This month we have another essay from a skills exchange member and South African Artist now living on the far western part of Ireland
The daily, three-phase, hundred and forty kilometre round trip was recurringly tedious. Arduously hot. It began by getting to the main road at 6a.m., to wait there, to be picked up and bumped around on a hardened flatulence of tyres bloated to the extreme in an arrogant preference for efficacy of the speed machine. Gruellingly rough on the body. But, with the mostly long, flat, straight, shimmery strips of tar on which the Boere* stock would put foot, not braking even for the few bends, the intolerable, incarcerated proximity to these hostile drivers in order to reach and return from the meeting point, amounted to an endurance of about only two hours, each weekday.
Mesmerising mountain ranges in the west towered hazy purple-blue over alternating plains of dry grasslands and encrusted, baked soil, with anthills, Acacia and Baobab trees perpendicular under the stretch of wide skied, infinite visibility leading to zero altitude at the Indian Ocean coastline.
On this once vastness of a wilderness poised in the stasis of fast vanishing, rural people, natural to the setting, still at the pace that on foot can go, in diurnal migration through local survival, water carrying, fuel collecting, crop maintaining, social interchanging, livestock rearing, hut building, simply assuming transient lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, deadly mambas as somewhat regular visitors; for the downline of European interlopers grafted onto the scene, it’s rather ordinary, speeding along quite blasé to the privileged sight of giraffe, zebra, buck and warthog families appearing on national roadsides.
The journey would make transfer from the presiding, first “mother ‘country’”, through another, and into a third. If travelling from 200km further north, the road would go from a fourth country, through the third and second, again into the first, second and third and so on. With three pre-existing national entities before additional, political divisions, when moving through the entire southern sub-continent, one could be traversing repeatedly, back and forth, blink-size fragments of twelve different territories, ‘countries’, split up, away from each other, stranded far and wide all over the land. A touring wonder of people and property rent asunder by the ingenious ‘Homelands Policy’ of ‘Separate Development’. A geographical legislation, enacted with enforced and brutal removal and re-settlement of huge mass of population, in order to implement the philosophy and practical intent of racial superiority, which meant dregs of nothing for most and bountiful more of the best for the chosen few with the power and plenty to do, at whim and will, where, how, with whom and whatsoever they pleased to. The why, was unabashed proclamation of the right to overt acquisition of merely inevitable, omnipotent plenitude, pre-ordained by contract with an inherent deity at liberty to predilect all dictates of everyone’s fate for the unilateral furtherance of ‘His people’.
A central, federal department of education and training (D.E.T.) retained socially engineered control over schooling of all children in the entire, otherwise divided region. Party-line teachers from the mother country were seconded for service into all the subjugated others. In an inversion of US bussing, extended staff commuting turned literal wheels to perpetuate human experiment.
Adjacent to a portion of the country of Lebowa, in remote, mud and thatch hut settlements, xiTsonga speakers lived as neighbours in a segment of their country of Gazankulu. To reach Thulamahashe, the local centre of this outpost, required foray through some twenty kilometres of thick, sliding, slippery, sandy tracks, sludging mud after the beneficence of rains. This roadway, an arterial thoroughfare, facilitated unpredictable movement of unbridled dogs, goats, chickens, pigs, cattle, of pedestrian men, women and barefoot children and assortment of vehicles. Such was the third and last phase of the daily drive to Thulamahashe, for which passage, following the route along national roads to arrive at a central meeting point, educational civil servants, charading qualification by bureaucratic agenda-issued diplomas of dubious intellectual merit, would regroup and embark staff Kombi transport to Orhovelani Senior Secondary School.
Tottering sandy ground on sinking high heels of quasi fashion parade, to perch incongruously on dusty seats in flowery flippancies of flounces, a bevy of blatantly course ladies would titter their eyelashes and twitter inane, sing-song conversatants in collusive allegiance to the prevailing political muster. Their biased patter included cooing the habitually drunken, gregariously bent headmaster, himself generously endowed with the ferocious, fanatical traits of Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging* philosophy and policy – a Meneer* Putter, he drove like a manic, depraved despot on a joy ride jaunt. In this transit were also an elderly, erstwhile farmer drawing conveniently large income supplement for “kaffir onderwys” [regrettably necessary quote* -AK], artisans’ dreck wives and one, extraneous other. For a vibrant, young woman in the midst of this display, every day, just going to work as a teacher in a school felt like an incursion, like she was on a cross border raid.
Once, a poorly clad, meagre boy of about four or five had the misfortune, whatever his motive, to give in to an impulse to throw a stone at the malevolent vehicle careening by. The headmaster’s volatile reflexes suddenly sent the van into a drifting spin and lurched him from the driver’s seat to chase and snatch the boy in sadistic drag by the scruff to a kidnapped fling on the rear floor. Oh, did the staff laugh, oh did they guffaw, point, snigger, chortle, hoot and clap out the merriment of their chanced sport. As the vehicle regained high speed and the boy writhed, screamed and contorted in his entrapment, the abductors redoubled in mounting mirth, mockery and deliberate glee, when he began to wet himself.
One could smell his fear of those people, but they, also, reeked; a kind of suppurating, lusty leak out of a primitive propensity for electing to satiate, to full intensity, a pleasure at inflicting arbitrary cruelty upon a mere chattel, a soulless vassal, who, through a moment of his own reckless stupidity had bonded himself into the captivity of their capricious game. In the mob mentality of rash, feudal degeneracy, his very mortality was at stake.
