was accused of rape himself! This was by a woman known as Khwezi, a well-known HIV-positive activist and lesbian daughter of one of Zuma’s old comrades. She was forced to leave the country in the wake of the trial. Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, was acquitted by the courts. Gee, what a surprise! As we have found out since, our President Zuma is, by all accounts, a man of exceedingly low morals.
This low moral character appears to be endemic in our politicians and government officials. When discussing the problematic situation regarding rapes on our Rhodes University campus, our Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, advocate Michael Masutha walked out mid-interview on the SABC television programme, Checkpoint’s Nkepile Mabuse. This happened after Mabuse, the interviewer, asked Masutha how being an assertive woman links to rape, following his comment about rape and assertiveness. The minister later said he meant that assertive women were more likely to report rape cases. Idiot!
There is a history of violence at both ends of the political spectrum in this country and this has added to the toxicity of South African masculinities. Back in the old Apartheid days both sides were prone to hyper-masculinity: the anti-Apartheid activists as well as the white tribes of South Africa. This has not really changed much. Rape is about power and subjugation, the masculine dominating the feminine.

In a lecture about performance art I gave recently, I addressed the issue of rape with my students using the work of two artists. One is a personal hero of mine and a huge inspiration in my work, Ana Mendieta. While still a student in March 1973 she was deeply affected by the brutal rape and murder of nursing student, Sarah Ann Ottens, at the University of Iowa. In response to the attack on Otten, by another student, Mendieta invited her fellow students to her apartment where, through a door left purposefully ajar, they found her tied to a table and smeared with blood. This tableau recreated the scene as reported in the press. Later, Mendieta recalled that her audience “all sat down, and started talking about it. I didn’t move. I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.” She further commented that the rape had ‘moved and frightened’ her: “I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation … I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that.” She said that she created the work “as a reaction against the idea of violence against women”.

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The second artist , Emma Sulkowicz, references Mendieta’s piece more than 40 years later. A victim of rape at the hands of a fellow student after a party, Sulkowicz, after following all due processes without success, performed the endurance piece, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–2015). For 9 months (the length of a pregnancy) she carried a campus mattress around the university with her. Sulkowicz stated that the piece would end when the student she alleged raped her in her dorm room in 2012 was expelled from or otherwise left the university. This did not happen and she attended her graduation ceremony with the mattress. The President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in a hissy fit brought on by Emma carrying the mattress onto the stage, refused to shake her hand when she received her degree.

JPPROTEST-master675The reason I selected these 2 works to speak to the students about is not just because I feel that we should be addressing the problem of the rape culture we live in. We so obviously should! I also wanted to illustrate how really personal and extremely invasive these works were. Both artists used their own living spaces and their own bodies in very a publicised way to speak about something that they felt very strongly about. And this is the power of performance art, the fact that it is so very personal and that there is little remove between artist and viewer. It is a living art and this is the major reason why I have involved myself so completely in it. There is no other art form that will take you so very far out your comfort zone as performance art will do. And your work will be all the better for it. For me it is a starting point from where I can speak about and address so many issues. But I always begin with myself and performance. This ensures that I do not speak for others, I speak for myself. It is my voice and my conviction, and I believe that makes all the difference.

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All this talk of these awful things made me think of one of my favourite poems:

I once knew a girl who loved
Things most people shun.
Every man she ever loved was
Terrible to her, terrible
I tell you.
But there was something
About them that intrigued
Her – she liked broken things,
Broken people.
To her, if there was
Nothing to fix there was
Nothing to love.

– Christopher Poindexter