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The Tale of the Sakabula Bird


The Tale of the Sakabula Bird

By Vincent Gray

Copyright © 2016 Vincent Gray

Shakespir Edition

This book is a work of fiction. All the characters developed in this novel are fictional creations of the writer’s imagination and are not modelled on any real persons. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author.

This book is dedicated to my wife Melodie and my daughter Ruth


Excuse me, may I offer you my services without running the risk of intruding.

Do you wish to order something to drink?

I fear you will not be able to make yourself understood by the worthy stone-faced Zulu gentleman who presides over the fate of this fine establishment. In fact, as one of our noble aboriginals, he only speaks two languages both of which would sound foreign to most people in the world. He only speaks the two native languages, Zulu or Afrikaans. And I might add that this is a strange combination of linguistic proficiency even for a Zulu. Of course you would expect that a Zulu should be able to speak Zulu, but what other language would you expect him to speak? I would say English, especially if he hails from Natal which was once a colony of the British Empire. But here we have a black man, a Zulu, an aboriginal in the truest sense of that anthropological concept, who while being bilingual happens to speak only Afrikaans as his second language. It is quite inexplicable, if not extraordinary, indeed it remarkable and begs for an investigation and also an explanation, but I assure you, he cannot comprehend a single word of English. Feel free, ask him anything you like in English and he will ignore you. Most South Africans are bilingual, especially with respect to English, but he is the statistical anomaly, the proverbial outlier of the Gaussian distribution, the white raven or the black swan if you like.

He was born in the district of a place called Piet Retief, which is in Natal or KZN. What I have managed to gather over years while drinking at this bar is that he grew up on farm near the town of Piet Retief. He received his primary education at a farm school. The medium of instruction was in Afrikaans. And he has managed to get by without knowing a single word of English, and this is not an exaggeration. As a child when he learnt that the English had defeated and dismembered the Zulu Kingdom he vowed that he will never utter a word of English from his lips for as long as he lived. He has abstinently stuck to his vow and has made no effort to learn a single word of English or the fundamentals of English grammar. So you will wait in vain if you try and order a drink in English. Look at him, he does not even know that are speaking about him, not that he would care.

So without enough langue there can be no parole. What is language anyway?

His unusual nurtured and practised inability to comprehend or speak a single word of English may go a long way to explain his reserved manner, his dour demeanour. You find this an anomaly? Well I can assure you, you are now in the land of anomalies. Everywhere you look you will find anomalies. The normal is banned here. We don’t do normal. It has always been that way here.

You probably have not noticed that there is another anomaly reigning in this fine establishment. You look perplexed at my comment. Look around and tell me what you see. You don’t comprehend what I am getting at? OK, let me explain, apart from our Zulu friend, strange as it may seem to you, I am the only other native in his bar who can speak Afrikaans, the rest of the clientele, like you, all happen to be foreigners, even though they are black, every last one is a foreigner. And what’s more they are not tourists; they are all exiles, exiles every one of them, all living in one or other form of exile, there are many kinds of exile and states of being in exile. They are migrants, refugees if you wish, who have fled from one kind of disaster or another. They are economic and political refugees of the phenomenon we call ‘de-colonialism’. They are the living evidence of the failure of the decolonization project. It is a paradox I know. If colonization had been a truly successful venture then nobody would have wanted to become decolonized. It would have been an insane idea. Decolonization can only happen if colonization failed.

How do the foreigners order drinks? Good question. I have not been able to figure it out for myself. I think he can read minds.

I see the Zulu gentleman is ready at last to take our order. What are you drinking?

If you like beer, I would recommend the draught beer straight from the keg.

Yes I will have a draught beer as well. No let me pay, it will be my pleasure. Money is no problem.

Why should it be? I am a working man, old as I may appear.

I don’t look my age? Well, thank you, that is a kind thing to say.

I don’t believe in retirement. In fact, I will work until I drop dead. As I said, I am a working man. My motto is another day, another dollar.

Oh here are our beers.


I see the beer meets your approval.

So you a Professor, an academic, a person who is paid to think? Well that is something to be admired. I don’t have any academic pretensions, but I have tried to live the life of the mind my entire life. And it has been a worthy preoccupation.

As I was saying I have endeavoured all my life to be the intelligent layman, the dedicated autodidact. Being an autodidact is very much part of being a Communist. Yes I am a Communist. But I like to think of myself as polymath. Maybe deep down it was my desire to be a polymath like Leonardo da Vinci. But I have stuck to my true vocation, I have been an artist, I have been a painter all my life, painting is what I do, it is the one thing that I have made a success of. You can see I am not a modest person. Well I am also a humble person. I no longer have any time for the lime light. In spite of my successes, I now live in relative obscurity. To be honest I have lived in relative obscurity for quite a long time. It was my choice. Every now and then a journalist hunts me down for a story, but don’t have the energy or the inclination to oblige. I have become a bit of recluse. People know where to find me, but no one comes looking for me anymore, except the odd newspaper hack. I have become a very private and I don’t share opinions and I don’t enjoy gossiping.

But please do not let me bore you. I feel I am talking too much. I can hear my own voice jabbering away incessantly in my head, like a man who has suddenly discovered that he can hear and speak after years of being a deaf mute. You are enjoying my ramblings. Well thank you once again.

I am pleased to hear that I am not boring you? You are a good listener. A rare man, that is for certain. Who does not want to hear their own voice? What person does not want to listen to that never-ending bubbling stream of words flowing from their own mouths? There is no greater pleasure than hearing the sound of one’s own voice. It lights up the pleasure centres of the brain like a Christmas tree.

I want to assure you that I am not normally this talkative. I normally sit quietly in this bar minding my own business, never saying a single word to anyone. Yes I do come here regularly. In fact I visit the bar almost every day in the evenings. You may say that I have been a regular patron of this bar for almost my entire adult life. I have a set routine. I like routine.

Lately, almost every day roughly about this time in the evening I pack up my work and I head over to this bar. Every evening I go through the same routine, I greet the other patrons with my usual nod of the head, I sit down here on my normal stool at my usual place, order my usual draught of beer, I then open my newspaper, and when I finished with newspaper, I may have a second beer and then I usually retire to my flat. I think I might have become a real recluse if it was not for the Masonic Hotel. I do admit to enjoying the fellowship of my own thoughts, especially when there is no one to speak too. I don’t normally chat with other patrons in the Masonic Hotel. It requires too much of a commitment. And I want avoid making friends, yet everyone knows me as a friend who is remain a silent uncommunicative stranger at the same. It is unusual for me to indulge in small talk or any other form of conversation. You smile. I am not having you on. If you don’t believe me look around. My fellow patrons have also noticed with surprise that I am quite talkative tonight. I am suddenly extremely garrulous. To them this is an anomaly, because it is an interruption in the pattern of necessity, an interruption in the regularity of nature. A contingent event if you like. A contingent event that has interrupted the normal way I spend my evenings. I have lost you? Never mind I have also lost the train of my thought.

I think my occasional talkativeness is an indication of my egalitarian nature. I have always possessed an egalitarian streak. It is one of my weaknesses. It was also why it was so easy for me to become communist when I was a young man. In those days to be Marxist made a lot of sense. Being a Marxist has become fashionable again. It is in vogue again to be communist. Everyone who is young and intellectual is claiming to be communist. This has become a widespread phenomenon, it is mostly happening in the West, in the northern hemisphere, including the USA.

It is possible that my natural egalitarianism has always endeared me to many ordinary people, the night watchman, the cleaner, the postman, the train conductor, the baker, the butcher and cashier at Checkers. I speak to anybody and everybody, most often about the most trivial of topics; to me everything is of interest. Maybe it also is a disease of old people. People want to speak, especially older people, the older you get the more you want to speak; the more you begin to enjoy endless conversations that go on and on and on. And the wonderful thing about old age you are not fussy any more about who your audience may be, anyone will do as long as they are happy to be a good listening companion.

Tonight I am truly fortunate, possibly even lucky, and what more I feel honoured; I am talking to a professor of economics. Who has turned out to be a good listener.

I think my talkativeness tonight is not a symptom of loneliness, or maybe it is, or maybe it is more than that. It could a relapse to a hopeless addiction that we all suffer from, and when we become old we discover it is incurable, like a cancer. I think am addicted to endless commentary, to endless review, to endless reflection.

I don’t know if you have heard of or know anything about Richard Feynman. Yes the Nobel Prize laureate. He was quite a bar fly himself, even though he did not drink a drop of alcohol. It was his observation that you have to spend sufficient time in a bar or a nightclub before interesting things began to happen, like meeting an interesting woman or some stranger. This is the fantasy of people who sit in bars; it is always the prospect of meeting an interesting woman. But do interesting woman frequent bars? I don’t know. I have been coming here all my life and I have never met an interesting woman in this bar. Where do we meet interesting woman? Please tell me. There was a time I could not live without a woman in the bed next to me. And she did not have to be interesting.

Have I met any interesting woman recently? No, sorry to disappoint you, and there is no reason why I should not have. I am a widower, but I still wear my wedding ring even though my wife passed away a very time long ago. I have not been able to let go of my dear departed wife. Women sense these things and they don’t want to be part of a relationship where the shadow of a dead wife seems to be always present. Talking about death, one of my old friends recently passed away, and I only heard about it today. I think his death has stirred my need to talk tonight. So I am glad I have made your acquaintance tonight. I suppose everyone comes to a stage in their life when they feel compelled, when they feel the deep and urgent to talk about one’s self, especially in the face of the inevitability of one’s own finitude, in the face of the inevitability of one’s own extinction. May be there is deep need to make sense of ones life when starts approaching the end, and when the horizons no longer expand into an infinite future. Maybe tonight I am talking in defence of the life that I have lived at my own end of life judgement trail. Maybe tonight I feel the need to give an account of my life. Sometime we feel the need to talk about the most insignificant occurrences that we have experienced in the past

My friend has passed passed away? Oh yes, his passing was unexpected. It is hard to believe that he is gone, that he is no more. We were of the same age.

His name was Riaan Slabbert. He was a handsome dude, a real womanizer of note. Like me he also became a professional artist. So tonight, when I stepped into the bar, I decided to make it an occasion, that’s why instead of have one or two beers before heading home to bed I decided to celebrate his life with a couple of beers here in the Masonic in the company of strangers and reminisce about the old days of my youth. So I was most happy when you joined me this evening and I would like to share a few rounds of beer with you.

Let us toast to old friends, both living and departed, and of course we also need to drink to life.

Yes, cheers to life, and to your health as well!

To our friends, both living and departed, cheers!

Riaan was a good friend. He was a true friend.

He left Boksburg a long time ago on his 750 cc Honda. We had a beer here at the Masonic and then he left Boksburg for good on his motorbike. He stopped at Hermanus in the Western Cape for a beer and a hamburger, he stood on the terrace overlooking the ocean, and said, fok, and he never left that town until he died. In Boksburg he struggled as an artist. In Hermanus his fortunes changed. He made a reasonable living selling paintings and giving art lessons. The last time I saw him was in 1994. After the first democratic elections I travelled down to Hermanus and spent a month down there painting. At the time he was working on a painting, a very weird painting of a black stallion standing on the edge of cliff in the moonlight. He was so happy in Hermanus he worked himself to death. He painted night and day without stopping to eat or sleep. They say his studio was so full of finished paintings it could have caused an avalanche.

He was one of those Afrikaners who were born in Zambia and whose family came back to South Africa shortly after Zambia got independence. They arrived in Boksburg in 1964. In Zambia his father worked on the copper mine at Kitwe. There were only English medium schools in Zambia so when they returned to South Africa they were placed him and his elder brother in an English medium school instead of an Afrikaans school. There were three brothers. The eldest brother was in the permanent force. He was a parabat instructor in Bloemfontein. While they spoke Afrikaans at home, they were not your typical Afrikaners. For example, they never went to church, he and his brothers had never been baptised, in fact I don’t think they belonged to any church; he was completely Godless as an individual, even in primary school. Through my association with Riaan I became aware that there were alternative ways of being an Afrikaner. He never referred to himself as an Afrikaner nor did he ever use the word Boer or acknowledge any kind of the Boer mythology, he was Afrikaner with no heartfelt allegiance to Afrikanerdom. Yet when we were together we spoke Afrikaans. We spoke Afrikaans incessantly as if our entire being depended on the continuous stream of Afrikaans words filling the air around us. Normally in those days you were only considered a genuine Afrikaner if you belonged to one of the three Afrikaans reformed churches. In my school days I knew that Afrikaans kids who belonged to Apostolic or Pentecostal Churches were viewed as not really belonging to the Volk.

It seemed that Kitwe was a kind of paradise the way Riaan spoke about the place. They brought back an African Grey parrot and their TV. We didn’t have TV in South Africa in the 1960s. Their TV occupied a prominent place in their lounge in Boksburg North. It just stood there in their lounge and I would always look at the blank switched-off screen with a great sense of wonder of what watching TV in Kitwe must have been like. Imagine TV in Kitwe!

I first met Riaan at Dirk Jordaan’s art studio. Dirk Jordaan was another one of those Afrikaners who also did not conform to any of the stereotypes of Afrikanerdom. He had a profound influence on our lives, smashing all the Afrikaner taboos and conventions. Every week on a Tuesday afternoon I would go for art lessons at Dirk Jordaan’s art studio which was on the 4th floor of Morco House at 282 Commissioner Street. Riaan became my best friend. We spoke Afrikaans when we were alone together, but we only spoke English when we were with English friends. He spoke English with a colonial Zambian accent. You could hear the old country in his accent. It was through him that I became part of a wide circle of English speaking friends and acquired my proficiency as an English speaker. I also began to see the world through English eyes. It was like putting on new spectacles. There were four other students in the afternoon art class. They were Clive du Toit also an Afrikaner, Carol Rosenberg, Janet Mendelowitz, and Stanley Aires. We had all become exceptionally good friends, often meeting as a group on Saturday afternoons at the Stella movie theatre, which was called a bioscope in those days. Carol’s father was our family doctor and Janet’s dad owned the Chemist in Commissioner Street opposite the bowling greens near Boksburg Station.

Sometimes we would take a break during the art lessons and go have tea and cake at Alistoun’s Bakery which was next to the CNA and opposite the OK Bazaars in Commissioner Street. In a way we fell under the influence of Janet and Carol, they were always full of new ideas and new ways of seeing the world. It was Janet and Carol who suggested we should start going for tea breaks during our art lessons. Janet often spoke about her holidays in Paris, where she had taken walks down the left bank of the Seine in Paris and had visited the Louvre almost every day. She said that having tea at Alistoun’s Bakery made her imagine that we were all artists drinking coffee at some café in Paris.

Those were memorial days. Boksburg was a great place to grow up as a teenager.

When we got to high school Riaan and I used go together to the wild sessions held in the Lake Pavilion which use to be a tearoom and restaurant. It was mainly Afrikaner youth who went to the sessions at the Lake on Saturday nights. It was a very rough and boisterous crowd dancing to the rock n roll and pop music of the 1960s. The sessions at the Lake were also well known for the many legendary fights that took place on the surrounding lawns outside. Usually the police pickup van would arrive to break up the fights and sometimes arrests were made for drunken public disorderly behaviour. After paying to get into the session, they would stamp your wrist and then we would go inside to check out the talent. If the talent looked good we try and get off with a girl. If you got off with a girl you would find a dark spot and start smooching, and try and feel her up. The girls were all nice Afrikaans meisies with lovely firm breasts, die room van die volk is verkrampt.

Many of them lost their virginity on the lawns of Boksburg Lake. If there was no talent and no getting off prospects we would hit off to the Masonic Hotel to play darts and knock back a few drafts of beer. At the session they would be knocking back Oude Meester brandy mixed in with Coke Cola in a coke bottle. What is a session? A session was equivalent to a discothèque nightclub.

Yes I suppose I am Afrikaans? I grew up in Boksburg in a typical Afrikaner fashion. I was born in Boksburg. I first visited this bar in 1969 as a very precocious and worldly wise teenager when Riaan and I were in Matric, I had just turned 18, that makes it 45 years that I have been a frequent and loyal patron of this fine establishment. Yet tonight, I feel like a stranger in this bar, like someone who is also a first time visitor.

I don’t want to sound weird, but tonight I am seeing everything in a new way, as only the eyes of a stranger can see, like when they visit a place for the first time. It is the special gift, a kind of prophet vision that artists and writers possess, it is the wellspring of creativity. That is why artists are also seers, soothsayers. We see beyond immediate sense perception.

Yes, I am an Afrikaner. In fact I am proud to confess that I am Afrikaans, a Boer if you like. I love my language Afrikaans. Every day it sounds more and more like music to my ears. I cannot image a more beautiful language. I cannot imagine life without the sound of Afrikaans filling the air around me.

But I must warn you, I also confess to not being a typical Afrikaner. Yes I am an Afrikaner, and I do not desire to be anything else. But now days being an Afrikaner make one feel like a stranger in your own country. In a strange way the Boer and the Zulu are same. Afrikaners are now living in a state that feels like being in exile.

As a people we feel that we are under attack. As a people we feel that our language is under threat. The Afrikaner has been truly shafted, first by the political elite of the Nationalist Party and now by ANC government. As Afrikaners it is difficult not to feel that we are now on our own. That is why organizations like Afriforum and Solidarity have come into existence. The Afrikaner youth, for the so-called born frees, are living in state of profound perplexity and dislocation. They have no existential connection with realities of apartheid. To them it is another world, a foreign and unfathomable world.

As a young Afrikaner, to be caught up in unrelenting and unpredictable changes can cause alienation and estrangement. To be caught up in this sea of change, we the Afrikaners have become directionless, rootless, homeless, drifters. We all seem to be living the lives of vagrants, displaced refugees, even in the country of our birth.

It is also profoundly ironical, that while the Afrikaner nation has gone into a kind of internal exile within their homeland, South Africa has at the same time become the natural home for all exiles, in fact it has become the home of choice for every possible kind of exile. Exiles from the rest of Africa, exiles from every country Eastern Europe, exiles from Russia, exiles from Asia, exiles from the far east. We have become the human dustbin of the world. Those gaily dressed and loud speaking gentlemen sitting over there are all exiles of a kind. They are economic exiles from the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. They live off the labours of those ladies of the night sitting with them, some of those ladies are from Zimbabwe, others are from Mozambique, and some are local. In a sense they too are living in a state of exile. Exiled from their countries, and exiled from their bodies.

Yes. Even estranged from their bodies, they are living outside of themselves in every possible sense imaginable. I would say that is real alienation. Yet if you look at them they do not look alienated. They laughing at a joke that the big Nigerian fellow with the loud voice has just made. Have you noticed, he speaks non-stop. No one gets a word in.

We have an ambiguous relationship with our bodies. Our bodies can betray us. Our bodies can become estranged from us in torture and terminal illness.

I see we have we finished our draughts. Should we have another round? No put your wallet away. Tonight it is my treat. You are my guest.

Nog twee asseblief.

Baie dankie.

Here is your beer. It is a pleasure. Cheers.

In that corner over there are some men who are from the Congo, they are all genuine political refugees. They work as car guards during the day and at night they reminisce about the wonderful life that everyone once enjoyed in Africa before the demise of colonialism. Life in decolonized Africa has become a nightmare for many Africans, maybe for a big majority of Africans.

That beautiful woman sitting over, she is from the Cameroon. Sometimes she sings in the bar. She sings the most forlorn and heart breaking melodies in French about how life was under the colonials, songs of bitter irony. Are any of them AfroPessimists? An interesting question. Yes I would say all genuine Africans are Afro-Pessimists. To be authentically African you have to be a genuine pessimist. Africans are the biggest Afro-Pessimists in the world. Pessimism is the lifeblood of this continent. It is the continent of broken promises and broken dreams. Africa is a continent of extremes. Just go speak to those Nigerian gentlemen or our Congolese friends there in the corner or even that Cameroonian woman. They are more pessimistic than whites about the future of Africa. Whites, yes ‘whites’, I see you smile at the sound of that abstract noun. To be white is to suffer from very special kind of heaviness of being. The weight of whiteness can be unbearable. We are the only whites in this bar, in a bar that used to be a whites-only bar. Now that is an irony for you. The Masonic Hotel used to be one of the most famous drinking spots of the white residents of Boksburg. It has not lost its lustre or charm as you can see. It is still living up to its reputation as an exceedingly popular venue. I can vouch for that. The Masonic Hotel is steeped in the history of this town, without ever ceasing to be a classy joint.

It has been around since 1883. For over a hundred years it has been a whites-only Hotel. For more than a hundred years patrons have sat in this bar over the road from Boksburg Lake drinking good draught beer from the same kegs that you see other there.

Through a process of indigenization whites became natives and for over a hundred years many of the patrons of this establishment were white natives. Now tonight I am the only native patron in a bar crowded with foreign, non-native blacks. Yes, that’s true, another irony. I have made you laugh again. I am glad. As you can see, I am in a good mood. Tonight I am a happy native, a native that is not nervous or tense, a native relaxing in his natural surroundings, a native at home in Boksburg. I am also a madula, and even though I am also an umlungu , in this bar I am treated as a respectable elder. I have earned this right in many ways. It may have escaped your notice, but I am treated with the respect, with the respect accorded to an elder, even by the Nigerians and the Cameroonians. So in a sense the process of my indigenization is now complete. I am truly a native of Africa. I am one of the elders in the Masonic Hotel bar.

What was I saying again? Oh yes, natives!

I suppose for many white South Africans because of their ingrained Eurocentric perspective it must taken a dramatic change in mind-set to suddenly feel a strong desire or need to be perceived as a natives of Africa by the authentic aboriginals of Africa. Deep down whites do not want to be viewed only as mere fellow citizens of an African country. Technically speaking aboriginals are the original inhabitants of a country. This is what makes then indigenous. Our original inherited sin is that we as whites have become by a long process natural born racists. We were born with this built-in propensity to racialize all our social relationships with other humans who have pigmentation darker than our vanilla skins. So it would seem an absurd about-turn for the descendants of racist settlers to suddenly see themselves natives of Africa? Do whites really want to viewed be as natives of Africa? That is a good question. You hear about Americans talking about Native Americans when they refer to Indians. A native is an aboriginal. But an ordinary American is not a native of his own country, if that is what he means by native. All of this just goes to prove how complicated an identity can become. Maybe our identities are in constant state of flux.

Maybe as a result of their being isolated from European socialization for such a long period of time whites in South Africa have undergone unbeknown even to themselves a unique process of indigenization that has transformed them into beings that experience another way of being white in the world that is different in significant ways from the way that whites in northern hemisphere experience themselves as being in the world. I believe that this has happened to the Afrikaners in a very profound way, more so than English speaking whites. However English speaking whites have not escaped from being transformed by a very distinctive suite of environmental and socio-political pressures into becomes something significantly ‘other’ that what their original settler ancestors were in the deep past.

Many whites have started to call themselves Africans, and I am referring to those whites who wish to identify themselves as natives, as white natives of Africa if you like. Maybe being white prevents one from ever becoming truly a native of Africa. But then again, maybe the new generation of whites, the so-called born-frees, have made that transition with regard to becoming African.

It is the young black born-frees from bourgeois families who are suffering from a crisis of identity. And it has been the poverty stricken black youth of Africa whose prospects have been destroyed by the failed post-colonial African state.

In Africa after independence, control of the post-colonial state was captured by a nationalist bourgeoisie which became parasitically dependent on the state as a means for accumulating wealth through a process of corruption, looting and plunder. In general, after the the political elite have gained power, the post-colonial state is typically transformed into a vehicle for the private accumulation. Using the state as a vehicle for this purpose, wealth is accumulated through the predatory looting and plundering of countries resources. This is the defining feature of the post-colonial state, it exists only for one purpose and that is for the self-enrichment of the political elite. Since the post-colonial state serves primarily as a vehicle for the self-enrichment of the political elite who happen to be in power, it is perfectly understandable that they would be reluctance to relinquish state power and be forced to face a future without the means for self-enrichment through state-linked primitive predatory accumulation.


You want to know if I really view myself as a native, as an African, as someone who has become indigenized.

Yes I do, I suppose.

I see that I have surprised you by viewing myself as a native. Earlier on I was an exile, a foreigner. Now I am suddenly a native. If I said that I was an exile or foreigner, I did not mean it in the usual geographical sense, but only in the existential sense. The idea of being a native I supposed has to be linked to the idea of origin and ancestry, plus the idea of one’s natural social and cultural habitat, one’s ecology. Many generations of intermediate ancestors stand between me and my original European forebears who came from Holland, Germany and France and settled on the African continent. Some of them died as heroes and others lived as racist villains off the labour of blacks, but all of them now lay buried deep in African soil. Who were they? They were Europeans who become displaced and uprooted by contingent forces of circumstances beyond their control. Their roots were no longer embedded in the historical soils of their origins. They were no longer strictly speaking colonials. Colonials are like the white Portuguese settlers in Angola or Mozambique who while themselves remaining Portuguese, tried to turn the natives, the indigenous aboriginals into Portuguese by a process of social and cultural assimilation. This was the grand myth of Lucitanotropicalism.

