Archive for May, 2010

When asked to write about aestheticising violence, I thought hmmm…I know many stories of violence, all true, and beginning to take shape as a memoir about my experiences as a runaway.  However, where is the beauty in it? 

I have decided that there is beauty – it’s invisible, but it is and always was there.  It lies deep within me, and the human heart, which continued to beat and contain the glowing coals of love, courage, innocence and strength in those days when I was sure it would stop, even when I wanted and willed it to stop. 

The beauty lies in the spark of hope, which forever finds its home deep within all of us, even when we, ourselves, don’t see it.  It lies in our inner strength to survive that which seems impossible to survive. 

The beauty is that I am now learning to love that young woman, the one toward whom I felt so much self-hatred.







When he smashes his fist into my face, I don’t feel pain.  My head snaps sideways and my body twists to follow.  It is an instant, yet it is forever.  Time doesn’t exist.  My senses are fuzzy, overlapping each other.  I feel blistery blood red and icy blue, I taste fear and panic, I smell my own nightmare rewind and begin again, rewind, begin.  How many times must I live this?  I remember whole stories in this instant, this forever.  They’re reverberations of this story.  Then, adrenaline takes over and I simply feel the need to survive.   Get away, get away, live, survive.  It’s all I know.  It’s all I feel.  I must get away from him…

The old trailer in which we live is far from the scrutinizing eyes of city people.  It’s tiny and dark, even on the brightest days, and holds inside itself the secret of my shame.  Fall sings her song of rich shades, the sprinkle of forest trees within sight, but not very close.  Nothing of the golden, shimmering shades is heard within these walls, only the growling of my stomach and the echoes of my crushed self-esteem.

I want to make something nice, something different, but we don’t have any money, and there are only the usual dried beans and some potatoes.  If I make something special, maybe he won’t be angry with me all of the time.  I just have to be better, that’s all, to try harder to make him happy. 

I know it’s me.  I really don’t blame him for always being mad.  I know I’m not pretty enough, even though he sometimes tells me that I am.  And I’m definitely not smart enough.  Then, there’s my figure.  Who would like anyone with a figure like mine, all thin and lanky?  If I looked like one of the girls in the magazines, or if I could do anything worthwhile, then maybe he would always be nice to me. 

I open the refrigerator again, thinking this time I’ll see something different; same thing as the other two times, an almost finished jar of mayonnaise, and a couple of bottles of beer.  I close the refrigerator door and wonder what to do.  I hadn’t eaten today.  Not that I don’t want to eat, I do.  There is just never enough food.  Maybe I can add the potatoes to the beans and make some soup.  Lots of salt and pepper.  That would be good.  It’s early enough to cook the beans if I start now.

I look once more through the soaked beans for stones before I add them to the pot of water and put them on to boil.  While they boil, I daydream about another life, a life far away, maybe deep in a thick enchanted forest where faeries play and spill sparkling dust of dancing, happy light on everyone, where animals laugh and I magically create full course meals out of beans and potatoes.    

Or I’d live in a faraway land, in a castle at the base of a mountain, which overlooks the sea.  Where leopards cry out in the night and monkeys come by to ask for bananas.  There, I’d be happy with myself; so happy that I’d live with a man who loves me for who I am, and I’d have two orange cats curled up in my lap while I concoct mystical baubles from the bleached bones and shiny shells of the nearby shore. 

I begin cutting the potatoes, and I think once again about all the good food I’d always had at home.  Most nights my little sister would pre-heat the oven and take the frozen TV dinners out of their boxes.  She’d peel open the plastic from the tin foil like containers and expertly put them on the racks to heat.  She was a good cook, even when she was only eight.  My mouth watered at the thought of the shiny metal trays with individual sections containing each food group.   

I remember looking in the refrigerator at home and whining about there being nothing to eat!  When I complained and wanted something different mom always said, “What do you think, money grows on trees?”

I wander over to the window and gaze out at the sharp blue day, a contrast to the dark, dingy trailer with its wretched paneled walls.  I wonder what I’d be doing if I hadn’t run away.  I wonder if anyone remembers me.  I look out and I wait. 

The anticipation is one of the most difficult parts.  I don’t know when he’ll transform from his sometimes charming, benevolent self to a man who is capable of inflicting intense harm.  It’s like living with two people.  When we have fun and all is well, and his personality is charming and amiable, I question my own experiences with the other part of him.  It doesn’t seem possible that so caring a person can also house a nature so tyrannical and brutal.  The more time that goes by, the more often his cruel temperament is unleashed and exposed, and it seems to be getting worse and worse.

I must try not to do anything that will make him angry, that’s all.  The difficult thing is I sometimes make him mad for no reason, just because I’m me.  God, I disgust myself.  No wonder he gets angry with me.  I glance at myself in the full-length mirror that’s on the bathroom door.  I can’t stand my face, all angular and thin.  My nose is too big and my eyes…I hate them, too.  They remind me of my father’s hazel eyes.  I don’t know how he can look at me every day.  I try to cover more of my face with my side-parted long brown hair, but it doesn’t really help.      

I prepare to smile, to be good, to do what he wants.  To be sure his food is ready, to laugh at his jokes, or to spread my legs, if he asks.  I’m a marionette.  He’s the master puppeteer.  I have no choice.  He’ll find me and kill me if I ever try to leave.  He tells me all of the time.  Life’s better for me if I please him.  It’s my only option.

Once, to my embarrassment, he asked me to remove my jeans and looked at me closely there, almost inspected me, and said he’d know if I ever fooled around on him.  I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I’m petrified he’ll find what he suspects is evidence, even though I would never be so stupid.

When he’s nice to me, it’s wonderful.  I latch on to these times when I feel loved.  His brown eyes glint and sparkle as we joke and laugh together, and for a few moments, I forget.  I forget about the biting cruelty of his tongue.  I forget how easily his mood tips to rage.  He tells me no one will love me as he does, and I believe him.  

He’s jealous, too.  He loves me so much he doesn’t want anyone else looking at me or talking to me.  Most of the time that makes me feel special.  Other times it scares me.

It’s getting dark, which is much later than usual for him to be home.  I begin to worry that he’s out drinking. On the other hand, maybe he’s been in a wreck.  Part of me hopes so.

I turn the soup off.  I’m hungry and I think about eating, but maybe I’d better wait.  I lie down on the couch and light a joint, drawing hard.  The smoke curls up and surrounds me with the sweet smell of cannabis.  I drift back in time, to hot, humid days spent walking along the shores of the Atlantic, swimming in its warm sea, letting the sun dry the salt onto my brown body.    

I sleep with the taste of ocean salt in my mouth.

I wake up on the couch.  It’s late.  I hear it again – the creaking of the door.  My defenses come up right away because I can tell he’s been drinking, even before I see him.  I instinctively know it.  He wouldn’t be home so late, if not.  

How did he get the money to drink?  We can’t even buy food.  Momentarily, I am upset.  I almost say something.  I try quickly to push the anger away.  What’s left is anxiety, dread, and a tight, sick feeling in my stomach.  I know what happens when he drinks. 

“Hi.  Do you want something to eat?”  I subserviently ask, trying to mask the anger and fear.   

He comes over, smiles, and gives me a kiss.  I try hard to act normal, as if I hadn’t waited all day to eat.  As if he hadn’t just walked in late at night, on this, our one-year anniversary together.  As if his drunken breath doesn’t scare me. 

He can tell by my response that I’m upset even though I try not to let it show. 

God, he knows. 

I smile.  I’m desperate now to be normal and to make him happy.  To calm the bubbling anger that always simmers under the surface. 

“What the fuck’s wrong with you?”  He asks, and holds my jaw with one of his hands.  He’s not so drunk that he can’t sense my tension.  Tears squeeze out the corners of my eyes.  He holds my face hard and I taste blood from the inside of my cheek.  Survive, live, lie, do anything, just stay alive. 

“Nothing, I just wasn’t fully awake.  I fell asleep.” I lie, desperate for him to think that nothing is wrong, desperate for him to love me and not get angry simply by looking at me.  He lets go.  My body and senses are acutely alert.  My breathing is shallow and nearly as fast as my beating heart.  I’m scared, and I need him to be calm.  I try to take slower, deeper breaths.   

