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Ingrid Wolfaardt

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Neverland

I know the road to Springbok, the names are familiar too. Graafwater, Bitterfontein, Vonkelfontein and I recall, correctly the first quiver trees appear just after Garies. And I am travelling four days and four thousand kilometers to cover, a country that I know through books and pictures taken by others and so there is a sense of familiarity, this is what travel programs do to you, make you believe you’ve been there but you haven’t. The sky for a start tells me I don’t know it. I don’t know these restless clouds that promise much and give little and such vastness, on a scale that not only surpasses the Karoo, my heartland but the width of our TV screen at home.

There is a muchness of land stretching to the four corners of the earth, that reminds you of your finiteness and I-am-like-grass-in-the wind, status. A country where winds blow and breathe, barely hindered by rock and canyon. It is dry and terrible for its dryness and like some drunk’s vision, a cold sea runs all along its western border, that will not water the land or feed its herds and people.

And yet life is here, hidden and kept from an eye fed on greenery. Small plants, gems, encased in stonework. An eagle over the river, that divides us, a waterway that blesses this country but brings a curse with it too as I look in horror at the kilometers of diamond dumps, alluvial lands reduced to, what I call, stone cemeteries.

And the chroma of this place runs in a narrow band of burnt ochers and siennas, which creates an other-worldliness, an under-painting or cartoon for a primal landscape. And there are many places with German names, like Seeheim, a fort, now night shelter of another sort, surrounded by abandoned shards of wealth, prestige and a culture trying to tame the shifting sands. And there is Aussenkuer, where we wish to do business. Table grapes and black mountains, thatched homes of reed and high tech packing facilities.

And there are people in this Pierneef peopleless landscape. Not many though. Ovambo’s fluent in German, Nama’s whose Afrikaans is both quaint and cool at the same time. German wanderers who have got stuck, South African pioneers, still pushing the boundaries. Then there are the castanet clicks and rap of Khoekhoegowab, spoken at petrol stations and amongst staff at the lodges that remind you of the ancient ones.

We don’t make it much north of the canyon as time is limited and so the vibrance of Windhoek waits another day, the Etosha plains, surreal Swakopmund but it is the photo narrative at the canyon that make the deepest impression on me. The extermination of the Herero, the annihilation of the Nama tribes and their way of life. We drive back to our lodge in silence, through fields of poisonous Euphorbia, stopping to study donkey tracks in the sand. I struggle to make sense of our human need for greed, to take with force that which is is rightfully another’s. And I need not look further than myself. I am part of a value system that excels in extraction but fares poorly in giving back and restoring. I think of the wild horses at Aus. Once truly wild but now docile. Fenced and fed, they are allowed to roam in the confines of their camp, and it speaks to me of this country’s tragic history.
So there is much food for thought as I view my co-lodgers, suited and booted for Africa. Selma our guide takes us to the mountain top to see the sunset.

She explains to us the cultural purpose of the plants and the type of rock to be found here and her confidence and knowledge is a surprise.I study her face as others study the stone and then I delight in my own, on the mountain top insight: there is life in stone,(condensation feeds the earth and so water is rare, precious and hugely life giving.) And it is this life that is in Selma, regenerative, sustainable, uncontainable life that cannot be quenched or destroyed, through the scorching of earth and people, this life spirit will out and perhaps present differently to the way we know it and want it, but it will flower.


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Two weddings, a birthday and a baby.

I stand on the high steps, overlooking the far Karoo on an autumn day, still and shimmering from heat that hangs over koppies and bossies. Everyone is smiling, their faces open, like vygies in the afternoon sun as they take the stairs, scattered with rose petals, for this great occasion and I consciously focus on being in the moment, I need to use each of my senses to imprint this in my mind and heart because I’ve lived long enough to know, such times are brief and at best, come in cycles. The wedding vows speak of this. There will be a better and for worse, there will be a richer and for poorer, there will be sickness and there will be health. This is life, we will dance with joy and we will weep from great sadness. We will build, but things too will break, it is inevitable and yet as we sit in the wonderfully wrought church of Prince Albert, with its exquisitely painted organ and carved wooden pews, we collectively hope, that the two young ones before us will always have more of the one than the other. That joy and laughter will exceed and outlast tears and pain.