The reality of racial assimilation through miscegenation in the Portuguese African colonies of Angola and Mozambique was widely acclaimed as evidence of the Portugal’s claim for being truly benign, benevolent and nonracist colonialists who were genuinely concerned about fostering racial egalitarianism and encouraging the civilization of the aboriginal races through Christianization. This was the noble ideal of their colonial policy. As António de Oliveira Salazar and Marcello Caetano often emphasized, the authentic and genuine interests of the aboriginals or native was of prime concern to them and was actively pursued in their policies of promoting racial equality. In the aftermath of decolonization of Africa, following the end of the Second World War, Portugal still wanted to hold onto her colonies. To this end Caetano made a passionate appeal to the world. He said: ‘If the world gave us more time, we could also accomplish the building of multiracial societies in our African colonies in which the distinctions ethnic groups would no longer exist, as was the case in Brazil.’

In contrast to Lisbon’s fantasy of happy natives basking in the glorious and erotic sunshine of colonial Lucitanotropicalism the South Africa state controlled by the whites had very different plans in mind for the Natives. In South Africa the final solution, for the Natives, a final solution devoid of even the faintest hope of unrestricted tropical multi-racial eroticism, was been cooked up by Verwoerd. I can tell you an interesting story about Verwoerd’s remedy or pharmakon for the native problem of South Africa.

You are laughing. You are indeed a man of culture and intellect. Cheers. So you know about the story of Plato’s pharmacy by Derrida. He wrote a truly marvellous essay but controversial essay. Maybe we can talk about it later. But the question for now was whether Verwoerd’s remedy turned out to be a cure or poison. Well we don’t have to strain our brains to guess the right answer to the question. With the wisdom of hindsight all things can be seen as the inevitable outcome of the exercise of man’s folly.

But let me pursue the story anyway before I lose track of what I want to say. The story goes as follows. On the 10th of March 1952 a certain Mr A J Turton received a very urgent telegram from Mr Werner Eiselen with a message sent on behalf of Verwoerd. He was instructed to stop whatever he was doing and take the very next train to Cape Town. After an 18 hour journey he was fetched from Cape Town station and driven straight to Verwoerd’s office. Verwoerd was the new Minister of Native Affairs was waiting for him in his office. Turton a long serving bureaucrat in the Department of Native Affairs in Pretoria had spent his life devising a pass book or reference book, a kind of book of life for Native, which would sweep away all the paper work, contracts, tax receipts, authorizations, files and filing cabinets. Verwoerd the supreme technocrat found the remedy for all his Native problems in Turton’s passbook which eventually was called the dompass.

It was Turton’s bureaucratic dream to issue each Native in South Africa with a small book that would function as a personal file. This book would document and record all the relevant details of the entire life history of its owner. The book will contain the employment history, tax receipt history, place of residence history, place of birth, language, all movements and most importantly the tribal affiliations. Tribal affiliation was the ultimate determinator of the owner’s fate.

The dompass would also contain the owner’s photograph and thumb prints. The dompass was Verwoerd’s Pharmakon. It would also function as Verwoerd’s Panopticon. By means of the dompass the Apartheid state could have every single Native under bureaucratic surveillance and control. By means of the dompass the totality of the Native life could be brought under bureaucratic control and supervision. The dompass determined what work he could do, where he could work, where he could stay. If bureaucratic fiat decided that he was to be farm labourer, then that was his destiny until the grave. His children destiny would be bound up with his fate. They too would be born to become farm labourers. There could be no escape from this fate. The dompass bound them to the agricultural district into which they born and it would never allow them to escape from that district. They would have to live and find work in that district until they died. They were at the mercy of white farmers who almost had the power of life and death over them. The dompass was the instrument, the apparatus and the symbol of hard core apartheid.

Turton also recommended a complete bureaucratic restructuring. In one fell swoop of the legislative axe, the book also removed all the rights of the Native to enter into any individual legal, mutually-agreed upon, stamped, signed and witnessed labour contracts with employers. Overnight it transformed every Native in South Africa in a kind of bonded slave with no contractual labour rights. This book was the linchpin, the fulcrum, the lever of apartheid power over the Natives. The book was also the Capitalist dream come true. A bureaucrats stamp at the pass office decided the fate of every Native. A simple stamp would determine whether or not she or he would remain staying in the Location which happened to be the place of their birth. A simple stamp would decide whether they would be summary dumped in some God-forsaken tribal reserve or worse still tossed into jail. Their fate hinged on whether or not there was a signed employment stamp in the book. If they happened to be unemployed or jobless they immediately lost their residency permits and if they had no residency permit that could be arrested and jailed if caught in the area. Native Labour Bureaus in every town and city functioned as the national nodes for the state’s control of all Native labour and movement within the borders of South Africa.

In true Roman fashion the white man as the supreme conqueror on planet earth has always viewed rest of the world as terra nullius, as land belonging to no one. The idea of terra nullius also granted the moral entitlement for settlers to engage in land grabbing in South Africa. Tightening and consolidation of the Apartheid grip over South Africa’s land, mineral resources and human labour was made possible through acts of legislation which included the dompass laws, the population registration act, the separate amenities act, the group areas act and the 1913 land act. With the legal framework in place the forced and violent implementation of Apartheid could proceed with help of the police, the courts and the army.

Colonization like slavery has existed since the dawn of time. Almost every piece of land on earth has been subjected at some stage to foreign settler colonization where the original aboriginal occupants experienced dispossession, displacement and disempowerment. Colonization in one form or another has always been inevitable. There are different kinds of colonization. From the foreign settlers perspective there have been successful and unsuccessful colonization. The colonization of the Americas was successful. Colonization and racism are the two ugly twins of Western Imperialism.

It is possible that the world seen through the eyes of the colonizer is world characterised by the idea of terra nullius.

The colonizing settler ancestors of the Afrikaner unlike the Portuguese settlers in Mozambique and Angola lost their ancestral roots and were forced to re-root themselves in a foreign soil. Unlike the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique they were unable to sustain their links with their ancestral countries. They were unable to draw on the sustenance and nurture of their original ancestral soils from which they had become uprooted. Cut off from their homeland like invading weeds they put down new and deep roots into the African soils. They had no other option but draw their sustenance from the African soils. These are the whites. In my opinion English speaking whites more so than Afrikaners need to re-invent themselves and possibly rebrand themselves as a new kind of African, another version of being African.

There are many ways of being African, not just one version. This is a continent of immerse ethnic diversity and genetic diversity. In fact the genetic difference between individual native Africans is greater than between people of European stock, or Indian stock or Asian stock.

Do we want to be European? No definitely not. Well I can speak for myself. No, I am definitely not European. I could not be a European even if I tried. I should know, I am an artist.

We have long ceased to be expatriates. The ancestral gates to Europe have long been closed to my generation. We are no longer natives of the old country. No amount of pleading, wailing or gnashing of teeth or bashing on those heavenly doors will ever open them again to receive us. We are Europe’s lost and forgotten children. We have become in reality a homeless diaspora of white people. Orphaned within Africa, Africa has become our adopted continent. Or the African continent in the warm hospitality typically Africa, the African continent has adopted us, the feral children of a once great civilization. In the past we have been a people in search of the dream of nationhood, a people that aspired to become a volk, a people who lived out the fantasy of being God’s special creation, a chosen people. At one stage Afrikanerdom believed that it was an elected people through whom God had foreordained to bring the blessings of Western Christian Civilization to the barbarians on this dark God forsaken continent. But I think most of us have become sensible enough to give up that dream, to see it as the myth that it always was.

You want to know what it means to be a real native of South Africa. In the old days we only called blacks natives. The word ‘native’ was then a loaded term, carrying a very different freight of meaning. Taken at face value the term ‘native’ was then used as an abstract noun for black people of African descent. Whites used to perceive themselves as non-natives mainly because in the old day whites still laboured under the misguided illusion that they were Europeans. Of course the blacks were referred to as natives were indeed correctly labelled as Non-Europeans. Even they would agree that they should at all times and at all places be referred to as Non-Europeans. What decent self-respecting native in South Africa would want to be called a European? But the whites should have also been called Non-Europeans. I suppose if you want to insult an American, then call him a European. I have made you laugh again. Yes, how can one call oneself a European when you were not born in Europe and when all one’s ancestral bonds to the ancestral homeland have been completely severed?

It interesting that was a definite juncture in our history when a conscious decision was made to stop referring to ourselves as Europeans. Instead of being Europeans we simply became whites, we became self-consciously a race in a very significant political sense, rather than in an anthropological or biological sense. With the further development and consolidation of Apartheid after 1948, all the Europeans Only signs were taken down and replaced with Whites Only signs. One day we Europeans, the following day we ceased being Europeans and became whites instead, and then a bit later, it dawned on the more intelligent and perceptive white political leaders that whites should also be viewed as natives of Africa, which would mean that there would then be two kinds of natives, white natives and non-white natives, with no in between shades of grey, you were either white or non-white. If you were non-white then you would be one of the many shades of brown. Black is not the right word. Very few people in Africa are sufficiently dark to be called black.

Ah that was meant to make you laugh.

I agree, you are right, white is also not the right word. Whites are not actually white in colour. Nor are blacks black in colour.

Yes Afrikaans is a kind of Africanized Dutch dialect. No, it would take too long to explain why an African language sounds like Dutch. Why do I say No when I mean Yes? It is a custom in South Africa. Depending on context No means Yes.

So why do they call the language Afrikaans? That is an interesting question. The word Afrikaans is actually the Afrikaans word for African. Afrikaans speaking people call themselves Afrikaners. This is another profound anomaly in a land full of anomalies. Why would it be such an anomaly? You don’t understand. Let me explain. The anomaly lies in the literal translation of the words Afrikaans and Afrikaner into English. When translated into English we end up literally with a group of white people who have historically referred to themselves as Africans and who call the language they speak African. I recognize that it does seem a bit irregular, even quite outlandish that a certain group of white people who were originally settlers in Africa were the first to refer to themselves as Africans, and wear that label as a badge of honour. To say we are proudly Afrikaners is the same as saying we are proudly Africans.

It is incongruous that this most recent manifestation of a new human species, Africans who are white and who speak African, should also find themselves stranded in Africa, especially after such a long absence, seek now to reclaim for themselves such an ancient identity. How could they possibly have become African?

Yes I am playing on the literal similarity of the words African, Afrikaner and Afrikaans. I am playing with riddles, enigmas, paradoxes and anomalies.

You look puzzled. What do I mean by the words ‘after a long absence’? Were we here before we came? How is that possible? Of course it is meant to be a paradox. Yes in a manner of speaking we were always here before we came to settle. We were here before, or our deep and distant ancestors were at least here, they were the relatives that we left behind when our ancient forefathers migrated out of Africa. After scattering and dispersing into the rest of the world, they became cut off from Africa. Eventually in the fullness of time some of those humans who originally descended from African ancestors returned to re-settle in their ancient ancestral land. That is how we were always already here before we actually came. That is the solution to the riddle, or the paradox. The evidence that our ancestors originated here in Africa, left and then came back after a long absence is recorded in our DNA.

We are the only surviving branch of upright or standing bipedal hominids in the phylogenetic tree of hominids. Our only surviving closest relative is the chimpanzee. We share a common ape like ancestor with the chimpanzees and all the other extinct hominids whose fossilized remains have been left behind as a testimony to their existence.

It stills seems quite absurd to reclaim your identity as an Afrikaner, or as an African in other words. But bizarre as it may seem, it is a historical and well documented fact that whites were indeed the first people to consciously call themselves Africans, and they were also the first to call their language Afrikaans or African, the language of Africa.

Do I believe they are true Africans? Of course I believe they are true Africans. Whites were the first to invent the idea of being African. Everyone else was Zulus, Vendas, Xhosas, or Sothos and so, but we whites were the ones who ended up being Africans or Afrikaners. This is a profound irony that has escaped the Afrikaner, especially when he laboured under the illusion that he was a European, even after he was clearly told that he was not a European, but a white and an African. This was the message of Apartheid. You are white and you are an African. Jy is a blank en jy is ‘n Afrikaner. And then they promulgated a whole of lot of laws to make sure that you understood that.

OK you are right. This is an eccentric way of seeing things, but nothing in what I have said is false.

You want the truth. Do I believe that I am an African?

Do I consider myself an African? I have no other option; I was born an Afrikaner that means I was born an African. Also in the eyes of the rest of world I must be an African, I am not a European, I am not an Englishman, I am not an American nor am an Australian.

Also it is only in Africa that I can authentically be a real white man, or more specifically a genuine white male. White males are a newly identified special race within the species Homo sapiens. They exist only in South Africa. This has become our natural habitat. It is the niche in which we feel most at home, especially Afrikaans white males. We are now endemic here. The vast African savannahs has always been the most pleasant and wonderful vista to our Afrikaner eyes. We have acquired the vision of ancient African eyes that takes great delight in the natural beauty of Africa. This is the profound sensibility that we Afrikaners innately possess.

Show me an Afrikaner that does not love the Bushveld. Show me an Afrikaner that is not at home in the Bushveld. Show me an Afrikaner that does not have an instinctive love for cattle. Show me an Afrikaner that does not feel a deep passion for the red soil of Africa. Show me an Afrikaner that does not feel at home in Africa. In this sense we have been and will always be Africans. We are a tribe of Africa. But we are feared and resented by all the other strains of humanity that exist in this country. I am reminded daily that I am a white male. Being a white male has become a badge of honour, like being an Afrikaner. We wear it proudly and why shouldn’t we? We belong to an extraordinary and very eccentric tribe of men. We are unique. We are proudly Boers. We accept the burden of the sins of our forefathers that has now been visited upon us, the sons of the third and fourth generations or something like that. In a way they were powerless, we could not avoid committing those awful sins, the sins of racial segregation that evolved into sins of Apartheid. We forgive our forefathers and we apologise to all on their behalf. They inflicted the most incredible suffering on black people and we benefited from it.

I think I have shocked you. I think I have also shocked myself, but it is too late to retract what I have just said. I don’t think the badge of honour metaphor should be construed in a racist sense. But I have said it. I will say it again, but this time I will qualify it, I am an Afrikaner, and for me it remains a badge I wear with honour.

Speaking as an Afrikaner I can say that the burden of the sins of our fathers chains us to the history of this land, in many ways we are its history, we are bound with such unbreakable bonds of psychological, emotional and physical intimacy to this land that our feelings of ownership comes to us as Boers so naturally, so unconsciously, so spontaneously, because in a real sense we have come to possess it, and this is why we have long lost the compulsive desire to loot, destroy or plunder it, we have a natural sense of stewardship to this land, so in a tangible sense we are emotionally spiritually and intellectually unable lose this land, it is ours in some kind of mystical unfathomable way. I say these things as an Afrikaner. As Afrikaners we have in a very deep sense established an unalienable connection with the land and its natural history, with its landscape of grasslands, mountains, deserts, savannah bushveld, and with its flora and fauna.

Lately, with the increasing political and economic instabilities that are threatening to tear this land apart I often find myself reflecting on a riddle which expresses a profound irony when you think about. The riddle goes like this, the history of the generation that I belong to as old man continues to haunt the present, the fear of that past, with its psychology hold, has the power to undermine and destroy all hope for the future, the fear of the past evaporates all prospects. In the recent student protests on the university campuses you could see the patina of fear, hatred, confusion and uncertainty written into the angry faces of the protesting black students, who have been thrown in a Heideggerian sense into this world without any direct personal memories or experience of the past to which I and others belong to. We own the past. The past is our creation. We made it into what it had been. We own the crimes that our generation committed. The past belongs to the world of my generation. It does not belong in any meaningful sense to the born-frees. Having no direct tangible links with the past, they cannot claim that history for themselves, and as a consequence they find that in reality they separated from the past by a yawning existential chasm. They only have at the very least a vague shifting spectral connection with the past. In a tragic sense, they have no past, they have been denied a past, they were born into a future not of their making, a future that lies beyond the horizons of a rapidly receding past, a past that has vanished forever. Caught on the wrong side of the temporal asymmetry that marks the passage of time, the past can only exist as a non-memory. They cannot retrieve the past as a lived experience through an exercise of historical recollection. They only have access to recorded facts, to remote and disputable facts that have grown cold, ambiguous, abstract, impersonal and objective with time. The only personal bridges which can connect them with the past are the recollections which are still retrievable from the fading memories of parents and grand parents. They do not have their own memories; they can only conjure up insubstantial phantoms of the past in their imagination. They do not have any subversive memories; they have no subversive recollections which could help them redeem the futures. With reference to the past which is not theirs to claim they are condemned to live the lives of non-victims. But it is also inevitable that they will eventually find themselves in a state of collective victimhood in their future lives. They will be most likely be given plenty of opportunities to re-invent themselves as victims through self-inflicted economic and political injuries. This appears to have been the fate of Africans.

Anyway, I wanted to say something? It has slipped my mind.

Oh I remember now. Do we all come from Africa? The answer is yes. We now know for certain that all humanity came from a common African ancestor. In this sense we all belong to Africa. At deeper level, all living organisms are related. All living organism are related by descent with modification from a common ancestor. That is Darwinian evolutionary theory in a nut shell. We together with 36 or so other phyla belong to the metazoans. We are related to the nematode through the last common ancestor that we shared with the nematodes.

Ah here are our beers. Cheers.

The point I want to make is a paradoxical one. All metazoan, which consist of multicellular animals are related because they ultimately evolved from a common ancestor. Which means they all share certain fundamental features making them all at a certain level genetically similar, yet in terms of their body plans and associated behaviour complexity they are very different? From a similar fundamental suite of genes a very board of different animal body plans. Going back to the humble microscopic nematode, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, ti has about 20 100 protein encoding genes, the mouse has 20 000 genes and humans have about 19 000 genes. What is most astonishing is that the minute crustacean called the water flea, otherwise known as Daphnia pulex [_ has more protein encoding genes than humans. It has 31 000 genes. The most surprising discovery was that the 23 000 genes in human genome only accounted for 1.5% of sequenced DNA which consists of a total number to base pair tallying about 3 billion base pair or nucleotides. If the full nucleotide sequence of the DNA making up the complete human genome, which consists of four letters of the DNA alphabet, A, C, T and G, were lined up end to end, the entire DNA sequence would fill two hundred 500 paged telephone directors or fill stack of average length paperback novels 61 m high. About 98% of the human genome consists of non-protein encoding DNA. More than 50% of the total DNA making up the human genome consists of nucleotide sequences that originally came from retroviruses. As you can now appreciate, most of the human genome consists of a graveyard of retroviral DNA. _]

Where did the retroviral DNA come from? That is a good question, I am glad to you asked it. It is question that haunts me and has its own flavor of bitterness, regret and pain.

I can see what I said perplexes you. The night is still young. We will see what destinations the journey of our discussion will lead us to, maybe by some circuitous route we will find ourselves talking again about the retrovirus in relation to tragedy that knows no cure. I know that you are thinking of HIV and AIDs, the dark spectre that haunts humankind. That is one kind of retrovirus. There are many other retroviruses. If there is time tonight, I may end up telling you another story about the retrovirus. But first, if you will indulge me, let us talk about the importance of the retrovirus in the evolution of life. We are here tonight because of our long historical association with a galaxy of interesting retroviruses that burnt like uncontrollable wild fires through the genomes of our ancestors. As Darwin said, evolution is descent by modification, and epidemics of retroviral infection are sources of genetic modification and genetic variation on which natural selection acts. It is as if God provided the tools and engine for evolution by making possible the necessary conditions for the emergence of the retroviruses. In Plato’s Phaedo Socrates suggests that the Forms cause the birth of phenomena in the sense that they make the necessary conditions for their coming into existence possible.

The genomes of all living organism have from the dawn of time been invaded by external retroviruses in [_ successive waves of epidemics. Retroviruses insert their DNA into the genomic DNA of their hosts that they have infected petty much like the HI Virus that causes AIDs. Mutations eventually inactivate the retroviruses that have become inserted into the host genome, thereby converting them into endogenous retroviral elements which through the accumulation of mutations lose their pathogenicity and become bits of DNA which are called transposons, and retroelements which able to move around host’s genome from one site to another site by means of a process analogous to copy and paste or cut and paste. As much as 8% of the human genome is comprised of unmodified endogenous retroviruses or ERVs _]


Excuse me, I am being very talkative tonight, it is a fault I have, and my other fault is that I think I make friends too easily, and I seem to speak too easily about myself and about the things I know, as if it these are the most important topics of conversation in the world.

You say you don’t mind listening. You say you are happy to listen to someone even if that person is going to only talk about himself all night. You are prepared to listen even if he is going to exaggerate his self-importance and the significance of his existence. It honestly won’t bore you to death? You say that I am not boring you at all? You find what I have to say very interesting. Well then Mon Cher, you are too kind.

The night is not only still young, but also very long, and you say that you are not going anywhere anyway, plus you are a good listener. This is then a rare occasion indeed, a valuable moment in both of our lives. Ah, I have made you laugh again. But it is true that that we may never meet again, like two ships passing in the night. I have a good sense of occasion and this is not an occasion to be missed.

Actually I am not really that talkative and most of the time I don’t talk much about myself. But tonight for some reason I feel like talking. I feel like confessing everything about myself, to anyone who cares to listen. Even though we are both strangers to each other, I will not hide anything from you about myself. No one wants to listen to the sorrows of a drunk. I am not drunk as you can clearly see. And I have been cured of all my sorrows. You say I am very fortunate to be cured of all my sorrows. Yes I am thankful. But it was a long and difficult cure. Being cured of all my sorrows I promise not to disappoint you. If I end up singing a paean of personal praise to myself then so be it. You will no doubt forgive me.

Yes I am from Boksburg. Haven’t I already said that I am from Boksburg? I think I must be getting old. Sorry, I did not hear you properly; you were actually asking why this town is called Boksburg? The town was named after Dr Bok. The story goes like this. A person by the name of Carl Ziervogel originally from Graaf Reinet bought a farm called Leeupoort. On the 21st of March 1887 just when he was going to sell his farm gold was discovered on Vogelfontein the farm next to his farm. Of course he took his farm off the market. At that time Dr Bok was the secretary of state of the Transvaal Boer Republic which was recognized as an independent Republic by the British in 1881. Dr Bok discussed the gold discovery with President Paul Kruger who recommended that Dr Bok establish a properly surveyed and organized township to facilitate the orderly development of gold mines on the Leeupoort and Vogelfontein farms. The new gold mine town was named Boksburg in honour of Dr Bok.

Yes I was also born in Boksburg, I grew up in Boksburg and I have lived in Boksburg all my life. I have lived most of life in the same flat. In fact I was born in the Boksburg Benoni Hospital. The hospital still exists. It is on the other side of the railway line across from the Lake standing next to the Cason Mine Dump. Unfortunately Cason Mine Dump is no longer the majestic man made mountain that it used to be. It now looks like a half-eaten stale bread roll. It was once the biggest mine dump in the world.

When I was a kid we stayed in the suburb called Plantation, just down the road from the Boksburg Benoni Hospital. My dad was a one of the big shots working for the East Rand propriety Mines or ERPM for short. He was a very prominent man in Boksburg in the 1960s. In 1969 three years before he died he caught the biggest Marlin ever landed off the KZN North coast. In the July of 1972 he was killed by an enraged elephant bull that he wounded on an elephant hunt in Mozambique. He had hunted elephants in Mozambique quite regularly. He was a very experienced elephant hunter. Our house in Plantation was full of form the University of University of the Witwatersrand. I was very ambitious; I thought I could make a living as an artist only to discover it was not that easy. So at the end of 1974 I went to Wits Tech and completed a higher diploma in fashion and dress design, and then in 1977 I went to the University of Potchefstroom to do an MA in fine arts. In 1978 my mother died of breast cancer. I was the youngest of three siblings. I have an elder brother and sister. We were left with a sizable inheritance. In 1979 with my share of the inheritance I bought a beautiful old two story building with an arcade that opened onto Commissioner and Leeupoort Street. The building is called Cinderella’s Arcade. It was built in 1892. At street level the arcade is lined with small shops. Above the shops are flats. I converted the two corner flat facing commissioner street into my live-in art studio. The arcade is just around the corner from the Masonic Hotel, a mere 2 minutes’ walk away. In 1911 a second arcade called the Morris Arcade was built a few blocks away.

You want to go outside for smoke. I don’t smoke, but that is not a problem, I will come with you. See our Zulu friend has nodded his head. He knows you wish to go for a smoke. He will keep an eye on our beers.

Don’t you think it has turned out to be a beautiful summers evening. The rain has finally stopped, the night sky has opened up and the air is thick with swarms of flying ants. See how the bats are having a feast. Let’s walk over to the Lake; we have to walk past that ugly palisade fence that has been erected around the old putt-putt golf course in order to get to the Lake. Careful you don’t want tread on a toad, the lawns appear to be literally alive with a plague of toads chasing flying ants. The Lake now smells quite bad; it reeks with the stench of sewage. It has also become green like pea soup.

