It is said that while culture is about the way we live our lives; art is about the ways in which this is represented or projected – and (for me) also the ways in which representations are suppressed. The canon can sometimes be akin to a wrecking ball on a young mind.
And so struggle is everywhere, I learnt. Without and within … at the barricades and on the plains of the heart.
On the activist side, I followed the breadcrumbs laid by figures such as such as Biko, Paulo Freire, Amilcar Cabral … learning of these at the same time one learned of the liberation movement. They infused ideas, even as I learned of the single-mindedness and courage of the likes of Oliver Tambo and others who found voice & power in the precepts of national liberation. Although I can only frame it this way now, I wove my way through the neo-Ghandian and Fanonist approaches, supporting both but as a community worker leaning to the former with its notions of co-operation, self-reliance & community rebuilding.
On the art side: I grew up ironically in what I may describe as non-culture or denuded culture. A community with very little self-esteem and self-valuing – or where self-esteem occurred in flashes and small doses. The marginalised within the marginalized. My involvement in art and culture is perhaps a response to this …. to growing up starved of the kinds of representations that affirmed, that gave value, that enhanced belonging.
In the midst of this I found a voice from within. That voice found its form and expression through words. The love of words … a true love … came to me almost out of the blue. The die was cast. (From then on, I would go the route of engaging with words and in the battle of words.) And from there, I found access to the pleasures of engagement with the arts.
Artivism was a winding road that ran through engagements with Vakalisa Arts, though dabbling with linocuts at CAP and through voluntary exposure to the in-your-face art and artistic representationsof black consciousness artists. There were direct and indirect influences. From early times, I engaged with the work of Andries Oliphant, David Koloane, Jackson Hlungwane, Helen Sebidi, Noria Mabaso, Tyrone Apollis. It tied in with exposure to jazz and to the influences of musicians like Abdullah Ebrahim, Hotep Galeta, Philip Tabane of Malombo, Allan Kwela and later Zim Ngcawana (who I later worked with to a small degree).
In the eighties (to pick a random moment), I worked in the trade union (as spokesperson for COSATU, a position I gained partly as a follow-on to working as a newspaper reporter). I was also an active supporter or helper to the workers cultural movement. I worked closely with Mi Hlatshwayo (See the special edition of Staffrider focusing on worker culture that I edited with him, with support from editors at Ravan Press). This movement allowed me to grapple with tensions and connections between orality/performance work and the written word; the canon versus the rights of expression from below. Here, and in the Congress of SA Writers, my artivism had me mobilizing/advocating to bridge from what Njabulo Ndebele called “pamphleteering the future” to art that awakens the human spirit way beyond the specific question(s)a piece or work asks us to deal with.
By about 1990 (to pick another random moment, one where the intersections, chemical reactions and dance of politics and art was foregrounded), art in the ANC came up for very pointed discussion. Bear in mind that, whereas for black consciousness, cultural expression was at the core, the ANC incorporated culture, underlined its importance, saw it as a vital aspect, but nevertheless viewed it essentially as a support for its liberatory work. These are the questions Albie Sachs grappled with in his paper “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom (See Spring is Rebellious): What happens when art (of the ANC-based artists that he knew) strives to go beyond the limitations? Would the new democracy give it that space? Will we as artists occupy that space? Will we create the room again to advance what Terry Grove has termed everyone’s right to beauty or to have access to beauty.
I now turn to the threads, connecting lines, the spanning truths; the sensibilities, the arteries, the makeshift bridges. These lines represent an ongoing dialogue between the two fields which comprise my journey. The three threads holding together my Artivism and my Activism are Healing, Hope and Creativity. [Some may wonder that I don’t cite resistance as one of the threads. And it’s true, resistance was an energy and an impulse within both Art and Activism. Yet, resistance as a concept has its pitfalls. Too often the emphasis is on what you “oppose” than what you are “for”. Resistance also, when it forms itself into a movement, can become a very centralized and solid phenomenon simultaneously strengthened and weakened by its strong sense of “in” and “out”. Also, although needed to right wrongs and work for justice, resistance can close off rather than open up avenues, exploration and possibilities.}
There is a need for healing. There is the unfinished business (that has got some if us to ask whether we need another TRC). There is a need to work through and process. There is a need to deal with past trauma. In the corridors of power, there are signs of a wounded leadership whose governance is blighted by it. There are the entanglements (the webbing, the knots and the complications) between the collective and individual need for healing. In my own writing I use the page (or that open space of creation) as that place of reflection, of working through, and of creating something new out of my pain and the travails we have been through. Nevertheless, where it is viewed as a sense of agency, as “voice” and as the deep-seated power to shape one’s response to circumstances, is also present in both activism and artivism.
I believe in hope. In one sense, I don’t actually want to believe in hope because it can be sentimental, it can be distorted and it is so often used in brainwashing and in creating false consciousness. But Mary Zournazi and others rework and renew the concept of hope. They refer to radical hope. Says Stengers (2002): “Hope is not about miracles. It is about trying to find what lurks in the interstices of life (for) life is always lurking in the interstices, in what usually escapes description because our words refer to stabilized identities and functioning.” Zournazi links hope to the idea of dialogue: She says that … “(H)ope can only come when we live in public and political cultures where there is truly a space for dialogue – that is, a public arena where ideas are allowed and there is a space made possible for those yet to be heard.”
Zournazi adds: “Reflections, conversations and dialogues build new social and individual imaginaries – visions of the world that create possibilities for change. They lift us out of despair and let us take new risks in our encounters with each other.”
In my worldview, we are both the co-creators of the world and we operate way beneath our capacity to create. The noise &distortions of life, the pursuit of life in its modern form (both the lighter and darker side of modernity if you like and, in the SA case, both the agitational and the aspirational), choke and clog thecreativity that is striving to find its way out.
Massumi (2002) has said:“ … freedom always arises from constraint — it’s a creative conversion of it, not some escape from it”.
Edgar Pieterse (who co-edited with me the book Voices of the Transition), in applying creativity to development work, speaks of balancing “purposefulness and provisionality”; he also underlines five sensibilities:
Code switching between multiple registers of knowledge; using a multi-focal perspective in reading reality; exercising self-reflexivity; being empirically informed and symbolically attuned to navigate the material and the phenomenological, and; curiosity.
In this regard, creativity can be experienced and understood as a way of life and a way of being in the world.
Written NOV 2015, Uploaded 1/9/2020
 See theHlatswayo, M., Meintjies, F. with Oliphant, A.W. and Vladislavić, I., (eds.),1989, Worker Culture, Ravan Press, Johannesburg.
 Njabulo Ndebele made the remarks in a paper entitled “Against pamphleteering the future”. This essay was presented as the keynote address at the inaugural conference of the Congress of South African Writers, Johannesburg, July 1987. The paper was later included in Ndebele, N., 1991, Rediscovering the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, Cosaw Publiishing, Johannesburg.
 See: I. de Kok and K. Press (eds.), 1990, Spring Is Rebellious: arguments about cultural freedom by Albie Sachs and respondents. Buchu Books, Cape Town
 In the book she edited, namely Hope: New Philosophies for Change, 2002.
Meintjies, F. and Pieterse, E., (eds.), 2004, Voices of the Transition. Heinemann, Johannesburg