As a family, we are in a time of celebration. There is much to be grateful for, most of it has little to do with our doing. Our daughters are beautiful women. They seem to attract the most amazing men and to our great delight, marry them. We are surrounded by loving friends and family, some who have literally travelled the breadth and length of the earth to be here and there is a cousin singing “Forever Young,” for them and for all of us, words sung more than three decades ago, sung at our wedding by this angel-voiced, child’s mother and you cannot but take stock of your relationships, of your life as the minister speaks encouragement and blessing, as the 7 month miracle, our one and only grandson, hangs onto the rings for dear life, not willing to let them go to the merriment of all, highlighting the caution, that such a covenant is not to be taken lightly and us, long-married ones, nod, without prompting. “Trou is nie perdekoop nie, “but it still is the best and most precious way of living this life, if one can find the character and the commitment to walk it together from start to finish.

And my mother in law and mother of almost eighty are with us too, both looking fabulous and after the bride and baby, probably the stars of the day. My mother has a royal styled fascinator on her head and silver dancing shoes on her feet, which she plans to wear at her birthday party within the week, then there is the groom’s grandparents, married 62 years, sprightly and holding hands, the grandfather who later will say Grace,and I see he is a man of humility and wisdom and I wonder how it must be for them to be here, witnessing their grandson’s marriage? Is it with apprehension or with a peace in their hearts because to my mind its the biggest decision I have ever made. It has totally shaped my life and theirs to be, I suspect.

And the festivities are to continue. A family luncheon and then a big tea party bash for my mother’s nearest and dearest, which is close on 80 folk and so we go from celebration to celebration, four generations all under one roof, but only for a time, that I know too, only for a time.

And there is the realisation that none of this can be repeated, replayed, replicated, fabricated, you name it, you cannot have it again but as a memory, a word and colour movie in your head, a smell and taste of rosemary and dust.

I have this saying in our family, which I have made my own, after a time of adversity in our family, that adversity usually comes uninvited, and so it is for us to make the happy times, to make them count too and not to be caught in the detail of whether the flowers will droop or the mains were served cold, in the end, these things count for little, but to embrace the huge healing and restorative and uplifting blessing that lies in the enjoyment and experiencing the experience, for it is this that we will remember, that we will hold onto, that will make us smile, in another contrary time that lies ahead.

Of this I am sure.


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Budget

I drove home from a meeting yesterday with a very well known NGO/PBO organisation, hoping they will be able to get involved in Prince Albert and its community, specifically the children, to hear that their main sponsor has pulled out because the brand did not get enough exposure through the program, despite the fact that thousands of children were being positively influenced, and that the organisation running the programs, had to withdraw from all provinces except the Western Cape where it is based. And I was so peeved off, not so much with the company who took this decision, fair’s fair, the money came from their marketing budget but that billions are wasted in the state budget, money is thrown around raucously for projects I do not have to remind you of and yet there isn’t money to make a difference in children’s lives, or rather it is so difficult to get hold of money for such initiatives, that one often needs to take to, going over the waters, even NGO’s with proven track records must still fight, beg, borrow and bend backward to get funding for work that will change the face of our country, for better, needless to say.

And as I am driving down the main road of Paarl with its oaks and national monuments, I try and reconcile this with a book I am reading called, “Why nations fail,” and have the following lined up, “The origins of war in Mocambique”, “The price of inequality” and “The promise of land” because I am trying to get my head around why our country looks and behaves the way it does and how do we get ourselves out from going “’round and ’round” the proverbial, political, mulberry bush.

In the reading, I realise I know nothing, understand nothing how nations function and why they look the way they do. I need to redress my own take on politics and say that the type of political and state institutions present are critical to a country’s health or infirmity, so I take my words back: politics is key and crucial to where we go are going as a nation. What I focus on, the collective good of citizens outside the political arena is as ever important and as critical but what happens on the big stage in many ways determines what happens on the small. And I should know this, I’ve even written a novel exploring how macro structures, mind sets, value systems filter down even into intimate relationships.

