ANTI-APARTHEID activist and academic, Patrick FitzGerald, has launched a new collection of poetry, titled Epitaphs and Dreams: Poems to Remember the Struggle.
Currently an adjunct professor at the Wits School of Governance (which he founded in 1990 upon his return from exile) and chairperson of the City of Joburg’s performance audit committee, FitzGerald was a vocal and often-detained student activist at Wits in the 1970s and 1980s.
A founder member of the influential Junction Avenue Theatre Company, he played an active part of the ANC underground structures inside the country, before going into exile in Botswana. He later moved to Lusaka to become the administrative secretary of the ANC’s department of arts and culture, before furthering his studies at Liverpool University in the United Kingdom.
FitzGerald’s experiences of the intensified period of the struggle in the 1980s have largely informed this volume of poetry.
The poems – written in the days when “it was an everyday matter to be carrying both a pen and a weapon” – were read at public and private gatherings of comrades, were performed at political gatherings and at international cultural festivals, were used in poetry workshops by MK combatants, were set to music and were discussed among exiled writers.
FitzGerald, the grandson of pioneering trade unionist Mary FitzGerald, after whom a square in Newtown is named, notes in his introduction that art thrives in revolutionary environments.
“During the times of struggle, poetry did appear to assist in making things happen, particularly at meetings, celebrations, funerals, cultural events, and in political mobilisation,” he says. “Poetry, then, became an important ingredient in keeping alive the flame of resistance, of spirit and dedication, of solidarity, of courage, of determination.”
The memory of those times, he says, ‘burns with a vivid and ever-present sense of purpose and idealism, a willingness to fight for right against gross injustice.’
Commenting on Epitaphs and Dreams, poet and novelist Mandla Langa said: “Patrick FitzGerald might not know what he has achieved with this volume. Coming at a time when there is a campaign to minimise the contribution of the struggle towards the creation of our democracy, his poetry serves as a chronicle of times.
“It is a record employing language that is as indelible as something wrought in iron, and as enduring.”
FitzGerald’s Epitaphs and Dreams: Poems to Remember the Struggle is published and distributed by Porcupine Press. It is available in a limited edition of 500 copies, all numbered and signed by the author. Inquiries: email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 011 791 4561.
- This story was first published in The Witness.