He stands over me, as if wondering what to do.  I feel trapped.  I’ve been here before.  I know what’s coming and I can’t get away.  I will myself to disappear, but it doesn’t work.  Instead, I reach out to him.  Maybe if I show him love he won’t be angry.  Anything to stop what I know I can’t stop.   I see and feel his rage build.  My hand touches his hand and finds that it’s a tightly clenched fist.   

When he smashes his fist into my face, I don’t feel pain.  Adrenaline takes over and I simply feel the need to survive.   I try to get away, but I can’t back away from where I am.  “You make me sick.”  He slowly hisses through his teeth and comes toward me.  I put my arms in front of my face to shield myself.  It’s instinctual.  I’m knocked sideways on the couch, I slide down, and I crawl, desperate to get away.  Live, survive, live, get away, get away, get away, the voice screams in my head.


He tries to kick me, but I move out of the way and his brown scuffed boot only grazes me. I always loved the way he looks in those boots.  Like one of those male models, the ones who lean on fence posts and light cigarettes in the ads.  They always have cowboy hats that are tipped down over their eyes, and worn jeans.  He grabs me by the arm and yanks me up. 

I try to pull away.  I need to run into the hallway.  I need to get away from him.  I need to live.  Get out, get away, live, live, live.  “You stupid little bitch, you think you’ll get away from me?” he spits.  I swing hard.  The contact feels good.  The sickening sounds of flesh colliding with flesh seem amplified.  I have to get away.  He doesn’t expect it and it stuns him.  I pull down and disentangle myself from his grip. 

I run. 

I have to get into the bedroom where I can lock the door.  I need a barrier between us.  Get away, get away, get away.  He catches me in the short hallway and shoves me hard from behind.  I fall forward to the ground.  I try to crawl away from him.  The bedroom is tiny and I’m trapped.  I have to live. 

I fight.  I will not win, but I fight anyway.

He kicks me brutally on the side and I curl up into a ball.  He is vicious and kicks me again.  I can’t fight back anymore.  He knows it and it enrages him further.  I try to stop his boot.  All I see is his brown boot.  It’s bigger than I am.  It’s stronger than I am.  It doesn’t stop.  That boot that I love is going to kill me.

Now I’m going to die. He will kill me, just as he’s always told me.  I can’t get away.   

The voice in my head has changed.  Please help me, oh, God.  Someone help me.

 Suddenly, before I die, his rage expends, and he stops. 

It’s quiet.  Only my raspy breathing fills the corners of the room.

I can’t see, but I know he’s left.

I can’t get up to lock the door.  I lie on the floor in a ball and weep.  I don’t see the blood.  My eyes are swollen nearly shut.  My weeping turns to sobs.  It hurts to cry, but I can’t stop. 

I cry out my pain and my anger.  I cry out my loneliness and fear.  I cry for the sorry little girl that I was and for the stupid, hateful person that I am now.  I cry out all of my misery and mistakes, my ugliness and shame. 

Then numbly, I simply stay on the floor, hating; hating him, hating myself, hating my life.  Life is not worth living.  

I want to die.

Tomorrow I’ll find a way. 

Tonight I can’t move.  


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As the sun falls behind the forest it takes with it the sounds of the day. The voices of the people, the children’s laughter, the old women’s calls to each other in the fields, the  conversations of the elders sitting under trees. The hoofbeats of the Nguni’s already in their kraals. The birds are still now;  the hornbills, the kingfishers, eagles, buzzards, kites,  subside into a silenced world. 

 It is at this time my mind has dark and light thoughts. I rehear the death bleats of a sacrificed goat. They are load with fear. The blood fills its vocal cords and the bleating becomes gurgled, the blood bubbles out of the gaping wound. I hear the people giving praise of thanks as the offering to the ancestors becomes infused with the wild scent of impepu.  The meat is shared, the skin is put out to dry, the spilled blood scrubbed away, the bones burnt. My darker thoughts turn to Christmas turkey and I walk outside to start the generator.   I pump diesel into the engine until it is full, check the oil level and take the handle off the shelf. I slide it onto the flywheel until it clicks into place, put my two hands around it and crank the engine as hard as I can. The generator throbs into life as it blows out swarms of fumes. The exhaust faces Adam Hansel’s house.  Every third Thursday of the month he arrives with his wife Marion. Dust from his car hurtles into the faces of the people wanting at the side of the road for a lift. He doesn’t see them. He doesn’t hear them when they ask for a clinic at his church and the old sick people have to be taken to Tafelefefe Hospital fifteen kilometres away in a wheelbarrow. His church is for preaching about the sins of the pagans. In his factory the pagan girls are dismissed when their bellies reveal his earthly pleasures. The nauseating diesel fumes fogging up his windows, creeping under his doors are my revenge.

 I slide the handle off the flywheel and put it back on the shelf, turn around and bend over to check the level of the diesel drums. I look down at my tunic: the one corner is twisted into rope. I stare at it, not registering what is happening. My tunic begins to feel tight around my body, tighter, tighter and then I am against it. The flywheel is burning into my flesh, I can feel the heat, like a branding iron, sizzling my skin, steam rising, my tunic ripping.  I push my fingers into the cotton, pull, tear it open like shedding my skin. The rope is too thick now, I can’t get free. I am looking down on myself, guiding my mind, my strength, pulling away from the wheel. I pull, I pull. I call out.

‘Help me, someone, help me, ‘

but I know nobody is there, nobody out there in the thick, grey fumes, nobody to hear me over the thumping, deep throated groan of the engine. It seems huge now, crouching over me. The black, sticky patches of diesel oil on the ground turn maroon. My memory freezes in the blood.

 How long have I been here, I think, as I look at the green, cylindrical belly of the generator, with my tunic wrapped around its wheel. I look down at my legs, my pants are torn off me; I am naked. The noise is subsiding into slow breaths. I watch the red hand showing the amps. It is dropping fast, like the line on a life support machine, then it stops:


 I lie in a circle of oil and blood and fragments of cloth. I reach out for the sailcloth against the wall. I want to wrap my body, to cover my nakedness. I try to stand up, a sharp pain runs though my foot and up my leg. I look at my sandal lying next to me.  Chunks of rubber torn out of it, a row of red sequins on one side, the others, scattered on the ground: red sequins glinting through pools of blood.

 Neil is standing at the door, his face white. He lifts my helpless body and carries me into the house. Meryl follows. She unwraps the stained sailcloth from around me, washes my wounds, carries me to bed. I lie there, unable to move- pain striking every nerve.

 After my shattered leg and stomach are operated on, I go home in a wheelchair. I learn to dress my wounds, to get around the house, to lift myself into bed. All through this time the community looks after me. The girls come down the hill to visit me, to comfort me. Winnie is by my side whenever I needed her. She helps me with my dressings, encourages me. The Gcaleka people hear me and with their care I mend.

The doors of the Hansel house remain closed each third Thursday of the month.

 Nobody knows how the engine stopped. The people from Cebe say it’s a miracle. I know now that I wasn’t alone that evening. The stars heard my call. They left their brand on my stomach: a perfect, purple star.

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There her head is now, asleep upon the pillow.  Sun’s up but there she lies.  What a face, beautiful as a pixie boy: large eyes darting behind closed eye lids, high cheek bones, pointy chin, bronze hair mopping up her pale skin.  There she is now late in the day, no alarm clock ringing to wake her up.  It’s Saturday.

Last night she locked herself away, put on Chopin, thought about him out at dinner, changed her mind about cocaine, played 4 poker games simultaneously on-line, won 2 of them, felt alive, thought of him out at dinner, cried, did cocaine, stayed in bed until four o clock in the morning tearing up the week’s photographs.

But now, there she lies.

He’d called at something close to midnight with things to say.  She told him of her state of mind. 

Shortly thereafter he stepped into her apartment, barefoot, out of the rain and there she was, what a face. A bottle of wine on the coffee table, several old movies scattered amongst the beer cans.  But there she was.

There she was, her slight nimble frame holding up her head, her big eyes looking up at him. He looked back.  Questions fired and answers swerved between them.  He’d realized.  He’d walked the road.  He knew now.  She thought he’d known already. 

