By ZOE FOWLER
Diane Awerbuck, a fiction writer based in South Africa and a global scholar speaker, is presenting her talk Angel of the Morning: Race, Sex and Self-Image in Post-Apartheid South Africa at UT’s Global Scholar’s Series on Oct. 7 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel Main Hall, hosted by The International Programs Office. Awerbuck’s presentation will focus on the ongoing violence in South Africa and the transition of privilege that white South Africans once held as minorities in a black majority rule.
UT has been hosting international scholars since 2010. If a department is interested in inviting a visiting scholar, then they have to contact the International Programs Office (IPO) for aid in visa documentation and immigration questions.
“The purpose [of the Global Scholar’s Series] is to promote globalization on campus with visiting scholars from different countries, cultures and backgrounds,” said Cecilia Wolf, Senior International Student and Scholar Advisor of IPO.
Awerbuck works as a teacher who develops language material (First Additional Language English, History and Life Orientation) for high schools. In addition to being a teacher, she reviews fiction for the Sunday Times, works as a cultural commentator for Mail & Guardian’s Thoughtleader and works as a commissioning editor for The Ghost-Eater and Other Stories and Stray: An Anthology of Animal Stories. Gardening Night (a memoir), Cabin Fever (a collection of short stories) and Home Remedies (a novel) are works of Awerbuck’s that are set in South Africa.
“I grew up in the Northern Cape, which is a little different to the rest of the country because it has a mostly-coloured population (mixed-blood/Bushman ancestry), as distinct from black (majority Zulu, then Xhosa),” Awerbuck said. “I went to a multi-racial school and church, even in the Seventies: the distinction for us was more along language lines – English versus Afrikaans, although that has changed in the last 20 years or so.”
When Awerbuck was growing up, cleaning people also worked as nannies in most households, including poor ones such as Awerbuck’s.“That indentured servitude, and migrant labor on the mines, was the building block of apartheid – just as it was in the American South before the Civil War, and is always, everywhere,” Awerbuck said.
The place Awerbuck has called home her entire life has changed right before her eyes. She explained how post-apartheid South Africa has struggled to plan for the flood of people arriving from poor areas to violent, populous areas.
“We’re facing a water crisis of epidemic proportions because municipalities are in disarray, and there has been zero investment in sewage management: engineers are in short supply,” Awerbuck said. “Education is a mess at all levels, there are massive and continued human rights violations, ordinary crime (robbery, hijacking) has increased. [Only] one in 14 rape cases makes it to court and 60 percent of children don’t know or live with their dads. Women’s rights are laughable [and] sexist practices such as virginity testing and the Reed Dance are being invented in the name of tradition.”
Dr. Arthur Hollist, Associate Professor of English and an expert on African literature, worked closely with Awerbuck on the Caine Prize Workshop in Ghana this year. Twelve participants from African countries spend a duration of 10 days getting their work critiqued by fellow writers. Hollist invited Awerbuck as a visiting writer of fiction to speak at the Global Scholar’s Series. As a Sierra Leone native, he related to the reaction she had at the sight of her country in turmoil.
“The xenophobic violence was ongoing in South Africa at the time, and I could see that she was very disturbed by what was going on in her country,” Hollist said. “She was the only South African in the group, and in a sense, the violence which we were seeing on TV was reflected on her, so I think she was concerned that South Africa was looking back.”
Awerbuck wants people to visit Africa before forming glossy or detrimental views about the continent.
“We all have preconceptions and stereotyped notions of people in countries not our own: they’re often inaccurate, and that kind of ‘othering’ hurts us because it stops people telling their own stories,” Awerbuck said.
Zoe Fowler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org