So I’ve got a lot of learning still to do, but it feels to me that those gladiators in the political circus (I use this word with a straight face) know as little as me, I keep on saying to myself as I read Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s book, “I wish I could send a copy to Malema,” then later I say to myself, “Oh, if only Zuma would read this as night time reading before bed, or Zille or or or…

So I look forward to the budget speech today to try and bring what I am beginning to understand about extractive and inclusive political structures and strategies, with what he is going to say. I am also challenged to look at the budget of our own small fruit export company and ask myself, what part of this is committed to social responsibility and even if it means giving off a holiday or two, a new this or that, what do I choose to do with the money I am a custodian of? I guess the cliche, charity starts at home is still relevant or better said, charity outside the home starts at home.


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Dad

My dad is dead. It’s been five years to the day, this coming Thursday and I have shed no tears. Not with his death, not with his memorial service, not over his ashes and not once after. My lack of tears is something rather extraordinary for a woman who weeps for the woes of soapie stars so why is it that I find myself unable to cry for a man who has made me who I am?

It is not because he was a man who did me any injury, my heart is not hardened towards him, in fact I cannot recall a moment when he did me wrong. His forgetting me at the school one afternoon, as a five year old, probably ranks up there with the worst of his crimes, to me his child and for years after he would apologise for letting me down. I myself have a solid reputation with my own offspring for regular non arrivals at the school gate and I wonder what that has done to their faith in me?

He was an older dad, a man who had gone off at seventeen to fight in the great War, the first group of ex soldiers to enter Helderberg, men’s residence in Stellenbosch. The youngest of four brothers, he had been gone five years, in which his boyish bravado, quickly sank into the sands of the Sahara, as he has saw the horrors in the desert, his naive choice of entering the tank brigade, literally backfiring on him. Despite this he kept his boyish charm and lust for life through all his days.

He was a man who loved singing, any place any time and to anyone. He loved to dance, to tell stories and life was never dull with him around. As a child one woke up to whistling and then to bed with fantastical stories that even now I remember. He was a racing horse, finely tuned as a concert piano, who could fly off the mark and be easily offended and yet the rise and the fall of his anger or irritation quickly past. He dealt well with my melancholy spirit, inspiring me to look beyond the moment, to believe tomorrow would be a better day. In a crisis his volatile personality changed to one that was completely calm and in control and so much of this I see in myself today. He mixed with those who thought themselves to be grander than the rest and he mixed with men whose homes were on the street. He never ever refused another who came to his door for bread and I guess this was shaped by his near starvation in Italy as a young man.

Church and religion played no part in his life and yet he prayed for us daily and his vision on his death bed of a beautiful other place that he was going to, I will never forget.

The last ten years of his life are the years I treasure the most. As he slowly began to change from vibrant to the gentle vibrations of a man who had had his fill of life and was content in his lot, I was there to witness this, I could display daughterly gestures of affection, tuck him into bed and put off the light, this man whose own arm weighed me down as a child, so much so, that I could not move, hardly breathe, lying next to him in the absence of my mother, that arm so strong, so full of life across my chest as he slept, the weight of it, I will never forget and to lift those very same arms, as light as a feather, years later will never leave me either.

What an amazing privilege it was to be near him, daily, weekly as his spirit made ready to leave this planet. The singing was still there, in a thin, weak voice that could still move everyone in the room. The dancing was there, too, even if it was a shuffle of his feet, leaning on one of his grand daughters. The stories themselves began to change from boisterous comedy, to one’s where he spoke, brokenly and in parts of the suffering he had seen.

As his mind and body went, bit by bit, it was as though we saw his spirit more clearly, a spirit that had been infused with such an over-sized personality that we had sometimes missed it. I began to see the essence of his being distilled by old age; a good man, with a great heart with so much love and joy to give, his cup continued to runneth over, even to the end.

I have written in detail about his exceptional passing away to another place but what I want to share again is the feeling I had as I walked away from his death bed, after I had kissed him, numerously over his face, him still alive and knowing enough to know it was me.
Death where is your sting? I asked. His death has giving me a greater freedom to live unbounded by woes and worries,
I see life more clearly. His gift to me was his goodness, his generosity of spirit, his unconditional love. Perhaps there is something in war, that happens to some men, they seem to shine brighter for it.


