Panashe Chigu­madzi

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

‘Isaid he’s my boy,” scolds the “red-head mis­sus” whom Peter Abra­hams re­counts in his 1954 me­moir, Tell Free­dom, as sav­ing him from the po­lice­man about to ar­rest him for work­ing as a mar­ket car­rier with­out a per­mit. As a young, coloured man, Abra­hams lit­er­ally had no place in a space “re­served for Euro­peans only” as “a boy” plead­ing, “Carry your bags, mis­sus?” or “Penny, please, baas.”

In the words of Nige­rian scholar K Ogungbe­san, apartheid “South Africa is not the place for a black boy to dream”.

“A world of ac­tiv­ity opened to me,” writes Abra­hams after his first en­counter with the famed Bantu Men’s So­cial Cen­tre. Lo­cated at 1 Eloff Street at the edge of Jo­han­nes­burg’s city cen­tre, the cen­tre was a cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal hub for ed­u­cated Africans work­ing on the Wit­wa­ter­srand that saw, for ex­am­ple, the 1944 for­ma­tion of the ANC’s Youth League and the stag­ing, in 1958, of Athol Fu­gard’s No-Good Fri­day.

It is here that Abra­hams leaves, even if tem­po­rar­ily, the world of African “boys” and “girls” and en­coun­ters new African men and women who par­took in Gamma Sigma de­bat­ing, mu­sic tu­ition, dra­matic so­ci­ety, film view­ings, sports, ed­u­ca­tional and first aid classes and more.

Abra­hams’ dis­cov­ery of the iconic daily news­pa­per The Bantu World, edited by the cen­tre’s Richard Vic­tor Se­lope Thema, is what led him to 1 Eloff Street. De­spite hav­ing sold Jo­han­nes­burg news­pa­pers, The Bantu World was a rev­e­la­tion. “The pic­tures on the front page were of black peo­ple. All the pa­pers I sold had only pic­tures of white folk.”

While it is true that he finds his “first awak­en­ing” through English po­etry and sus­tains this as­pi­ra­tion to a more hu­man­ist de­sire for self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion, it is sig­nif­i­cant that Abra­hams, who through­out his for­ma­tive

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