archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Wednesday, 02 October 2013 15:44

Untitled by Kgebetli Moele


Kgebetli Moele knows no fear when it comes to picking the most challenging narrators for his novels. His debut, Room 207 (2006), was straightforward enough, telling the story from the perspective of a young man trying to survive the highs and lows of Hillbrow. However, the follow-up, The Book of the Dead (2009), began as an ordinary third-person narrative, and then, in the middle switched to the most unusual first-person narrator. Quite shockingly, the storyteller who took over was no other than HIV personified. It was a stroke of genius on the author’s part that drove home the ruthlessness with which the idea of the virus operates in present-day South Africa. Moele’s latest offering is no less daring. In Untitled (2013), he writes from the perspective of Mokgethi, a seventeen year-old girl who is struggling to navigate puberty in a poverty-stricken community that seems to offer no breaks but only broken lives to young people, girls in particular.

As Untitled’s simple but effective cover signals, the novel is Mokgethi’s school notebook. But its innocent look is frighteningly deceiving. The book opens with the narrator’s attempt at expressing herself in poetry, and the striking statement at the bottom of the page which is intended as the last line of a poem: “I now pronounce myself deflowered”. But this is no story of a teenage romance which will end for the heroine with an unforgettable First Time with the Boy of Her Dreams. Instead, Untitled is a devastating chronicle of other unforgettables: the abuse and violence – emotional, psychological and physical – that girls face in South Africa.

Mokgethi and her brother Khutso grow up with their maternal family after their mother dies and their father starts another family. The father pays maintenance for the children and he very clumsily tries to establish contact with them, but he is never around when needed most, and his money disappears into the pockets of Mokgethi’s aunt and grandmother instead of being used for her education as intended. She is taken out of the private school she’d attended and her dreams of going to a top university are threatened, but the situation is never explained to her. Confused, she attempts to figure out the adults around her, but the task is simply too overwhelming. Even though she does not understand everything she witnesses, she is a keen observer and she cannot help seeing what is happening to the girls in her community.

Pheladi is raped by a taxi driver when she is eleven, and at fourteen she aborts her first child. Lebo is seduced by the local school principal into having phone sex with him before he repeatedly rapes her. Little Bonolo is raped by her class teacher when she is eleven. When she lays charges against her attacker, the police allow him to threaten her into abandoning the case: “Go ahead, open a docket – I will visit jail but you will sleep at the mortuary … I will be out in time to help dig your grave.” Tebogo dies in the toilet on a hot day, naked and bleeding, after the last of three abortions that she has had that year. MmaSetshaba is raped and married off to her rapist by her family to erase the shame cast on both families. A few cows change hands to seal the deal.

Under the circumstances, there is no escape for Mokgethi. When he rapes her the perpetrator tells Mokgethi that he loves her while she begs him repeatedly to stop hurting her. “Cry, little girls of my beloved country,” she writes, “the Bonolos, the Pheladis, the Lebos and the Dineos that have to live, are living, in communities full of men who prey on us every day.”

Mokgethi spares us no details. Unable, however, to process what she is witnessing, her traumatised voice constantly splits into first and third person: “In the part of this big world where I live, young girls are celebrated for a short time, the beautiful ones worshipped until they fall. Yes, we all do fall. I knew Mokgethi’s fall was coming, I knew. I do not know why I call it a fall, but when you have fallen the celebration stops and then you see your surroundings differently.” The layout of the novel – Mokgethi’s notebook – suggests a fragmented, unprocessed reality that is way beyond its young narrator.

And if all these horrors the girls encounter are not enough, their community’s response to them is even more terrifying. At the most basic level, the double standards for the genders are encapsulated in Mokgethi’s comment: “That is what I have seen in all parents; they like it when their sons are breaking girls’ hearts but they hate it when boys are playing with their daughters.” The male perpetrators are tolerated or at worst excused. Concepts like "statutory rape" or "paedophile", Mokgethi tells us, are “only relevant in law books and not in social reality.” The blame for what happens to these girls is always laid at their doorstep – because they “wanted it”, because they are “influencing the break-up of families and marriages” (when the perpetrators are married!). “Community, please stop turning a blind eye and blaming us,” Mokgethi pleads.

Reading Mokgethi’s notebook is heart-wrenching because it’s true. Although Untitled is a work of fiction, the author said in an interview that he based the novel on authentic stories told to him by girls and women he knows.

The real story’s title is The War on Girls. We have to stop it.

by Kgebetli Moele
Cape Town: Kwela, 2013

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Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Karina is a writer and literary critic based in Cape Town.