Yes it a manmade Lake. It was constructed in 1888 by a man called Montague White and only became filled with water after a massive ran storm in 1891. So for three years before it was filled with water it was called Montague’s folly. It soon became a major attraction on the Reef. In 1885 a steam boat called the ‘Mona’ was launched in the Lake to take visitors on cruises around the Lake. Soon hotels, restaurants and cinemas sprung in the streets and side streets surrounding in the Lake. The Masonic Hotel was built here on shores of the Lake in 1883. You can appreciate why Boksburg Lake quickly became a popular inland holiday resort. On Saturdays and Sundays there would be over a hundred rowing boats that could be hired. Can you image what is must have like with all those rowing boats floating on the Lake. Palm trees, popular trees, willow trees and oak trees where planted around the shores of the Lake. You can see how huge the palm trees have become. They are over a hundred years old. A refreshment kiosk and band stand was also built. The promenade we are walking along now was also built in 1895. At night the promenade and Lake would be lit up with electric lights and hundreds of people, including lovers would promenade around the Lake before or after eating out at one of the many restaurants or seeing a movie at one of the many cinemas close to the Lake. There was also a massive rose garden, a spring garden, an autumn garden and even a swamp garden. Near the old Magistrates Courts was the Vogelfontein ice skating rink. There were hardly any cars in those days. People travelled by train from Pretoria and from across the Reef to visit Boksburg Lake. Boksburg Station which is close to the Lake used to be called Vogelfontein Station and every weekend between 5000 and 10 000 people from across Johannesburg and the Reef arrived at the station to visit the Lake. Promenade concerts were held every Saturday afternoon. Fishing was an extremely popular pastime on the banks of the Lake. Boksburg Lake regattas regularly drew crowds of visitors of up to 8000.

Yes that is a raft. Yes it is chained to the tree on the bank. I am surprised it is floating after all these years. Should we go over have a look at it? It has been years since I have been anywhere near the raft. As kids we played on the raft. As teenage I embraced and kissed many girls while standing on this raft in the moonlight.

If it interests you a bit I will tell you a story about my first encounter with the death. It was on this raft that the finitude of life was revealed to me in all its terrifying profundity. It happened to be the death of a loyal patron of Masonic Hotel pub, someone I knew. You say you want hear about it. Ok then. Go ahead light up another cigarette. Yes I think it still safe to step on board. It looks seaworthy to me. Just be careful as we step on board, it tends to rock and one can lose one’s balance. It has turned out to be such pleasant evening don’t you think. I see the clouds are beginning to break. Look there is the moon.

Long ago when I was still kid in primary school in Boksburg North I used to travel by bus to school. Each morning the bus would stop at the bus stop opposite the Masonic Hotel. One day as it was slowing down to stop we noticed that something was going on at the shore of the Lake close to the bus stop. A police car and mortuary van was parked outside the Masonic Hotel. Two policemen were standing on the bank of the Lake next to this moored raft on which we are now standing. I could make out a body lying on the raft’s deck. When the bus stopped I grabbed my school bag I jumped off the bus and walked over to the moored raft. It was 7.00 am in the morning and there was an icy chill in air which burnt my cheeks like dry ice. It was grey and misty outside. The whole Lake was shrouded in a thick blanket of mist. A heavy mist was rising from the surface of the lake almost like steam from a hot bath. You could not see Cason Dump and even the opposite shore of the Lake was not visible. A large white swan paddling slowly past was barely discernible in the mist. It looked like an apparition. You could only more or less make out its silhouette.

I stepped onto the raft. It shifted away from the bank, straining against the chain. To keep my balance I reached up and managed to grab hold of this same steel cable which is still fastened after all these years to the willow tree behind us. You see that the cable stretches across the lake to the island where it is tied to that big willow tree standing close to the bank. The cable was frozen. I did not have any gloves on. My hand nearly froze to the cable. I am really surprised that the cable is here, stretching across the lake to that willow tree on the island.

Anyway, apart from the crowd that had assembled on the bank next to the raft the rest of Lake was deserted. The body was fully clothed, the jacket was buttoned up, a tie around the neck, the shoes were still on and there was a watch on the wrist. The second hand of the watch was still ticking. The watch must have been water proof. The body had been fished out of the Lake and dragged onto the raft deck. I stepped closer to look at the face. The face looked familiar. The raft began to rock as more people crowded onto it. I recognized the body. It was the body of person called Kobus Groenewald. He worked at the ERPM gold reduction works.

It was the first time in my life that I had seen a dead body. He had recently been a guest at a dinner party my mother had organized. As kids our parents allowed us to stay up when they had a party, because the other guests also had kids and brought them along. He loved Mario Lanza’s Drinking Song. That night he was all tanked up and filled with the joie de vie. When my sister played the record with Mario Lanza’s Drinking Song his alcohol flushed face became transfixed with exaltation. He begged my sister to play the Drinking Song over and over. As I gazed at his dead body spread out on the raft the melody and lyrics of the Drinking Song filled my head. Even though I barely knew the man, I began to feel incredibly sorrowful and disturbed. All I knew was that he was a bachelor and had a reputation for being a lively party animal. This person whom I had once known as a living being no longer existed. It was a shocking realization. Only his dead body existed now, the person that had once animated that body was gone. That was also extraordinary realization. That person who had once so thoroughly enjoyed Mario Lanza was no longer with us.

While I stood on the raft staring at the body the crowd assembling on the banks of the Lake close to the raft continued to grow. I hung around listening to the running commentary that the different people were giving. His car was still parked outside the Masonic Hotel. Apparently he had been drinking at the Masonic Hotel the previous night.

Everybody had a theory about his death and what he was doing before his death.

Some said he committed suicide. Others said that he was drinking alone until the pub closed. Some insisted that he had been with a group of friends playing darts. A person remarked that he saw him was in the lady’s bar with a woman. It seemed like they were having fight. Others thought they had seen them arguing outside on the pavement. A person eager to have his say swore that he saw the man having an argument with 2 or 3 men on the bank of the lake at about 9.00 pm. Someone else insisted that the man was definitely in the lounge with a couple of strange people until about 10.00 pm. He was definitely murdered by his companions, they looked like criminals. A person who lived in flat across the street said that even though it was dark she saw him standing on the raft at about 11.30. Several people all nodding their heads agreed that had he committed suicide. Apparently he was a regular patron at the Masonic and he was such friendly jovial person. Someone who had just arrived wanted to know why he had commit suicide? But then again another person continued insist that he was murdered, he had been thrown in the icy waters and died of a heart attack.

The theories relating to the nature of his death grew more elaborate and some verged on the fantastical. It came as surprise to me that people could become so quickly numb and desensitised to the presence of the corpse. I felt that one should be respectful in the presence of dead person’s body. Yet a spirit of joyful and festive callousness erupted among the crowd on onlookers.

While listening to everybody debating the circumstance of his death I saw a familiar figure approaching. It was one of my mom’s friends who worked as a journalist. She was obviously coming to do a story on the death for the Boksburg Advertiser. She had not seen me, and I did not want her to see as it was almost 8.00 am, and I should have already been at school. I quickly walked away along the promenade into the mist and then cut across the back to Market Street and caught the 8.15 bus to Boksburg North which on the other side of Cason Dump.

In Boksburg North when the bus stopped at the bus stop next to the Empire Bioscope an old woman got up from her seat and made her way slowly down the aisle. Pasted on the wall outside the Empire a poster advertised The Sign of Zorro. Guy Williams was being featured. On the opposite side of the street the red and white pole of Tony’s Barber Shop caught my eye. The barber shop had just opened. One of the barbers was a dwarf. The other barber was a huge man, almost seven foot tall. Both barbers were was standing outside on the covered pavement next to the barber red and white pole smoking cigarettes. They looked like such an odd pair, the midget standing next to the giant. Both were dressed in white barber jackets and white trousers. The dwarf had this little white barber jacket specially tailored to fit him. He also wore specially tailored little white barber trousers. Every day on the way home from school, the bus would stop at the bus stop right next to the door of the barber shop. Every day I would look out of the bus window and see dwarf standing on a wooden box cutting someone’s hair. His head always looked huge in proportion to his body.

Everything felt so abnormal that morning. It was like I was in a dream. You know how it is in a dream, somehow everything is always so incongruously juxtapositioned in space and time, the dead body lying on the raft, the dwarf standing next to the giant on the pavement next to the red and white barber shop pole, both dressed in white barber uniforms, the apparition of the swan, the old lady with the walking stick struggling with slow steps down the aisle of the bus and the poster on the wall advertising the Zorro matinee, I could have been hallucinating all of this. This is exactly the way I felt.

I don’t why, but I was overcome by a weird impulse, without thinking I also climbed off the bus behind the old lady. I stood on the pavement and watched the bus pull off; it chugged away in a cloud of black diesel fumes, going up the narrow road past the Boksburg North Swimming Pool. As I watched the bus vanish I realized that the act I had just committed was now irreversible. It was a profound thought at the time. I still remembered it to this day. Do you remember those old 8 mm projectors? You could stop the projector and run the film in the reverse direction, and watch everything going backwards in time. As I watched the bus getting smaller and smaller, I thought about time travel, like going back into the past. I thought that if we could re-run the tape of time until Groenewald stopped his car outside the Masonic Hotel and we could have called out to him, you know, to warn him or something like that.

You know time is a bit of mystery even physicists admit as much. No one seems to be absolutely sure about kind of thing or phenomenon or process time really is.

There was a café with tearoom called the Café Florian on opposite side on the road right next to Tony’s Barber Shop. I crossed the road and walked into the Café. I was greeted by the bell ringing, buzzing and chiming of a pinball machine being played at the edge of full tilt. It was warm inside. The pleasing aroma of percolated coffee filled the air. I sat down at a small table and ordered a cup of coffee and a cream doughnut. One of the guys gathered around the pinball machine walked over to the old jukebox. It was still before we had rands and cents. It was 1959. I had two shillings in my pocket. It was a lot of money in those days. The guy must have put a penny into the jukebox slot. The next minute the music for Tequila by the Champs fills the café. It was so weird. I began to tap my feet under the table in rhythm with the music. The guys crowding around the pinball player were sort of jiving and every now and then on cue they shouted in unison ‘Tequila’. In retrospect the 1950s was the golden age of the pinball machines in Boksburg.

While listening to the music and sipping my coffee I remembered a tale about the life Buddha. Do you know the story? You don’t? Well one day when he was a young man he slipped out of his father’s castle and he saw an old crippled man, a sick man, a dead man and a holy man with no home. He then realized that nothing can stop anyone from being born, becoming old, falling sick and eventually dying. You may say no one can escape of the ravages of time. Anyway I don’t time was the issue in this story. Buddha then decided to give up everything in order to become a holy man with no home and no money so that he could find the answer to the problem of birth, old age, sickness and death. He thought long and hard about how he could find a cure that would release mankind from his suffering.

I sat in the café drinking my coffee and though about Buddha’s search for a cure that would end all suffering. I decided to wait in the café listening to the jukebox music until the bioscope opened for the morning matinee. I bought a ticket and sat in the back row. You want to know what a bioscope is? In those days we used call a cinema the bioscope. The young men who were playing pin ball in café also bought tickets. When I came out of the cinema squinting in the bright late-morning sunlight I saw that bar of the Boksburg North Hotel was already open. I caught a bus back to the Town Hall from the bus stop next to Tony’s Barber Shop. I got off at the Town Hall and started walking slowly back home along the Lake’s promenade. I stopped at the raft. The crowds were gone. It was all very quiet; there was not a person in sight. The body was gone. His car outside the Masonic Hotel was gone. I stood there for a few minutes gazing at the raft.

The mist was gone. The winter sun was shining on Cason Dump. On top of the dump I could see the eight coco pans standing on the edge of summit, where they had been left more than fifty year ago. Close to the shore on the opposite side of the lake I could see the swan, and white ducks and grey geese, all floating on the water. Grey headed seagull wheeled in the sky calling to each other. In the middle of the Lake a coot called. Everything had returned to normal. Life goes on as if nothing had happened. For a twelve year old it was a very sobering realization.


Should we walk back? I see our ladies of the night have started to assemble for duty under the trees near the road.

So you are curious about what I do for a living. It is true as I have already told you; I am an artist, a painter. I have made a living from painting for most of my life. I also worked as a fashion designer.

Life as a painter has been a roller coaster journey. The creative impulse waxes and wanes. For me painting has been a never ending struggle. It has involved a constant search for novelty. It has required a ceaseless search for images. As an artist I have had to push myself to the very limits of my imagination only to suffer suicidal burnouts in the face of failure. It has taken me a life time to get nowhere. As the saying goes it has been a life filled with both ecstasy and excruciating agony, a life lived at the edge of perpetual crisis.

Yes my studio is just around the corner. You would like to see my studio? It won’t take a minute. A quick walk and we will be there.

Let’s cross the road here, it is clear. That building over there on the corner is Cinderella’s Arcade. Shortly after I bought the building I converted the corner shop into a gallery for exhibiting paintings. Above the gallery on the first floor overlooking Commissioner Street you can see my art studio and apartment. On the third floor are flats which I rent. I have also been a landlord all my life, a collector of rents. Just let me find the keys and then we can go inside the gallery. Wait a minute while I switch on the lights.

To answer your question all the other paintings except that one over there are for sale. You find that painting puzzling. Yes it is a strange and perplexing painting even for me. I painted it more than 40 years ago. Yes there is story behind that painting. I have never told anyone the real full story behind that painting. The painting was inspired by a profound dream that I once had during one of those suicidal burnout episodes that I have periodically suffered from. I see that the painting intrigues you. Yes the woman in the picture is exceptionally beautiful, she was truly magnificent woman.

Ok, we better get back to the pub. Let me put off the lights and lock up. If you are interested I will tell you the story about the woman in the picture. The story starts with another painting called the Tales of the Sakabula Bird. Yes there is an intentional a play on the words tail and tale.

The Tale of the Sakabula Bird was a painting I exhibited at my second major exhibition. The exhibition ran for a week from Saturday to Saturday. Every painting was sold and I became an overnight celebrity in Boksburg. I suppose I don’t sound very modest. But you know what is like to climb the podium, you tend to become overly self-indulgent, basking in the afterglow of sweet success, and it is difficult not go on a binge of self-praise. Anyway, as I was saying I was feted as a celebrity over the entire East Rand. There were rave reviews in the local newspapers. Something great had happened in Boksburg. I had become an instant hit and my bank account began to look very good.

On the opening night I noticed among the visitors an attractive young woman with blue eyes, long platinum blond hair, dressed in faded jeans and a T-shirt, and also wearing a black beret with a little red star. She was part of a jolly scruffily dressed group of young adults who all appeared to be university students in their early twenties. The opening of the exhibition had been widely advertised and the students must have pitched up out of curiosity, and possibly also the enticement of tables laden with good wines and eats could not have been resisted. I soon became aware that I had attracted her attention.

You are getting to know me. You have that knowingly humorous look. Am I that transparent? Do you find my touch of conceit amusing? OK, without wishing to sound vain or narcissistic I was once an exceeding good looking man who could easily turn the heads of the most attractive women. I was addicted to women and they in turn found it impossible to resist me. That was my ulterior motive behind my interest in fashion design; it gave me an opportunity to be among women. I also happened to have a natural talent for dress-design and dressmaking. Of course I enjoyed dressing women just as much as undressing them, and they did not seem to mind having my hands all over their bodies, nor did I flinch at the task. It was always my pleasure. You are finding me funny again. Look I was a very masculine dress-designer, macho if you wish, and they always enjoyed the danger and tension that the physical intimacy of my presence brought to the dressing-room. The dress-fitting room was not a neutral or clinical environment as would be the case with a doctor’s consulting room or the surgery of the gynaecologist populated with all kinds of obstetric tools and apparatus. I notice your ironic grin has not faded. Anyway to cut a long story short it was through my dress-designing work that I made friends with the owner of a modelling agency. She was always on the lookout for new talent but none of the beautiful girls that her agency recruited could ever matched the beauty of four of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. To this day no other woman has ever matched the beauty of the magnificent four. I have always been a connoisseur of female beauty. These four possessed the kind of beauty that you remember for the rest of your life. The girl whose attention I had attracted at my art exhibition was the most beautiful of the magnificent four. I had taken many beautiful girls to bed, but none matched the beauty of my magnificent four.

So in my life I have known four truly magnificent women. I fell in love with each one of them.

Did I take any of my beautiful four women to bed? No not all, actually just one of them, the most beautiful. The most beautiful of the four was the one that came to the art exhibition, the one who is in that painting you saw in the gallery.

Would you like to something to eat? You not hungry, well maybe we can order something later.

To be completely honest and extraordinarily humble, I was very mindful and actually very thankful that nature had been so exceedingly generous to me when it came to good looks, athletic prowess and natural charm. By chance I was tall and dark with broad shoulders and a strong athletic build. I had a natural grace. Yes, natural grace? You laugh. Yes I was indeed gifted with natural physical grace. I played a very good game of rugby, I also wrestled and I even boxed. I once belonged to both the Boksburg amateur wrestling club and to the Boksburg amateur boxing club. I have always being a very physical person, and coupled with my natural charm and good looks, this turned out to be potent combination. Women were drawn to me. I had this animal magnetism if you like. Women came on heat when they saw me. I was dark and dangerous, and women found me irresistible. I was truly blessed.

As a result of these gifts that nature had so generously bestowed upon me, I have always been confident with women and I could never resist taking advantage of them when the opportunity arose. I was always willing to oblige when it came to the job of satisfying their physical needs. I became a natural philanderer, it was my second nature, it was my supreme weakness, and it did not help that most women found it difficult to resist the combined effects of my charming confident manner and good looks. I enjoyed the chase and even more the conquest, with its rewards of sensual pleasure. I wore my heart on my sleeve and was constantly falling in and out of love. As in Plato’s Phaedo my soul was more than a prisoner of my body, if I had a soul, it was indeed in complete bondage to my body. I was certain that I could have my way with any female that showed the slightest hint of attraction towards me. Therefore any signal of attraction from a gorgeous woman never escaped my notice, and I could never resist an opportunity to seduce a woman whenever the occasion arose. I was gifted in discerning the mind and emotions of women. And if I noticed even the slightest indication of interest it was guaranteed that she would end up in my bed. I was the proverbial animal electric. You have never heard of the proverbial animal electric? Neither have I. I have just invented in now. I’m funny? No not really. Right now I happened to be in a very good mood.

What happened with the gorgeous blond? I see I have excited your curiosity. Yes I can assure you, this is no fishing story, or a school boy’s exaggerated fantasy of conquest.

Throughout the evening we kept on making eye contact and exchanging smiles. This was an opportunity I could not allow to slip away. We were openly flirting with each other. I sensed that we were mutually attracted to each other. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that she had taken an interest in two paintings that I had purposely juxtaposed, placing them close together, side by side. The two painting were a composite, they belonged together, even though together they looked incongruous, odd, incompatible. The one was of a Sakabula Bird in full flight and the other was a nude picture of Bathsheba preparing to take her bath.

She was obviously lingering with premeditated intent in front of these two paintings. I took this as a positive signal for action from my part and so I walked over to her and made my acquaintance. She introduced herself as Wanetta Samuelsson. She said that the two painting intrigued her. She wondered why they had been placed so closely next to each other; because she was unable perceive what mysterious link held them together. I was very impressed that she had noticed that I had purposely put them together in order to provoke the viewer’s curiosity. It was then that I realized that there something very special about her. They were also the only two paintings that had not been given names.

I asked her if she would like a glass of wine. She said that a glass of red wine would be nice. I fetched a glass of very good red wine for her from an excellent vintage, and we started talking about the two paintings. But before I could answer all her questions about the two paintings one of her came friends came over to tell her that they were going. I noticed that she was clearly disappointed that our conversation had been interrupted because her friends wanted to leave so soon.

Before leaving she said it was a pity that she had to leave, because she would have liked to hear what I had to say about the two paintings. She also said something along the lines that she was disappointed because she would have liked to have spent more time looking at the rest of my work. I could see that she was genuinely disappointed that she had missed this opportunity. For me this was a break not to be missed. I immediately extended an invitation for her to come again and suggested that she come on the final evening of the exhibition which was going to be on the next Saturday night. I promised to give her a personalized tour of the entire exhibition, and furthermore I would explain in full the hidden meaning of the two mysterious pictures to her.


I can see that you are also curious about the two paintings. You want to know more about why the painting of the Sakabula Bird should be so intriguing. Mon Cher compatriot, the Sakabula Bird also called the Long Tailed Widow Bird is indeed a most interesting bird. It is a pitch black bird with an extravagant and magnificent tail. The tail is so long that it often appears to hamper the bird’s flight. In fact in full fight the bird seems to be decidedly sluggish as it floats sort of suspended in mid air over its grassland habitat. As I have already said the Tale of the Sakabula Bird happened to be name of this painting.

You may wonder what survival edge or physical benefit or fitness value that such an incredibly long tail could have for the Sakabula Bird.

Such a long tail as we see in the Sakabula Bird does most certainly slow the bird down and restricts its mobility. The tail definitely does impose a physical handicap on the bird with respect to its mobility, especially when it has to escape the attentions of a predator or raptor. So why would the Sakabula possess such an obvious physical liability.

According to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection many of the most conspicuous and visually spectacular physical characteristics possessed by birds and animals have a sexual ornamentation function. In animals and birds sexual ornaments are prominently displayed during courtship in order to trigger sexual desire for copulation. Sexual ornaments represent all the secondary sexual characters that are not directly involved in the physical process of copulation. In contrast to the secondary sexual characters, the primary sexual characters are the actual sex organs which have a more direct physically involvement in the process of sexual reproduction. In other words the primary sexual characters consist of the organs or anatomical apparatus that are directly involved in the mechanical process of copulation. Secondary sexual characters such as the large fleshy wattles and combs, spurs, ornate tails, long colourful neck feathers of a rooster are not directly involved in the physical process of copulation. Also other examples of secondary sexual characters such the horns or antlers of herbivores are not directly involved in the physical process of copulation. Plumage colour in male birds is yet another example of secondary sexual attributes.

In many species of mammals and birds the males and females often look very different as consequence of possessing different secondary sexual characteristics. These differences in the appearances between males and females in animal or birds are called sexual dimorphisms. Dimorphism means that the male’s morphology differs very markedly from the female’s morphology. This is fairly obvious in adult humans. Women’s bodies differ markedly from the bodies of men in many respects including secondary sexual ornamentation.

Sexual dimorphism is also very obvious in many bird species such as cape sparrows, mask weavers, golden bishop, red bishop, long tailed widow bird or the Sakabula Bird. Darwin’s theory of sexual selection explained how and why this phenomenon of sexual dimorphism between the two sexes arose. It is the sexual dimorphism of the two sexes that makes them sexually interesting to each other.

According to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection many characters or attributes possessed by birds and animals function as sexual ornamentation or decorations in order to trigger the desire for copulation in their mating partners. Without the triggering of desire no copulation would take place. If no copulation occurs then there will be no procreation or reproduction. Without reproduction there would be no progeny. And if no progeny is produced the species will vanish.

Sex has become a paradox for man. Because of the unique biology and psychology of humans it possible for men and women to separate sexual activity from its primary function which is reproduction. Humans are among the few animals that frequently engage in sexual activity primarily for its own sake and only secondarily for the purpose of reproduction. But in monogamy sex is never really engaged in for its own sake. It always serves the function of keeping male and female long enough together so that female’s offspring can be successfully raised to adulthood. A lactating mother does not ovulate. So the man will continue to stick around for the sake of sex alone.

According to Darwin sexual selection has also shaped the human body, the human face and the human mind. Darwinian sexual selection exerted by male preference has shaped the breasts, waists, hips, buttocks, legs of female bodies. Darwinian sexual selection exerted by female preference has also shaped body size, beards, and the penises of male bodies. Sexual selection in humans has also influenced other secondary sexual characters such as hair colour, skin texture, skin colour, eyes colour, eye size and shape, lips, ears, nose size and shape, face shape, hand size and shape.

Believe it or not, women’s breasts are primarily sexual ornaments and their main function is to attract the interest of men. It is impossible for men not to be excited by the female breast. Every feature that makes a woman’s body attractive to men serves a sexual ornamental function. This is how women get our attention and keep us interested in them. The size and shape of a woman’s breasts serves primarily a sexual function. Supplying milk to an infant is only a secondary function of the female’s breast. Big shapely breasts don’t necessary produce more milk than smaller breasts. So the size and outward appearance of a breast does not always give a true indication of its milk supply capacity.

This may sound crazy! But it makes lot of sense. Have you ever wondered why men are so obsessed with tits? Women are walking sexual ornaments and that is the reason why we cannot resist looking at women, and that is why we get so much pleasure from looking at women. Yes I agree, we also want to touch women as well. Nothing is more wonderful than to touch a woman. What about looking at woman? Yes for sure, women want us to look at them. What is very interesting is that women do not only want men to look at them. Women are also competing between themselves for the attention of men. They want other women to look at them as well. They compete for the spot light of a man’s look. Women spend a heck of a lot of time doing their faces and choosing their clothes so that can look sexy. But I am sure that they want to look exceptionally beautiful and sexy to other women, so that these other women realize they cannot compete for the attention of the same guy, and they just sort of give up, concede defeat in the face of superior competition for the gaze of men and all of that.

Yes, I would say that humans are the most sexual of all the animals. Concealed ovulation and continuous sexual receptivity in women have evolved to keep men continually attentive with respect to supporting, provisioning, protecting women irrespective of whether or not they are ovulating. Females with narrow waists or a waist to hip ratio of 0.7 are preferred by men because it indicates non-pregnancy and sexual receptivity for fertilization.

I agree with you, sex is one of the greatest paradoxes in the Universe.

