Thou art indeed just, Lord

2009-04-28 00:00

The Zululand sun rose in the Zululand sky, promising to provide warmth for what was to be another Zululand day, humid and without relief. She smelt that familiar scent of burnt sugar cane — the farm workers would have their work cut out for them during the harvest. It amazed her how the usually docile farm suddenly sprang to life. From the moment the first match was lit, to the destruction of the chest-high green sea, the blackening of the sky, to the falling of the rain that is common at that time of year, those delicate strands of ash. This all meant one thing. Ironically this raping of the land meant a betterment of their family’s life. On that day, the rumble of the trains stretched to rouse them from their sleep before the sun had risen, carrying their loot to be refined and returned back in the form of things more useful, of greater value to them in their simplified lives. Those trains signified the assurance of food on the table, more certain than their rhythmic “clickity-clack”, and yet it was the trains that would take it all away; the food, the farm and the faith in a country where smoke could be smelt.

Life as a farmer’s wife was to her a lot more than what most people made it out to be. Apart from the “usual” tipping of frogs out of gumboots and washing overgrown moths down the plughole, there were tasks that were not included in the job description: chasing unnaturally large monkeys out of the kitchen and shooting even larger snakes out of trees. It all made her proud in an abstract way; proud to be able to protect her children, proud to live off the land and proud to be African. Despite those hazardous journeys embarked upon by her great ancestors who, in fact, came from Europe, many decades later (and skin tones darker) she felt she belonged in this land. She was born here, gave birth here, found love in both her husband and the land, and planned on taking her final breath here. A train changed this harmonious way of life, the clicking of a locomotive on a track ended the thumping of her heart for this place.

Trips into town were rarely taken at best, and even though they didn’t live in a different time period, they chose to live at a different tempo. The shrill cry of an eagle was preferred to that of a car horn. She and her three children set off on journeys to town not out of enjoyment, but out of necessity for rations and supplies. All humans have a desire for such simplicities, anything to allow the beautiful brutality of farm life to be cushioned. The smell from the cane fires was still detectable in the car, making them yearn for their return already. A train, possibly filled with their harvest, was approaching from the left, its tracks dissecting the road in two at the crossroad. She realised it would be unnecessarily dangerous to attempt to cross with the car and willingly came to a subservient halt. As it screamed past, blocking out anything else from being heard, dark men emerged from the bush that almost engulfed the road. Their intentions were evident before their demands were barked: her car, her jewellery, money, dignity and possibly even her life. But what of her children? Nothing comes between a mother and her young, even these hyenas should have acknowledged this rule of Africa. They had obviously foreseen this problem as the guns at their sides would imply. This land had taught her many things, and one of those was a stubbornness that was now rooted deep within her, thicker than her heels from the many hours of walking barefoot, connected to this land. And so, when they demanded that she get out the car, she refused. When they demanded the car itself, she reversed. When she was getting away, they shot at her. When her jaw was hit by a bullet, blowing it off, something that would require uncountable operations, she continued reversing, away from it all, leaving a nation without boundaries behind. For what? A better life? That was not possible. Zululand was her home, their home. A safer life of course, a sacrifice in itself.

She managed to drive all the way to hospital in that state, and lived. The morphine, surgery and love of her family were not enough to counter the pain that burnt her from inside. Africa had failed her; her faith was shattered worse than her mandible. They moved, within weeks, to more sterile shores. Shores that lacked the beat of Africa, but possessed a safety Africa was unable to provide. She heard from her new land that the men had been caught, and days later had bribed their way through the bars of their cell and back into the open, while her family had been ripped from the land, their roots still bare and sensitive. Thou art indeed just, Lord.

Patrick Smythe

Patrick Smythe matriculated from Michaelhouse at the end of 2008 and is currently registered for Property Studies at the University of Cape Town.

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