The vibrant young woman in the midst turned terrified girl, uncomprehendingly overwhelmed by the unfolding of horrific, unforeseen circumstance in the very moments and space before her eyes. Outraged, incensed, in heightening, hectic, inner scream, she was besieged to cranial bursting with a compounding, heart thumping compulsion to unleash and expel a fist pounding, foot stamping protest of vitriolic, glass shattering screech:
“Stop it! Stop it! What the hell are you doing you savage, barbarian terrorists? Stop this van at once, stop this van immediately! You cowardly worms, you hateful, evil despicables, you vile generates, you apparitions from hell . . . Stop this van! Stop this van at once! Release him!”.
She speaks a different language; the deity of the stock that bred her is differently defined. She’s from the big city, from another white tribe, worlds far away. Confounded by fear and fury and outnumbered, she sees in their escalating seethe an obvious delight in her palpable alarm, it seems to be catalysing their zest to spur their torturous heinousness to ultimate harm. So she slinks into a chilly, tight-lipped, quivering sweat of jelly-like, mind-swirling, semi-consciousness and she tries to breathe an imperative calm of an eyes-closed forgiveness over the shame of her silent cowardice, while she prays, just prays. She prays, just prays a prayer, for herself, a prayer for a young boy, lying trapped underfoot on the floor at the back of a van, at the mercy of captors who have no mercy. The boy is screeching and she prays, just prays that he won’t give in, she prays that they’ll give up their game and she prays that the child’s own angel will intervene and prevail his escape as outcome to the tale.
Previous to this era of life’s moulding, the young woman honestly hadn’t known a hint of the debasing realities that were daily atrocity perpetrated all across the wide turf that was her home by birth. She didn’t have a clue. Protesting students on university campus during tertiary studies provoked only her indifferent contempt at the inconvenience of their distracting noisiness. She’d had absolutely no idea that what they were on about might be relevant, or important.
There was total news black out during the whole of her youth. Her family were too busy with their own yuppie trivia, material pursuits and rising climb to come out into upper class stairwells to bother themselves with gathering any impartial information that might delineate the true state of the nation lurking just below a flimsy, diaphanous guise of “all’s well with our lives”.
There were her childhood ponderings about ‘Lizzie’s’ cramped, dark shack in the backyard and “why must she have a tin cup?”, “where are her children?”, “Daddy does nothing when the police bang down her door in the middle of the night, why do they take Moses away?”. But for this type of child-mind wonderings, there would simply have been no forum to bring it to air. Adult mental concept that might have birthed some linguistic, discursive tool for articulating such content was, just simply, not there. Status quo. The ‘is’ just was. Signs of the child’s instinct were hinted at in naturally propelled acts of caring, but, interpreted as embarrassing, they were quashed, disregarded, or bypassed as quirk.
Soweto. 1976. Children under the D.E.T. were revolting against compulsory, universal education in another’s language, military vehicles were moving on children’s protest marches in murderous assault, pictures of the carnage were being relayed to the journalistic presses of other countries and destinations and the whole world was gone crazy at the loss of life score. But, she was sedentarily ensconced in quietly completing study of victor-told and written history for her own school leaving cert exams and she didn’t know a thing of the history that was happening an half an hour’s drive away from her educational building. She didn’t know about the death sentence, or it being carried out in arbitrary, interrogation style scenario, where people ‘fell from windows’, where people ‘hung themselves’, where district surgeons ‘didn’t really detect’ injury to a prisoner with symptoms of cerebral haemorrhage to the extent that their head was a swelled mass of pulp the size of a football; she didn’t know about detention without trial, about pacifists spending three years of their potential in jail rather than submit as military conscripts who would be required to shoot randomly at fellow citizens, men, women and children. She didn’t know she’d later have friends who’d be tortured sadistically, incarcerated indefinitely during extended treason trials for singing freedom songs, only to be acquitted without recompense for all their lost years. She didn’t know about the gravity of poverty. She didn’t know about the sickness of addiction to committing savage acts of institutional or subjective brutality. The design of her state schooling was privilege for a fortunate minority, denied to the majority she had not met, unless they came as representative individuals to be servants to her family and live in the shack in the back.
She was praying. On the floor, underfoot, at the back of the van, the small, meagre boy was whimpering. She was praying, just praying. She had to reach out to him, transmit some courage to his being, that he mattered. She had to try and do something. She twisted around and tried to pass a discreet, comforting smile to him over the seat.
Her refusal to fire the abduction by countering it, deflated the frenzied dementia of the abductors and caused an anti-climactic that might very well have saved the boys’ life that day. To say nothing of urgent prayers that might have lent sway…
For her, life itself was mutating and she would not again be as she had been. If the boy received any message from that subtle visage that she turned to him, if he could see a smile that was worth anything through the blur of his running nose, the tears pouring from his eyes and the spentness of being from his terrified spasms, kicks, screams and writhes? The replay of his horror-filled, brown eyes can still be vivid; she can still want to know if he did see her smile, that her face wasn’t yet another threatening grimace of a big monster leering down at him from a nightmare world. The ‘teachers’ lost interest in the boy and tossed him out the moving vehicle before they reached the school in good time to conduct morning prayers, devotions and assembly.
She moved paralytic through that day, until the three-phase return journey released her through the door of her home to cry in safety at an inadvertent, violent daydream that wasn’t going to end, a broadside that came out of nowhere that would continue to replicate and extend. She had to work. She had to see out the year. But reaching Thulamahashe became increasingly precipitous territory.
see mutation.com February ezine for “Reaching Orhovelani in Thulamahashe
- part II”
Boere – literally meaning farmer, but commonly referring to a race /
culture grouping, not always necessarily pejoratively
Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging – a regional political movement
Meneer – Afrikaans, meaning ‘Mr’
kaffir – A South African (Afrikaans) word, infamously used by bigots in
a context of racial superiority for pejorative reference; other language
origins of the word suggest ‘unbeliever’
onderwys – Afrikaans word, ‘teaching’
677 total views, 2 today