In all living creatures sex is the dance of life because its goal is always the fertilization of eggs. In humans sex has been transformed into an activity for its own sake rather than for the sake of reproduction. That’s the paradox I am thinking of.

In Greek mythology Pandora was the first woman and through her both sexuality and death had entered the world of men. She was both beautiful and evil. On the other hand in Plato’s Symposium there was Diotima the woman from Mantinea who taught Socrates all about Eros and the ladder of love. But then there was Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and the role of secondary sexual characters in his book The Descent of Man. He also called these secondary sexual characters ‘ornaments’ because their sole function was to trigger desire for the sake of copulation and procreation. Diotima spoke about a process whereby the personal experience of the physical erotic desire of the incarnated person for the beautiful bodies of other humans becomes transformed into the disembodied impersonal abstract spiritual love of the disincarnated soul for the eternal heavenly forms of beauty, the good and the true.

I could not comprehend Diotima’s theory of the art of love. Nor did I feel any compulsion to struggle intellectually with Plato’s Symposium. Rather give me Darwin; he made everything understandable to the plain man. How did sex become a moral problem with man if we evolved from primate ancestors? If our remote common ancestors that we share with apes did not have moral issues with regard to enjoying the physical pleasures of sex without any longtime commitment, then how did sex become such a complicated moral issue? Eros, desire and sex was a problem for Socrates and Plato even though they and all their friends were primary interested in only having sex with adolescent boys. Moral issues regarding sex with women did not feature in Plato’s Lysis, Symposium or Phaedrus.

You want to know more about the girl.

Let us first order another two drafts.

Nog twee asseblief

Baie dankie

Here we go. Cheers.

Let’s drink a toast to beautiful women.

To all the beautiful women that have crossed our paths.

To beauty, cheers.


Cher ami, for the whole week I could not stop thinking of her. I became the helpless victim of intrusive thoughts. I was so feverish with desire for her that I feared for my physical and mental health. It was not only the fever of lust for physical union with her that held me in its grip, I was also suffering from all kinds of foreign emotional disorders such as been overcome by an irresistible craving for emotional union with her. I feared that my judgment had become impaired. My neural circuitry was playing havoc with me. It was this craving for emotional attachment and bonding that frightened me. As men it is not unusual for us to experience very strong and powerful urges for sexual consummation with some highly desirable woman without feeling any strong need to establish an emotional attachment to that person, especially after having had sex with her.

Had I fallen in love with her? In the end I concluded that I had fallen hopelessly in love with her. Why else would I be suffering from exhilaration, euphoria, and increased energy, and sleeplessness, loss of appetite, trembling, a pounding heart, and spells of rapid breathing? I was even plagued by sudden attacks of anxiety. Was it possible that I could have caught the contagion of love at first sight? A contagion that was particularly virulent.

The next couple of days seemed to have taken an eternity to pass. When Saturday evening finally arrived I found myself waiting anxiously for her arrival. I kept on looking around for her; I kept on looking at my watch. I was completely distracted. My nerves were shot. Fortunately almost all of the painting had been sold and only a few viewers had pitched up. This is why I told her to come on Saturday night. I would be able to give her my full attention. By 8.30 the gallery was practically empty and she had not arrived. Just as I was beginning to experience that terrible sinking feeling of extreme and unbearable disappointment she arrived.

Mon Cher it was such relief to see her again and what a superb woman she was. I could hardly control the pounding of my heart. I felt as nervous as a teenage boy on his first date when I saw her walking through the door. This had never happened to me before.

She looked stunning in her outfit; she was wearing a black sleeveless and backless satin cocktail dress that clung to her body. At the back it was crossed strapped and the dress was held up with shoulder straps connected to the cross strap. She was braless. The slinky soft material of the dress run smoothly over every curve of her body, barely covering her thighs, but it fitted her shape perfectly. The dress’ exquisitely designed bodice with its V neckline and shining sequins accentuated the mounds of her firm and shapely breasts. She stood before me in her black high heels. The glittering sequins of her evening bag hanging by a thin strap from her shoulder matched the sequins on her dress. She looked so sophisticated for such a young woman, and so innocently seductive.

For a natural platinum blonde she had a very unusual and rare skin tone. Her skin was beautiful. You would expect a natural platinum blonde to have milky white skin. Her skin tone was a very light caramel colour which gave her skin a natural light tanned appearance, and that was not the result of exposure to the sun. It was completely natural. Her name was also unusual. It was the first time that I met someone called Wanetta. She said it was an old English name which meant pale-skinned and was possibly derived from the same root as the word wan. Her face and skin colour was hardly wan or pale. She joked about her name and thought it was actually related to the Spanish name Juanita which means a woman who is stunningly attractive, sexy and intelligent. I don’t know if this was true or if she was having me on. She said that her close friends called her Juanita. I realized she had a good sense of humour and could laugh at herself, but she also seemed to be a self-confident and serious person.

Shortly after Wanetta’s arrival Mrs Rebecca Goldman my agent marched into the gallery and announced that all the paintings had been sold and that I had become an overnight celebrity and I had made her a lot of money and also a lot of money for myself. When Rebecca saw Wanetta she raised her eyebrows and gave me a sceptical and disapproving look. She said, I see you have already received your prize. She had some business details to discuss with me before her dinner date.

It seemed that the gods could not have been kinder to me. I felt exuberant. I felt that I could conquer the world. It seemed I could not put a foot wrong. I would be receiving my prize as Mrs Goldman had so perceptively noticed. Wanetta took it as a joke, possibly even as a compliment. One prediction was certain; I would be receiving my prize in my bed, if not tonight then some other night. I felt super-confident about this.

After Ms Goldman had left Wanetta told that me she had waited the whole week in anticipation to hear what I had to say about the two paintings. I had fixed the labels with the names of the two painting back on the wall below the paintings. As I have already told you, the one with the Sakabula Bird was called The Tale of the Sakabula Bird and the other was Bathsheba. She raised her eyebrows when she read the names of the painting.

I told her that the Sakabula Bird’s tail was basically a display ornament very much like the peacock’s tail, but like the peacock’s tail there was an interesting twist to its function. I then told her that the Sakabula Bird’s tail functioned as kind of sexual decoration that was used in courtship and that the female Sakabula Bird only selects males with the longest tails as their preferred mating partner. Thus it was the sexual selection pressure exerted by the females that had caused the male Sakabula Bird’s tail to increase in length. Of course while I was telling her this she listened with an interested but amused expression on her face.

She wanted to know if it was possible that the tails would become longer and longer as a result of the combined pressures of female’s sexual preference for longer tails and competition between males for female mating partners. Well various kinds of mutations can lead to an increase in tail length. When they occur they will be passed onto the new generation of male offspring. With the occurrence of successive waves of spontaneous and random mutations for increasing tail length, each new generation of male offspring will have longer tails. Because the females prefer males with the longest tails only males with the longest tails will pass on genes for longer tails. Not many shorter tail genes will be passed on to each new generation of male offspring because males with shorter tail males will be less successful in finding mating partners.

She was quite perceptive. She wanted to know whether under the pressure of female sexual selection would not the tails end up becoming so long that it would become impossible for the male Sakabula Bird to fly. If they can’t fly because their tails have become too long then they will not be able to find mates. In the end competing for mates on the basis of tail length will become self-defeating.

A satisfied smile appeared on her face. Is it possible that the tails of the male Sakabula Birds will eventually get so long that they will end up not been able to fly anymore and when that happens the Sakabula Bird species will vanish. Can competition for sex eventually lead to a species’ extinction? That was an interesting question.

She also wanted to know if there was any evidence for this eventuality in nature. If animals stop having sex they will go extinct. If animals compete for sex then they will also go extinct. So maybe sex and death are somehow connected. You may say check mate! It can’t be. But it is an interesting point.

She then asked me why tail length should be so important to female Sakabula Birds. My answer was the standard text book answer. Tail length is positively correlated with superior genes. This means tail length is a positive indicator of genetic superiority.

Then she wanted to know that if the theory of sexual selection basically predicts the existence of a strong correlation between tail length and the relative superiority of the male bird’s genes, does the female Sakabula Bird actually know that this is the case? This was the missing piece in the puzzle of sex selection theory.

What do I think about the question she asked? Well as you can appreciate, Cher monsieur, having no formal training in Zoology I was only an educated layman when it came to the intricacies of Darwin’s Theory of Sexual Selection. I had my own copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Man which I had studied very carefully so naturally I felt confident enough to conclude that the female birds did indeed have the cognitive capacity to use tail length as an indicator for assessing male genetic quality before accepting them as sexual partners.

She burst out laughing at the serious way that I had answered her and possibly also because of the serious expression on my face.

Then I made the valid point that it was metabolically more expensive for a female to make an egg than for a male to make sperm. So if it costs the female a lot more to make eggs then she would not want to waste her expensive eggs by having them fertilized by inferior sperm.

Again she laughed, but she conceded the point that I had just made, because what rational female would want to waste her precious eggs on genetically useless sperm.

So we both agreed that the female bird must have somehow acquired the knowledge that males with longer tails have superior sperm and that birds with shorter tails have inferior sperm.

After we had exhausted our analysis of what the painting of the Sakabula Bird could embody for any viewer who wished to extract more than a mere aesthetic visual experience from the picture we turned our attention of the picture of Bathsheba that I had painted.

All animals including human beings who failed to attract mates will also in the end fail to reproduce. In order for any species or any individual for that matter to perpetuate itself it has to find not just any mate, but a suitable mate. And as we all know this can become a serious problem that may be impossible for a given individual to solve. All birds and animals, including humans had to solve in one way, or another, the problem of how to successfully attract suitable mates. In order for humans to find mates the problem of romantic attraction had to be first solved, possibly through a process of evolutionary natural selection. We now know that the most potent way that an individual can romantically attract a partner is by deploying romantic strategies and maneuvers that embody features and signals that will be sufficiently captivating or enthralling to excite the desires of the opposite sex, which is precisely what Bathsheba ended up doing which took her bath on the rooftop.

Did I tell her all of this? Of course not! How could I? It is very dangerous in a romantic setting to start having an intellectual discourse about what is going on between yourselves. You will end up giving the game away and kill the passion. I was aware of this danger and did not want to walk wide eyed into the trap of reducing everything to evolutionary strategies of sexual conquest for the purpose of insemination or keeping one’s eggs safe from contamination with inferior sperm. So I decided to take another approach with regard to talking about the painting of Bathsheba. But before I get to that I would like to dwell on a very significant possibility of what could have been going on in the Bathsheba story. Must I go on ahead with the story? Thank you. As I was saying humanity descended into either polygamy or polygyny as power and resources became more and more consolidated in the hands of the few. This means that women had to compete with each other to become wives of the small pool of men who possessed sufficient resources to look after one or more wives. Under these circumstance women would resort to premeditated mate poaching. They would intentionally employ mate poaching behaviours in order to lure and entice married men into affairs or short-term liaisons that could potentially develop into permanent or long-term alliances with the prospective male. This is only one possible interpretation of the story of Bathsheba. Of course there are alternative interpretations of the David-Bathsheba drama. For example, in the conventional interpretation Bathsheba is the innocent victim of the lust of David and not the scheming seductress.

Wasn’t David the real mate poacher? Yes in the traditional interpretation of the story he is cast in the role of the scheming mate poacher in a drama filled with irony and tragic comedy. When I painted my Bathsheba picture all these things were going through my mind, but in my romantic pursuit of Wanetta I wanted to seduce her with other intellectual charms that would impress her all the way into my bed. If I began to speak about mate poaching or the deployment of romantic strategies and maneuvers that embody features and signals that excite the desires of the opposite sex, that may put her off.

My cher ami I need to remind you that she was already displaying romantic strategies and maneuvers aimed at exciting the desires of the opposite sex, in this case me, by the premeditated action of dressing up in that gorgeous outfit that she was wearing. We were both complicit, we were both acting with ulterior motives, but the romantic game of seduction requires that while we are aware of this, we avoid talking about it, instead we become both readily complaint to each other’s manipulations while being innocent of our own hidden intentions and desires at the same time.

At the emotional level I was not willing to accept the biological reduction of romantic attraction and love to a simplistic outcome of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex had huge impact on nineteenth century thought. Next to Karl Marx’s Capital it was one of the most important books produced in the nineteenth century and we certainly have not heard the last of Darwin’s Descent of Man and his theory of sexual selection. What Marx had to say in Capital was true in a trivial sense as I have already said. He was not saying anything new, he was just repackage in a new way what had already become conventional wisdom by over stating and exaggeration out of all proportion what was indeed trivially true about the political economy of capitalism. In capitalistic mode of production capital naturally accumulates into fewer and fewer hands. In 2014 we know this to be true.

I got a bit side tracked there.

When I discussed my painting of Bathsheba with Wanetta it was my artistic intention to provoke critical thought about the applicability of Darwin’s theory of selection in the explanation of human romantic or seductive behaviour. I told her that Thomas Hardy had flirted with using ideas from Darwin’s Descent of Man in the development of evolutionary narratives of sex in his novels. This interested her greatly. It turned out that she had studied the novels of Thomas Hardy for her BA honours dissertation and explored Hardy’s attempts at a literary depiction of female desire in a Victorian rural setting, which had some resonance with the ideas communicated in my paintings of the Sakabula Bird and of Bathsheba.

I had to modify my impressions of Wanetta, not only did she have a perfect face and perfect body, but she also had beautiful mind. This made her even more erotic and desirable, but also made her enigmatic, or sort of mysterious, I don’t know if you can imagine what I mean. We don’t usually expect women to be enigmatic or mysterious or have beautiful souls. We know women are just as devious as we are. But it became clear to me that she while she was interested in me as a person she was not going to let me rush her into my bed, she was not going to be an easy pushover and let me have my way with her. She listened carefully with genuine interest to everything I had to say and I began to find this a bit unnerving.

By 9.30 pm everybody had left and we were alone. The cassette for the light classical music that had been playing came to an end. She began to look at the collection of music cassettes that I had stashed in the box. She picked up a cassette and said: ‘Oh my gosh I don’t believe it, Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, can I play it.’

You have never heard of the hit pop song Crimson and Clover?

With the opening beat of the music I asked if she would like to dance. From the look on her face the invitation took her by complete surprise, after hesitating for a second or two she said: ‘yes, why not.’ Crisscrossing my left hand fingers with her right hand fingers, placing my right hand on her left hip, and with her left hand placed lightly on my right shoulder, we tentatively moved into each other’s embrace, maintaining a gap between our bodies. Following a simple slow rhythmic step-touch –step dance routine we danced in a small circle. The gap separating our bodies soon narrowed and we found ourselves in a closed embrace dancing intimately cheek to cheek. I gently caressed her hip with my free hand, kissed her gently on the cheek; she moved her head so that I could kiss her on her lips. Disentangling our fingers, I placed both hands on her hips, and she responded by slipping her arms around my neck. I slipped my hands down interlocking my fingers across the small of her back, pressing her against me. That was the beginning of our incredible relationship. Our relationship turned out to be an unimaginable dream until it came to an untimely end.


You want to know how it ended. The night is still young. Like me you are not married and you don’t seem to be in great hurry to go anywhere soon. I am easy, I have no pressing commitments, we could talk until dawn, you could stay over and in the morning we can go East Gate for breakfast.

Well I am happy to on talking, if you are genuinely not getting tired of my ramblings? You are good listener, so why not, I am willing, so I will continue with story of the Tale of the Sakabula Bird. I may add that Wanetta should be the central protagonist of this story.

Good, I will tell you the story of Wanetta and the deep love we shared. Should we order another round of beers?

Yes I am serious, we can retire to my flat when the bar closes. In the morning we will go have breakfast, we will go in my Ferrari. No I am joking. I drive a Ferrari. All my life I have loved beautiful cars and beautiful women. But first let me first tell you the story of our love.

After I locked up the gallery and we retired upstairs to my apartment. We spoke through the night into the early hours of Sunday morning. She did not go to bed with me that night even though she spent the whole night with me before leaving at 5.00 am in the morning. I discovered that she was 21 years. She was completing her diploma in higher education. A teaching post had been offered to her at Brakpan High School which she had accepted. She was living in a commune in Bellevue with a whole lot of student activists, trade unionists and people working in legal aid and so. Anyway as soon as her final exams were over we made love for the first time after going out for about six weeks. It was the longest I have waited to sleep with someone. For six weeks I lived as a celibate. Afterwards she told me that she had heard about my reputation as a womanizer, an immoral philanderer, and had been warned by many not to become involved with me as she would only end up being hurt. So she had decided to make me wait for my reward to see if what was happening between us was really something genuine. But I knew from experience that this was only part of the game. She wanted to give herself to me, she was no different to Bathsheba, but she wanted make me wait, she wanted to see the Sakabula Bird in his full courtship display, she wanted to see the long shining scimitar of his magnificent black tail shimmer in the bright sunlight, only then would she give herself to him.

We became a couple and she moved in with me in January 1981. Like Charles Dickens once wrote it was the best of times and worst of times. But it was the start of the happiest time of our lives. After the turbulent 1970s South Africa was on the brink of decade-long catastrophic descend into a political quagmire that would end with the destruction of the Nationalist Part government and the complete ideological and political demolition of Apartheid.

Our love affair became intertwined with the liberation struggle against apartheid. She was a committed revolutionary and our bohemian life style suited her.

In August 1983 the mass action organization called the United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched at Mitchell’s Plain. More than 500 organizations became affiliated to the UDF. It was truly a popular mass movement that proved to be extremely effective in the successful mobilization on multiple fronts across the country of hundreds of rolling mass action protest campaigns. All kinds of protest campaigns were launched in every province, in every city, in every township. There were rent boycott campaigns, stay at home campaigns, school boycott campaigns, election boycott campaigns and mass funerals when activists were killed by the security forces. At any given time millions of UDF supporters were active throughout the country in some initiative to destabilize and make the apartheid state ungovernable.

From 1984 onwards the popular mass uprising against apartheid continued to gather momentum gradually weakening every pillar of white power. The ideology of apartheid was finally shattered. The belief that apartheid could guarantee the survival of white political power was shown to be an illusion. The apartheid state was becoming increasing desperate as it began to realize that it could not hold onto power indefinitely. It was becoming increasing evident that the complete collapse of apartheid was imminent. The Nationalist Party government under PW Botha started to the piece-meal dismantling of apartheid or at least they made an attempt to modernize apartheid by repealing a whole gambit of Apartheid legislation. They embarked on a programme of reform and repression, or authoritarian reform if you like. But it did not work, it was too little too late, so instead of stabilizing the political situation, the initiation of authoritarian reform under the control of the National Party government triggered a tidal wave of political unrest which could not be contained or pacified.

That is a good question. Did reason start to prevail over irrationality?

Was apartheid a completely irrational ideology right from its inception? You must remember apartheid was successfully used as a very popular ideology to mobilize the white masses from as early as the 1930s. Was the programme involving the authoritarian reform of Apartheid that was launched in the 1980s based on a sudden miraculous comprehension of the existence of a rational relation between reason and reality? I don’t really know, but I don’t think so. Apartheid as an ideology was always based on an irrational relationship between a collection of popularly held myths and reality. Apartheid as an ideology was invented not only to justify the continued perpetuation of the already existing system of separation and segregation that had taken root in South Africa since the 17th century. It was more ambitious than a purely secular condoning of what had become historically rooted separation and segregation of the races. The political and social objectives of apartheid ideology was to defend the further expansion, entrenchment and enforcement of an even more radical form of separation and segregation in order to secure the political power and dominance of whites.

After the 1930s the relationship between myth and reality was taken to be literal. It was amazing that apartheid mythology could co-exist with modernism in South Africa.

Well going back to the collapse of apartheid which was eventually brought about by the popular mass uprising during the 1980s. There are many ironies demonstrate just how irrational the apartheid state had become. For example, the apartheid state could never quite comprehend the nature of the war that it had triggered in the first place. While the apartheid political leaders spoke about a total onslaught they were unable to perceive that they themselves were the real instigators of the total onslaught. The real total onslaught against apartheid was the independent and autonomous internal eruption of the liberation struggle for freedom. It was initiated by the people of South Africa, and no one else. It was never an externally imposed threat initiated, controlled and master minded by the Russians.

So while the real front of the war against the apartheid state was been fought internally within the perimeters of the town and cities of South Africa, the Nationalist Party was through its military forces was fighting a semi-conventional war on an external front within the national boundaries of a foreign country in order to preserve white political power. They were fighting and winning battles in the wrong theatre of war. The theatre of the real war was in South Africa, it had been going since the whites first settled in the country, it had never ever ceased. The black townships had never stopped simmering and seething under the jack boot of separation and segregation. The black masses working in the white owned and white controlled economy were filled with hostility and discontent towards racial discrimination and racial exploitation. The anger, the discontent, the hostility, the opposition, the non-compliance, the resistance was always there, it was never going to go away. It could not be wished away. No amount of apartheid discrimination would make it go away.

So as you can now appreciate the irony, while the South African military forces were winning numerous military battles that were been bravely fought and won in Angola by out-fighting and out-manoeuvring an enemy that was locked into a rigid and inflexible doctrine of convention war, the real non-conventional war of national liberation by other means was being fought and waged very effectively within the internal frontiers on the battle fields in the streets, factories, town and cities within the borders of South Africa against the apartheid state.

In fact while the SADF was winning all of its battles through superior military skills and competence on the battle fields in Angola, the invisible but more real war that was been waged on the internal fronts of conflict within South Africa by the UDF were being lost by the apartheid state through its sheer political ineptitude, ideological blindness, tactical blunders and strategic failure at every level of the engagement within the internal theatre of war. So much for the government’s security campaign against the total onslaught.

While the SADF was taking towns, cities and bridges in Angola, at the same time, within South Africa, in the very heart of its streets, factories, towns and cities the Apartheid state was been outfought, outflanked, outmanoeuvred by a highly mobile streetwise UDF fighting bare handed against the massive state repressive apparatus, without guns, bombs, artillery, armoured vehicles, tanks and planes. While the SADF was making Angola ungovernable for MPLA, the UDF operating within South Africa was through brilliant tactical and resourceful strategic engagement making the South African state ungovernable. The apartheid state had completely underestimated its enemy the UDF who were the people of South Africa. It had underestimated UDF intelligence, courage, patience, steadfastness, determination, persistence, endurance, morale, flexibility and it failed to grasp the profoundly important fact that all enemies of the apartheid state held the moral higher ground, and had won the propaganda war. The people of South Africa fought the apartheid state with their hearts and minds, making then unbeatable, invincible, and undefeatable, the apartheid state was facing an opponent who refused to be vanquished. The only option the apartheid state had was genocide. It was an option they could no longer consider; it was too late for genocide. It was a war of good against evil, where the apartheid state had become the agent of evil.

There was no why that the apartheid state could shake off its mantle of evil. It had become evil, plain and simple.

In my own mind there where many factors and processes acting in concert that brought about the inevitable political collapse of the apartheid state. Also in my own mind the sustained low intensity bare handed war of attrition and resistance which erupted in the early 1980s and continued until the 1994 election was fought and won by the ordinary people of South Africa. What no one realized or could even grasp was the war of liberation been fought by the UDF through non-violent means against the apartheid state had the support of two very powerful allies, who had always been shadowing the progress of the peoples’ liberation struggles against racial domination from the darkest days of the 19th century until the gloom finally lifted at the close of the 20th century.

The unlikely alliance partner or ally of the people of South Africa was Reason and Science. It was Reason and Science that provided the evidence and compelling arguments that Apartheid was an irrationally ideology, that it was not grounded in reality nor was it grounded in justice, it was based on a grand mythology and the defenders of Apartheid were living in a land of fantasy.

There is lot of things about the apartheid which make it a fascinating phenomenon for sociological, psychological, economic, political and theological research. There can be no doubt that it was an inherently evil system. The ideology inspired the collective collusion of whites in the commission of evil against the majority of the population in South Africa. apartheid, like Nazism or Fascism, provides important subject material for the investigation of the how obsession with identity can be linked to collective evil, moral corrosion, racially based moral entitlement, racial segregation and the possibility of genocide.

There can be no doubt that an Afrikaans speaking intellectual elite played a central role in the political mobilization of a socially, politically and economically fragmented community of white Afrikaners who had been undergoing rapid proletarianization from the late 19th century until the end of the 1930s. Apartheid as an ideology and as a comprehensive system of segregation, separation and discrimination was used by a political elite as a cohesive force to create de novo this thing called the Afrikanerdom or the Volk. Before that event, Afrikanerdom and the Volk did not exist. It never existed until it came into full artificial fruition after 1948.

This is the great Afrikaner betrayal.


Between 1983 and 1986 we became part of a huge circle of friends that included academics, students, trade unionists, artists, musicians, actors, journalists, and lawyers who were all involved in one way or another with the UDF. They represented almost every possible shade of leftist persuasion that one could image. We attended study groups, discussion groups and there was even a regular seminar on Neo-Marxism that went for months on end. We were drawn into all kinds of political activism through volunteerism. In fact the UDF consisted of an army of volunteers. It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that the Apartheid state was brought down by the concerted actions of volunteers.

As an artist I became increasing involved in working for the UDF publicity campaign helping with the rapid production and distribution of posters, banners and T-shirts.