There she lies.  The sun is high, shadows spill across her soft thin lips.

She’d taken a line in front of him.  He had stayed, only looked away.  That’s when she took his hand and led him to her bedroom.  That’s when he unbuttoned her black satin shirt and lay her down on the white sheets for the first time.

‘You’re beautiful,’ he said.  And she knew he was. 

There she sleeps now, her dreaming head upon the pillow.  He bends over, closes the curtain, gets up to make some coffee, pulls out her manuscript, reads it, looks across the room, picks up the pen, writes at the top of the first page:


The doorbell.  There she lies, doesn’t stir.  He answers.  A tall man, pressed pink shirt, shiny black hair, shiny black shoes on a Saturday, come to fetch her for the wedding what do you mean?  Swords criss, swords cross, she wakens, pixie face opens her eyes. Swords bend and break.  She opens her eyes. 

There she is now.  There she is now opening her eyes.

The End.

(And later, once she’d seen his guns & he’d seen her blackboots, she said these words: Iwill)

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MARY OLIVER – The Real Prayer is …

GOYA – Madrid firing squad

ATHENA goddess of war and wisdom



Aestheticisation is ‘ to make beautiful’ and is particularly applied to art. Violence is ‘ being violent,’ ‘unlawful use of force’. From ‘to violate’ – disregard, treat profanely, disrespect, disturb a person’s privacy, rape. Aestheticisation thus connotes an activity to ‘make beautiful’ that which violates.

There is a world of eternal values and forms – the platonic principles of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. These principles exist in perfect form and are the ground of our human existence.

In the created world Beauty and Violence stand as opposites. Beauty as eternal value and principle of creation, is an aspect which enhances and builds Life. Violence is an action, and an attitude which destroys and harms Life. They cannot be made One.

In Nature’s world, in all species other than human, Violence and Beauty as opposites exists as natural and necessary partners to the processes of life. Plants, animals, birds, fish, insects – each demonstrating Beauty in its own unique way – are born into Beauty, and subject also to the natural, often violent, laws of survival, territoriality, and the elements. This is simply the Life-Death process, fulfilling the process and tasks of Life. . Beauty and Violence, death and destruction are simply and fundamentally part of the death-Life-Rebirth process. It is all as it is.

But we speak of the human condition. In the human footprint, Beauty and Violence also exist as opposites, as part of Life. In the as-yet-little understood evolution of homo sapiens as a distinct species, it appears that an instinctual brain (as in reptiles, animals, birds etc) grew gradually  (appeared immediately) into/as a complex brain with advanced functions in cognition and emotion. We have developed stupendous capacities of mind, heart, senses and feelings , capacities used in the service of both Beauty and Violence as we power our species into dominance.

As humans, we understand, we feel, we sense the world through these capacities and thus it is that we have translated Nature’s cycle of life, death, growth and decay into value-judgement pairs of opposites such as Beauty-Violence. Positive-Negative. Desired-Feared

It seems to be a human response to pull towards us that which we like – Beauty. And to push away from us that which we dislike – Violence. We often live in a series of moments liking and disliking. .To make life meaningful and palatable we must therefore make beautiful (desirable) that which is not-beautiful. We have to aestheticise violence.

We always have a choice. We can transform –aestheticise – Violence into Beauty by seeing the one in the other. When  winter storms pound us with galeforce winds and bitter cold, we have a choice – to be annoyed, or find a way to enjoy ( aestheticise) the wildness. Warm clothes, a fire, hot chocolate, thoughts of the Cape doctor sweeping away litter and stimulating trees to push their roots deep into Mother Earth.

If I, with my dominant cognitive and emotional brain, am to survive the harshness of the world in my own life, I must aestheticise violence. More, I must accept that there is meaning and prupose involved . This is both an important choice and a continuous learning adapting. I know that it is sometijes kind to be cruel. I find Beauty in the smile of a Downe’s Syndrome child. I aestheticise  what I experience /feel as inclement weather by choosing to see the beauty within it – the calm after the storm.

There is, and always has been in recorded history, respect and understanding for the role that artists play in aestheticising violence by expressing and drawing attention to violence through their artworks. These are courageous, honest, visible and often indelible  statements in the cause of Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Compassion.

It is a powerful statement to show Violence perpetrated by humans with malicious and/or self-seeking intent. Our ethical judgement is that this is immoral and unethical and therefore against the common good. It may not be hidden. And so artists, writers, performers bring it to our attention through their works, beautiful in artistic, literary and other expression.  These aesthetic expressions arrest us, impel us to see things as they really are – see Violence for what it is.

In the world of physical and performance art, theatre holds the role of Aestheticising Violence. In our own country, Athol Fugard’s plays  powerfully and artistically take us face to face, mind to mind, into the heart of political and personal violence.

Artists also highlight the Violence done to our Earth and environment, and by this, to our soul and spirit – in aesthetically powerful ways.

One of the oldest ways of aestheticising Violence comes in the practice of Tai Chi, developed thousands of years ago from the marital arts into an opposite practice-art of a flowing and beautiful physical ‘dance’ , each part transforming a martial posture into a soft, flowing, beautiful expressiveness where attack and aggression, defence and deflect, become a dance form. Transforming small and large violence in mind and body into tranquility, strength and grace.

The Age and practice of Chivalry in times of conflict can also be seen as ‘aestheticisation of violence – a true commitment to conducting a personal life with courage and integrity in spite of being required to wage war. The art of Fencing – like Tai Chi – developed from warlike training and conduct.

Perhaps certain personal protest is a form of highlighting a cause and a conviction of moral rightness in an extreme and violent act towards the self – self-immolation, hara-kiri, suicide bombers, suicide . All could be considered a drama /demonstration presenting Violence ( I cause nad effect) and the Beauty –aestheticisation – in personal sacrifice. Perhaps all ritual sacrifice throughout history can be seen as Beauty/aestheticisaiton  ( the cause) in Violence ( the means)

Original peoples all have this true capacity for living respectfully within both Beauty and Violence . All hold an attitude of reverence for Nature and in the killing of animals and plants for survival, would ritually acknowledge their debt for the sacrifice and so sanctify the act . Aestheticise the Violence – more, honour the necessary partnership role that both play in Life.

However, it seems that, with these two exceptions – the artists and the Original Peoples –   humankind in general  has long abandoned an attitude of integrity between Beauty and Violence. We have favoured our own desires above the good of All. And once this is a priority, we tend to sweep under the radar those things which we do not wish, and to take action to increase those things which we desire. It is a small step a sleight-of-mind and -hand, to violate the rights of others. All it requires is duplicity,  self-deception, deviousness, stealth and self-righteousness.

As this happens, we see, consciously or unconsciously, ways to excuse and exonerate the self-seeking through attempts to ‘aestheticise’ dishonest violence. We see and hear the persuasion, hidden or open, that violation is good – is perhaps normal , natural, desirable.

The human story has demonstrated this for thousands of years in violent action and the rationales given to exonerate self from blame. Wars and conquest – to solve the problems and deficiencies of The Other. Religious power – to teach what God would have us know. The Inquisition – torture and killing for supposed transgression of church laws. Burnin of witches – to the glory of God. Feet-binding  and female genital mutilation, sexual abuse  – for this is ‘beautiful’ and sexually desirable in the sight of males.  Violence and violation of mind – “you may not think this for I know best”.

Perpetrators of violence may ‘aestheticise’ their actions to themselves. Sexual abuse might seem like necessity and low or power to the perpetrator. Going to war can seem like a just cause. Cutting down trees and burning forests can be seen as survival. It is the mind-heart that can skew choices and perspectives. All such violation and violence are attributed by the perpetrators as being necessary, good, beautiful. ‘Aestheticisation’ of Violence. Violence is promoted as Beauty

As we humans seek to turn Violence into ‘Beauty’, we do so from the prevailing world view. Thus, a century and a half ago, men considered it manly , skilful and beautiful to shoot tigers and turn a violent beast into a beautiful and proud animal skin. ‘Aestheticising’ the violence. But perspectives change. One hundred and fifty years later humankind sees tigers as Beauty and killing them as Violence – we no longer permit tiger-killers to see their acts as beautiful..

