I woke this morning by a flock of screaming geese corugating the sunrise. I am in beautiful South Africa. After they had passed the sharp squalk of an ibis pierced the air. The ibis is a large bird with a long and curled beak. “It’s good for irrigating the grass” says Mary. Mary is the proprietor of the Petworth Place , her childhood home and now
Grahamstown’s most exclusive inclusive guesthouse. Her warmth permeates the house. My room is called Upperton which is the name of her “great great grandfather who lived at Petworth house in Sussex, England.”
“It is a Norfolk Island hibiscus” she says at breakfast regarding the grand tree in the front garden “and it explodes with star shaped flowers… and this is a….” she describes palms of various sorts that line the garden and stretch up above my balcony. Their shadows stretch as morning wakes. They soak the gentle cool breeze. “I hear England is thirty
degrees right now.” Mary has a wistfulness about her. She has seen alot and has fought for her place or is it for her childrens place. For place. And it is here.
Sibongile Khumalo is staying at Petworth House too and gives me a wide smile at the
breakfast table. Sibonghile is South African artistic Royalty and the executive producer of the entire arts festival. She is coming to my show tomorrow. After breakfast Gill Lloyd my projects manager, Anna Cole my technical manager and I check out the town. Grahamstown is a pleasant enough place with its own pace, a university town in the
Eastern Cape. There is no industry here and so the rhythm has a rural confidence
rather than urban attitude. Nobel prize winning professors go to university by bicycle. The university is Rhodes university , South Africa’s first black university.
The entire town is transformed into one large poster hoarding, ticketed restaurant, coffee housing festival. It’s all good. The National Arts Festival is taking place and like Edinburgh when its festival arrives there’s posters everywhere. If I stood still on the street for five minutes someone would paste one on my face. It’s great. It’s why I am here in a
central venue at The Victoria Theatre (est 1897) at Victoria girls high school,
History here is visibly re-evaluated. You can see it in the houses, the language, the television, the subjects of the plays here at The Festival. It is only more visible because I don’t live here. But I am learning. For example the settlers are like those in America or Australia; strong and sturdy stock against the harsh climatic conditions where they worked the soil. They are of Steinbeck’s stock. many of them and find themselves “an oppressed people” a minority. The irony of it. The truth of it. They are faced with the stark re-evalution of opportunity by a struggling government determined if to callibrate the future through the trauma of past while dealing with “present conditions.” . But the impossible is what art does. beyond CNN and Government art can articulate the unspeakable. It is what the festival is, through laughter spoken word it gives voice to the unspeakable.
I love South Africa. Been coming here since a year after he was freed. The opportunity to re-write history is a necessity of the new south Africa. Like in Northern Ireland the opportunity for a steep learning curve has been taken by most. And this is to the benefit
of all people and our world. But if there is one thing that unites South Africa and Northern Ireland (not forgetting England) besides its love of football and writers it is the explosive subject of immigration. Do I, a respectful visitor coming from a place with such reprehensable history have the right to say these things. They come from an honest
place. As a citizen of the world, I do.
Look at the Geese from this morning, those migrating geese. They migrate from one country to the next and each country where they alight thinks of the bird as their own and yet it is of either. Now what simple lesson can be gained from that. We were immigrants from the beginning of time… Man came from Ethiopia and travelled outwards… how have we come to this…. hounding people out of our towns and cities by because of where they were born… What is the world cup except one mass movement of economic migrants. What is Nike? What is sponsorship but corporate economic migration?