Many of our friends who were activists in UDF were also underground members of the ANC and the Communist Party. Wanetta and I were initially not members of the ANC or the Communist Party, but this did not stop us from participating actively in many of the UDF programmes. Because I was a very active participant in the Neo-Marxist Seminar our friends took it for granted that I was a Marxist. Wanetta and myself initially resisted the persistent attempts that were made to recruit us into the South African Communist Party .We were not interested in being involved in the underground side of the liberation struggle.

In this sense I was a true rebel. I treasured my intellection freedom and independence. I did not want to bow under the yoke of party discipline. Initially we chose to be friendly comrades.

In the end we felt morally compelled to become Communists so we joined the South African Communist Party. Of course everything was underground. I became the East Rand cell leader of the Communist Party. Our cell members lived in Wattville, Daveyton and Reiger Park.

In due course some of her trade union and legal aid friends who originally came from the same commune in Bellevue as Wanetta also became my tenants. Many of them were also members of the Communist Party. On the 20th of July 1985 the Apartheid government declared a state of emergency. Shortly after the declaration of the state of emergency more than 8000 activists were arrested. During the political upheaval that held South Africa in a vice grip the bonds of our relationship deepened and our love for each other remained passionate. In 1986, we had been together for 6 years and we decided to get married. A new national state of emergency was declared on the 12th of June 1986.

Before we could finalize the arrangements for our wedding the officers of the newly established state security police division for what was called the war against subversion aptly named the Bureau for Peace and Stability (BPS) arrived at our apartment at 2.00 am in the morning bashing loudly on the front door on the 15th of June 1986. We were told that we were being detained under the Internal Security Act, Act 72 of 1982.

They allowed us to get dressed and we sat in the lounge under the watchful eyes of two young BPS officers while the other five ransacked the flat, my studio and the gallery until 4.00 am. They carried away heaps of stuff, loading it all into the back of a police van .They took almost my entire library of books; they also took the typewriters and every scrap of paper they could find they stuffed into cardboard boxes. They searched every nook and cranny, lifting up carpets, pulling up the floor boards, climbing into the ceiling, tapping on the walls for hollow cavities, empting the contents of cupboards and drawers on the floor. They took all the posters and paintings that I exhibited in my recent The Aesthetics of Oppression art exhibition. Canvases were removed from their frames and rolled up. When it seemed like they were finished the person in charge asked if he could use my phone. I told him ‘to be my guest’. I didn’t know who he was phoning but it was definitely someone very high up, maybe it was the Minister of Police, I don’t know, but I distinctly heard him say they have now rounded up everybody.

Wanetta and I were escorted out of the flat down the stairs, through the arcade passed my Gallery into Leeupoort Street. The streets were deserted. It was still dark. I had my arm around Wanetta. We stood on the pavement while the security police milled around opening and closing car doors. There was a fleet of police cars parked outside. Two SAP squad cars had also arrived with their flashing blue lights. They were parked on the other side of the road, with their police radios crackling away. The uniform police were engaged in a discussion with the BPS officers. It seemed that one of my tenants had phoned the police suspecting that a break-in was in progress in the arcade.

We were roughly pulled apart and bundled into the back seats of separate cars. We were not given a chance to hug each other or say good bye. The car that she was in made a screeching U-turn and with spinning tires burning rubber on the tarmac it accelerated away. I caught a flashing glimpse of her raised hand, ashen face and wide eyes. As the car speed away I could see that she had turned in head trying to glance through the back window to see what was happening to me. She was taken to some unknown destination and I was driven to Vereeniging where I was held overnight in a cell at the police station.

The next morning I was transferred to a cell in the Vereeniging Prison. I was locked up in a small isolated prison cell. The cell had a toilet and a tiny basin. There was no bed or mattress, just a dirty pillow and a heap of stinking blankets lying in the corner. I was left there in solitary confinement for six weeks. Every third day I was marched off to the shower block where I had a cold shower and a shave. I was kept incommunicado and was completely in the dark with respect to what was happening in outside world. No visitors were allowed to see me. I also had no idea what was going on with my business, and this began to worry me a lot. Of course I was also extremely worried about Wanetta. She was constantly on my mind. I needed to get in touch with my lawyer. The only people that I saw were the prison wardens. They were the only link through which I could establish contact and communications with the outside world, so I began to use every opportunity to strike up some kind of repartee with them. Eventually through joking, light hearted banter and friendliness I managed establish a connection with one of the younger wardens. In the end I succeeded in persuading him to phone my lawyer. Of course I arranged for him to be paid a sum of money. I managed to organise that my lawyer had power of attorney over my business affairs. With the assistance of the young warden I managed get decent food, regular changes of clothing, a sketch pad and pencils, pens and note pad, and books.

After six weeks of detention I was finally fetched from my cell, loaded into the back of a police van and driven every day for the next two weeks to the Vereeniging Police Station. Two uniform policemen marched me off to a large office containing several tables and chairs. In the office I recognized two members of the security police. One was a major. He was the present at the raid made on my flat. The other was a captain. Also present were two plain clothes policemen who belonged to the commercial crime unit.

Stacked on the tables inside the office at the police station were piles and piles of files filled with the documents, accounts, bank statements, income statements all of which belonged to Lake Avenue Investments Pty Ltd which was the company that I owned. All the income that I earned from the sale of my art was invested through this company. The main investments involved the purchase of rental property in the form of houses, office buildings and flats. I was making a lot of money. I had a huge property portfolio. On paper my collection of assets and the income I earned from them made me a millionaire.

For the next 10 days I entered into the moral underworld of the BPS as a bystander and guiding observer, if there can be such thing. Even though everything in the office was about me, I was nevertheless still a kind of bystander that was obliged by the circumstances to assist them in their investigation into the finances of my business. The two policemen from commercial crime branch who had been seconded to assist the BPS in the analysis of every single business transaction that Lake Avenue Investments had made over the past 8 years of its existence as a business. They pored over documents and accounts, scrutinizing everything, leaving no stone unturned. It was a tedious and time consuming exercise. It turned out to be an exhausting and fruitless exercise for the police. They asked question after question on the why, what, how and wherefore of any transaction or letter or communication that could be remotely linked any kind of subversive activity. They had lists and lists of tenants that had rented office space, flats and houses which were owned by Lake Avenue Investments.

By the early 1980s the Group Areas Act and other apartheid legislation was being openly contravened without the risk of prosecution. When they discovered that some of the tenants were UDF activists who were black, Indian and Coloured they thought they were onto something. But in reality they were rent paying tenants. There was no concrete evidence that any of my flats or houses were being used as safe houses or for storing arms caches. There was no evidence that money was been laundered through my business or banks accounts to support any subversive underground liberation campaign.

In the end they could find nothing that was dodgy. Every single item, every single transaction was legitimate and above board. To their chagrin which they could not hide, nothing illegal or subversive could be found. Also to their great vexation and envy they discovered that I was actually a very wealthy and successful businessman. They could not understand why I was involved in the UDF. They suspected that I was a member of the Communist Party but they had not confronted me yet with any evidence supporting the suspicions.

They could not understand why I had chosen to live in such a modest flat in Cinderella’s Arcade. The fact that I was not living a lavish life style even though I was literally rolling in money puzzled them immensely. This frugality with regard to my lifestyle convinced them that I was a communist. Well I tried to convince them as best as I could that strictly speaking it was not true that I was absolutely frugal in my all ways. There were limits to my austerity. I took great care with regard to personal grooming and the way I dressed. I was very conscious of style and quality with regard to the clothes and shoes that I wore. I was concerned about the impression I made on women. I had a good instinct on what women liked with regard to how a man should dress. I knew what turned them on. I also knew that wealth or money in plentiful supply was one of the most potent aphrodisiacs when it came to women. In fact it was a supplementary secondary sexual characteristic that charmed and mesmerized women.

The two BPS men were well aware that money was the magical charm that drew women to a man. I sensed their envy towards me because they did not have access to the kind of financial resources that I took for granted. It made them feel inferior. I could sense that they were envious of me and that I made then feel inferior.

I was amused that these two BPS men who, wearing conspicuous golden marriage bands that shone brightly on the ring fingers of their left hands, were blatant in their obsessive preoccupation like two school boys with the fantasy of having sex with a very attractive nineteen year old young woman who was working in an administrative capacity at the police station. That was all they spoke about. They were most probably ouderlings in their church. She could not have been older than nineteen.

She was called in to make photocopies. She volunteered to bring us tea. She took an instant liking to me. The BPS men noticed that she was attracted to me and openly flirted with me. I could see that this vexed them. I drew a sketch of her which depicted her in an exceptionally sexy and beautiful manner. I signed my name on the drawing and gave it to her. She was thrilled with the sketch.

When the investigation of my business affairs was completed I taken back to the small cell at the Vereeniging Prison and left there for three weeks. I was practically in solitary confinement. I was the only inmate a long corridor of cells. I was in the last cell at the end of the corridor. For 24 hours a day it was deathly quiet. The silence and absence of all distraction made my mind wonder. I began to think about my life, trying to make sense of it, putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I got to be who and what I had become.


It was at Wits that I discovered Marxism. As a student I became a Marxist. I took to Marxism like a duck to water. I am still a kind of Marxist. I have never really stopped being a Marxist of sorts. Marx’s Das Kapital was the key that unlocked the mysteries of the world. Later I discovered Charles Darwin and everything fell into place, Darwin explained everything about sex, what made women so attractive, so beautiful, and why women where so pleasurable to gaze upon. With Darwin, the desire that beauty provoked was morally unproblematic. With Darwin the reality of evil vanishes.

The world viewed through the lens or prism of Marx’s Capital turned out to be a horrible nightmare. While the orthodox economists conceptualized the capitalist system as conforming to a God ordained eternal and unchanging natural ordering of the economic relationship between men, Marx revealed that the capitalism was built on the unstable foundations of an irreconcilable of conflict interests between the owners of property who did not work and the proletariat who do all the work but who owned no property. With Marx the idea of evil is an empty paradox.

There was also a certain mystique attached to being a Marxist. There was also this glamorous notoriety to being a Marxist. It was sexy to a Marxist. It did not necessarily imply that you were a Communist. Some of my friends took great pride in calling themselves Communists or Marxist-Leninists or Trotskyites.

At Wits I met up again with Carol Rosenberg and Janet Mendelowitz. They were also doing Fine Arts. Between lectures I would generally find them huddled around a table with the all comrades. Always enveloped in a thick haze of cigarette smoke, they would be picking at plates of chips covered in tomato sauce and slugging back cups of strong coffee. They both had taken to up smoking. Carol was always wearing a Budenovka, a Russian red army cap with a beak and folded earflaps. It was decorated with a red star. I wondered where in hell she had obtained the cap. A smoking cigarette would invariably be hanging from the corner of her mouth as she stirred her coffee. They stayed in the Sunnyside girl’s residence on campus. They had become born again Marxists. They had also become atheists casting off the yoke of Judaism. I had unwittingly become a regular lunch time attendee of the invisible University of Revolution that assembled around the same table in the corner of the canteen on the ground floor of the Student Union building. From the elevated vantage point of our table in the canteen we had a panoramic view of leafy northern suburbs of the Johannesburg bourgeoisie.

All my friends belonged to this motley of canteen atheists and revolutionaries wearing an assortment of hats. Aaron Kaplan who had gone to a Yeshiva College in Yeoville was quite conspicuous wearing a kind of Bolshevik fur hat with ear flaps.

From the political discourses that took place round the canteen table I gradually learnt a new language, with its specialized semantics, logic and pragmatics. A language populated with words, concepts and phrases like bourgeoisie, proletariat, class consciousness, false consciousness, capitalists and capital, wage labour, revolutionary conscious, vanguard party, reification, the masses, the working class, exchange value, extraction of surplus value, class interests, liquidation of the bourgeoisie, means of production, commodity exchange, two stage theory of revolution, relations of production, means of exchange, forces of production, alienation, class conflict.

I also learnt about the ANC and SACP. Learnt about Mandela and Bram Fischer. Bram Fischer was my hero.

When I started my career as a professional artist I decided that I would make my living by painting the proletariat. I would try and paint the class struggle. For my project I began spend a lot of time at the Cinderella Mine Compound which was quite close to my studio. I spent months studying mine workers, making sketches of everything I saw. I studied closely and meticulously everything that was going on in the compound and in the lives of the proletariat. I was never sure what I was looking for or what I actually wanted to paint.

There was always something interesting going on at the mine compound. There was always something interesting to sketch. Business was always bustling at the Compound Trading Stores. A constant stream of proud owners of brand new bicycles decorated with mirrors, hooters, bells, red and silver reflectors, lamps, carrier baskets, and mud flaps peddled up and down the road. From an artistic perspective I marvelled at what they did to their bicycles. The handle bars and frames of the bicycles would be covered with the most amazing coloured wire and bead work. Each bicycle was a mobile work of art, a sculpture in motion. Mine workers returning from their shifts would inevitably have to dodge some random mine boy learning to ride a bicycle. Often there would be a friend jogging behind the bicycle, gripping the saddle from behind, supporting the wobbling moving bicycle so that it would not topple over. Sometimes the friend would run as fast as possible behind the bicycle pushing the bike forward until it had gain sufficient forward momentum. He would then release the learner bike rider after giving the bike one final powerful thrust. Usually the rider would immediately start to wobble and zig-zag madly trying to maintain his balance before crashing into a heap in the veld. Everyone would shake with laughter.

All kinds of dramatic scenes drew my attention, and I studied them carefully.

Always under a large ubiquitous oak tree often near to the compound dormitories there would be a crowd gathered round a game of dice. Also in the shade cast by the high hostel dormitory walls there was always a game of cards in progress.

I often noticed the same Compound Administration clerk wearing spectacles and dressed in a white shirt, khaki pants and shiny black shoes sitting on a bench under a large mulberry tree writing a letter for some mine boy. In a flowing stylish but legible cursive writing he drafted the letters with a fountain pen. The mine boy sitting next to him, would lean forward with elbows on knees, supporting his chin in cupped hands, and watch the page gradually fill up with neat long-hard writing. He would concentrate intensely as he formulated in his mind the messages that he wished to dictate to the letter writer.

The scenes of the letter writing intrigued me.

I had read an interesting article on ancient letter writing. It was about ancient documents including private letters that had been dug up. Many of the private letters had been perfectly preserved after being buried for more than 2000 years in the dry desert sands of Egypt. For more than 1,000 years the people living in some ancient town called Oxyrhynchus near the Nile River in Egypt dumped all domestic garbage into holes that had been dug in the dry desert sands some distance beyond the town limits. It was a kind on ancient municipal dump I suppose. I never thought that the people living in towns more than 2000s years ago could generate such huge quantities of trash. Egypt was conquered by the Greeks and then by the Romans. Oxyrhynchus also fell under their bureaucratic control and administration of these foreign conquerors so some of the letters were written in Greek and others were written in Latin on papyrus. One papyrus fragment recovered from an ancient trash dump was a private letter written in second century (200 AD). It had been written by a woman named Thaius to a relative or friend called Tigrius, who had instructed in letter to take care of some agricultural business for Thaius. The translation of the fragment reads as follows

“Thais to her own Tigrius, greeting.

I wrote to Apolinarius to come to Petne for the measuring. Apolinarius will tell you how the situation stands concerning the deposits and public dues. He will let you know the name of the person involved. If you come, take out six measures of vegetable seed and seal them in the sacks, so that they may be ready. And if you can, please go up and find out about the donkey. Sarapodora and Sabinus salute you. Do not sell the young pigs without consulting me. Good bye.”

Who was Thais? Who was Tigrius? The letter was composed about 1800 years ago possibly by her hand from thoughts that were once present in her brain. Her absence creates such an unfathomable void. The writing is filled with such a mundane every day details. The message appears so dislocated, with all the connections to her lived world severed from us forever. Can you imagine, tens of thousands of similar private messages were being written thousands of years ago? They give us a profound window into their private lives. Many of them containing details written by someone in their own personal and characteristic style of handwriting about the most banal affairs associated with their daily lives. Eventually they all ended up buried in the trash dumps under the desert sands. Most of these papyruses that had been buried in the ancient dumps were later dug up by the Arabs who gathered load after load of papyruses filled with writing to be burnt as fuel in fires. We will never know whether Tigrius answered the letter. I don’t think the Arabs that dug up the papyruses for burning gave the writing a second glance or thought.

It was possible that the mine boy I was observing with a green plastic band round his left wrist sitting next to the letter writer was also dictating a similar kind of message for his letter. Maybe he was dictating something along the lines: Use the money that I have sent back to buy another ox that can be used for ploughing. Or it could contain instructions to buy a sheep, or a goat or a cow.

It is interesting to note that while the mine workers were connected to the land they were in reality resisting proletarianization.

There were also the letter readers

Often I would observe sitting on the lawn nearby another clerk wearing a yellow plastic band round his right wrist. He would be reading a letter to another random mine boy also wearing a green plastic band round his right wrist. The mine boy listened intently as the letter was read out aloud. It sounded like it had been written in Portuguese. Every now and then he smiled, sometimes he chuckled, other times he face became serious, now and then he frowned. He asked the reader to read the letter again, and again. He then took the letter back from the letter reader and carefully folded the letter, placed it back into the envelope.

Mine boys on crutches and with limbs bound up in white bandages lounged on the veranda of the Compound clinic. On the front veranda by the Compound administration offices mine boys sat on benches around a table looking at a blackboard mounted on a large wooden easel. Another mine clerk was teaching then to read and write. He had written out the alphabet on the black board. They were practicing the writing of letters by writing each letter several times into their A5 Croxley exercise books.

Two mine boys played morabaraba on a board scratched onto a paving slab, using stones for cows, taking turns to move a cow to an empty adjacent intersection. Three men passing by stopped to watch the game. Two men left the store carrying a brand new brightly decorated trunk. Another left the store pushing a brand new bicycle. Yet another walked out of the store carrying a new piano accordion. Other mine boys pressing their noses against the display window of the Central Native Trading Store gazed at penny whistles, guitars, harmonicas, transistor radios, pocket knives, primes stoves, bicycles, blankets, shoes, belts, hats.

Two men holding hands walked to the football field. Soccer players on the field knocked a ball around. A bunch of white teenagers joined in the game with the mine boys. One white boy headed the ball into the goal.

I would watch the mine boys arriving back at the end of their underground shift congregated around a kiosk next to the entrance of the hostel, gulping down mugs of mageu to quench their thirst and eating chunks of coarse grain bread. Under a huge oak tree a mine boy stood playing a mouth harmonica. Another walking along Location road played a Jewish harp. Near the Compound perimeter a group mine boys stood in the veld in knee deep grass. They shouted words like Ngiyakuthanda and other sweet proposals to the women walking across veld on a winding sand foot path back to their homes in the Location, the women shouted back suku wena.

Often a mine boy would shout a passing the women. I am a strong and handsome bull, I wish to mount you. Mine Compound police men continually chased away women loitering among the blue gum at the perimeter of the compound. The Compound Manager complained that these women brought all kinds of bad diseases to the Compound, and they also robbed the mine boys of their hard earned wages.

The scene of activities in the Compound that were unfolding under my gaze reminded me of Breughel’s painting called Children’ Games. In Breughel’s painting all the children’s faces were similar. You could only tell them apart by their clothing which was slightly different. Like the children’s faces in Children’s Games to the untrained eye the faces of the mine boys were not easily distinguishable one from the next.

On the other side of the road I recognized the mine boy sitting on his haunches in the shade of a blue gum tree near compound amphitheatre. I recognized his two touts as well. One was standing on the veranda of the Trading Store and the other one was talking to a group of mine boys across road in front of the main entrance of the dormitory.

On a swept patch of ground in front of the mine boy sitting on his haunches laid a flat smooth rectangular piece of cardboard. Three small plastic cups and little red ball were set up on the sheet cardboard. They were used in an ancient game which we called the three cups and a ball game or just cup and ball game. This game was performed by Egyptian conjurers more than 2500 years BC. It was also played by the ancient Greeks and then the Romans about 2000 years ago. In fact I laughed at one of the Latin translations that we had to do in an exam because it was actually about this ancient cup and ball game which had also been played on all the Mine Boy Compounds in South Africa since the 1880s or earlier.

The passage for the Latin translation was taken from Seneca’s 45th Epistle to Lucilius: “Sic ista sine noxa decipiunt quomodo praestigiatorum acetabula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia ipsa delectat. Effice ut quomodo fiat intellegam: perdidi lusum.”

Which when roughly translated into English reads: Such quibbles are just as harmlessly deceptive as the juggler’s cups and balls in which it is the very trickery that pleases me. But show me how the trick is done, and I have lost my interest therein. The Latin phrase acetabula et calculi means the cups and balls.

There is also a wonderful painting by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch called The Conjurer possibly painted between 1475 and 1480 which depicts this game being played.

I followed the tout and his entourage across the road to the cups and ball game. We all stood in a semi-circle around the board. They all spoke in Shangaan. The game started. The conjuror turned the cups upside down to show that they empty. He then set the 3 cups in a neat row with the little red ball in front of them. He took the middle cup and placed it over the small red ball. The cups were now arranged in a triangle, two empty cups marking the corners of the base of the triangle and the cup covering the ball forming the vertex of the triangle.

He began to slowly shuffle the cups. His hand moved slow enough so that you follow the cup that was covering the ball. He then arranged the cups in a row and called for bets on which cup was covering the ball. It was the middle cup. I think he was inviting bets by saying: Put down 10c and it you select the right cup I will give you 20c.

A mine boy threw 10c down and pointed to the middle cup. The conjuror without batting an eyelid gave him 20c. He started the game again, shuffling the cups a bit slightly faster this time round. He called for bets and another mine boy successfully selected the correct cup and he also got back his winnings of 20c.

I recognized that the first two mine boys who had placed bets were actually members of the conjurors gambling syndicate. The stage had now been set for more players to lay bets. Those two players will continue to bet money and lose bets. But that money belonged already the syndicate. It was working as bait money. More spectators and potential punters joined our circle.

The conjuror began to switch the ball by a very quick and smooth sleight of hand to another cup. If you bet on the cup that you have been following with your eyes while he shuffled the cups you would lose. I began to play now as well.

The best strategy to follow when playing this game was to follow with your eyes the cup that was used to cover the ball and then bet on one of the other two cups. This strategy would give you a 50% probability of being right.

Many of the mine boys gathered round the circle continued to bet on the cup that was initially used to cover the ball. They began to lose consistently on each round of betting. The more they lost the angrier they became. Many of the non-betting spectators found the game entertaining and bouts of loud laughter and mirth would break out at the end of each round of betting as the punters stared in disbelief when it was shown that the cup they thought covered the ball turned out to be empty when the conjuror lifted the cup.

The gambling continued into the late afternoon. The shadows of the blue gum trees stretched across compound ground.

I often thought about the antiquity of game. It reminded me of the myth about writing in Plato’s Phaedrus. In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates tells Phaedrus a story about a god called Theuth. The Ibis was the sacred bird of Theuth. Theuth was a great inventor. He discovered numbers, calculations, geometry, and astronomy. He also invented games like checkers or drafts. He also invented the dice or die. So then in the myth he may also have invented the cup and ball game. But most importantly he invented writing. Theuth went and showed all his discoveries and inventions to a great god called Thamus who happened to be the king of Egypt. Thamus was very impressed with all of Theuth’s discoveries and inventions except for writing.

For Theuth writing was equivalent to a pharmakon. Remember I spoke about Plato’s pharmakon with respect of the dompass. In Greek the word pharmakon stood for a potion or remedy or recipe that could be used in a fashion analogous to medicine for the treatment of some ailment. He viewed writing as a kind of medicinal potion, which could cure an ailment such as a bad memory and thus prevent forgetfulness. Theuth tried to explain to Thamus all the benefits that writing would make possible to mankind. But Thamus was aware that the word pharmakon had ambiguous meanings. It fact it had multiple meanings each corresponding to different applications. Usually the word pharmakon stands for a medicinal drug or a remedy for curing an ailment. In certain contexts it can also stand for poison and in other situations it could be used as a magical potion like muti. Theuth proposed that writing as a medicinal remedy will help to increase memory. As a remedy it could be used to overcome forgetfulness by restoring memory. Writing may even be used as an extremely powerful magical potion for increasing knowledge and wisdom.

But Thamus remained unconvinced about the positive power of Theuth’s new potion. Strange as it may be for us today, Thamus could not overcome his doubts about the value of writing. In contrast to Theuth, Thamus in fact felt the exact opposite about writing. For him writing as potion was not at all a remedy for learning and remembering, it was actually a potent poison for memory, which would prevent learning and block the achievement true knowledge.

I think Socrates’s use of this myth to criticize writing in favour of speech was not very compelling. The ambiguity of the meaning of the word pharmakon was contrived. The either/or of ambiguity was imposed. In homeopathy a poison in low doses is used to cure an ailment. But there is nothing ambiguous about this. At high doses a pharmakon becomes a poison and at low doses it becomes a remedy. What so ambiguous about this? The word pharmakon does not embody relativity or alternatively contradictory differences in meaning, but a rather rational continuity of meanings all of which are dependent on a single variable such dosage concentration in this instance. Ambiguity can be cured with supplementary information.