The habit/practice of ‘aestheticising’ violence is moulded by existing circumstances, and moulds ongoing circumstances. Long ago, in the islands of Polynesia, missionaries went out to offer their beauty-truth ( Christianity) to villagers who lived ( they considered) by violence ( cannibalism, no-clothes). This process has, over time, meant violation-destruction of centuries-old traditions and life lived in harmony with nature. These communities will have to aestheticise this violence done to them by rebuilding worthwhile lives from the dregs of apathy and alcoholism.

When we look at many societies, our country, our times, we see ‘aestheticisation’ of violence for, at best ignorant, and at worst, aggressively power-aggrandisement motives. ‘Aestheticisation’ has a sinister purpose. A dangerous state of affairs. Politicians attempt to ‘aestheticise’ their actions with exonerating statements. Corruption is violence. So is arrogance towards elders.  White-washing, blame, excuses are an attempt to make that corruption an OK act. Having 5 wives, mistresses, and many legitimate and illegitimate children is compounded violence against the sanctity of women, children, relationships, education, governance and leadership. Stating this is OK and traditional is an attempt at ‘aestheticisation’ by the man towards his audience. It is in fact another act of violence towards victims and the minds of others. Sinister ‘aestheticisation’ has ongoing intended and unintended consequences.

Excusing, accepting, even applauding the actions of rapists, murderers, criminals, warmongers and the powerful is a deceitful attempt to ‘aestheticise’ their violence, to escape truth, justice, and to make immoral actions palatable and even worthy. Taking unfairly for oneself is violence against another. Impure aestheticisation says “It is my right to have what I want, and to take it violently from another”

As a woman, mother and educator, I am particularly aware that current violence towards the body is especially rife toward the feminine gender. With promotion of the devious mindset that such violence is Beautiful, is good. Violation of the form  and function of the female body is seen in fashion, advertising, cosmetic surgery, crass medical treatments, encouragement to sexual freedom & experimentation in the very young. Young girls are seduced to worship and ape vacuous models raised to visibility and celebrity by the media.. What of high heeled designer shoes with their permanent distortion and injury to the body?. Sexually titillating clothes and behaviour? What of cosmetic surgeons who violently and surgically break footbones and cause lifelong injury and pain – as they claim to remedy ugly feet!  Violence against women and partners is ‘aestheticised’ as “my right to demand submission” Female circumcision, bound feet, perhaps even the chador/burka, are attempts to ‘aestheticise’ the violence of power and abuse.

Dangerous too are the film, media, magazine, television, music industries as they deliberately ‘aestheticise’ violence. Media viewers are saturated with graphic scenes and descriptions of violence, abuse, criminality of all kinds. Power masquerading – ‘aestheticisied’ – as entertainment, excitement, celebrity. The sheer volume of entertainment increases momentum in presentation of gross violence, while simultaneously the perpetrators and actors of such violence are held up to be heroes, men and women of power.

With experience, age and wisdom, come the ability to see through attempts to aestheticise  to the underlying violence. But with young, inexperienced and unformed minds, there is little chance of escaping the skin-deep feast and its cost..

And so it happens that ‘aestheticisation’ of violence in whatever form rolls out  secondary violence by moulding minds to accept violence as normality.

No civilisation or community has ever prospered without leaders strong enough to enable eternal and fundamental values. In our twenty-first century, there are precious few who seem to hold this steady state and operational authority. The pressure of the Age is sweeping Beauty away, and Violation in.  In our own country, why is pornography permitted on accessible television channels, insinuating that it is Beautiful and non-violent? Why do leaders at the helm of deciding what is good for the larger community, allow a daily entertainment diet of violence, violation, abuse , criminality, disrespect, arrogance. Why do we see celebration of violence perpetrated by gangsters, drug lords, alcoholics, fraudsters, thieves – by ‘aestheticisation’ of their actions and products.?

How can the advertising, fashion, motor, credit, banking industries, to name a few, ‘aestheticise’ their activities with promises of beauty, fame, success, riches, popularity? How can we allow such violation of our children, ourselves, our innocent, and future generations?

May our artists, our educators, our leaders, have the courage to express Violence as Violence, with all its dangers, and Beauty as Beauty, with its capacity for Good. May this return our world to a place where all are safe from the predation of those who seek, by sinister means, to do violence unto others.


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Thanks dear Tilla – for your wonderful hosting of us, and the cook’s most stupendous delicoctions. All – and the Tiramisu – of the order of Divine!

Missed you Lana and hope you’re mending fast, and life is flowing smooth.

Thanks to all for another great and liberating evening, stimulating, fun. Just a comment – it occurred to me that Jacqui and I were the ones not comfortable with violence, not really wanting to engage there – perhaps because we have both, Jacqui in very traumatic times, experienced living through wartime, . It is the experience which teaches and permits or doesn’t. If you’ve ever attended the ritual of  military funerals ( more aestheticisation of violence?) you will never erase the horror of needless sacrifice from your deep Self.

See you all at Jacqui’s on the 18th June ( think that’s the right date)

Ciao – Marguerite

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The thunder in the distance sounded like huge sheets of plastic at play between giants. And indeed, she was surrounded by giants.

They were all over this part of the world. One lived in her back garden. A huge creature and very old, it was silent as the days gone by. Except, of course, for the baboons that lived in its creaks. And the birds that sang their songs amongst the Protea trees. And when the rains came in winter, there was a roaring waterfall that spread its silver wings down the slippery surface of the mountain’s ancient rocks.

She wondered what else had lived in those mountains. She wondered what sort of animals had gone before. All this while the soft spills of cloud fell like pin pricks into the pond before her.

She had found the lily, wrapped in its own green outer petals, camouflaged behind the reeds. It seemed closer to the water than yesterday. Although she was happy to have an answer (it had not disappeared into the depths of the pond), she still had many questions. Why had this particular lily closed itself off from the world today when the lily next to it had not? It was something akin to a caterpillar in its cocoon, this lilac flower.

‘Sounds like someone else I know,’ she thought as she rubbed the mud off her feet on the grass. She pulled her skirt up high above her knees and sprinted back to the house.

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She looks up from her magazine onto the street below: people are dashing in and out of shops with black umbrellas. No sign of a white one. She lights her cigarette and sighs. Her mohair miniskirt falls into the soft space between her thighs as a tall man blocks the light at the entrance. He glances at her shoes, shakes his umbrella and walks up to her with an easy confidence.

‘So glad you mentioned the red boots,’ he says. ‘You must be Frank.’

She stretches out her pale, slender arm to shake his hand. ‘How do you do? But you should know I hate to be kept waiting.’ He looks at his watch and chuckles, takes off his denim jacket and eases into the chair opposite her. ‘In Paris,’ he says, ‘It’s not considered impolite to be a few minutes late.’

‘Perhaps I am too punctilious for Paris,’ she says. ‘And how do they rate you here?’

‘I’ve worked with the best.’ His eyes are steady as he slides his resume across the table. ‘Take a look – accounts, awards, it’s all there.’ She flicks through the document. ‘Good. Fine, you’re hired,’ she says, briskly waving the approaching waiter away. ‘Congratulations.’

‘Well, that’s the fastest interview I’ve ever had!’

‘It was a done deal the day I called you.  I’m new here, I need you. ’ she says. ‘And besides, you speak English.  Let’s get straight to the Agency. Brief you there.’

He opens up his umbrella for her as they step outside into the soft grey rain and guides her into a cobbled street where a short stocky man holds open the brass door to the bakery on the corner. The smell of fresh bread wafts towards them. ‘Best baguettes in town,’ he says. Then he points to a shop decorated with intricate mosaics. ‘And that’s where I buy my cheese.’

‘So you live around here?’

‘Yes, I do. And I sure wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.’

‘Will you show me your place?’ He checks the sky that has taken a lunch break and laughs. ‘But what about the Agency?’

‘We can do that later. I want to know what it’s like to live here.’

‘You’ll excuse the mess?’ Her face softens as he takes her arm and leads her towards the square. The pigeons scatter as the heavens open up again and the sound of the rain is hard against the stone. ‘Let’s run for it – head straight for that green door on the other side. Can you see it over there?’

