Art, politics, journalism. I was drawn to all three, but it was the nefarious nature of apartheid which made politics a virtual imperative for any sensitive soul growing up in South Africa around 1980. So, having finally finished my two-year sentence as a military conscript in mid-1981, a few months later I was fortunate to be allowed to join my eldest brother, Ian, as an organiser for the Progressive Federal Party's East London office. Under Van Zyl Slabbert, this was a party on the move, and the hope was it could win several seats in the Border region, which had been virtually taken over from the old United Party by the ruling Nationalists. Just as in the army, between the nuts and bolts of this sort of work I turned out the odd, sometimes very odd, bit of art, often on party letterhead paper.
This PFP letterhead paper was designed by Ian, who also had art training. Here I did a drawing of a black guy apparently in agony. The image was clearly from some subliminal source and it was merely a coincidence that I did it on this paper. But now, 30 years or so later, the thing takes on an interesting dimension, given that the PFP's primary objectives were to mitigate the effects of apartheid on black people, where possible, and to work towards a nonracial, democratic alternative.
Another of those subliminal drawings, here significantly, the logo is inverted, which adds to the sense of free-fall of the figure - which in turn might be a mataphor for a country in crisis.
The PFP divided its campaigning between hard-hitting attacks on apartheid, and vote-winning strategies to convince undecided voters to support them. One target was the elderly, for whom the bread price was a key factor, since many lived on state pensions. I only kept this little pamphlet because of the delicate pencil drawing I did on it, but again today it provides an interesting insight into the era.
Another of my wacky drawings which seems to speak of the malaise in which both the country and I, as an individual locked into 10 more years of army camps, found ourselves.
This is what was on the back of that drawing, which can be seen through the paper. This was the somewhat boring nitty-gritty of running a party office. AGMs, fetes, and so on were essential in keeping the wheels turning. I wonder whether parties today can boast the same sort of volunteer involvement as the PFP, and obviously the Nats too, enjoyed back then?
Another of my mind-game drawings, which again acquires added interest because of a) the two African names at the bottom (who were they?) and b) what was on the back.
Yes, the PFP in May, 1980, felt it had enough sway in East London to book the City Hall for its fete. Such events not only raised funds for the party, they also raised its profile. We helped run an active PFP Youth branch, chaired by my late brother Alistair, which did a lot of canvassing and held regular voter registration tables around the city.
This is yet another doodle-type drawing made more significant for what was on the back of the paper, shown below.
One of the most important things we did while I worked for the PFP was to combat the forced removal of what the government, with typical insensitivity, called "black spots" between the nominally independent Ciskei and Transkei. Mgwali, near Queenstown, was one such place. We were visited by the son of one of its oldest residents, Kidwell Gija, who kept us abreast of the plotting by the apartheid regime and the Ciskei puppets to destroy this community. These brief notes were, I think, taken by my brother Ian, and list some salient dates in Mgwali's history. We'll come back to Mgwali later, when this blog gets a whole lot more serious.
This is yet another drawing, enjoyable in itself, I believe, that assumes more significance due to the paper it is done on. Firstly, there is a list of girls' names from our PFP Youth team, while the actual document informs members/supporters about a PFP communications seminar in Cape Town which, as the last line, in Afrikaans (for the paper was folded back upon itself), indicates would be opened by Dr Alex Boraine. Other speakers included Cape Times political scribe John Scott (whose "Notes in the House" I avidly followed in the Dispatch) and Prof Laurie Schlemmer.
Another of my child-like drawings, which nonetheless shows, I think, some adroit shading. Again, while saved for the sketch, the back (shown below) I discovered included another interesting insight into the times.
I think these notes were written by our regional secretary at the time, Di Knott. Note how in point 6, "Van" (Zyl Slabbert) is seen as being more impressive than PW (Botha).
More fun with a message. I liked the giraffe and thus kept the page, but only now have discovered that this was done on a sheet from the voters' roll. Look closely (click on the image to do so), and you'll see this was a cover sheet, probably for new names added to the roll, in the East London North constituency.
And what was on the back of that page? Well, yours truly was clearly given the task of writing a motivational spiel to get members actively involved in boosting the King William's Town constituency which, if I recall correctly, also included Beacon Bay and Gonubie - such was the nature of Nat gerrymandering.
The cold hand of the state. I kept this envelope, now badly soiled, for the picture on the other side. But I have just noticed that it is stamped by the "Department of Defence", and seems to be dated 1978. I think that is my later brother Alistair's handwriting, and he seemed to have been "on the border", as you'll see below, when we look at the reverse side.
It is nteresting that my subliminal drawing should have been of a soldier-like figure, because it is done slap over the signature of a major. At least that's what the "maj" below the blue signature seems to denote. The purple-pink ink stamped words include the English, "Censored". I'm note sure what the letters above it indicate.
East London was "home" for the first 27 years of my life. This is a section of its splendid, sweeping esplanade. Viewed from a hill on the Quigney, this shows Eastern Beach and the row of tree-covered dunes heading towards a promontory known as Bats' Cave. Notice the statue in the foreground, which is a monument to the 19th century German settlers.
While I kept this envelope for the drawing above, it too is a bit of interesting memorabilia of the era, since this was one of the reply-paid envelopes we distributed with party propaganda in the hopes of eliciting new supporters/members, and of course funds.
Again, I kept this envelope for the drawing - which hints at where my mind was most of the time - and it happens to include my name and address, half typed, half written.
There were a few party-office words on the back of this, too, but I really enjoyed what my subconscious mind came up with here.
Talking about subconscious inventiveness, how about this bizarre offering? Yet again, buried in the drawing are the names of some of our PFP Youth group girls. The fact that so many, mainly Clarendon High, girls were part of our activities certainly meant getting young guys to join was made a lot easier.
But in the end it was all about our black South African compatriots. Again, this was drawn on a sliver of paper found in the PFP office, since on the back a section of an election poster is visible.
Among all these PFP drawings I found this gem. Talk about having the world on your shoulders, this oke's got it on his head. Fortunately, it has a doughnut hole in the middle of it.
No this isn't a young Fidel Castro. There was an interesting guy who joined the PFP Youth for a while who happened to be a bit porky, which is probably what inspired this rather nasty caricature.