In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates proposes to Phaedrus that writing involves a similar disadvantage to painting. Socrates argues that the productions of painting look like living beings, but if you ask them a question they maintain a solemn silence. To this Socrates adds that the same holds true for written words. He argues that written words do not understand what they say. If you ask the written word of writing what they mean by anything they will simply return the same answer over and over again. Written words can answer or defend themselves. For Socrates spoken speech has priority of writing.

Did Socrates believe in these myths literal from a literal point of view? No obviously not. He believed they were myths. Theuth and Thamus did not literally exist. But Socrates did take seriously the propositional claims of the myths.


Apart from my student days at Wits I began remember all kinds of other incidents that had occurred in my life. Sometimes I was not even sure whether I was remembering something that had actually occurred in my past or whether I had dreamt it.

The police station in Vereeniging reminded of my old primary school in Boksburg North. It had the same atmosphere of grimness and gloom as the corridors and offices of the police station. It reminded me of first serious clash with authority when I was in standard five. I had sort of become completely delinquent with my schoolwork. Too many afternoons were spent playing rugby, doing wrestling and hanging out at the amateur boxing club. All my good intentions to turn over a new leaf came to nothing. Things went from bad to worse. Eventually everything finally came to head when I repeatedly failed to my homework. It was a freezing cold June winter morning when four of us were marched off to the Principal’s office for not doing our homework. After all these years I can still remember their names. It was Daleen Viljoen, Christo van Buuren, Willie Wessels and I. Daleen was as thin and frail as a waif. She had dull sad pale blue eyes through which she stared listlessly at the world. Her blond hair was straggly and lustreless. She always spoke in whisper and you had to really strain yours ears to hear what she was saying. During breaks she stood alone in some corner. She lived with her sister and three brothers in Boksburg North a few blocks away from the school. The Viljoens lived in a run-down dilapidated semi-detached house under conditions of appalling poverty.

There were many poor Afrikaans families in Boksburg North. It was a rough neighbourhood. But there were exceptions. I came from an upper middle class family and so did Christo. Every day Christo’s mom drove him to school. She would get out of the car and stand with him at the school gate until the bell rang. At the end of the school day when the final bell rang, she would be standing at the school gate waiting for him. Christo was quite a frail boy who did not participate in playing rugby before school and during school breaks. He stood on side watching us play while eating his lunch.

Willie Wessels was your typical poor Afrikaans boy from a working class family of blue collar artisans who spent their weekly pay at the Boksburg North Hotel on Friday and Saturday nights. He was one of my boxing and wrestling companions.

The principal’s office was small, cramped and dim. Most of the office space was taken up a large rectangular desk. On the desk was a large ink blotting pad, a pile of white papers, some brown files, a bottle of ink, a fountain pen, a pencil, a rubber band, a box filled with paper clips, a stapler, a pair of spectacles, an ash tray, a pipe, a telephone. Single naked 60 watt light bulb hung from the ceiling. The weak winter sunlight streaming through the small round east facing window did little to brighten up the room. An atmosphere of bleakness, mingled with a mood of tension and menace pervaded the office. That morning Mr Gouws had probably forgotten to switch on the light in his office. The thought crossed my mind that he was probably trying to save electricity. Anyway, the teacher explained that we had not done our homework and that had given up on us. She also added that the four of us hardly ever did our homework.

She then left us in the office with Mr Gouws. Mr Gouws was actually a retired school principal on pensioner. He was the acting principal filling in until Mr Myburgh the current school principal had recovered from his illness. Mr Gouws pushed back his chair, got up from behind his desk, and standing to his full height, he stood there for a while, towering over us. He glared at us over his glasses. He was a tall grey thin old man with a bird-like face that had a remarkable resemblance to the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Looking exceedingly stern and grave he asked each of us in turn why we had not done our homework. Daleen, Christo and Willie all gave the same answer. They all said that they did not know why they had not done their homework. I was the last one to be asked. I don’t what came over me or what prompted me. When my turn came I found myself telling him that I decided not do my homework because it seemed to be such a pointless task. I could see that he was completely taken aback by my reply. He began to shake with anger and started to yell at me for being typical insolent rubbish that would not amount to everything in life.

After he had calmed down he asked Daleen to put out her right hand. He lifted the cane and then swished it down towards her hand. Daleen’s reflexes were incredibly fast. She jerked her hand away and the cane swished through empty air. She pulled her hand away a second time, the swishing cane missed again. On third stroke the cane struck her open palm and fingers of her hand with a loud stinging clap. She winced in pain. Her emaciated body trembled and shuddered with shock. Tears welled up in her eyes. Out of a total of 11 strokes the cane was only faster than her retracting hand for five of the strikes. She should have only received 4 strokes, two on the right and two on the left, but ended up getting 6 strokes.

Willie was the first to bend down. He was hit so hard that the cane shattered into a thousand splinters and Mr Gouws had to search everywhere for a new cane. A few minutes later he returned with a new cane. Willie, Christo and I each received four cuts on our backsides. The bell rang for first break. We were dismissed from the office and we went back to the class room to fetch our lunches. A strange thing then happened. After collecting our lunches the four of us stuck together. We walked to the bicycle shed behind the corrugated iron school hall and stood there. It was bitterly cold and the air was frosty. Daleen was shivering uncontrollably. Her whole body shook. Her teeth were chattering, her nose was red, her lips and fingers were blue. She bowed her head and began to sob uncontrollably. Willie tried to comfort her. She was ice cold. He put an arm around her shoulder and held her close. I looked at Daleen. She actually had quite pretty features. She was not an unattractive girl. I think all three of us felt deeply sorry for her. It was really a wretched situation that we found ourselves in. We all gave Daleen a share of our `sandwiches. We stood there silently, eating our sandwiches. Between sobs Daleen munched away at the sandwiches that we had given her. She did not say word. She just stood there with us, staring at the ground. Christo had been fighting back the tears. His eyes were red and puffy. He kept on pushing back his spectacles as they slipped down his nose. This was the first time in my life that I felt a deep sense of solidarity. I also put my arm around Daleen’s shoulders.

It was ironical at the height of apartheid there were poor whites. There were vulnerable and powerless young people like Daleen the little white girl who was trapped in incredible poverty and as a consequence had to endure all kinds of cruelty and abuse.

It was the first time in my life that I tested the limits of going against authority. It was a pattern that I would repeat but more subtly in high school and in the army. I don’t think I lost this rebellious streak in my character. I suppose later in life I may have subconsciously controlled it by channelling it into my art.


The young warden warned me of my imminent transfer to John Vorster Square. He must have heard about it somehow. So I was mentally prepared and my morale high, I was ready for my transfer. I felt that I had won the psychological battle of the first round. They also sensed that I was not intimidated by them.

After my transfer to John Vorster Square, nothing happened for the first 2 days. My cell was opposite the cell of Kevin Stopforth who was a trade unionist. We could communicate at night across the passage. We soon established that he had also been detained in the same security police swoop. His interrogation was over and he had also been tortured. He had no news regarding Wanetta or any of the others. He signalled that they broke him and that he confessed everything, but he had refused to turn state witness and he was now waiting for his trial date. There was no knowledge about what had happened to Wanetta. I knew from communications with my lawyer that Wanetta and some of others had vanished. No one knew where they were being detained.

On the third day I was taken to an office on the 10th floor where I was re-united with the major and the captain, and a new face, a very ordinary looking colonel in his early fifties. When he saw me his very ordinary looking face became transformed into disparaging smirk.

“Jy dink jy is ‘n groot meneer maar jy beteken vokal ,” he said

Again as was the case in Vereeniging the tables in the office were covered with piles of files. The files were full of photographs. They had photographs of practically everything to which I was connected to. They began to open files in a set order and arranged the photographs on top of the desk in some kind of exhibition. There were photographs of the piles of copies of the Workers Vanguard published by the Spartacist League of the US that they had found in my studio. There were also photographs of all the books taken from my library. The photographs included pictures of the full set of the works of Lenin. Ironically they had also taken photographs of Leszek Kolakowski’s three volumes with the title: Main Currents of Marxism. And then there were photographs of my paintings and posters from the exhibition of The Aesthetics of Oppression.

They had photographs of me and Wanetta socializing with various UDF activists, trade unionists, lawyers, artists, journalists and writers. The photographs were of us at various meeting, marches and parties.

I spent the next couple of days staring at photograph after photograph, trying to answer question after question concerning the contents of each photo. I had to write a statement for each of the photographs that had been handed to me to examine. I could not figure out the game that they were playing with me. A paper clip was used to attach the statement to the back of the photograph and then it was filed as evidence into a brown folder. The brown folders of evidence grew into a large pile on one side of the desk.

Finally the colonel’s very ordinary face with its everyday mundane demeanour broke into an ugly smirk. He told me that Wanetta and all of our friends who had been arrested had all eventually confessed to being Marxist-Leninists, in addition they had confessed to being committed communists, furthermore they all supported the revolutionary aims and agenda of the Communist Party and the ANC, and lastly they were engaged in activities that promoted and furthered the aims and objectives of the two organizations.

According to him they also confessed that they had knowingly and intentionally participated in joint actions of conspiracy and subversion to destabilize the country and create chaos that would eventually lead to the violent over throw of the government. He reiterated that they had all signed written confessions to this effect. He wanted to hear from me whether I in all honesty did not know anything about the communist conspiracy to bring about the revolutionary over throw of the government.

He wanted to know what my role was. He said I was in very serious trouble and I would be setting for a fifteen or more years in jail. But I could make all this go away if I turned state witness.

I could see that the great pile of evidence in the brown folders arranged on the table was going to be used as some of theatrical prop to impress upon me the gravity of my situation. They were supposed to prove that I was a communist, that I had worked to overthrow the government by revolutionary means and that I had to be member of the ANC and the Communist Party.

They tried to convince me that the evidence in the towering heaps of brown folders on the table was compelling, unshakable and it pointed clearly to my involvement in a communist inspired conspiracy to ignite a people’s war that will result in the revolutionary overthrow of the government. The evidence proved that I was communist terrorist.

I could see what was going on in their minds. Why would I be reading the works of Marx and Lenin if I was not a Marxist-Leninist or a communist? Why would I create works for an art exhibition called The Aesthetics of Oppression, if I did not want to incite the revolt of the masses against the state? Why would design and produce T-Shirt, posters and campaign banners with revolutionary slogans if I did not intend to ignite a people’s war. Why would I have so many activist tenants if I was not providing safe houses for underground liberation fighters and for arm caches? Why would I participate in the Neo-Marxist Seminars if I was not propagating Communism?

Was I only inadvertently furthering the aims and objectives of the revolutionary forces as some kind of useful idiot? Ignorance of the law does rule out one’s culpability. I guessed they would also be happy with such an admission because it would give them something to build a case on. I sensed that what they wanted from me was an admission of culpability.

Then I guessed that they would they try to intimidate me with the severity of changes that were being brought against me and consequences that would follow if I were found guilty.

Everything boiled down to one thing. They wanted I me to give some kind of positive indication or admission that what I was doing could have incited a people’s war. The fact that these kinds of activities were being carried out by me under the auspices of the UDF meant that I was acting in common purpose with others who had already confessed that they trying to provoke the ignition of a people’s liberation war.

They kept on reminding me that I was in very deep and serious trouble, but I could make this all go away and resume my life as an artist.

I also knew that if I made the slightest admission that I had knowingly done something that could have incited a people’s war then they would turn this into the thin edge of the wedge and trap me into admitting further admissions of subversive activities.

There approach was a stick and carrot approach. They played good cop and bad cop. There was the understanding empathetic BPS guy and then there was the threatening BPS guy, who said there were sufficient grounds for sending me to the gallows.

The next step would be to show that my actions were premeditated because they were carried out while I was fully aware that I could be found guilty of inadvertently furthering the aims and objectives of a banned organization. If I knew beforehand that any action which I planned to commit could be construed as inadvertently furthering the aims of a banned organization then I should have refrained from carrying out such an action.

I guessed that this was game that was being played.

I decided to hedge my bets that this was the game that they were going to play. So I stuck to the argument that all I was interested was only in exploring how the aesthetics of oppression could be expressed and appreciated. I stressed that I was only interest in art for art’s sake. I tried to explain that possession of Marxist literature does not make one a Marxist. I tried to explain that participation in a Neo-Marxist Seminar does not mean that I was guilty of propagating Communism.

I was given a pen and paper and told to draft a statement explaining my involvement in the UDF over the past three years. Instead of composing a confession or a statement I ended up writing a complicated thesis on the aesthetics of oppression with a proof that it was a legitimate and lawful exercise in sculpture, drawing and painting.

The colonel rejected my statement, and I refused to change my statement. The colonel tried to strike me; I dodged and grabbed his wrist in an iron grip. I don’t know what came over me but I started to shout a lot of stuff in Afrikaans. I shouted that I was still Boer and being a Boer does not mean that I have conform to the Nationalist Party or the Broeder Bonds graven image of what a Boer should be. I told them that I did not fear physical violence and that I had means and resources to have him taken out. To this day I don’t know why I said that.

I don’t what possessed me to say that I could organize a contract and take him out. He turned livid when I threatened to have him murdered.

I began shout:

Fok julle, fok julle…

Everyone in the office tackled me. I landed a number of blows, chaos and bedlam broke out in the office, a chair was broken and piles of files went flying. The colonel had a bloody nose and looked badly shaken.

Anyway when the shouting and commotion had ended I was taken back to my cell. Nothing happened after that incident. I got a whiff that something was up. It turned out that the BPS was under pressure from the Minister of Police to wrap up the case and bring it to trial. A trial date was set for March 1987. We were denied bail and were kept in custody until the trial and during the trial.

After being detained for 211 days we were eventually charged under the Terrorism Act and brought to trial. When we arrived at the court and took our seats on the dock I was shocked to see to how Wanetta’s health had deteriorated. She had lost a lot weight and looked very frail. Her face was drawn. There were dark rings below her eyes. She sat down on the bench beside me. We hugged and kissed. She was very tearful but happy to see me. When I asked her if she was going to be OK, she smiled and said she was going to be OK because she had discovered God.

She must have seen the worried look on face after she had said that she had discovered God. She wanted to reassure me that she was had not become mentally ill. She keep on whispering to me, I am OK, I am OK, there is nothing wrong with my mind, I have not gone mad, I am perfectly rational.

She explained to me that she had discovered God in the ordeal of torture, in the ordeal of solitary confinement. She said that it was her belief and trust in God’s goodness that had saved her. She then whispered that we would all be acquitted. I asked how she could be certain of this and she said, just wait and see.

I was confused and perplexed. How was it possible that Wanetta had become religious? Her personality had not really changed, she was still the same sincere and sensitive person, only more sincere and sensitive.

I found it disturbing that Wanetta had become religious. I found it disturbing that she was talking about God, especially after what we had been through in the hands of God believers.

We were all briefed by our legal counsel that the evidence of Wanetta’s testimony was going to win us the case because her testimony would show that all evidence against was inadmissible. I was the only one who may go to jail. All the others who had been tortured would walk.


The prosecution’s case against us was that we had conspired together in the planning and the initiation of all kinds of activities that shared one common objective and that was to provoke and escalate the development of a Vietnam style people’s war. It was clear that they could not pin anything more specific on any of us, except for me. So for days on end we had to listen to the opinion of expert witnesses on the theory and practice of the people’s war. We had to listen to academics and professors giving testimony on the principles of Marxist-Leninism and how we could have been applying these principles in the facilitation and promotion of a people’s war in South Africa. We heard that the revolutionary war conducted by the people against the state does not depend for its success on an armed struggle as was the case in Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Angola. It does not depend on the clash of well-armed insurrectionists or terrorists against a conventional national army. We had been conducting war against the people of South Africa by other means.

My cher ami how could we be conducting a peoples war against the people of South Africa? It was absurd. Who were the people of South Africa? All the people of South Africa were at war against the National Party government. All the people of South Africa were at war against apartheid.

After hearing the evidence of the State’s expert witnesses that all our activities were consistent with us being dangerous Leninist Bolsheviks. Our defence team led by a prominent advocate set out to debunk the claims of the State. He made it clear in his arguments that the state had no compelling evidence other than the testimony of an informer and the confessions of Wanetta and our other friends.

We had guessed who the informer was. He was one of those dagga-smoking hanger-on or Leftist groupies who was a frequent presence at our parties. He was an agent provocateur who always came up outrageous plans to stir conflict.

The defence set out to prove that the confessions that the state was using as evidence in the trial were inadmissible and fraudulent, because the accused had been forced under the pain and suffering of torture to write self-incriminating statements. The confessions were full of the most contradictory and nonsensical claims and admissions. Wanetta was put on the stand as the first witness for the defence.

After she had entered the witness box our advocate asked her what she was holding in her hand. She replied that it was a Bible. He then asked her whether she believed that the Bible that she held in her had was the inspired, authoritative, inerrant and infallible Word of God. Her answer was yes. He then asked whether she believed in God and the Bible before her arrest. She confirmed that she did not because she was an atheist before her arrest. He then asked how she came to believe in God and the Bible. Her reply created a stir in the court. She said that she discovered God at Golgotha, and as a consequence of this discovery she had been able to endure and survive the most extreme torture. Under conditions of incredible fear, extreme anxiety, overwhelming stress, excruciating pain and prolonged suffering she underwent a most dramatic and profound conversion to Christianity.

The judge coughed, the prosecutor loudly cleared his throat, and our Advocate quickly informed the judge that it was necessary for the court to hear her testimony as it had a direct bearing on establishing her credibility as a witness with respect to her claim that the confessions were made under duress in response to life-threating torture, and was therefore inadmissible and false. He also had a file of medical reports that showed that all of the accused, except for me, had sustained injuries which were consistent with exposure to the kinds of torture that they had suffered as stated under oath in their affidavits.

The judge allowed our advocate to pursue his line of leading evidence.

He asked her to describe to the court how the Bible came into her possession. It was small pocket black leather bound NIV Bible with old and new testaments, and the name of the previous owner was Bongani Twala was inscribed on the inner cover of the Bible in his own writing in black ball point ink. A handwriting expert confirmed that it was his handwriting. He had been a Pentecostal lay minister and a UDF activist before he had disappeared after he had been detained by the BPS.

Our defence advocate presented evidence that no record had been kept on where Wanetta had been held in detention. It was established by private detectives hired by the defence team that she had been detained at some secret detention centre in a remote and inaccessible location deep in the Northern Transvaal bushveld close to the Limpopo River and the border of the Kruger National Park. When she was arrested she had only the clothes on her back and nothing else in her possession, and definitively no Bible. When she arrived at John Vorster Square after being detained at the secret detention centre she was still wearing the same track suit and T-shit that she had on when she was first detained. However, when she was searched before was locked in her cell at John Vorster Square they discovered that she had a Bible in her possession which the police warden allowed her to keep after she pleaded with the warden. The advocated then asked Wanetta how the Bible came into her possession.

He told her to describe to the court all the events that had occurred before the Bible came into her possession.

Over the next two days in court the chilling story about how the Bible eventually came into her possession unfolded. She told the court her story from the beginning. After been driven away on the morning of our arrest her hands were handcuffed behind her back and her head was covered with a hood. She was made to lie down on the back seat. The hood that was pulled over her head was the same kind of hood that was pulled over the heads of the condemned after had they stepped onto the gallows to be hung at Pretoria Central Prison. She was told the hood which had been pulled over her head and been also worn by several condemned prisoners that had been hung. They drove in silence on a tar road for most of the journey. Then they travelled for some time on a gravel road before the car stopped. She was dragged out of the car with hood still covering her head and was transferred into twin cab 4×4 bakkie. The last leg of the journey was travelled on a very bumpy sand road to a remote destination that smelt, sounded and felt like somewhere in the bushveld. She could hear branches scratching against the sides and roof of the bakkie, so she knew they were driving on a narrow track through very dense thorn bush. She had no idea where the BPS had taken her. Only once she had been locked in her prison cell was she allowed to take the hood off. In the cell there was no bed, no mattress, no pillow, no wash basin, no water tap, not toilet. The only items in the cell were a plastic bucket which was meant to serve as her toilet and two old ragged blankets. She had to sleep on the concrete floor. A 100 watt light bulb in the cell was never switched off. It was kept on 24 hours a day for the duration of her incarceration at the secret detention centre. In the back ground she could hear the continuous drone of a diesel generator.

In her cell there was a drawing that had been somehow deeply etched into the wall. It immediately caught her attention and she proceeded to examine it. It was a picture filled with stick-figure people. A crowd of stick-figures stood at the base of a smooth round hill. Three cross stuck out starkly on the summit of the hill. They dominated the picture. What drew the eye was the larger cross standing midway between the two smaller crosses, on the left and right hand sides. Three stick figures were being crucified on the crosses. The middle stick figure had a crown of thorns. The crowd of stick figures standing at the base of the hill consisted of women and soldiers. The words, this place is like Golgotha, the place of suffering, torture and death, had been neatly etched beneath the picture. Beneath the title of the etching was the name: Bongani Twala. He was apparently the artist who had created the etched picture on the cell wall.

She was left alone for the first three days in the cell. At six in the morning and four o clock in the afternoon the heavy steel door was noisily unbolted and through the open gap an enamel plate containing a lump of cold stywe pap covered with a bit of sugar and sitting in a thin pool of milk, plus a large enamel mug of sweet lukewarm black coffee, were placed on the concrete cell floor. At night she covered her eyes with a narrow strip of blanket that she had torn from one of the blankets and slept in a foetal position on one of the blankets that she had folded into a thin mattress. She covered herself with the other blanket. During the day she sat on a cushion made from blankets in the corner, huddled against the wall with her knees drawn up to her chest. She spent much of the time staring at the etched drawing of the crucifixion of Jesus at Golgotha. She also noticed that she also had a constant companion in the cell. It was gecko on the wall which lived on the insects that were attracted into the cell at night by the bright 100 watt light bulb. The insects managed to get through the steel grid that covered a small window which was situated 2.5 meters above the floor.

For the first two nights the terrifying loud clanking and crashing metallic sounds of steel cell doors being unbolted and flung open or slammed shut, reverberated like explosive gun shots throughout the night. It was impossible to sleep. Her watch had been taken away so she guessed that the time must be around midnight. Over the next few hours until the crack of dawn the silence of night was constantly punctuated with shouting, foul mouth swearing, threats, questions, blood curdling screams, loud sobbing, emotional pleadings, and hoarse cries. Unable to sleep she listened, her heart throbbing with fear.

On the third night she heard her cell being door being unbolted. Before she could sit up it crashed open with a loud bang. Two BPS men wearing military camouflage uniforms and ski masks stepped into her cell. One of them screamed at her: trek jou klere uit jou hoer se kind. She sat up looking confused. The one that shouted at her stepped forward, bending over he struck the side of her face with a stinging blow with the open palm of his of hand. The force of the blow knocked her head hard against the wall. The other man also stepped into the small cell and began to shock her with a cattle prod, stunned and shocked she writhed around on the floor. The man who smacked her in the face gave her a sharp kick on the buttocks. They kept screaming at her trek jou klere uit.

Shaking with shock, hands trembling, she struggled to undress. After she had undressed they bound her hands behind her back with a nylon ski rope and pushed her stark naked into the corridor, each one grabbing her by an upper arm they marched her down the corridor, her bare feet barely touching the floor. After kicking a steel door open and they thrust her so hard into the room that when they let go of her, she lost her balance, and fell onto her knees, grazing the skin off her knees on the rough concrete floor. Staan op jou foken hoer they shouted at her as she struggled to get onto her feet with her hands bound behind her back.

The room was brightly lit with spot lights. In the middle of the room stood an old enamel bath tub almost brim full with ice cold water. They forced her sit on the rim at the end of bath tub with her back towards the water, at the end opposite to the taps. One of the men knelt down and bound her legs together just above her ankles. One of them told her that tonight she would be starting her first lessons in submarine training. In an aggressive and threatening manner they asked her repeatedly whether she was a communist, and whether she was a member of the South African Communist Party and whether she was a member of the ANC, and whether she was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Each time they asked her, she denied that she was a member of any of the organization, and she denied that she was a communist.

Suddenly without any warning one of the men quickly grabbed her ankles, lifting her legs up he toppled her over backwards into the bath, her head instantly becoming submerged under the icy water. They held her under water while roughing pawing her breasts and fingering her genitals. Blind terror gripped her. She couldn’t move her head, it was pressed down on the bottom of the bath, she held her breath for as long as possible, and in the end she could not bear the lack of oxygen any longer and began to swallow water. Just before she blacked out they pulled her from the ice cold bath, dumped her roughly of the floor, and with their boots they pushed her onto her side. She laid naked on the concrete floor, choking, coughing up water, she gasped for air. Before she had fully recovered they jerked her up so that she was again sitting on the edge of bathtub, one of the man slapped her in the face, her nose started to bleed. The questions began again, are you a communist, are you a member of the party, are you working for MK? Her body shivering, her lips trembling, she began to cry, sobbing that she was not a communist or a member of any of the organizations; they tipped her back into the bath. After the fourth submergence, lying on the hard concrete floor, crying constantly in hopeless desperation, and in fear of a fifth submergence, she began to tearfully confess. To each of their questions she confessed that she was a communist, that she was a member of the party and that she worked for MK. They dragged her to a chair at the table next to the wall. They undid the cords, put a wad of paper and a pen before her, instructing her to write a detailed statement providing everything in great detail about her affiliations to the banned organizations and the kind of work she did for the organizations. They also wanted to know who recruited her, who her cell mates were, and who was the person that she reported to. She began to cry when she could not provide them with the requested information. Happy with the progress of their nights work, they said they will give her until the next night to come up with the information.