She doesn’t answer. She’s already dashing across the square and she screams as he comes up behind her. She bangs her hand on the wooden door. He grins at her, unlocks the door and runs up the stairs leaving her two steps behind him, breathless. She keels over and laughs as she reaches the top of the stairs.

He throws down his jacket and gestures her into the large white room with its vaulted ceiling and huge sash windows. ‘Wow,’ she says, loosening the black silk scarf around her neck, still getting her breath back.

‘What more does one need, huh?’ He puts down the umbrella and heads towards the kitchen in the corner of the room where the pots above the stove emit a golden glow.

She stands in the centre of the room on the wooden floor. She takes in the bookshelf, the fireplace, the bronze sculpture in the corner, the magazines piled up high on his desk, his paintbrushes, an easel, his laptop on the coffee table. She sits down in an antique rocker in front of the window and notices the small oil painting on the wall next to the fireplace. It’s a girl in a white dress, surrounded by a green field and a blue sky. She gasps. ‘Is that a Matisse?’ Her voice is low.

‘Yes and no. It’s what I do for a hobby.’

‘What, copy the masters?’ Her eyes blank over, mascara smudged.  She pauses and looks at him from afar. ‘I would have thought you’d be into originals.’ She raises herself up from the chair and runs her fingers through her thick black hair. 


She straightens out her stockings and the scarf around her neck. ‘I’m sorry but I’ve got to leave now.’ 

He’s about to place the coffee pot onto the stove. He stops mid-air, not sure which way to go. Put the coffee down or respond to her? He puts the coffee down, turns off the gas and makes his way to the hat stand at the top of the stairs.

He walks up to her, looks down at her red boots, still glistening from the rain, and hands her his white umbrella.

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 A pot of metals bubbled in the subterranean layers of the earth until it dried out and formed a basin of gold-veined rocks. The rim of the pot became a chain of mountains where the farm stood on the edge of the world. I belonged here, like the roots of wild figs that clung to the crevices – the moon my companion, the Magaliesberg Mountains my home.


Our first house was a stone packing shed near an orchard. Here, a thousand pear trees and a thousand apple trees grew in rows. They needed pruning and watering and weeding – when the fruit was ripe it had to be wrapped in wood wool, packed into boxes and taken to the market.  In between, Mom found time to look after the three of us, all less than four years old. Nappies, great piles of them had to be washed in the river. Mom would take a bar of sunlight soap and a washboard,  she would rub our nappies until her knuckles turned red.

Our shed had no furniture – suitcases with mattresses on top served as beds and packing boxes became tables. Mom said those were her happiest times – she said Dad was the only person who ever really loved her. She never knew her mother, she has no recollection of what she looked like, what she smelled like, what she sounded like – she was just a shadow in her life, an empty void.


In time we moved to the top of the mountain. Our house was made of bricks and thatch and had a fireplace in the centre of the lounge wall with a window on the one side of it and a bookcase on the other. Six Alsatian dogs slept outside the front door.

My first recollections are simple ones that seem pure wonder to the mind of small girl. I would squat down in the middle of the dusty red road to watch army ants disappear down holes. I loved taking sticks and scribbling across the line. The ants would scatter off in all directions, dropping the white eggs and blades of grass they were carrying. I listened to the wind in the blue gum trees, felt its coolness on my skin as I watched the shadows form jigsaw patterns over the dry earth. I loved the white and pink cosmos flowers that filled the fields in summer, the sparkles from the purple amethyst on the hills.  I had a sense of vast open spaces – from the up there I could see the whole world. I could see a train tracks stretch across the horizon – soot puffs pulsed into the sky like smoke signals, to the villages that fell of the earth. I looked down from my cloud-cloaked throne to ploughed fields and pink blossomed orchards, my young life a mixture of fantasy and freedom.


We woke to the sound of cocks crowing as the first light spilled over the hills. The lightning conductor pierced the sky and a heap of dogs disentangled like balls of wool. The farm crawled with ant lines of workers, some going to chicken houses, some to storerooms and some to the abattoir where chickens dangled on a giant hula-hoop conveyer belt, until someone came with a big knife and chopped off their heads. Then they jerked around madly, splattering blood on the walls. Men wearing gumboots and yellow plastic jackets stood below them and ripped off their feathers. Blood and heads and insides – we called them derrums, went into big black drums. The pig farmer came each day to empty them and take them home for his pig’s dinner, that’s what Dad told us. We held our noses until we got to his office; then the tobacco from his pipe was so strong, we couldn’t smell the dead chickens anymore. I’d sit on his chair, swing it from side to side and play with the things on his desk; a round tobacco tin with four squares on it, the spirally, white pipe-cleaners that you could bend into stick men; an adding machine with a roll of paper on top; when you pressed the buttons the machine went tick, tick, tick and the paper came out with lots of numbers on it. I loved playing with the big rubber stamp that you had to squish down onto a black pad that had ink on it, then you could stamp the name of the farm all over the books. I held the handle in the palm of my hand







All over the invoice books, the delivery books, the order books. Dad told us that Wye was the name of a river where his father went for holidays, and this big river ran through a place called Wales that had black mountains and fields full of sheep with curly white fleece.


Pictures with dusty frames hung on the whitewashed walls of his office: one with Dad wearing a flying helmet and a scarf and a jacket that Mom called a Bomber jacket. In another picture he was just a tiny head with lots of other heads in rows. I tried to count them but there were too many and I’d get mixed up. In the middle of the pictures hung a piece of paper with writing on and a big red blob with a ribbon in the middle. It said something like CEDARA AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE and LESLEY ALBERT DAVIS  – that’s my dad’s name, and DIPLOMA and lots of other words. At Christmas time the office was packed to the ceiling with groceries from Blaauberg store – tins of condensed milk, boxes of matches, cigarettes, biscuits. There were packets of flour and beans and mielie meal. Tins with pictures of pilchards on them and salt packets, each with a little boy sprinkling salt on a chickens tail. We helped to put parcels together, one of each farm worker.  



 Ray, Marilyn and I walked down our mountain each morning to the bus stop on the corner of Dr. Eidelman’s farm. The winter, so cold that the river froze over and frost covered the farmlands, orchards in the valley, and scraggly patches in between with blackjacks that had little claws at the end that stuck to our clothes, our satchels, our hair. The sharp stones in the road hurt our bare feet, so we walked along the middle where ribbons of grass grew, trying to avoid the devil thorns. We watched the school bus chuck up dust as it came over the horizon, past Mountain Lodge. We could hear the children shouting out of the windows,

‘rooineke, rooineke’ 

 Marilyn and I clung to the back of Ray’s shorts as we climbed the bus stairs. We sat together tightly until we reached Magaliesburg Laer Skool, then we ran the gauntlet to our classrooms, under a shower of stones.

I remember when Ray and Marilyn decided to race each other. I didn’t want to be left behind so I ran as fast as I could, sharp gravel sticking into the heels of my feet, puffs of red dust, tumbling face first, my satchel opening, an apple rolling ahead of me down the steep hill. The taste of blood in my mouth, blood caked with dust over my eyes, getting onto the bus and the Afrikaans children being nice to me, just that once. Dad and Mom coming to school in the old van: fetching me from the sick room and taking me home.  That was the first time I felt like a real person with a real life, not just the one inside my head, with moon-friends and sun-dragons and star-riders. That was the first time I had a distinct sense of being me and I felt warm, as though lying on our new carpet in front of the fire, the dogs around me, one cat asleep on a chair, one on a pile of books under the table, shoes tossed around, one sock here, one sock there. The budgie asleep – a foot tucked under its wing.


It didn’t really matter if we missed the bus or if we hid in the long grass until the bus drove by. We would play until the bus came back again, then we would walk home as usual. 

All day long we played. Swinging from willow branches over the river, scooping up mud from the banks to make clay oxen with Temba and Sipho and little girls with round tummies and pointy belly buttons. We poked prickly pears with sharp sticks – rubbed stones over them to get rid of the prickles, then we broke them open and ate the soft flesh with bumpy pips inside. We picked granadillas from among white star flowers with purple dangly parts in the middle. Pomegranates – their skins so hard that we bashed them against rocks. They would split open and hundreds of shiny pips flew out and we would gather them up, toss them into our mouths and feel the soft membranes burst.


