posted on Africa is a Country
Rhinos and Namibia have been important to me for a long time. I was thrilled when I came across The Black Rhinos of Namibia by Rick Bass. Reading it prompted me to write this essay because the book made clear to me the ongoing work we need to do, to see our history and that of the African continent in all its complexity.
A residency at Mothers Milk that Pat and I enjoyed for the month of September, resulted in an exhibition at the Mark A. Chapman Gallery, Kansas State University in February 2022. The title poem and three poems responding directly to Pat’s work were included in the exhibition.
She Said God Blessed Us:
A Life Marked by Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Church
By Gail Hovey
For years, my memoir had a working title, What Goes by the Name of Love. Over the many versions and revisions of the text, I inched toward the understanding that I was seeking language that adequately described what had happened to me. What do you call a young girl’s innocent desire, desire powerful enough to be discernable to a young woman with longings of her own? What do you call the bond between them? The older one eliminated lesbian from consideration. She assured the younger one that they were special, blessed by God. The older one assured the younger one that it was love. Can there be love when there is also adultery, abuse, and statutory rape? Who gets to decide what goes by the name of love?
While my search for language continued, life did too. I went to theological seminary, lived in South Africa and worked for journals and organizations supporting the liberation of southern Africa. My political engagements led to personal relationships that helped me find my way. What follows are examples of my engagements over the years covered by my memoir and in the years beyond.
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No Easy Victories
I was living in Hawai’i in 2005, when my old friend Bill Minter called to talk to me about the book he had in mind, one he knew that he could not do alone. Histories were being written about the end of colonialism in Africa and the end of white minority rule. What was missing from these studies of governments and policies was an adequate picture of the international solidarity movements around the world. Bill wanted to present the stories of fifty years of activism in the United States, activism that finally forced the U.S. government to cease its uncritical support of white minority regimes on the continent. He enlisted Charlie Cobb and me to join him in this project, No Easy Victories is the result.
For me, it was a great pleasure to return to my engagement with southern Africa and to work with Bill and Charlie.
From Foreword by Nelson Mandela:
“We were part of a worldwide movement that continues today to redress the economic and social injustices that kill body, mind, and spirit. No Easy Victories makes clear that our lives and fortunes around the globe are indeed linked.”
My solidarity work with southern Africa began when I was a graduate student in New York. Students at Princeton, Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University started a Rhodesia Newsletter in 1965. The white-minority government in Southern Rhodesia had declared itself unilaterally independent from Great Britain to prevent genuine independence and majority rule. The U.S. media hardly covered this important story, prompting us to act. As part of my commitment to this work, I decided to go and work in the region. For two years, 1966 and ’67, I lived in what was then the Northern Transvaal of South Africa.
The Rhodesia Newsletter evolved into Southern Africa Magazine and I continued to be a member of the collective that published it. In 1980, I began working for the American Committee on Africa/ The Africa Fund.
Namibia’s Stolen Wealth, 1982, places South Africa’s occupation and North American investment in the context of the country’s colonial history. The pamphlet includes profiles of foreign corporations extracting Namibia’s mineral wealth before the country gained independence. Like all Africa Fund publications, this was a collaborative effort between Jim Cason who did the corporate research, Richard Knight who supervised production, and me. Namibia’s Stolen Wealth is available at the African Activist Archive of Michigan State University.
Namibian Children in Nyango.
The American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, supported the non-military endeavors of liberation movements, including the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and Namibia’s movement SWAPO. My 1984 trip to ANC projects in and around Lusaka, Zambia, and to SWAPO’s educational camp Nyango in western Zambia, brought me up to date on their engagements in these places. Using what I had learned, ACOA mobilized support for the movements in the U.S., including work to change U.S. policy toward the region. My report from that trip, available here as a pdf, is typical of the work that we were doing.
Work to change U.S. policy towards southern Africa was, perhaps, the most important work we undertook at the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund. As Nelson Mandela says, in the Foreword to No Easy Victories,
On occasion the work of our American colleagues was indispensable. The economic sanctions bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1986 is a case in point. Without the decades-long divestment campaign undertaken by university students, churches, civil rights organizations, trade unions, and state and local governments to cut economic ties to South Africa, the U.S. Congress would not have acted, even to the extent of overriding a presidential veto. International sanctions were a key factor in the eventual victory of the African National Congress over South Africa’s white minority regime.
Gail Hovey, left, and Jennifer Davis served as official observers at the historic April 1994 elections in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. They are with Robert Mkhwanazi, a pastor who served with the election monitoring program organized by the South African Council of Churches.
At ACOA/AF, I directed, with executive director Jennifer Davis, the production of fact sheets, pamphlets and posters that were used throughout the United States by divestment activists. Dumisani Kumalo, our program director, traveled the country, educating, energizing the movement, and lobbying for divestment and sanctions. I did the same. Here’s an example, testimony that I gave before a committee of the Michigan State Legislature.
In the fall of 2000, I attended a performance in Honolulu by Anna Deavere Smith, the actress best known then for “documentary theater.” Smith interviewed people, sometimes a large number, sometimes an individual, and in her performances, “became” those people, playing multiple characters, speaking in their own words. Describing her method, Smith said, “People speak in prose poems.”
The day after that performance, I sat down with Eric Enos, a founder and director of Ka‘ala Farm, a Native Hawaiian Cultural Learning Center in Wai‘anae Valley. By then, I had worked at Ka‘ala for several years and had heard Eric’s story, “Bringing Down the Water,” many times. “Bringing Down the Water” is Ka‘ala’s foundational story, and Eric agreed that it could be recorded.
Following Smith’s guidance, that people speak in prose poems, after I transcribed the tape, I placed Eric’s words on the page as a poem. We were honored when “Bringing Down the Water” was included in Wao Akua: Sacred Source of Life. The book was part of a year-long celebration of the Hawaiian forest which was undertaken to redouble efforts to steward the Hawaiian Islands’ extraordinary forest legacy. “Bringing Down the Water.”
Text & Textiles
In 1991, I moved to Hawaiʻi and, as I said in my memoir, “That’s another story,” one not told in She Said God Blessed Us. I moved to be with Pat Hickman, who was head of the Fiber Program in the Art Department of the University of Hawaiʻi. We began to collaborate. The first thing we did was look carefully at Pat’s finished pieces and find names for them. When Pat began to create installations, ones made from a variety of materials and that were unique to each setting, I became her sous chef, especially with the pieces made of “river teeth.” When Pat was invited to review exhibits, she asked for my help, and we began to write together. Sometimes, I would write about her work. Here are examples of this collaboration.
George Potanovic, Jr.
Exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, New York
American Craft Council, May 31, 2009
Exhibition at the International Quilt Study Center, Lincoln, Nebraska
Curated by Christine Martens
Textile Society of America, October 1, 2017
Exhibition at New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, Canada
Curated by Peter J. Larocque
Textile Society of America, February 23, 2020
Textile Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Textile Center, April 15, 2020