The next morning when her food was brought to her cell, she jumped up and before the door could be closed she put her hand over the edge of the door and asked the ski masked person if she could please have a Bible.

This is what he said to Wanetta, we don’t keep any Bibles here, the Bible is not going to help you here, you are as good as dead, few people leave this place alive, that is why this place has been called Golgotha, like that graffiti on the wall over there. Why do you think that Jesus cried out at the nine hour: My God my God, why have you forsaken me ? You are not going to find God at Golgotha; you are going to find suffering and maybe death at this God- forsaken place which we call Golgotha. But that was your choice. What is happening to you has been self-inflicted; I don’t feel sorry for you. I don’t give a shit for you, so don’t come with some bullshit story that you suddenly want to read the Bible. It is one of your commie tricks to win sympathy.


She told the court that she was convinced that she would not survive another submarine ordeal and she would in all likelihood drown that night. She was spared that night, everyone was spared that night. The smell of wood smoke and braai vleis drifted into her prison cell. Listening carefully she could hear voices coming from outside, men talking, and the intermittent ruptures of loud laughter, and back slapping, the BPS men were having a party, taking some time off for a bit of R and R.

Tiredness soon overwhelmed her and she fell into a deep sleep oblivious of the hard concrete floor pressing against her body through the thin layers of the blanket which she had folded into a makeshift mattress.

You could hear a pin drop in the court as Wanetta spoke calmly, but also defiantly, precisely, elegantly and articulately in a clear voice that did not tremble, tremor or quaver once.

The next morning when she woke up, while still lying on the floor she saw a Bible lying on the floor near the door. Someone had slipped the Bible into her cell while she was asleep. It was the same Bible that she had with her on the witness stand, the Bible with Bongani Twala’s name inscribed on the top of the inner cover. She kept the Bible hidden under the blankets and read it at every opportunity.

A few days later they again woke her up in the middle night, like before they slapped her and shocked her with the cattle prod forcing her to undress. She was taken to another room. There was metal framed bed in the middle of the room, it had no mattress. Instead a steel grid was placed on top of the metal bed frame. They force her down onto the steel grid and bound her legs and arms tightly to the four corners of the steel grid, so that she was lying spread-eagled on her back. There was a metal box with knobs, switches and dials on a small table close to the bed. A cable from the box was plugged into a wall plug socket. Also connected to the terminals on the box were two electrical cables. They fixed a metal rod shaped electrode to the crocodile clip on one of cables which they inserted into her vagina. The other cable had bare exposed copper wires sticking out of its end. A hood was placed over her head so that she could not see.

They said they were to teach her how to sing like a Ho Chi Minh slut. They began to touch various part of body with the exposed wires of the moveable second electrode. They touched her feet, mouth, nipples, breasts and genitals with the exposed wires causing excruciating pain and violent contractions. Being blinded folded it was impossible for her know when and where the moving electrode would next touch her body. The pain was so intense that she fainted; she also loss of control over her bowels caused her to defecate and urinate. They keep on asking for names of cell members, cell leaders and underground members. Unable to withstand the continuation of the electrical shock torture she finally succumbed to their demands for information on members and their roles of her friends in the UDF. Again she sat at the table writing the names of her recruiters, cell mates and cell leader.

After the electric shock torture she was made to clean up her urine and faeces from under the metal framed bed.

The cycles of submarine and electric shock torture were repeated until she had managed to fabricate a detailed and comprehensive self-incriminating confession that included almost her entire circle of close friends as her accomplices.

She said it was a miracle that she survived the torture.

Cher ami what could she do under these extreme circumstances. She gave my name as a cell member and as a cell leader. She gave the names of our circle of close friends who were linked to the UDF. By sheer luck all the people that she named as her accomplices had all been arrested and where in detention. Some of them had also been detained at the same secret location and had suffered the same kinds of torture. She was not aware of this at the time of detention. Others had also named her as an accomplice.

After she had given a graphic account of the torture that she underwent, our advocate asked whether she was a Marxist. Of course she said no. He then asked her to describe Marxism to the court.

Smiling, she explained to the court that the word Marxism was a noun, standing either for the political ideology of various socialist movements including communism or for a theory used by social and political scientists at universities to analyze, describe and research the nature of the dynamics of political economies, including the political economy of South Africa, and if used in this academic manner its findings could be proven objectively valid within certain bounds of social-historical inquiry.

When asked what were her views on Marxism as a political ideology her answer made the court burst out laughing and the judge had to angrily call for order several times. She said like apartheid, Marxism as an ideology had become one of the biggest political fantasies of the twentieth century.

Keeping a straight face and cocking a questioning eyebrow the advocate asked her why she thought that the ideology of apartheid was one of the biggest political fantasies of the twentieth century.

She answered by arguing that all political ideologies whether they underpinned nationalism socialism or apartheid or communism were all generically similar in the sense that they stimulated fantasies that promised the masses the fulfilment of various needs and desires. Fantasy generating ideologies are always irrational because they are based on patent nonsense and myths. In fact ideologies represent desires that can never be satisfied; therefore ideologies always traffic in illusions and fantasy. By virtue of the fact that ideologies stimulate fantasies and illusions in the minds of followers they are able to function as powerful mobilizing forces. Ideologies which are all embracive such as apartheid or communism are only potent in a magical sense because they are able to facilitate an illusionary perception of the constitution of the identity of their followers, not only by creating a fantasy of the essence and being of their followers, but also in the sense of satisfying the existential needs of their followers. In this sense ideologies are also able to perform a religious function by confirming and reinforcing in their followers the illusions, fantasies and myths of what it is that constitutes the essential nature of their true being, and thereby also provide them with an existential sense of meaning for their lives. But as Heidegger would say, followers who are caught and trapped in the web of belief spun by ideology are not living their own lives, they are living in a state of alienation and estrangement, and they are living inauthentically. When ideologies fail to fulfill the promised dream, they will wane and vanish in the minds of their followers, leaving the followers with nothing in the end, except hopelessness, despair, bitterness and cynicism. This will be the future of those who believe in apartheid, and who have invested their hopes in apartheid.

Cher ami, the whites in South Africa had been living for forty years in a fantasy world; they were prisoners to all kinds of mind-blowing illusions, which were completely divorced from reality. It did not seem to register that the blacks were resisting apartheid, they were not being compliant, and tensions were simmering beneath the perceived tranquility.

I apologize, I am going off at a tangent again, it is a fault of old age, my minds jumps around a lot, never wanting to settle for long on one topic, so you want to hear more about the trial?

I could see that the judge and prosecutor were getting impatient with Wanetta’s testimony. The impatient demeanour of the judge, his frowning brow, his impatient drumming of his fingers, his knuckles going white as his hand grip tightened on the handled of the wooden mallet all seemed to be out of keeping with the lofty virtues of impartiality required by his office, which was to apply the law without fear or favour, and how could he apply the law if he did not listen the subtleties and nuances of truth that only speech can reveal.

I began to have doubts about integrity of the judge. In my mind I began to count the years that we will have serve for being a subversive Bolsheviks.

What she had said suggested that the prosecutor and judge were also living in a fantasy world and this did not seem to sit comfortably with him. He was the judge, not Wanetta.

The court room was quite tense. It was quite clear that the judge had taken an adversarial attitude to Wanetta.

Our advocate continued in his relaxed manner to lead evidence from Wanetta. He asked her whether she thought that Marxism was a valid theory of the dynamics of political economy.

She answered yes. Both the prosecutor raised his eyebrows and the judge involuntarily raised their eyebrows in surprise.

The advocate explained again that this line of questioning was important to demonstrate the integrity and reliability of the witness. She had shot down Marxism in flames as a political ideology, now she was been asked to explain why she thought Marxism as a theory could be valid.

In response to the advocate’s question Wanetta calmly and without any hesitation explained why Marxism could be valid social theory.

When Wanetta had finished giving her evidence the advocate in his summing up said to the judge. I put it to you my lord that my clients in fighting against the evil of apartheid have themselves in turn suffered unimaginably cruel and evil acts of state sponsored and state condoned evil in the form of torture.

The advocate continued he said:

I would further put it to you my lord that the focus of this trail is ultimately on doing good in the face of evil. My clients have been charged by the state for doing what was morally good in the face of evil. And this brings me to the question of what is good and what is evil. And knowing the difference between good and evil, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen with integrity, to do good by resisting and combating evil. The moral duty of a good citizen, who is not a coward and also happens to be person of integrity, would be to resist and combat evil in all its manifestations.

What is evil? Can evil be defined? Can there be such a thing as a valid theory of evil? Can the state be an agent of evil? Can a person be an agent of evil on behalf of the state? All evil acts are immoral. To act immorally is to intentionally commit an act that is evil. Any act is evil in so far as that act involves the infliction of pain and suffering on a victim or any other human being, against her will, and thereby causing serious and foreseeable injury and harm to her.

You need to have smoke. OK let’s go stand outside.

Our advocate hit the nail of the head. There could be no doubt that philosophically, theologically and morally apartheid happens to be a thoroughly evil system. Its emphasis on demanding, securing, safe-guarding and protecting what was considered the moral entitlements of whites when the benefits of this entitlements could only be obtained at the expense of the blacks depended on a numbness, a lack of conscience, an incapacity to have empathy, towards others who were not white. For apartheid to work it was essential that a collective condition of moral incapacitation should prevail in South Africa. Moral incapacitation involves a state of numbness, insensitivity, absence of empathy, and lack of conscience towards blacks. Such a state of moral incapacitation had to exist in this country as a necessary condition in all individual white persons who supported and benefitted from apartheid. This makes apartheid a thoroughly and intrinsically evil system, and calls for brave men and women of courage and integrity to take a moral stand against the system of apartheid .Taking a moral stand against apartheid requires doing something that will lead to the reversal of the moral stagnation that has overpowered this country.

What can I more can I say Mon Cher.

As you can appreciate, between 1948 and until the collapse of apartheid, this evil had taken hold of the entire fabric of white society, permeating and corrupting it to its very core. Under these conditions evil became normality. In the words of Hannah Arendt the evil that could be attributed to the overwhelming majority of whites who supported apartheid in all kinds of ways, who were both Afrikaans and English speaking, had the character of being banal. The evil of apartheid had an ordinary everyday quality, and was committed by ordinary people, who did not believe that were actively engaged in the perpetration of evil. Apartheid depended on this immoral predisposition. In a similar fashion, the Nazis depended on this kind of immoral predisposition, of numbness, insensitivity, lack of empathy and lack of conscience in the everyday behaviour of ordinary Germans in order for the Holocaust against the Jews to succeed. Apartheid co-opted the conscience of the majority of whites in the same way that the National Socialist co-opted the conscience of the German people. Ordinariness or banality of both kinds of evil, apartheid or Nazism, depended strongly on indifference of the majority of whites or Germans to the pain and suffering of others, the blacks or the Jews, respectively.

Forgive me, Mon Cher compatriot. I can see from the dark expression on your face, that I have touched an exposed nerve, I have opened up old wounds. The sins of our fathers lie heavy on our shoulders. In one way or another, both of us have been co-opted into the commission of evil against our fellow man. If we both have a bad conscience tonight, there is hope for you and me. To be irredeemably evil is to lack even a bad conscience. To be irredeemably evil is to have no guilt for, or to be indifferent to, the wrong, injury, suffering and harm done to others. To be irredeemable evil is to be a psychopath. The men of the BPS had to be psychopaths in order to do the dirty work of the Nationalist Party government.

One thing that has astonished me throughout my life is that the people who profess the strongest belief in God or in some ideology have somehow acquired the inflexible predisposition to be irredeemably evil in their conduct towards others who do not share their beliefs or do not belong to the same race or ethnic group.

Do you still want me to continue with the story?

You do. OK. After Wanetta left the witness stand the advocate ended his speech in defence of his clients.

He said that it was his contention that not only had his clients acted morally as responsible citizens by opposing the evil that reigns in our country, but they themselves have suffered horrific evil in the form of torture by agents acting on behalf of the state. It is well known that when any state loses its political and social legitimacy it becomes unstable and unstable states engage in the torture of its citizens in the name of state security.

After concluding his argument our advocate then picked up a large envelop. He said that in the sealed envelope which he had received only this morning he had indisputable evidence that the state had been instrument through its agents in the torturing of his clients into making false statements that were self-incriminatory.

He approached the bench and gave the envelope to the judge. The judge opened the envelope. It contained a thick wad of A4 size coloured and black and photographs. He also gave the Judge a video cassette. He also gave the judge an international newspaper carrying the story of the secret political detention centre with its torture chamber. Our story had become international news. The judge’s face went white. He called the prosecutor to the bench. After whispered exchanges between the three parties the judge announced an adjournment of the court until three o clock.

Our advocate, the prosecutor and the judge retired to the judge’s chambers for a meeting. We were all taken back to our cells.

At three o clock we returned to the court. The judge marched into the court. We all stood up while he took his seat. After the court has settled down the judge announced that the state has decided to dismiss the case, all charges had been withdrawn with immediate effect, and we were free get up and go immediately. The judge stood up and left the court. We stood up and left the court as well, walking into freedom in the bright afternoon sunlight on the streets of Johannesburg.

We later learned that when Wanetta mentioned to the advocate in an interview with him while he was preparing our defence that she had a gecko living in her cell he had brainwave. There was no evidence or record that she had been kept in detention at any particular prison in South Africa. It was possible that she had been detained secretly in a detention centre close to the site where this gecko was to be found and it was at this location that she obtained the Bible.

He got pictures and drawings of every kind of species of gecko in South Africa. She finally pointed out one particular gecko, Afroedura transvaalica transvaalica . The gecko on her cell wall had a striking resemblance to Afroedura transvaalica transvaalica which has to date been found only between the Levubu and Limpopo rivers. He had a gut feeling that if they could find the place where she had been secretly detained it was going to help the case especially if they could find evidence which corroborated the affidavit she made regarding her torture.

A private detective agency put him touch with a free-lance special investigator who had been in the Selous Scouts and had also doe service in the South Africa Recces and in Koevoet. He was a very reserved Afrikaner in his late thirties. Within a couple of days he found the detention camp that the BPS started nick naming Golgotha. Near the Pafuri Gate of the Kruger National Park he turned off onto a sand road and drove northwards toward the Limpopo River exploring every side and back roads, stopping to speak with the local population that he encountered. Eventually at the end of a remote track he located the detention centre which because of the almost impassable rocky two track dirt road and the encroachment of thick vegetation had become with time totally inaccessible without a 4×4. It was situated in a clearing surrounded by thick bush and rocky hills about half a kilometre from the Limpopo River. It had been built in the late sixties as a police detention centre for counter insurgency operations.


We returned to Cinderella’s Arcade, and began to pick up the pieces of our lives again. Wanetta had lost her job. Her health continued to deteriorate. Weeks went by and she was not getting any better, she continued to lose weight. We went to see several doctors, physicians and specialists. In the end it was recommended that Wanetta see an oncologist. After visiting the oncologist Wanetta underwent an intensive battery of tests. Being fearful of the outcome of tests she asked me to go with her to get the results from the oncologist. The news was not good; she had been diagnosed with a rare but highly aggressive and unusual form of a viral induced disease. The specialist was vague but tried to explain as best as he could to us what kind of viral disease Wanetta had acquired. Apparent most humans are carriers of endogenous retroviruses which are usually completely harmless to their host. However under the influence of unknown inducing factors some of these viruses can become activated and can cause cancer or leukaemia or other debilitating conditions which are inevitably fatal. In other words they become oncogenic viruses or pathogenic viruses. He could not confirm that she had cancer or leukaemia but the viral illness that she had was very serious and untreatable, and was the cause of her declining health, and in all likelihood her illness was terminal, it was going to be fatal.

Wanetta listened quietly and stoically to what the doctor had to say. When he had finished she asked him how long she had to live. He told her anything from three to six months. She received the news calmly. He gave her a script for medication that would provide relief from many of the symptoms associated with this form of viral infection, and we left with her carrying the script in her hand. We were both stunned. We sat silently in the car for while digesting the news of the doctor’s prognosis. She looked at me earnestly and seriously while telling me that she has two simple wishes before she dies. First she wanted to get baptised as soon as possible and second she wanted us to go ahead with our planned marriage, also as soon as possible.

And then she said we must try to live as normally as possible. She said did not want me to act differently towards her. She wanted me to treat her as a normal person, as if she were not going to die, as if she were not sick. She did not want to be treated as an invalid.

I asked her in what church or denomination did she want to be baptised. She replied that it did not really matter as long as it was a proper Christian Church. We were not sure about what procedure to follow in order for an adult to become baptised. She had had a secular upbringing and did not belong to any denomination and had never attended any church. As we drove back to Boksburg we started looking at all the churches that we passed. None of them felt right.

Once in Boksburg we drove around looking at churches. We would park outside a church for a while so that she could decide on whether this was the right church. We eventually ended up parked outside St Dominic’s Catholic Church in Trichardt Street. After a while she decided that this was the right church. Not knowing what to do we went inside and sat down in a pew at the back. She bowed her head and clasping her hands in her lap she started to pray silently. I could see her lips moving. We sat there until the 7.00 pm Mass started. We sat through the Mass. At the end of the Mass after everyone had gone she approached the Priest. She told him that she wanted to be baptised. He was quite puzzled by this out of the blue request from an adult woman who was a complete stranger to him. He asked her if she wanted to convert to Catholicism. After thinking for a moment she looked at me and then she looked at the priest and answered yes. Tears started to well up in her eyes, she explained to the priest that she had had a secular upbringing and had only recently found God. Regaining her composure she said that she was desperate, she wanted to be baptised immediately, she could not wait. She explained that she was suffering from an incurable illness and was dying. She showed him the script and the doctors contact details, so that he, if he wanted, he could verify her condition, he could check up to see if she was telling the truth about her illness. Speaking in a soft voice that now bordered on a whisper she also told him that both of us had been detained under the Internal Security Act but that we had been acquitted on all charges under the Terrorism Act. The priest then realized who we were. The priest seemed to be obviously moved, but he was hesitant as well. I think we were both aware of this.

Wanetta then told the priest that in the Acts of the Apostles when Philip was travelling alongside the road with the Ethiopian eunuch on a chariot the eunuch said: ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?’ Wanetta then pointed to a font of holy water standing near the entrance and said to the Priest there is water, what is stopping you from baptising me now in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Priest was taken aback. While scratching his head thoughtfully, he said something about some Catholic Church canon which authorizes a priest to baptise any adult immediately who is in imminent danger of death if the candidate has some knowledge of the truths of the faith and if that person has in some manner demonstrated a genuine and sincere desire to receive baptism and also promises to observe the requirements of the Christian faith.

When he saw the hope lighting up on Wanetta’s face after he spoke about the church canon the Priest decided to baptise her immediately. He told us to wait at the back of the church while he made the necessary preparations for the baptismal rite. After he returned carrying a small porcelain basin, porcelain oil jar, a candle and some cards we followed him to the fount which was in fact a baptismal fount filled with holy water. Wanetta quickly tied her hair up in pony tail and then deftly rolled the pony tail into a tight bun at the back of her head which she fixed in place with some hair pins that she took from her bag.

He gave her a card which had the words on it for the baptism ceremony. It was a very solemn and moving ceremony. He spoke to Wanetta referring to her as his dear sister. He asked her a whole series of questions and she answered each in the affirmative without any hesitation. He then asked her to step forward and bend her head over the baptism font. While pouring water three times over her head he announced in voice that was both gentle and full of authority: I baptise you Wanetta my dear sister in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He gave her a small white towel and she dried off the excess water from her head. He put oil on his thumb and signed the sign of the cross on her forehead. He lit a candle and gave to it her saying it was a symbol of Christ’s resurrection and of the eternal life that we have in Jesus Christ. He invited her to make an appointment for her first confession and for a chat about the Catholic Mass which he said she should start receiving as soon as possible. If she had enough strength she could also join the adult confirmation classes that had just started.

Soon after her baptism and first communion we got married in a short civil ceremony at the Boksburg Magistrates Courts. She completed the confirmation classes and was confirmed in the Catholic Faith. While she had sufficient strength I took her to Mass every morning. I had grown up in the Reformed Faith. I knew absolutely nothing about Catholicism, so it was a quite steep learning curve for me to learn all the ins and outs of the Catholic Faith. After being an atheist for most of her adult life she now found peace, meaning and fulfilment in Roman Catholicism.

Her conversion to Catholicism definitely helped her to cope with being terminally ill and also helped her to make peace with the prospect of her imminent extinction. I think I was one that needed help more than she did. In retrospect I realized that I definitely needed some kind of psychological training or whatever to cope with the emotional stress and anxiety that I was experiencing while living with a loved one who was terminally ill. In South Africa during our military training we used the word vasbyt to describe the ability to maintain you’re morale and focus while enduring the onslaught of extreme physical and emotional hardship. For me all I could do was to vasbyt.

Throughout the icy cold winter she sat wrapped in warm soft blankets in a big comfortable leather armchair. She spent the winter days watching me paint. When she could no longer go to mass, the priest would come over to Cinderella’s Arcade and give her holy communion. Day after day she sat patiently watching me while I worked. She spoke about her faith, she spoke about how she discovered while reading the Bible in her prison cell that the Gospels consistently advocated and proclaimed solidarity with the poor, the exploited, the oppressed, the weak, the marginalized, the hungry, and the imprisoned.

What surprised her about the Bible and especially about the Gospels was that nowhere did Gospels or the rest Bible promise a world without evil, or suffering, or inequality. The diversity of the Biblical narratives, their multivalent messages, surprised her, intrigued her, delighted her and sustained her.

Her faith was deeper than the desire for personal salvation, deeper than the desire for immortality. She even accepted that a finite life could still be meaningful without the prospect of immortality or the afterlife.

After her torture during the lengthy time spent alone in solitary confinement the Bible became her constant companion. It sustained her, even though she felt sickly and emotionally worn out, she still submerged herself in her reading of the Bible for hours and hours on end. She also had difficulties in sleeping and during these sleepless nights in prison bathed in the cold light of the 100 watt light bulb her thoughts often drifted in philosophy. A lot of the philosophy that she had learnt as an undergraduate came back to her and she started to remember many of the ideas that she been exposed. Reflecting on everything she began to see a lot of things in a new light.

Our conversation often returned to the paradox of evil. Evil as a phenomenon was paradoxical in our minds precisely because it there was no epistemic or ontological foundation for the existence in matter, which was the stuff out of which everything in the Universe was made up of. Evil cannot come from matter. All matter in all of its forms is neutral with regard to ethics and morals. Evil cannot be reduced to matter. Evil is always an act of free will. Without free will evil would not exist, so we had debates about the existence of freewill and moral agency.

During the moments when she had sufficient strength she would read the Bible. She had also developed an interest in Catholic philosophy and theology. When she was too weak she would ask me to read the Bible or some Catholic book on theology to her. I almost read the entire Bible to her from Genesis to Revelation, and I also read the entire Catholic Catechism twice over to her. We had long theological and philosophical discussions about how it was possible that God who being all powerful, all knowing and infinity good could allow all the suffering and evil that had occurred in the world. I once asked her how she could believe in God after what had happened to her. In detention she endured the most horrific torture, she had been accused of political crimes against the state on the basis of extremely flimsy evidence and now she was dying of some strange and unknown disease that I felt had been triggered by the ordeals that she had suffered while in detention.

After days of meditation on my question she finally gave me the most profound and astonishing answer. She said that the Christian theory of monotheism was based on the revolutionary discovery that intrinsic to the nature of the Trinitarian God was God’s capacity to engage in self-emptying and suffering love for His creation without any diminishing of his omnipotence or omniscience or infinite goodness. It turned out to be a most amazing non-Calvinist statement about the nature of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. She explained that God intrinsic goodness consists in God’s free decision to deliberately limit himself, by providing and sustaining all the conditions that make it possible for the Cosmos to exist in autonomy and freedom as an independent being, as a separate self-governing entity, that is completely other than Himself.

In this manner God deliberately limits His own freedom while sustaining all the conditions that are necessary for the independent existence of the Cosmos. God sustains the Universe as a dynamically evolving system by providing the conditions of possibility for the existence of every possible kind of thing and process that contributes to the structure and functioning of the Cosmos, including every single thermal fluctuation that has ever occurred. God has also demonstrated and revealed his solidarity and love for both man and the Universe through his self-limitation, his self-emptying and his self-offering in the most exemplary fashion through His own self-incarnation in the form of finite man, which made it possible for him to suffer death and to experience his own resurrection from the dead, in Jesus Christ, in order to give us hope that we have not lived a life of suffering in vain. The triune God through Jesus Christ has expressed solidarity with his creation and with mankind. Through the life, work, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has decisively demonstrated His love for man and the Cosmos.

Wanetta had shown such incredible courage. She kept on saying that in spite of the pain and the prospect of her own self-extinction she felt joy and peace, and that she knew that one day we will be together again, that the parting of ours ways was going to be only temporary. She said she felt blessed because she had found God and that God had given her the most gorgeous man as her husband.