Then it all changed. We heard Dad and Mom whispering, we heard Mom talking on the phone to Mrs. Haywood, then to Mrs Lothrope – talk about the English children being bullied, being picked on by the teachers, being set apart. Mom bought blue and white striped blazers with badges on the front pockets. She bought white shirts, blue skirts and grey trousers for Ray. She bought three pairs of black lace-up shoes, a pile of grey socks, a cap for Ray and white panama hats for Mal and I. they had blue and white striped ribbons around the brim and  badges the same as the ones on our blazers.

Dad and Mom got up at four to pack the chickens, weigh them, and sort them into boxes. Arthur waited in the van with green letters on the back. They packed the boxes with chickens wrapped in plastic bags, one on top of the other, and left a little space for us. Sometimes the van was so full that we had to sit on top of the boxes. The chickens would stick to the plastic and they looked like our lips when we pushed them against the back window. Arthur would collect other children from the village, the English ones, and take us to St. Peter and Paul’s in Krugersdorp. We had never seen nuns before. And the chapel – it had statues of a man with thorns in his head and blood coming out. He had nails in his hands and feet with blood coming out there too. A lady in a blue dress held a baby with a gold ring above its head. 

Those days were one big whirlwind, getting up in the morning and waiting my turn to use the bathroom. I remember staring at the dark green door, crossing my legs and holding tight so I wouldn’t wet myself. I could hear the gas geyser hissing and wheezing, the sound of toothbrushes and gargling and spitting into the basin. Just as the door opened someone else would push in before me and I had to wait another agonizing few minutes before my turn. I could never find socks that matched or clean panties. Our clothes were jumbled up in one big heap. Ray and Marilyn had to make our breakfast and prepare our lunchboxes. They made piles of peanut butter and golden syrup sandwiches. I hated those sandwiches. By the time I got to eat them they were soggy with syrup dripped out of them, down my fingers and onto my dress. When Arthur hooted outside we knew we had to hurry. There was no time to tie shoelaces, no time to knot our ties or fasten our gym belts. We had to grab our things and run as chickens had to be delivered. I don’t know how long Arthur drove us to school and collected us in the afternoons. One day her rode over the bridge near Skeerpoort and died, and Neil and Marsh and Robin didn’t have a father anymore. Their uncle Yoskie came to live with them to do Arthur’s job.

 We never saw Dad and Mom in the mornings, they were still working on the farm.. We never saw them when we got home from school either – they were still working. We only saw them when the sun began to set in streaks of blood orange, We sat under a Syringa tree, dogs on our laps with flies worrying their ears, biting them until drops of blood formed on the ends. There were six of us kids now.  After me came Alan, we called him Al, then Lesley, Les, then Steven, baby Steve. We were lucky to still have him. He got meningitis and the Doctor told Mom that he was going to die. Mom sat with him in the hospital for days, holding his hand, stroking his forehead, talking to him – a guardian angel watching over him. He woke up one morning, looked into her eyes and baby Steve got better. Only his leg went a little wonky, but that’s okay, he walks with a limp.

‘That makes him different, special’ Mom said.

We sang to the piano accordion, Dad’s fingers fanning the keys and pushing little black buttons on the side. His arms moved in and out as the accordion folded like the bellows used to blow air on the fire.  We sang ‘Catch a falling star’ and ‘Run Rabbit’ and songs we heard on the wireless.

‘Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run

Don’t give the farmer his gun, gun, gun’

or something like that.

‘Aw please Dad, play ‘Catch a falling star,’ we whined

‘please, please, please’

and Steve would say ‘ta, ta, ta,’ and point to the sky.

Dad would pick the accordion up from his chair, put the straps over his shoulders and play like mad

‘Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.’

We’d shout our lungs out and I got little tickles in the back of my throat that made me cough, and I had to stop singing. Afterwards Dad gave us strings of black liquorish and we chewed them while he filled his pipe. I remember the way he stuffed crinkly bits of tobacco into the bowl, pushed it down with his thumb, lit it with a match, puffed until little sparks glowed and smoke sprouted out. He sucked the stem, little sucks that made the tobacco glow – I can still smell it. When he had enough, he held his thumb over the bowl to put it out, tap the stale tobacco out on the heel of his shoe. 

We lay on our backs and watched the stars swimming.

‘Hey look, there’s a shooting star, quick, quick, make a wish.’

We all shut our eyes tight and made a wish. I wished I had a pencil with a troll on top, the same one Dorothy had, or pocket money to buy sweets every day, not just once a week but every day. I’d buy a thick slab of creamy toffee and buttermilk toffees that were square and Sugus in different flavours that I’d put into my mouth all at once – orange, strawberry, pineapple, lemon, to make my tongue tingle. I collected sweet papers, especially the shiny ones: Peppermint Crisp, Crunchy and Chocolate Éclair papers. I smoothed them out and kept them in a biscuit tin and swap them for ones I didn’t have, or for marbles for my brothers, or charms. We loved playing charms. We’d draw a circle in the dusty playground, take five paces back, kneel down and flick a charm into the ring. The one that got her charm closest to the middle had to lick her thumb, push it hard against the charms in the circle and pick them up. If you didn’t drop them, the charms were yours. The girls played charms and the boys played marbles.

    We were always outdoors. The whole farm was our playground, the dogs our nursemaids. We spent our time sliding down the slopes of the mountain on pieces of corrugated iron, over aloes and sugar bushes and smashing into trees. We balanced on water pipes suspended between deep gullies like tightrope walkers and cracked open anthills to find snakes, grass snakes, mole snakes, house snakes. We played in fields of cosmos, a maze of pink heads that we got lost in and made clay oxen on the banks of the river with the picanins. We explored caves and walked along the low stonewalls of Iron Age People. What battles were fought in these old settlements? Only the ancestors of the aloes that grow between the stones know; their roots soaked up the bloodstains of a vanished tribe, turning their flowers crimson.

We rode wild horses, bare backed and bridle less, Ray ran behind, scrunching newspaper that made them bolt, we hung onto their necks for dear life, clamped our legs around their bellies. Once I did fall off and Les’s horse ran over me, its hooves missing my body, my arms, my head, treading on my middle finger. I lost my nail and tore my new jeans. I cried, not because it hurt. I looked down and saw the rip in my knee; it was the first time I had something new of my own. Usually, I got Marilyn’s hand me downs. Now I had a big hole in my new jeans, not a tear, a hole that looked like the rats had eaten through the blue denim. I got up and kicked the ground and held my tummy and cried.


We lit dry tufts of grass, let them burn for a while then stamped them out. A wind came up and fanned our tuft until it raged over the lands, consuming everything in its way. It jumped fire brakes, gobbling up the Sorgenfrei’s trees outside their nursery, the McRae’s tomato vines and the Bezuidenhout’s maize fields. Strands of soot rose above the farmlands, swirling in the air. Afterwards we found blackened tortoise shells and the skeletons of rock rabbits and field mice, splayed open like the bare hulls of overturned boats. We never set tufts of grass alight again.

    Some of us liked cooking in the kitchen, while Jack, our housekeeper, chased us with the flyswatter or the fish slice, or flicked us with the end of a dishcloth. We got our revenge by tying grass into knots across his path home. He’d trip, black pots full of chicken legs and heads and derrums, spewed onto the ground like fat tok tokkie beetles, squashed under our takkies. We learnt years later, that he was the local witchdoctor who planted bottles of medicine in the forks of trees next to the chicken houses. We found the chicks dead one morning, lying in yellow heaps with their wings spread out like fallen angels.

The plates on the enamel gas stove were always burning. Little blue flames with red tips hissed until a pot boiled over, then they splattered and spat like sparklers. Tins of sardines bubbled on top of the plates, lids rolled down with silver keys sticking out at the sides. We made pancakes with cinnamon sugar and toffee that broke our teeth, and we had to go to Dr. Evans. We cut thick slices of brown bread and spread them with Moms peach jam, or tinned melon and ginger preserve. Jugs of Koolaid went down fast with the six of us, the ice blocks didn’t even have time to melt.  Saturday was moms day in the kitchen. She baked the entire day: it was a ritual we all loved. Shortcake with almonds on the top, pineapple cream cakes, orange cakes with bits of peel in the icing. She made oat crunchies, doughnuts and trays of fudge that were left on the windowsill to cool[JB1] . The smell of vanilla, oranges and toffee filled the house. We squabbled over who got to lick the bowls. Black fingers with half moon dirt under our nails scooped up lumps of mixture, sending sparks of ecstasy onto our taste buds right down to the bottom of our stomachs.


