The Vice-Chancellor & Principal Prof Tshilidzi Marwala at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), hosted a gathering of his book club online on Friday, 29 May 2020 and delved into the life of a woman haunted by the past. This woman is Sethe, she was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free.
This crucial book, “Beloved” by the Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison gives us an insider view about relationships—maternal; marital; slave-owner to slave; abolitionist to freed slave; white to black; guard to prisoner; employer to employee; violence to pain.
Having survived a traumatic escape from slavery, Sethe has killed her older daughter in a mad attempt to keep her from being taken back to the South by her old master. A mysterious figure now appears at Sethe’s home, calling herself by the name on the dead daughter’s tombstone- Beloved.
In his remarks, Prof Marwala pointed out that memories of the past, come in many forms. “Some memories are embedded in our ecosystem, for example the environmental degradation we are impacting on the world, will be remembered for many years to come because its impact on global warming will be there for people who will experience it. Memories are not only in the mind but in our culture and in the way we do things.”
Sethe, who lived in a frame house on a few acres on the outskirts of Cincinnati-124 Bluestone Road, works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly in her memory and in the lives of those around her.
“Free people are people who can create the future they deserve. You and I have too much of yesterdays and too little of tomorrows. This means memories of the past often over burden us. We are simply incapable of thinking about the future and if you cannot be able to plan about the future, can you be able to build a functional society? Asked Prof Marwala.
“In Africa we had colonization and now it is gone but countries cannot move on and tackle basic human needs such as organising a water system that can take care of people. Why? It is because of the memories of the past. I don’t think as a society and as a continent, we can afford to have too little of tomorrows.” explained Prof Marwala.
Prof Marwala concluded on his expression about the book. “This story has an element of African folklore, superstition and the element of the history of slavery and exploitation. The idea of the ghost, was a representation of people who died because of slavery. Morrison managed to weave all these elements together beautifully, he said. “The choice of the word ‘Beloved’ is interesting because it was introduced after Sethe killed her daughter and got a tombstone but didn’t have enough money to engrave the name “Dearly Beloved”.