Gorgeous man! That is what she said. No one has every referred to me in my face as being a gorgeous man. My response to her was that she was the most gorgeous woman that I have ever laid my eyes on, and that was the truth Cher ami.

She had this marvellous insight into the irony of the Bible. She argued that the Bible never makes any claims that the Universe is governed by moral laws. Instead the Bible proposes quite clearly that the Universe is governed only by physical and biological laws, for example, Jesus said that God lets the sun shine on the good and the evil and sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike. The unjust are not punished and the victims of injustice are not compensated.

As the days went by she became progressively weaker. She promised that she will hold out until she could smell the spring fragrance of Jasmine. On a warm full moon August night I wrapped in her in blanket and we drove in the Porsche and we parked in a street in Boksburg near a house that was renowned for its fabulous garden. We wound down the car windows and the sweet smell of Jasmine that filled the night air permeated into the car. She breathed in deeply, closing her eyes and she smiled the most beatific smile. We sat there for an hour talking about various things. She laughed when I recounted some incident that we had found funny in the past. For a moment everything felt so normal, it was as if nothing was going to happen, that we would be together forever. In the dark interior of the car her eyes shone brightly. Something so simple as the fragrance of Jasmine had momentarily transformed her mood in one of elation.

She turned her head so that she could the full moon through her window. Smiling an enchanted smile, she looked at me and said that the moon looked like a communion wafer shining with the real presence of God after the priest had consecrated it in the Mass. I could not help chuckling, she had a developed a way of seeing the presence of God in everything.

She would often look at me thoughtfully for a while and then say that she knew that deep down I was a Christian even though I was a communist. I always replied that it was impossible for me not to be a Christian, and she would then give me a radiant smile. After saying that I would wonder what does it takes to be a real Christian.

I also looked at the moon. It was so bright and splendid, even though it was so far away, so unfathomably mysterious. She asked what I thought of the moon. It was such a strange question. What possibly can we think of the moon.

I answered her, saying that the whole Universe was God’s the theatre, so if she sees the full moon as a communion wafer filled with real presence of God then drama of the Holy Eucharistic was reflected in the whole Universe.

This proposal made her laugh, she enjoyed what I had said, I could see that it resonated deeply with her.

The evening felt sacred. The Jasmine was like incense. She looked at me with a childlike earnestness and asked what I thought about transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass which was a kind of Holocaust. Over the past few weeks I had time to digest and assimilate much about Catholicism from reading to her from both the Bible and the Catholic Catechism.

Out of blue she suddenly said as if speaking aloud to herself: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

I must have got that worried look on my face because she laughed. She asked if I thought the virus was affecting her brain, making her go mad.

Of course I said no.

For all I knew at the moment was that she could be going mad and this was the first sign of the onset of her madness. I did not want her to go mad because of something the virus might be doing to her brain. I actually began to feel the cold grip of fear that the virus may be attacking her brain. Her eyes were shining. There was something deeply mystical about her at the moment. She seemed to know something that I could not grasp. I even got goose flesh. For a moment I thought it was possible that an angel would appear at any moment.

She asked me what I was thinking. It was relief to hear her speak normally. She was rational, lucid; there was nothing wrong with her brain.

What could I say, Mon cher ami? The words my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed were ringing in my head.

Well I answered that I did believe in transubstantiation, that when the priest consecrates the mass and the wine, they become the real flesh and blood of Christ.

She laughed. She teased me and asked me if I really believe that or was I just saying it because I wanted to please her. Then she said that because it such a lovely night why don’t we just drive to Durban right that very moment, in the moonlight, and gun the Porsche full blast right to 200 km/h and watch the sunrise tomorrow morning on some beach on the south coast.

Mon cher I would have driven the Porsche to the moon that night for her sake. I had money and credit card in my wallet, so we hit the road to the Durban. The moonlight was bright, the tar road to Durban shown like quicksilver; I could have driven with the headlights off. On the clear open stretches with no other vehicle on the road for miles, I pushed the accelerator down and we speed through the night. We speed past mile upon mile of freshly ploughed maize fields. We reached Durban at two o clock in the morning. She wanted to visit the beach at Manzimtoti on the Natal south coast. It was her families December holiday destination when she was a teenager. At the beach we sat talking in the car. She was not feeling any pain, nor did she feel fatigued and the constant flu-like symptoms had subsided. For a moment I entertained the thought that the disease was going into some kind of remission.

At 5.30 am she feel strong enoug h for I us to take a walk on the beach. The tide was going out so we walked on the wet firm beach sand. The morning star, the planet Venus, shone brightly in the east, reflecting a triangle of light across the ocean. The dawn night sky began to light up into a deep purple-blue colour. A band of light pastel blue colour appeared on the horizon, below the blue a halo of orange- red started to slowly grow, and then at 6.30 the sun started to rise as a red ball above the horizon. We sat on the beach watching the dawn break into a new day. She sighed and looked at me, and asked: Why do I have to die? I am not afraid to die, I just feel so sad suddenly. All I could do was put my arm around and hug her tightly.


And then she said if only I can live until November, then I will be able to see the Jacaranda trees in full bloom again. After sitting in silence for a while, she looked at me and said that she will hold out until she could see the purple Jacaranda blossoms. Her mood lifted again and she said that she had managed to stay alive until she could enjoy the fragrance of Jasmine once more, and now she was still alive and could to see once more the sun rise above the ocean.

We booked into a hotel and she slept peacefully until sunset, and we then drove through the night back to Boksburg. Cher ami I cannot tell you how heavy my heart was on that journey back. I struggled to keep my spirits up.

On the trip back she spoke about death. She said that she died before, so she knew what it was like to die, she knew what to expect, she had blacked out twice while being held under water, each time before blacking she thought that her life was finally going to end, and then she had regained consciousness lying bound and naked in a pool of water on the hard cold concrete floor. She also spoke for the first time about the electric shock torture, the severe pain, the convulsions, the involuntary defecation and urination, and she had expected that if they continued with the electric shock torture she would eventually be electrocuted and die, and she that would not live to see the sun rise.

Then she said something profound about death, because in a way she had been there before, at the very door step of death. She said we cannot experience our own death. Death cannot be experienced, as long as there is life, as long as we are in life there is no death. If our life is in Christ then there is no death or experience of death. She said that even Wittgenstein had something profound to say about death. As long as we have conscious self-awareness death is not a reality since it cannot occur to us, death is not an event in life. She also spoke about Heidegger and the French philosophy Derrida with the respect to the idea of the undying subject who while he or she can foresee their own death as an event happening in the future they will never experience its actual happening as an event for them. It will not be experienced as an event which they can consciously go through.

She asked: How many times can a person die? I remember reading somewhere in the Book of Hebrews, something we all know, that is, it is appointed unto men once to die. Nobody can die for us, and you cannot die more than once. It is the destiny of every man to die his own death. We are certain of this one thing in life and that is we will have to die our own death. We are all condemned to die sometime in the unknown future, but when our death becomes imminent, everything changes, as depicted in the experience of the character in Dostoevsky’s book The Idiot, who was condemned to die.

If we die our own deaths, do we live our own lives? If we are not living our own lives then whose life are we living?

She spoke about her first confession. She was surprised that it did not involve sitting in a small dark enclosed booth. Instead the two of them, she and priest, sat around a small table. He made some tea and they chatted about her life, her sadness, her heartache, her fears, her anger, her disappointments, her sense of hopelessness, her despair and her torture. When she asked him what she needed to confess, he replied anything that she felt was important enough, anything that troubled her, anything that worried her, anything that was on her mind, and anything that was making her unhappy, whatever she felt guilty about, whatever personal problems she was experiencing. She spoke for more than an hour about her life, about what had happened to her at the detention centre, about her terminal illness. The priest listened attentively, patiently, never interrupting, always maintaining an empathetic demeanour, his brow creased in deep concentration, his attentive eyes remained fixed on her. In the end, emotionally exhausted she broke down and began to weep, she could not stop crying, she cried her heart out. He let her cry. She was filled with so much anger and despair about what had been done to her when she was in detention. Her life had been shattered by the unimaginable brutality and pain that she had to endure and from which she had somehow miraculous survived, only to discover that she was going to die anyway from an extremely rare and highly improbable terminal disease. In her mind there was a causal link between the exposure to the extreme stress, pain, terror, anxiety and fear associated with being repeated tortured and the onset of her illness. When the torture finally came to an end, she developed flu like symptoms, she felt weak, exhausted and feverish.

After she had regained her composure and dried her eyes with the tissues that the priest had given her, he said that she should forgive her torturers; she said she couldn’t, but he gently said that was the only way she that will experience healing. He also said that she should forgive the apartheid regime. He reminded her that Jesus as God incarnate forgave his executioners while suffering pain and humiliation on the cross at Golgotha. In the end she forgave her torturers, and she received absolution.

I remember the poignancy of the scene when I fetched her from the church; they were outside standing on the steps, waiting for me. Her eyes were still red from the crying. Standing next to the priest she looked incredibly frail, her face was filled with the pathos of someone who had finally embraced the inescapable prospect of the imminent stark certainty of their own death.

When I got out the car and walked up the stairs to fetch her her face broke into smile that became radiant, I could see that she had found peace in the face of the inevitable.

November arrived. Wanetta’s morale was high. She was in a cheerful mood; she wanted to see the Jacaranda trees in full bloom. We speed off to Pretoria and drove down kilometre after kilometre of Jacaranda lined streets. She gazed in awe at the streets wreathed in a glow of purple

She wanted us to go the University of the Witwatersrand and stand under the Jacaranda trees outside the Wartenweiler Library. She wanted feel the November mood on Wits campus by the Wartenweiler Library. She wanted see the Corinthian columns of the Great Hall at Wits. She wanted sit on the stairs of magnificent entrance of the Great Hall and try recapture the wonderful feeling of what it was like to be a student again. She wanted to breathe in the atmosphere of Wits campus where she had once been a student, where her journey as an activist had started.

Sitting on the steps of the Great Hall she looked at me. Her eyes were intense. She said that she had learnt so much, discovered so much, during these past few months. She smiled and said she now sees the whole world, the whole of reality with new eyes. I remember she started talking about the Apostle Paul at the Areopagus in Athens. Saint Paul said that God was not far from any one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.

And then she said she will promise to hold out until she could see the bright African blue December skies and the flight of the Sakabula Bird across a Highveld grassland.

She kept her promise.


Early one warm and sunny Sunday morning in December she said felt strong enough for us to go out and look for a Sakabula Bird. She said that the Sakabula Bird had always been a very special bird to her; it was because of the Sakabula Bird that she had found me. She wanted to see the Sakabula Bird flying over the grassland in the sun. All she wanted now from life was to see the bird flying over the grassland in the sun with its long black tail.

Cher ami that morning I had to be strong. I was very close to breaking down. I fought back the tears.

I wrapped her in a soft warm blanket and carried her to the car. We drove along the old main Heidelberg – Durban road in search of a grassland with a resident Sakabula Bird. I found a gravel road that run westwards just south of the hills of the Suikerbosrand. Eventually I spotted in the distance a Sakabula Bird floating above the tall sward of a beautiful pristine Highveld grassland. The grassland had never been ploughed. I stopped the car and parked on the side of the road. I opened the passenger door and lifted her up and carried her to the barbwire where I lifted her carefully and gently over the fence. She managed to stand unsteady supporting herself by holding onto a sturdy fence post while I climbed through the fence. I felt incredibly strong. I lifted her up and cradled her in my arms. I strode through the tall grass towards the Sakabula Bird while carrying her effortlessly in my arms. As we drew closer it flew off. After flapping off for a short distance it would alight on a reed or on a fence, but we continued to follow it relentlessly. Wanetta seemed to have recovered some extra her strength. A bit of colour had returned to her face. There was a sparkle in her eyes and she began to laugh at what had become a comical pursuit of the Sakabula Bird. It eventually allowed us to get quite close without flying away. We stopped and watched it in silence for what seemed to be a long time. Its black glossy plumage shone in the bright sunlight, it kept a constant wary eye on us.

The warm sun shone on her face as she gazed up at the infinite blue skies. Lifted up by the upward thrust of the raising convective columns of warm air a huge flock of whites storks soared high overhead in the sky. She also noticed the storks. We both stood for a while with our heads turned up so that we could watch the storks. Supported by the thermals the storks glided slowly in wide circles without flapping a wing. Swifts and swallows swooped low over the tall grass intercepting any flying insect. Around us in every direction a constant silent unending armada of white butterflies drifted over the country side, floating steadily eastwards.

She smiled up at me and said that she was feeling very tired and wanted to close her eyes for a while if I didn’t mind. When I turned round to carry her back to the car she said she would like to stay a bit longer in the veld in the warm sun. She said the warmth of the sun felt very pleasant. I stood there in the middle of the open veld holding her cradled in my arms. She fell asleep. Her face looked so tranquil and peaceful. There was a soft smile on her lips. Her eyes opened briefly and she stared deeply into my eyes, she gave such an intense and meaningful look, and then she whispered that she loved me very much. I told her I loved her too. She closed eyes again. I held her tightly against my chest.

I noticed that wild flowers had blossomed and bloomed everywhere in the surrounding veld, transforming it into a rich and colourful patchwork of white, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and purple-blue flowers. There was such a rich diversity of flowering perennials, also bees buzzed and butterflies flittered about constantly from one flower to the next. It was quiet, but then the silence was broken by the distant calls of guinea fowl drifting over the veld, carried by a slight breeze that had just begun to blow. ‘Wanetta do you hear the guinea fowl,’ I asked her. She was silent. I called out a bit louder to her. Wanetta, Wanetta, wake up, wake up, I called. I could hear the sudden state of panic in my own voice. But her eyes remained closed. I realized then that she had passed away peacefully in my arms. I began to sob uncontrollably. I had been in state of suppressed grief from the time the oncologist first announced her diagnosis, but I could not contain the tide of grief that began to well up in me. I had been preparing myself for this moment. But when the reality of her death finally arrived I soon realized how unprepared I really was. It was difficult to comprehend the fact that she was finally gone, gone forever, it was like an abyss had open up in front of me. I stumbled across the veld back to the car with Wanetta’s limp body in arms.

Mon cher ami, I do humbly apologise most profusely to you. I notice that your eyes have also started to glisten with tears. I feel my eyes are also brimming with tears. All this happened such a long time ago. I have never spoken to anyone about the final moments of Wanetta’s passing. Do you want me to continue? OK if you insist, I will, but let me first order both of us another draft of beer. No put your wallet away. It is my pleasure. Talking like this you has been of great therapeutic value to me. Tonight I am most deeply indebted to you; the price of the beer is insignificant compared to the value of your companionship. Would you like something to eat? No, no I will pay, don’t worry. The baboon will arrange that we get our T-bone and chips; actually this will be the very best T-bone steak one can find in Boksburg. Yes, medium rare, that is the only way to have a T-bone steak. OK it is settled, I have already signalled to him that we will have our meal here in the bar. He knows what we want; as you have seen he is very efficient in satisfying all the needs of the patrons of this establishment. The good man knows my wishes even before I have spoken.

Many times I have wondered if everything that has happened in my life was actually inevitable. Or was the occurrence of everything in the Universe ultimately contingent. Contingency, the meaning of this word I have always struggled grasp. Contingency means that something, like some existing reality, or like some state of affairs, could have been different. If something is contingent it means that it need not have happened. So the way something turns out to be, that is, the way it actually is, was not in fact bound to be as such, or in other words it was not in fact the inevitable outcome of some overriding necessity. This fact holds true for Wanetta’s untimely death which was caused by an extremely rare cancer that was in all likelihood viral induced. She got cancer by sheer chance, it was not inevitable.

After her death I fell into a deep black depression. The Masonic Hotel became my second home. For months I tried unsuccessfully to drown my sorrows in the bar. I stopped painting. I found myself in a dark tunnel. It was also a black time in South Africa’s history. The country was on the verge of economic collapse. The government was under siege. It was being pounded by rolling waves of social and political unrest. It was just a question of time before it would collapse. When I watched on TV the smashing down of the Berlin wall on the night of August 13, 1989, I felt completely numb and unmoved. It signalled the end of socialism, it signalled the end of Communism and the Marxist Project. Apartheid was on the brink of political collapse and socialism had gone down the tube as well.


A year later on one icy cold winter’s night after the pub at the Masonic Hotel had closed instead of going back to my studio at Cinderella’s Mansion I walked over to the Lake. I stepped onto a raft that was chained to the willow tree at the edge of Lake and contemplated suicide. I stared into the dark waters.

Incredibly at the moment, I had a sudden flash back of childhood memory of Kobus Groenewald’s lifeless body lying on the raft. I could see my own lifeless body lying on the raft after it had been fished out of the lake.

But the scenes of that morning became imprinted on my mind. When I returned to the raft that afternoon, everything had returned to normal, the body was gone, the sun was shining, a coot was making its distinctive calls, a dabchick was diving and re-surface, a cormorant flew low over the surface of the lake and the swan was nowhere to be seen.

It was at that moment that I decided as a child that wanted become a painter and paint what no photograph could preserve, what no photograph could show. I wanted to paint desolation, suffering, and loss. I wanted to paint the God-forsakenness of life. That day I decided I will become a painter. After my Matric and national service in the army I went to Wits and studied fine arts. If did not decide to become a painter that day, I would never have meet Wanetta, and I would never have suffered the pain and grief of her death, and I would never have painted Tale of the Sakabula Bird and would never have being telling you this story tonight.

I had never religious, even though I had been baptised and confirmed in the Dopper Kerk, which was a strongly Calvinist Church, also known as the Gereformeerde Kerk.

Standing on the raft that night impressions of those memories faded from my mind and the dark cold night once again enveloped me. I found myself still staring fixedly at the cold dark waters. I remembered what Wanetta had said about dying, that you won’t know that you have died.

Before I left the studio earlier that evening, I slipped a box of sleeping tables into my jacket pocket. I locked the studio door behind me, descended to the stairs, and walked out of the arcade into Commissioner with the thought in the back of my mind that I was going to commit suicide later that night. I decided I would first have a few beers at the Masonic. I walked to the pub, my decision had been made, and my resolve was unshaken. I felt numb. Pushing through the swing doors, as I had done countless times throughout my life, I stepped into the bar. It was warm inside, the heaters were on. I nodded at the many familiar black faces of the regular patrons, and sitting down I ordered my usual draught of ale.

I had lost count of the number of beers that I had drunk. Standing on the raft looking at the black depths of the lake, suicide seemed to be so simple. I decided to swallow all of the sleeping pills. I would wait until I started to feel drowsy and only then would I dive into the cold lake and just swim until I passed out and drowned. I decided that I was going to end it all. I put my hand into my jacket and felt the box of tablets lying snug and safe in the depths of my jacket pocket. I took the box out from my of pocket and poured the pills into the palm of my hand.

While gazing at the pile of white pills in the open palm of my hand in the dim light cast by a nearly street lamp I heard a woman’s voice. It came from the balcony of flats across the road. A woman was standing in her nightgown on the balcony calling her cat. Kitsy, kisty, kitsy, come Tippy, Tippy, Tippy. It was odd that she would be calling her cat off the street as she was on the fourth floor and the glass doors to the entrance of the flat were shut, possibly locked for the night. How was the cat going to get to the fourth floor? From the dark I heard a meow and then I saw a shadow bounding across the frosty grass towards the flat. It run across the road and run up the stairs and stood by the glass doors until the woman came down and pushed open the door.

I threw the handful of sleeping pills into the Lake and walked back to the studio. There were still two sleeping pills left in the box which I swallowed. Just before I sunk into a deep sleep I prayed to God that I would never wake up again. My sleep of the dead was interrupted by a dream. In the dream I was again standing on the moored raft by the edge of the Lake. It was night. I noticed that the chain which moored the raft to the tree was no longer there. When I grabbed the overhead cable to keep my balance I felt the raft moved forward away from the bank. I discovered that I could use the overhead cable to pull the raft across the Lake towards the island. The island glowed brilliantly; it was lit by an amazing blaze of lights. As the raft approached the island I noticed that all the willow trees on the island were full of Sakabula Birds. There were Sakabula Birds everywhere. I also noticed that there was also a lone figure standing on the bank of island. As I drew nearer I saw it was Wanetta. She was dressed in that black satin cocktail dress. For some unknown reason I made an exceedingly strange request. It was odd because I was not at all religious. I was an unbeliever. Anyway I called out to her to pray for me. She replied that she had been praying all the time for me. Again from the raft I called out to her and asked her if I had died. She called back saying that I was still alive and that I was not dead. The raft then bumped sharply against the bank of the island and I struggled up the steep bank to reach her. She said that she was also alive. I embraced her and she was warm and very much alive in my arms. I became strongly aroused, monsieur I am not embarrassed to say that I had developed the most powerful erection, and wanted to make love to her. We began kissing passionately and I began to feel, caress and fondle her firm breasts. I started to pull off her dress. I was extremely aroused and desperately wanted to have intercourse with her. I entered her and experienced the most exquisite sex with her, climaxing uncontrollably.

Oh here comes our steak and beers. Cheers. Don’t wait for me go ahead and start eating before it gets cold.

I see that I have really got your attention. People hardly ever talk about their dreams. You want to know what happened next. Well the scene changed, after the orgasm, she vanished from my dream. Next I noticed the ground was covered in a carpet of long black Sakabula Bird tail feathers. Sakabula Bird tail feathers were raining like autumn leaves from the trees. When they had all lost their tail feathers the Sakabula Bird flew away. They formed a flock so huge it was like black cloud in the sky. They flew away over Cinderella mine dump, flying onwards to Cinderella Dam. I could see the entire geography and layout of Boksburg in my dream.

Standing among the carpet of black feathers a man called Mr Patterson suddenly appeared on the island before me. He used to be the Cinderella Mine Boy Compound manager when I was still a kid. What always amazed me was how fluently he spoke isiZulu, Shangaan and Sesotho. In my dream he began to ramble on about the different kinds of African music that was played by the mine boys who worked on ERPM mine. He was extremely knowledgeable about traditional African musical instruments and he was going on to one in particular about the Basuto lekolulo and setolo-tolo; the Tsonga-Shangaan umqangala, also called the Zulu flute bow; thumb pianos called variously, a lekembe or mbira or kalimba or sansa. And then he started going on about syncopation in African music and how syncopation involves playing off beat by the shifting of accents to between beats where you do not expect them to be, that is, playing an accented beat in places where an unaccented beat would normally be played. He kept on saying that syncopating involves playing off the beat.

Like any kid who had grown up on gold mines and hung out at the mine compounds I knew that syncopating or syncopation was what gives African music its feel, its rhythm, its drive, its energy and excitement. I had grown up feeling the syncopation that gives African music its rich texture, its density, its timbre, its complex interweaving of parts and it’s emotionally moving quality. I suppose this why it had been living a kind of afterlife in my own dream world, stuck away somewhere deep in the hidden recesses of my brain, waiting to be reactivated.

Sorry I am drifting off the topic of the dream that I had. I am not boring you. No. OK that is good. Should we order another round?

No, no, put away your wallet. Tonight everything is on me.

Let me continue, And then….. I hate saying and then. Well anyway, and then suddenly there were mine boys on the island in the middle of the Lake syncopating away on their drums and other musical instruments. Some stood up and came forward dancing and singing some tribal chorus in the typical African antiphonal manner which involved the alternative call-and-response singing between a lead singer and a chorus. Everybody began to dance. African music transcends the separation between audience and performers, it can never merely be watched from the outside or listened to from afar, and it always invites the listener to get up and participate, to join in. I joined the dancers and began to dance with them.

And then, you how dreams are, there is always this incongruous surrealistic juxta positioning of events. Well let me get on with the story.

In the early hours of the morning I woke up drenched in sweat and sticky all over with my own semen. The sheets, mattress and blankets were cold and wet from sweat. After drying off the sweat with a towel from my body, I washed face and brushed my teeth. I changed into old jeans and a tatty T shirt. I put on a warm jersey and went into my studio. I switched on the studio flood lights and spot lights. I stood in the centre of studio. I kept on lifting and feeling my arms and whispering to myself ‘I am alive, I am alive’, ‘what does it mean to be alive.’ In spite of the bright light the studio was icy cold, the windows were frosted over and it was grey outside. After switching on the oil heater I sat for an hour in the leather chair that I bought for Wanetta. I felt the inspiration to paint coming back to me. I got from the chair and I began to paint the scenes I had dreamt of. I did not stop to even to eat or drink. I drew, mixed paint and painted oblivious to the passing of time. I painted throughout the day, and then right through the night. I don’t know how long I painted for. When I became too exhausted to continue, I would fall into a deep dreamless sleep, when woke I would carry on painting.

On the third day of the painting marathon I felt like listening to music. That day, on the third day I finished the painting of Wanetta standing on the island. The music I was listening too was Handel’s Messiah, strangely enough it was her record which I had bought for her. That was more that forty years ago. She loved the Messiah.

The Tale of the Sakabula Bird

  • ISBN: 9781311191175
  • Author: Vincent Gray
  • Published: 2016-06-20 14:20:08
  • Words: 47936
The Tale of the Sakabula Bird The Tale of the Sakabula Bird