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My past, revisited

I’ve been musing and amused by THE mother-of-cat fights taking place in the public arena while I’ve been reading and pondering about Empress Dowager Cixi of China, at the end of the 19th century, who after a ripping start, overstayed her royal welcome and these two past-times, which on the surface, having little to do with each other, in fact have much to-do with the seeming importance of matters of state and those who, in state, take themselves too seriously… to my mind at least.

Since my twenties I have pondered on the importance of being an agent of change, for the better, need I say and whether one (the royal we) in the bigger scheme of things is so important after all. Sometimes I think it is of all importance and at other times I think our lives are really no big deal, as the mysteries of the universe are beamed back to us, courtesy of Hubble and then I remind myself that life is less about me me me and more about we we we. For twenty odd years I lived on a remote farm, surrounded by a farming community that quietly transitioned from dysfunctionality, to one where people were at least heard and seen and respected and when we left at the end of the 90′s, in dire circumstances,I “troosed” myself with the thought that we had left some sort of legacy in the hearts of those who were by default, our calling, the men and women who had worked in the orchards and pack-shed and had been our nearest neighbours.

I have revisited this matter numerous times over the past 13 years as stories of the social and even physical degradation of this place has trickled in from old acquaintances and then I ask myself; what was the part we had played in this sad affair, and could we hold ourselves accountable for what appeared to be the walk back to the dark past of farming in this country?

Then something happened in December of the past year. A call from a young man, inviting us to attend a school reunion on the farm where we had lived. Of the farm children who had attended, in the years we were there, would be present and as one does, (“break” with one’s past,) I decided not to go, I had beaten myself enough not to now receive another public thrashing and so J went, quite reluctantly in fact, for what he promised would be a short and sweet hello and goodbye. Well the afternoon came and went, the sun went down and only then did J arrive home.

I normally have a good feeling about what’s the right thing to do and in this matter my gut feel had failed me, as the afternoon on this remote farm, in the old school yard, under peppercorn trees, surrounded by a garden of cacti, planted by the principal and pupils throughout the years, this afternoon turned out to be one of those days that cannot be replicated, repeated, revisited or replayed. You were either there or you weren’t.

And I wasn’t.

It was the sort of experience that I think will be possible one day, to travel into time and see the future. There was 1982-1999 and then there was December 2013, everything on the surface appeared the same; same place, same people and yet everything had changed. Men and women, with partners and families arrived, some had not seen each other for this time or longer and they were all beaming and beautiful. Each and every one who came, drawn by the small advertisement in the local paper, inviting them to come, did so, not knowing quite what to expect and so the day turned out to be one of spontaneously standing up and sharing, memories and the retelling of the collective past but far more importantly, relating their individual journeys, the now of their lives and each story told was a story of people’s perseverance, courage, faith and hope of a better life. But with each, there was a touch-point with us. The day J spoke to a young boy, more than 2 decades ago, encouraging him not to give up, or the few words I had briefly spoken over the lives of young girls, or the many, now forgotten trips we did out of the valley, exposing them to a greater and bigger world out there, set dreams alight, set young people on a course to become more of who they were born to be. Most of the incidences relayed, we cannot recall. Even the names of the young girls, I struggle to remember, even their faces in my mind have faded away and yet these moments over many years, stand as life changing landmarks for those present at the plaasskool reunion.

What I do remember is 1982, standing in another world, with a child on the hip in a cold shed, with a group of sullen children before me, children, when offered paper and pencils, sat staring at the floor, unable to draw. Children who could not look me in the eye, who had no words to speak to me. Were these confident, raconteurs of the plaasskool reunion of the same children?

And so I read (from a distance) about state affairs and those who believe that they are our God given movers and shakers of the earth, who will bring healing and prosperity to this land and rightly so, but it seems to me, more and more after the plaaskool reunion, it takes a nation to make a nation. It takes a collective act by ordinary folk, wherever they find themselves, to sow the seeds for a better tomorrow, one they may not necessarily reap but one that will germinate in the soil and slowly make its way to the surface and push out young green leaves to the sun and drink in the rain. I think its quite possible for all of us to sow a few and trust the act of sowing to do, what it does best, germinate and grow.