    For Guy Fawkes, Dad bought boxes and boxes of fireworks, crackers and Catherine wheels and rockets that shot into the sky and exploded and little stars would come tumbling down. We held our sparklers out to be lit; only Ray was allowed to light them because he was big.  The sparks crackled and jumped around our hands, but they didn’t burn us, even if they landed on our fingers. I thought that was magic. Those nights reminded me of the scary storms that crashed around us on late summer afternoons. The thunder would rumble over the mountain ranges, getting closer and closer. Each time it rumbled we counted until the lightning struck, BOOM-BOOM, one, two, three, four, ZIG ZAGGY FLASHES, and the storm was only four miles away. The lightning speared the dolomite rocks and it looked like when the generator went on and the whole farm lit up. BOOM-BOOM-BOOM and the dogs would hide under the big double bed in Mom and Dad’s room and the six of us would hide under the eiderdown.


    In my imagination I saw my mother as a princess going to a ball. She wore a green taffeta skirt and black lace top. On her wrist she wore an emerald green bracelet – one that Great Granny Davis had posted to her from England. We had never seen her dressed up before. Her hair was in curls around her face, she wore lipstick; rouge on her cheeks, eye shadow the colour of her eyes. That was my introduction to things feminine. I can still remember the smell of her perfume – roses, yes it smelled like the roses outside her bedroom window. I couldn’t wait for the buds to open so I could smell them. I held the petals in the palm of my hand, closed my eyes and took a great whiff of air. Immediately, the manure smell of the farm disappeared and the sweet scent of roses filled my head. That smell always reminds me of Mom  – I can still see her holding a cut crystal perfume bottle up to her neck and pushing a pump and the perfume showering behind her ears. She dabbed some on the back of her wrists and behind her knees before rolling flesh coloured stockings up her legs and clipping them onto a suspender belt. Mom adjusted the mirrors on her dressing table so she could see the back of her hair. She bent close to the mirrors, turned her head from side to side, smoothed down a curl here, a wisp of hair there. Then she sprayed sticky lacquer onto her hair so it stayed in place. The fumes tickled my nose and made me sneeze. Mom and Dad were going to dinner at Thatchstone Inn; the only time I remember them going out together at night. We all got bunged into the back of car, the six of us with our blankets and cushions, kicking and fighting and screaming. Mom and Dad had to come to check up on us every now and then and we each got a clip on the ear for misbehaving. I lay in the back of our Chevy looking at the stars and imagined Mom and Dad dancing together. I could hear the music, laughter, soft voices.


 I couldn’t wait to wake up in the mornings, I had butterflies in my tummy just thinking about what I was going to do that day: on special days they fluttered so fast that they made my tummy tickle. Treasure hunts: Granny made paper trails in the garden, under the trees, through the flowerbeds, around the rockery. We found crayons and colouring books and packets of sweets hidden along the trail. The days when Dad would take us for a flip in his plane and fly over the farm, tip his wings to Mom standing on the lawn. I closed my eyes and imagined being on a sky road to the moon. He used to fly so low we thought he would touch the spike on top of the lightning conductor – leaves blew off the plain tree and ‘itchy powder’ balls burst into the air. Sometimes he did somersaults and his plane would spin like Alan’s top. Mom said he wanted to be a sign writer, writing special messages in the sky with smoke.  On clear evenings we watched sputniks track the Milky Way and Dad told us America was going to send a rocket to the moon. These images flow seamlessly through my mind, each drifting into the other in one long, warm and lingering dream.


Other times are just a blur behind my eyes, like a swallow flying past a window – one glimpse that’s all, then gone. The shambok behind the kitchen door. – I remember it being there but I don’t remember what it looked like, what it felt like against my flesh – if it was ever used against my flesh? But I do remember the morning Dad and Mom came back from packing chickens.  Jack our houseboy hadn’t arrived. The breakfast plates were still on the table, jars of peanut butter and honey and apricot jam were left open, flies sitting on the rims – the sticky yellow fly paper hanging from the rafters turned black with them. Half eaten bowls of cornflakes, rice crispies  – an open tin of sardines lying in oil, milk spilt on the table, butter coated with crumbs, a half chewed apple going brown around the bitemarks. Dad walked towards the kitchen door. I just remember Marilyn and Ray screaming – I ran towards Dad and tucked my head between his knees. I squeezed my eyes shut, I held my hands to my ears but I heard the whip, it sounded like the wind, but he didn’t hit me, I held onto his legs as tight as I could – he didn’t hit me.  I hugged him and hugged him and he didn’t hit me.  That was the only time I remember the shambok being used. There may have been other times but they were swallow blurred black blobs in front of the windowpanes.


Dad began to get blackouts. His face would go grey, his eyes glassy – he couldn’t talk. In the beginning they didn’t last very long. Once he went to lie down – he lay on top of the floral eiderdown, resting his head on two fat feather pillows, ones that Mom filled, then opened again to wash, then refilled. They were made from blue and white mattress ticking – similar to the butcher’s apron, but the stripes were thinner. Dad lay there without moving, we thought he was dead. Mom ran to the liquor cabinet and poured a tot of brandy, a big tot. She lifted his head and poured the stuff down his throat, she shook him, she shouted. We ran away. All six of us, we just ran away. We ran to Judy, the farm manager’s wife. She was in her house sewing curtains.

There were other times – the time he was practicing for a boat race on the Vaal river and he didn’t come back. Marilyn and I waited for him at the boat club. It began to get dark. Someone took us to a nearby hospital. Dad was lying on a bed under white sheets. He had a bandage around his head, All he could say was “I am so sorry that I didn’t come back to fetch your girls, I am so sorry”.

I remember his thirty seventh birthday. We were sitting around the pool at Granny and Grandpa’s house. Dad had been in hospital for tests and he was in his dressing gown. He sat quietly smoking his pipe and watching the smaller kids swimming. He got up and started walking towards the pool. I walked towards him. His sunglasses fell out of his pocket onto the lawn. I will never forget that moment. Dad bent down to pick them up. I stretched my hand towards his glasses, I still remember them – they were ray bans. Dad said they were excellent for flying.  As our hands met he lifted his head and looked into my eyes. It was during that instant of our eyes meeting that I knew he was going to die. Nothing was said, but the way he looked at me, I just knew.


The next morning Dad called me into the bedroom. He hugged me as tight as he could, pulled back and looked into my eyes. He said  “You must take care of your mother, please take care of your mother”.

I remember running towards the truck, Yoskie sat waiting to take us to school. I turned back, I saw Dad standing at the kitchen door. He lifted his hand to wave.  I waved back  “Goodbye Dad, Goodbye Dad”…


 I don’t even remember Mom telling us Dad died, but I knew, I knew for sure when I opened the front door at four o’clock in the morning, the light was just a line over the top of the mountains and the dogs put their tails between their legs and walked away from me. All five Alsatians, walked towards the line of light. They didn’t jump up and scratch the green stable doors, the ones where I last saw Dad, waving goodbye as we ran towards the truck which took us to school. They didn’t jump up and lick my face, almost knocking me over, they just walked away and I heard the phone ringing… …


It was the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes day. The year was nineteen sixty three.

That day there were no more songs, no more liquorish, no more stories under the stars, no more wishes and no more trips on sky roads. The accordion stopped playing and the Syringa branches that held up our sky became too heavy and the sky fell down.

I wanted to push my hands in my belly and rip it open, tear my flesh, pull out the stones, the broken glass, the thorns.

When I hear thunder roll over the mountains, it drums in my ear











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My oh my Thee Succulent Wild Women – what a stunning evening. I think tis a long time that I have experienced such a fun, inspiring, hilarious, out-of-the-box time of astounding kind of friendship and interaction. We could save the world ( from …???) this way !

