The poem “Baloyi’s art gallery” invokes the spirit of Albert Louis Sachs’s triumph against the odds over injustice and social inequities. Throughout his life, Sachs campaigned for human rights, worked as a professor of law, and contributed to South Africa’s new constitution. As a young lawyer, he defended political activists—some of them facing death sentences, charged for terrorism under apartheid’s statutes and repressive laws. Like Baloyi (who had to leave school prematurely because of poverty and other hard conditions which drove him to work as a miner for more than ten years—digging minerals with his naked nails for the mine magnates who never cared about his well-being), Sachs went through his own trials: he was raided, suffered detention in solitary confinement, and was subjected to banning orders that restricted his movement. Sachs knows the harshness of exile existence. He knows pain in the struggle for justice.
In spite of his trials, especially during the dark days of apartheid, like when a bomb that was placed in Sachs’s car in Maputo blew up—resulting in Sachs’s loss of an arm and the sight of one eye—he didn’t waiver. Instead he continued to work with artists without seeing conflict among his legal profession, social standing, and the arts and culture fraternity. I wish to invoke Sachs’s revolutionary spirit to guide those who wield power to see value and life in the arts and humanities in general. I hope through Sachs, they’ll cast off the veil (ignorance and persistent arrogance) that inhibits their full, clear vision. In Sachs, perhaps the black government would realize that failure to create a livelihood for the artists will only hasten the disappearance of a people’s value system, their languages, indigenous practices, and rituals.
I invoke Sachs’s spirit to speak and knock sense into the political heads of this new South Africa, for they seem to defy the role of art in the process of rebuilding and healing a country. Baloyi’s art gallery uses all imaginable items to reconstruct a new beginning and blending cultures and traditions toward the making of a solid diverse South Africa. A renewal. In his lifetime, Baloyi, the master sculptor, would be visited by scores of art lovers, historians, fine arts students, and tourists from all over the world. These visitors were passionate to excavate his knowledge and experience in producing masterpieces. John Baloyi exhibited extensively and his works are housed in numerous private and corporate collections in Germany, Austria, England, Holland, Australia, Japan, Botswana, and South Africa, to name but a few countries.
Sachs, a master negotiator who was involved in South Africa’s road to democracy, has the capacity to see what ordinary politicians are reluctant to see in art and literature—the arts’ dynamism to restore faith in life. Sachs has the power to share knowledge and insight into aspects that bring together a divided country through his activism, sincere writing, and compassion for humanity. For instance, in 2002, the Constitutional Court, which he served with aplomb, backed HIV/AIDS campaigners by insisting that the government had a duty to provide HIV-positive pregnant women with drugs to reduce the risk of transmission to their newborn babies. Sachs took this position during the days of President Mbeki’s AIDS denialism, without trying to worship his comrades to the detriment of the nation.
For all these reasons, I have faith in Sachs because he is a man of extreme patience, perception, integrity, and generosity of spirit. The poem which injects life into lifeless objects like weeds, mirrors, bricks, and cow dung, when put together, is what Albie Sachs has done with his life when apartheid had cut it into shreds through bombings, jail, and banning orders.
“Baolyi’s art gallery” appears in NER 38.4
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