Only now I understand the call made by an old, old man, to myself and other farmer’s wives in 1991. He came from Tulbagh and was a farm worker in the district and we sat hatted and heeled, listening to his simple message and plea, which I felt he repeated just too many times for comfort. “Gooi jou brood op die water,” he said that day, over and over.
Perhaps that’s where I’ve got stuck in my writing too, “gooi jou brood op die water,” I ask you.


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Homes are hearts.

You park above the bay, then walk down-down towards the beach, under trees that form, ribbed cupolas, as serene as sung prayers in a cathedral. It is here where I remeet Tony Watkins and his wife Helen, after 8 years, we are all older and this time around, I am more ready to receive, to learn, to listen, to be open. Their home is a whimsical, middle-earth creation, built by Tony himself, on the shores of Karaka Bay, Auckland, the site of past bloody battles. The house is a response to the cliff face, the vegetation, the sea and sand and Tony’s own mysticism. I find him to be a wise father, this custodian of New Zealand’s vernacular architecture, author of a thought provoking book, amongst others, called “Thinking it Through”. From him and in him, I see someone, who intimately understands and lives the connectedness and interdependence between Humanity and Nature, that we intuitively know, is good and right for both ourselves and the earth. It is from him that I get the confirmation of our responsibility to tread gently while busy with our daily work, the importance of a sympathetic response to building buildings, that will not dominate and master the environment in which it finds itself, but rather to have an evolving dialogue, in ways that are spontaneous, which cannot be predicted or foreseen. Where buildings becomes vehicles for relationship and memory building, more than monuments of mortar and stone, mausoleums, housing the death of family and friendship.

It is a message of kindness, not only to our own kind, but to the greater kind of which we are part.

I hope to believe that our home at Onrust is such a place, a non invasive place of meditation and human engagement.

It is made mostly of wood, nestling in a riverine forest of Milkwood trees that are home to creeping and crawling creatures, flying ones too. Trees that twist and turn their way through foundations and decks. A broken rock face is reconstituted into walls and walkways,trimmed by hand, by men, that love stone.
There are old barn doors with their original paint and a battered table,as old as our colonial history,around which we sit, eat, talk, argue and laugh, make food, rock the baby and where kisses from young to old, old to young, are given and reciprocated.
The house is modest. It overlooks the river and the sea and the mountains.
In summer it is a house where the shrill voices of many laughing children is heard, till late. Where young lovers use the forest beneath us too. Fires and fireworks on the beach is part of the night we sleep in and then suddenly, it is quiet, quite quiet, indeed silent.

The birds return as the people leave, the otters come out to play, the terrapins tread water and the lone-ranger dassie takes his post on the roof of the neighbouring house.

Such a time was this past week with a full moon on the river and just ourselves at an open window, watching the moonlight ride on the backs of birds and otters, busy with their night time business.The marvel and mystery of life playing itself out, not before us, no, such times the marvel is in us too, we are part of it, connected to the light, the water, the sounds and signs.

It is a moment, when there is no separation between self and space, time and place, where all things come together in a marvelous blending of what constitutes the essence of life and the fullness of it, to be in that moment as part of the song, the experience, the happening. And the house facilitates this, the house draws us out of ourselves and into the landscape.

This is the gift of this house.

Yet I confess, my fear is even I have lost it, as I clutch my phone in the hand, reach out for the electronic tablet.To collectively lose this sense of connectedness will be our collective death,(aah the fracking to be in the Karoo makes me weep) I realise and I confess that much in me has been disconnected, I need to regain it, claim it back, daily, my belonging, my strand in the multi-coloured cloth of All Life, animate and inanimate, in fact there is no such thing as dead. Even decay lives, even death is life.

I am it.


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Graceland

Listened to Paul Simon’s upbeat but melancholy longing on the radio this week of wanting to go down to Graceland and this is something I have a need for too, to find the proverbial Grace-place and hang out there for a while.I suspect that we all have a longing for some Graceland, time-out in this country. Perhaps more so today than ever before because we’ve had a taste of it this past fortnight, me finding myself responding from the gut to other’s eloquence, other’s mourning, others praise, identifying myself with written and visual portraits of fellow, South Africans, embracing, hugging, consoling, reaching out across divides that day to day living brings in our topsy turvy world we call home.

