‘A sign of rebirth, not a mark of death’

2010-06-30 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Tilling the Hard Soil: Poetry, Prose and Art by South ­African Writers with ­Disabilities

Edited by Kobus Moolman

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

TILLING the Hard Soil, whose title is taken from a linocut by William Zulu, is a collection of writing and artworks by South African individuals living with disabilities. The material has been selected and assembled by poet and playwright, Kobus Moolman, who describes the nine-year-old boy (himself) in his own contribution, Shelter, as having been “born with stupid feet and a hole at the base of his spine”.

While some of the contributors have had to deal with disabilities from birth, others have been the victims of subsequent illnesses or accidents. Each has had “hard soil” to till as he or she has learnt to cope physically and psychologically with a ­given condition and has striven for acceptance and inclusion in society. Excerpts from Musa Zulu’s autobiography, The Language of Me (2004), describe the 1995 accident which paralysed him at the age of 23, recall his initial devastation and recurring despair, and record his eventual ­realisation that disability might be converted into “thisability”, might be conceived as “a sign of rebirth, not a mark of death”.

While a number of other contributors also write of paralysis and the problems of mobility and accessibility in a wheelchair, some write of the alienation experienced at school ­owing to their perceived otherness and of superstition associated with certain afflictions such as polio and epilepsy.

Highlights among the prose pieces are Robert Greig’s The Operations, written (entertainingly) from a child’s perspective about surgery done on his club feet; Heinrich Wag­ner’s Bat Magic, an amusing and moving script recording his experiences and exploits as a blind person; and Kobus Moolman’s Shelter, written refreshingly in the third person about (one assumes) his nine-year-old self.

Some of the poems deal directly with disability (notably, Zohra Moosa’s Three Beautiful Senses, about her deafness). However, many focus on other issues, such as disillusionment with contemporary South Africa (the ‘politricks’ of Looks Matoto’s poem), loss, love and sex, or describe vegetation and rural scenes.

The writers reveal themselves as essentially courageous, positive, sometimes even self-mocking. Readers should be moved, reminded of the challenges that abound and of the potential of the human spirit to confront them.

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