Just wanted to thank you all SO much for this, for who and what you are. For my learning about all manner of things, for keeping me up in your worlds . Each time is fantabulous. As well as much food for thought and wild trajectories .

‘AESTHETICISING VIOLENCE’ has been roiling around with me ever since and I wonder what will emerge  – it seems to have multidimensional arrow-points.

And soon – another hilarity and amazing companionship . What is the feminine equivalent of ‘Knights’ Perhaps we could become such a Company!

Blessings on your work – Marguerite

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This was her land, the land across the Kei river, once the colour of the red coats of British soldiers who slaughtered her forefathers. The Sir Bartle Frere’s, the Cunynghame’s, the Molteno’s.  Many of their soldiers lie in overgrown graveyards at Centani. Graveyards where only white bodies were allowed to decompose under the dark earth that sucked out their souls and spat them into the heavens.  Today the clicks of the Xhosa Nation still resound above their mute bones.

Noayini holds her head high: she has within her the empirical wisdom of her  forefathers. Her long shadow, thin as a stalk of maize, slants to one side. Her face has a relentless aspect of hardship. She the daughter of the great Chiefs, cuts thatching grass, the half moon shadow of her sickle in front of her. She moves with cautious steps, treading softly with bare feet, the Nguni herds roam through the fields around her – they the bloodstream of her land. Noayini looks like the landscape itself, her face scarred with ritual and age; criss-cross paths through dense grass; red slashes of erosion; rivers from the Amatola Mountains, snaking down sandstone cliffs.

She walks to the sea to collect mussels. Her grandchildren follow; a brood of chick around her long wide skirts. They play in tidal pools while Noayini balances on a steep precipice of rocks. Her hunched back, the profile of an oystercatcher wading for food. Afterwards they sit in the jigsaw shade of a milkwood tree. Noayini untying a knotted cloth around a pot of porridge she prepared for lunch. The cattle stand lazily on beach while the sea breeze cools their bodies. The children learn about the things around them. They gather myrtle and milkwood berries and the sour fruit of cat thorn. They know when the fruit falls off the wild plum tree, it is time to plant sorgum. The giant umkhiwane are the sacred shrines of the earth and forest. Their fings hang in great clusters as gifts to the forest creatures.

On the way home she passes by my house to rest, to drink tea, to chat. She sits down on the grass, beaded legs extended, pulls out a long pipe from a fabric bag to puff on while exchanging local news. The children play on the sand road with those of the trading families. They skip and jump and tumble, dance, run and kick balls to each other. A little boy grabs his ball away and says

“We don’t play with kaffirs, my father shoots people like you.”


At Christmas Noayini gives me a chicken and four small eggs pulled out of a bag from under her arm. The chicken cackles and scratches and flaps its wings, its Adams apple in its scrawny neck, the lid of a steaming kettle jumping up and down; its bloodshot eyes bulging.

On the day her son died she came to me, pointing at a photograph of him in an identity book. He was her last surviving child. I cupped my hands over hers. I could feel her pain. Her grief poured out of her like a black fog. The thick, dark stuff tightened around her throat, coils of barbed wire choking her.



On happier days she sat with us, smoke from the braaing meat burning our eyes, eating a meal together before taking her home on my bike. The noise of the engine attracted children like locust swarms that destroy the crops.

“ Isweetie, Isweetie

they shouted. Their small arms reaching out through petrol fumes and dust. Black pigs stuck their snouts into potholes, women heaved bundles of wood on their heads, babies bouncing rhythmically on their backs. A cocktail of smells filled the air: cooking fires and cow dung, cut grass and clay huts. I slowed down for oxen pulling sleighs laden with logs from the Nxaxo forest. Small children rode on the backs while young boys walked alongside, cracking their whips and whistling instructions to the oxen. Skeletal dogs followed at their heels.

From the greenness of the landscape to the merging of sky and sea, this, the place of the Gcaleka people who’s ancient and traditional way of life changed with the loss of their great chief Sandile. The new leaders were men educated in the missionary schools. The chiefs took off their headdresses of otter fur, their strings of necklaces crossing over their chests. They took off their pendants, skirts of monkey tails, bracelets. These were the things of the witch doctors, no longer the regalia of Chiefs.

This dusking land where the dawn inches up and the sea lulls in soft light. Where the songs of the people wake you and you see their white robes floating in the foam of the sea. You see burning candles tossed into the water, their Catherine wheel flames spinning in the charcoal light; you watch offerings of snuff and matches and coins and pumpkin seeds and white beads being taken by the waves;  And the voices wane and there is silence, broken now by a boubou shrike, now by a kingfisher.


Noayini came alone one morning and sat quietly smoking her pipe until I noticed her. She was tearful and troubled. One side of her face looked like a snake had bitten her.

I told her I was going to East London the next day and would take her to Frere hospital.

I fetched her outside Top Shop Trading Store, where she was waiting with five other women, all wanting a lift to Centane. I helped Noayini climb into the front with me and the others bundled into the back of the land cruiser, sitting on gas bottles and shouting over the engine noise while waving to everyone they saw.

Noayini didn’t say a word; she just stared out of the window, clutching her bag with both hands. Her eyes telling their own story. She had never been away from her home before. When we reached the hospital, Noayini held my hand tightly, like a small child. The doctor told me she had cancer of the oesophagus. There was nothing he could do: she had left it too long. He said it was quite common among the old women who still smoked pipes. Her throat would swell until she could no longer eat and eventually she would die of starvation. I felt dizzy, the florescent lights began to spin, I had to hold on to the edge of a desk. I thought of the time when my friend died and Noayini gave me a five rand coin. 

‘This is for you, buy something nice to remember your friend, and to remember me, your Xhosa mother.’

I asked the doctor to give me the strongest stuff he had to relieve her pain and he gave me a large bottle of mist morphine, a pink liquid, the colour of rose water. Noayini was waiting on a bench. When she saw me her face lit up. She wrapped her hand tightly around mine; bird claws around my fingers, and followed me out of the hospital, unaware of the ordeal that lay before her.


And so my apprenticeship as a lay nurse began. I rode my motorbike up to Noayini’s house each morning to give her morphine. When her grandchildren saw me coming they shouted ‘isithuthuthu, isithuthuthu,’ and ran inside. Speckled chickens scattered, black pigs trotted to their pens. Women waved out of their windows and old men stared in disbelief. Outside Noayini’s turquoise hut a pack of barking dogs snarled and growled and bared their teeth at me. Noayini sat on a chair in front of a hissing primus stove in the middle of the room. Children played around the blue glow while baby chicks pecked at mielie-meal crusted in a pot. She put her hand under her jersey and pulled out a key from around her neck, opened a trunk that held her lifelong possessions and took out the bottle of pink medicine. In the beginning I gave her a spoonful, but when her face was pinched with pain and her birdlike body contorted in agony, I gave her more. The doctor told me to increase the dosage as she got worse.

I started taking ripe bananas to Noayini. I’d mush them in an enamel bowl with a fork until they looked like thick custard and fed her spoonfuls. She could hardly open her mouth. She liked sour milk, called ‘amasi’, and could still manage to get the creamy curds down, but she could eat nothing else. Even mielie meal was too rough for her throat. I took her back to hospital. The doctor said it would be better for her to stay there. I phoned each day and they said she was okay. I spoke to her and she cried. She managed to say one word ‘ikhaya’.

I put the phone down and my thoughts ran through my head like the bolts of lightning from electric storms over the sea.

‘She wants to come home.’

I thought of Noayini in her hut with her grandchildren around her, the people she loved, the smell of burning paraffin, the sound of the primus stove, sun yellow eggs cooking over the flames – of her bed at the side of the door, her black metal trunk at the end of it, with a lock that fitted the key around her neck.


I took Noayini home to die with the dignity worthy of her heritage.

She the matriarchal ‘mother of her nation’ was not meant to die in a place bearing the name Frere. This, the man who turned Galekaland into a desolation of burnt-out kraals, smoldering ruins, empty grain-pits. The huge herds of cattle, sacred beasts of the tribes people, he confiscated.  Sir Henry Bartle Frere would not posthumously triumph from taking so great a Gcaleka soul.




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