The night Mandela died, I arrived in South Africa from a visit to New Zealand. With such a visit, one is prompted to articulate and sometimes defends one’s choice to live here and to defend the very nature of our country. And the country’s response to his death, was my most perfect answer.
We somehow have the best and the worst of human nature in us. We can rise and fly like no other and we can grovel in the dirt like the best. We are a nation and a country and a community of people that makes better people, better and more beautiful than any other nation and we have a society that can break and destroy and wound in ways that no words can describe the horror of it.
We are passionate, emotional, rebellious, highly independent, courageous, sacrificial, opinionated, bossy and difficult, it is in our blood and in our shared history. I suspect we love like no other and hate like no other too. We are a nation of Sea Biscuits, race horses, highly strung and brave at the same time. And I absolutely love and adore this of us. If we could make the best of ourselves count each day across the country, if we could hug, console, feed the hungry, reach out and love daily, the whole caboodle of us, we would become this shining light in a dark world, not for a fortnight but for an infinite time. We would not need to defend, explain our choices, we would be ministering to others, teaching, showing how brokenness can become mended, how wounds can be be healed. And we have it in us all. It’s in our genetics, in our bones and blood and mixed heritages. I saw this displayed so bountifully this week. We can do this thing. We can make our own Graceland happen right here from Josie’s to Cape Point. From Durbs to the Vrystaat.

Confirming this, was Reconciliation day, celebrated on a farm, just outside Riebeeck West, a tangible demonstration of our ability to sustain the loving, the giving, the sacrifice and commitment to the above. We’ve got the character to hang in there and not lose hope or faith in our collective future. Hundreds upon hundreds of rural children from all over the Wes-Kaap came together in apple green T shirts with a Mandela quote on their backs and brightly colored bandanas on the heads as a display of youthful unity. The Goedgedacht program has been running quietly for many years, making a difference in the lives of children, so often regarded as being on the periphery of mainstream society. Empowering children week in and week out, year in and year out until they reach adulthood is the vision of the program. To my mind, it’s the only way to go to creating Graceland. Not by a flash of sympathy, or a passing moment of empathy but by daily, weekly, monthly, yearly interventions. And we can all play our part, some greater than others, Mandela showed it’s only a few who are truly called to that level of leadership but we can use our daily lives for acts of random kindness, daily affirmations and encouragement, daily choices not to slip into cynicism and hardheartedness but to keep faith, daily, for our beautiful country and it’s people.
It’s quite simple.
Daily grace will lead us to the promised land.


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May there be another miracle.

Anene Booysen’s blood is on my hands. Yours too. Before you huff and disagree, stop a moment to think, if there is any truth in what I am saying.

If you believe that you are part of a family, a community and a nation, then Anene’s death is your death too, you are not removed from it, you are not washed from it, you are not an outsider looking on at the heinous crimes of others. It is our crime too, our passivity, our turning our faces away from what we hear and see.

For we, you and me have failed Anene. And you are to me, the president of this country, the cabinet, the departments, the ruling party, the municipalities, the churches, the civil organizations, the schooling system, the people on the streets, in their houses, their walled villages. And the taxpayer’s money that is so carefully, so thoroughly, so efficiently collected, even better than in countries known for clean administration, no, this is one area we seem to get right, to get the money in and then to be spent on what? Holidays in the Seychelles, five star hotels and homes, banquets and fleets of vehicles that would make even a sheik green with envy, while the blood flows, daily, hourly, minute by minute, second by second, the blood continues to flow and so we all die a little each time and we don’t’ even know we are dying, as a people, as a nation.

Where is the money, the manpower, the passion, the commitment to this?

I watched the History channel last night. I watched a program called a Miracle Rising and so it was, none of us can deny that, our democracy is and was a miracle rising and yet 19 years later the miracle has faded into the sunset, it has turned into a monstrous affair, a living nightmare and hell for the weak, the helpless, the voiceless and the dumb, for them there is no justice, no democracy, but rather to be the democratic recipients of carte blanche violence, for this hell knows no class or culture. To have died in the struggle was a noble thing, your family could bear and brunt the pain with that knowingness of your sacrifice but what is Anene’s death for and all the others who are daily mutilated, not in solitary confinement, or by military forces but by friends, family, the neighbour down the road, for what purpose is her and other’s death?
For what cause, for what war?

