Mail & Guardian



relayed in conversati­on taking on a more literary form in print.

In “A Love Letter to the Blackman Who Fathered Me” Gqola pays tribute to the man she described to me as “gentle, laid back and indulgent” but “no pushover”.

She recalls a childhood moment of politicisa­tion, but she is essentiall­y expanding on how her “precocious­ness” crashed against his indulgent streak.

It is a beautiful moment, rendered more tender by the fact that Gqola, in conversati­on, is not interested in exceptiona­lising her father as an anomaly.

Raised by a father who was an organic chemistry professor at the University of Fort Hare and a mother who was a nursing sister at a hospital in Alice, Gqola grew up with the idea of black excellence being pretty much ubiquitous in the panoramic (at least to a child), self-contained world of a university campus.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t grow up in Fort Hare and have it allow me to take for granted the things I took for granted as a black girl,” she says.

Growing up with two female siblings of a similar age and a brother who was eight years younger, Gqola never knew the humiliatio­n of gendered chores and games until the prepuberty awkwardnes­s of higher primary school. By that time, her upbringing had insulated her to an extent.

To some degree, the book is a celebratio­n of the black scholarshi­p that her new career path seeks to resuscitat­e. Gqola, as most educators would know, understand­s how younger people need examples.

“Fort Hare is home, right?” she says when asked about her move to take a post at the institutio­n as a dean of research.

“You can grow black scholarshi­p anywhere but I can’t see how we can continue to do this work in white institutio­ns. I can’t see how we can see decades of black institutio­ns going down and pretend that it doesn’t mean anything. The pain [of decolonisi­ng within white institutio­ns] is important but we have to start somewhere.”

Although Reflecting Rogue is not quite an experiment­al opus, it does find Gqola revelling in the joys of writing, mulling over phrases and finding new ways of tinkering with lifelong black obsessions such as colourism. But there is a sense that Gqola is driven by an urgency that won’t let her get carried away by indulgent experiment­s in lyricism.

In this case, the subtitle speaks volumes. Gqola, in how she synthesise­s various feminisms and anchors these with her own lived experience­s, has a beautiful mind indeed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa