I grew up with margins. They were everywhere and I was acutely aware of them – whether I could see them or not. Being born and growing up in Namibia during the South-African Apartheid era in the 1970s and 1980s shaped my strong awareness as a child for margins, or boundaries, between people. Especially in the Apartheid Afrikaans schools I attended my senses were sharpened to think of people with a different skin colour than my own as ‘dangerous’, ‘terrorists’ and the ‘enemy’. As a result, my childhood was demarcated with strong margins, predominantly black and white. My mother continued to teach me to respect all people – as a child I thought I was one of the few white children to receive such reprimands from a parent.
But growing up under these circumstances, being a white (now immigrant to Australia) middle-aged and educated woman, who still strongly identifies with being a white African, I ask myself whether I am part of the margin? Am I living as part of the margin – in the margin? My questions define the margin I refer to as a locality, frame of mind or space. I don’t think of myself as marginalised, but margins still play a significant role in my life. After the visible and invisible fences of Apartheid made space for new, eight-foot fencing and security systems around Namibian properties to keep the ‘other’ out, I realised during my recent trip to Namibia that margins and fences are similarly prominent in post-Apartheid and independent Namibia as before. In this way alone margins remain dominant structures in Namibia affecting lives in cities, towns and regions.
Are the invisible fences and margins between black and white, the us and them less obvious in post-Apartheid Namibia? On the contrary, because ongoing segregation between socio-economic, culture, race and language groups exist through sharpened Black Empowerment policies in Namibia I wonder whether I will be able to live as a white woman in my country of birth again. Will the margins continue to be as prevalent as they were during my Apartheid childhood, when I certainly was, and still am not, able to claim to be marginal? Will this change in the future? And will I as a white African woman experience the same, new or different marginalities, and how will I choose to live with them?
Margins are part of life wherever I go – whether it means living in Australia or Namibia, travelling globally or regionally. They are experienced and sensed, whether visible or not. But how we choose to live and use our margins are important choices, according to bell hooks, who reminds us that margins are creative spaces for new possibilities. On the plane back from Namibia to Adelaide I realised that this element of margins is what draws me to these spaces since I was a child, as it was there where I was able to reach the ‘other’, including within myself.
This image reminds me of how I use marginalities in my life. When I doodled on this image of a fire I took during a camping trip in remote South Australia, I experimented with the contrasts between the colour margins of the reds, white, yellow and black. The patterns I doodled shaped through the limitations and the possibilities both the margins and the contrasts (light and shadow) between them offered me. In my mark-making I used darker tones in the image to ‘drag’, or smear, over lighter tones, and vice versa. This is perhaps how my experiences, awareness and histories of being or not being part of the margin allows me to discover creativity and new possibilities within the margins I have to negotiate creatively from time to time as an immigrant.
By Melanie Sarantou