Does no cause drive us any more to speak? To be moved to action?
And did not many of us walk away from the miracle and thought it to be the life and times of others, did not we, and here I speak to me, let the miracle, die?

Hector Pieterson’s death changed the world we live in forever.
May Anene’s death too, be the beginning of the end of another regime of violence,
A regime that rules in the streets, the houses, the inner rooms of this land, we so love to call our country, our South Africa.
Cry my beloved country cry.
Rise up my country rise up, to another miracle, perhaps greater than the first.

“Let freedom reign,” was Mandela’s call.
I reiterate his words again, “Let freedom reign.”

We are not free.
For freedom flees from us all.
We are not free, until the likes of Anene can walk the streets of their hometown, without fear.
LET THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM BEGIN.


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A long walk to freedom, mine.

Apartheid. A condition, a state of mind, a value system, a frame of reference and behaviour, a dogma, an ideology, and the closest thing to a religion…a cult.

I think these things, offhand as I stand before a small screen with the face of the High Priest, Verwoerd, very much alive, smiling at me, in a grandfatherly and kindly way, telling me, the post mortem viewer, that this word, (that constitutes a whole world, a universe,) is good for me and all mankind, that its intentions are noble, that all will benefit and be blessed, that this word, that speaks, screams a thousand silenced throats, is the way, the truth… and the life -that my white salvation, and my children’s, children’s salvation lie in its execution. And he ends his speech which is intimate, articulate and in impeccable English with a cheerful, greeting, but burdened with a dark threat of, we whiteys will go it alone, there in our self created wilderness…
do or die.

I’m visiting the Apartheid museum for the first time, on my daughter’s prompting. It’s a cold, wet grey day in Johannesburg and there are a few tourists speaking foreign tongues (and us). The sprawling museum is a long road to walk, it’s large, imposing and complex as is the history of our country but there is a thread that is clearly woven through it all and that thread stitched together makes a fabric called injustice, violence, suffering, courage, hope, faith and love, truth, forgiveness, redemption, and life in a way that I recognise and cherish.

And I am moved to tears by testimonies I have never heard, footage I have never seen. We stop under the nooses, hung from the high ceiling, one for each one who has died in detention, “accidentally.” I walk into the solitary confinement cells, and think of Gertrude Fester as we walked the Sea Point parade, many years ago and she struggling to keep up with us, only on asking, telling me matter of factly, that her ankles were shot from jumping up and down for months on end in such a room to keep herself sane and strong…

I have no understanding of the suffering that plays itself off on the walls in front of me, it is a pandemic pestilence that appears to never end but for the courageous ones who never waiver, never step down, never give up the fight. There is a clip with Pik Botha telling the unseen British voice, with absolute confidence, that there never will be a black president, one man one vote, in the same clip, there is Winnie, speaking with the same confidence…

And for me to walk here, unhindered and absolved, I realize is one mega miracle that goes beyond all understanding. I wonder about all those who have died, who never saw ’94. So many of those on the video’s gave up their schooling, their bright futures for the struggle and now in the year of 2012, are stilling paying the price for that. It is unthinkable. I grasp a little better the rage, the disillusionment of many.

To make a stand costs. To make a stand for justice costs infinitely.

As is the museum on the farm of Solms Delta, telling the parallel history of the farm and slavery, there is hope at the end of the walk, there is a way out of the darkness, carved by those few in number, willing to pay a price.

And I say thank God for them. Thank God for Mandela and the men and women across cultures and class who rose above the trenches and pulled us all along to be our better selves.

What I as a white person born in 1960 cannot comprehend is the goodwill of millions towards me. I am humbled by it. I am in awe of it. I thank you.

Long live our “new” South Africa.
I take the now, anytime, warts and all.


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MY KIND OF THING

Kindness, beats what statins can do for your heart. To be on the receiving end is nice, novel, neat and lowers your blood pressure but to be the giver of kindness, it is far better for one’s health, putting a warm glow to the most miserable day, lifting your load, making life a little lighter. It clears the head of debris and the blood of blockages and bottlenecks, making one go with the flow of the day so much better than without it.

Kindness is something you should learn at your mother’s knee. It should be imbibed with mother’s milk, it should be something that comes naturally to you. Kindness can be counted as small acts of generosity, coupled with thoughtfulness, mostly unexpected and often undeserved, which means it has a spirit of grace and gratitude behind it. Kindness to my mind, should not be a very public affair, if it is, and an almighty fuss is made about it, then I suspect some other agenda is at work because kindness, should happen in the quiet, behind the scenes moments with no or little fan-fair. Kindness in the ideal world, should be a way of life, without murmuring, or weighing up of the cost and effort, as part of one’s daily life as much as breathing, effortlessly.

Kindness is the healing balm we all need to live, and flourish in this country of ours.

Last week was the birthday of a man whom others would call a man of all trades and perhaps even more so a man for all seasons. From a humble background and coming to work for us after many months of dire straits, he has become the man you call for a burst pipe, a telephone on the blink, a grandmother that needs to be fetched, a garden that needs to be pruned, furniture that needs to be polished, stuff that needs to be carted, dogs that need to be pampered. When he began to work for us he could hardly utter a word, stammering and stuttering, and so much would go wrong because of his fear of speaking to us. A grown man with a family, a respected lay preacher in his own community, yet unable to talk because of his fear, because of his history of bad bosses.

But something has happened over the past four years, and I realized this, in passing, a while back, when I phoned him, rather irately, bothering him as is my custom on one of his many errands, about some minor, missing object, which should have been somewhere of my placing. He listened me out, patiently, then answered clearly, without hesitation and with quiet authority that he unfortunately could not help in this regard, though he would want to if he could, as he had no idea that such an object existed and that I needed to find another scapegoat, closer to home. I was stunned. I put the phone down, then immediately phoned J, triumphantly announcing that we had victory, our man was standing up for himself, without fear of retribution, dismissal or punishment.

So as it is in the house of the idle, I arose last Thursday, rather late and lazy to be told, as an afterthought by J, that it was our man’s 50th birthday and that I needed to put something together in the form of a party for him. I had other plans for the day and so for a moment, was slightly peeved off but then my better self took over and off I went to put a party together.

To my mind parties consist of eating, drinking, some singing and salutations, lots of laughter and a gift to be unwrapped.

Parties also need people and so the most obvious rent-a-crowd, were the staff at our offices who with me, are prone to “dial a man,” this man in particular whenever anything goes awry and so were my best bet on short notice, with our Madame of all matters domestic, Mari in tow.

There was lots of lovely things to eat and drink, we sang Happy Birthday in different languages and “Lank mag hy lewe” just to top it all. Speeches were made, Ricoffy cuppacino’s were sipped, while our man sat and was served by those who were always on the receiving side. Jokes were told and he had us in stitches too and my gift was just perfect and so in fashion, according to Madame Mari, who also doubles as our in-house stylist.

After the party was over and everyone was back at their desks, on their phones and computers, J told our man to go home and enjoy the rest of the day with his family. Our man stood up and requested that he may have a word or two with J and myself.

“When I was one years old, no one celebrated my birthday, neither at twenty one. No one has ever wished me happy birthday in all the years I have worked, but today is the first day that my birthday has been celebrated by those who employee me and I thank you for this great day in my life.” This is a shortened and rough translation of his words to us.

I stared at him and then at J and tears sprang to my eyes, oh selfish one, who thought it a trifle at first, this small gesture in thanks and appreciation was something so precious and wonderful for this man and we had done it, on a whim and yet it is who we are, to love, to care, to affirm, to show our appreciation and see others grow and shine like the stars they are.

And so our man went home. Ironed his new snazzy shirt, put it on, went off to his daughter’s school to wait for her, with a plate of cake in his hands and her face, lighting up, to see him at the school gate, so unexpected and such a surprise, was his biggest gift, he told us the next day.

Aaaah, kindness, may it be my default option, always.


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