“You don’t know me, but you look interesting. Can I come over for a braai on Sunday?”
I liked Sonja before I even met her. From the little I saw of her Facebook posts, she guarded her plot with a gun and a 2m long yellow snake. She is not afraid of a dop and writes lyrically about her love for Africa and her life in Schweizer Reneke, Sort of like a zef version of Baroness Blixen in ‘Out of Africa.’ Robust. Individual Cool. I drive the 5 hours to meet her.
All I wanted was to have a braai and a glass of wine on a stoep that wasn’t my own in a town I had never been to before.
Instead, what I got was a prayer and a political poesklap which profoundly changed the way I see South Africa and my place in it.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SUNFLOWER
The North-West Province in this region is knows for its agriculture. Maize, sorghum, diamonds and sunflower fields. Somewhere between Coligny and Delareyville I screeched to a halt at a field of sunflowers. I had to have some. These sunflowers were proud and beautiful, as opposed to nearby fields where the flowers were already seeing. I jumped out of the car, giddy with anticipation, like when we were kids and picked cherries in Ceres, sugarcane in Natal and snuck over the neighbours’ wall to pick apricots. I picked the biggest ones to give to my host and proudly took a selfie.
I was a bit taken aback when she looked a horrified with my gift.
“Do you know the riots in Coligny were caused by sunflower theft?” Sonja asks, politely taking the flowers, but not putting them in water.
“I did not steal them, I just ….picked…. them….”
“A child died during the incident.”
“I am so sorry, I didn’t realize…. I …just… shit …ok…”
At this stage I was blissfully unaware of the details of the Coligny riots, which happened just a few days earlier. In fact, I knew nothing of the area I was travelling in.
The riots in Coligny started when farmers apprehended two children stealing sunflowers. Depending on whose version you believe, the one child ran away and the other died, trying to escape from the back of the farmer’s van or alternatively was thrown from the vehicle after being beaten. Either way, the child was dead. Because of a sunflower. To be clear, the farmers were white and the residents and sunflower thief was black. People tried to pretend this was not important, but it is very pertinent in this area.
The family and friends and anybody who supported them rose up in arms. They looted and raged. Many businesses, including those of Pakistani’s, Somalians and immigrants were destroyed. ‘They’, in mobs of up to 200, burned down houses, some still with living pets inside them. Mighty tremors of hatred and discontent spread across the hills aimed at Farmers. It even reached Schweizer-Reneke. ‘They’ were sending a message: A lot of people were like: “All this fuss about sundfower seeds. Stealing is stealing. Finish and klaar. And now you go burning down the very businesses you need to have jobs so you don’t have to steal. Why must everyone make everything about race all the time. It was an accident. Technically the child killed himself. Such a senseless act of destruction. Sad. Tsk. Tsk.” Other suggestions were that the riots were orchestrated and planned weeks ahead of time, so the ‘sunflower’ just became a convenient piece of theatre.
At first glance, it seems reaction to the event was elevated, given that the facts of the matter had not yet been ruled on. I’m guessing it is because it is not about a sunflower. And the emotions behind the behaviours go back way back further than the last week.
Sonja lives on a plot just outside of town. Off the grid. Very little electricity and water is carefully measured. I felt very exposed.
“They normally attack on a Sunday.” Sonja says while the braai fire starts crackling under a magnificent sky. “Sunday’s are the most dangerous on the farms,” she says.
“Er, today is Sunday….” I pointed out.
“Ja. Everyone is nervous. In our township here, Ipelegeng, the young men started marching with pangas, shouting death threats to the farmers. I’ve had death threats against me personally. They know where I live.” She says, looking attentively at the electric fence, her 3 dogs barking excitedly at the gate.
“All I wanted was a tjop ‘n dop.” I moan to myself and open a bottle of Nederburg Edelroodt 2013, pour myself a stiff one and offer her one.
“Thanks. I normally drink brandy,” she says. “But this is a good wine. Better than the crap we get here.”
She walks to an old LP player and puts on Black Sabbath at full volume. “It’s important to listen to Heavy Metal very loudly!” she shouts.
The dogs bark at a noise at the gate again. I jump up, startled.
“Relax,” says Sonja. “If it is my time, it is my time. I might as well go out with good wine and good music. What can we do anyway?”
‘Not have another glass of wine and turn the music softer so we can hear them coming, perhaps?’ I suggest.
“I don’t want to shoot people, I really don’t,” she says earnestly. “Anyway, there is nothing I can do when 200 of them show up – I only have 50 bullets.”
“…holy fuck…” I think. “No wonder I liked you immediately. You’re obviously mad.”
Ozzy Osbourne screams into the night:
“Revolution in their minds – the children start to march.
Against the world in which have to live
And all the hate that’s in their hearts…
…. They’ll fight the world until they’ve won.”
The braai flames lick higher as the sun sets and the stars come out. Around us, the ‘Boere’ are starting to stalk their farms with guns, waiting for the ’impi’ to come over the hills at night. Just like they did1 30 years ago when General De La Rey fought the ‘uitlanders’ in this area during the Boer Wars. Like Schweizer and Reneke fought the Koranna and Tswana in 1885 wars, founding this very town. Like they did 3 days ago just around the corner in Coligny. Like they might tonight right here at this very gate. If not tonight, maybe next week or next year. After all, Eugene Terreblanche the leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging in 1993 warned in Schweizer-Reneke of Third Boer War. “This land is ours by right of conquest. This is where we ended the Third Boer War will start here again. This town has a history steeped in bloody relations between the Afrikaners and the African inhabitants of the area.”
Sonja seems a lot calmer about the situation than me, but then she has secret weapons I don’t have: She has God and Angus Buchan, not necessarily in that order. She went to the ‘Million Man’ prayer in Bloemfontein and says that the experience changed her profoundly.
“A million people of all races, praying for peace. Praying for the end of racism and race hatred. It was beautiful.” She describes how she experienced an epiphany at the event. How she saw how the wind seemingly isolated Angus Buchan and swirled around him while it was still around her. To her, it was a manifestation of a Godly presence. Her eyes well up a bit. Remembering the event. Gooseflesh. Wine.
I absolutely respect her and the other people gathering at the prayer for their efforts and the principle behind it. I am not religious at all, but 1 Million people having positive thoughts about the country is not a bad thing. And while Angus Buchan might be a sif old Oompie with some issues, but he pulled off something impressive.
“I don’t think this wine is agreeing with me,” Sonja says, slightly woozily.
“Neither do I”, I say. “I don’t believe in praying. I think we actually have to do something. And even then, there is a good chance a lot of us are going to get slaughtered.”
“We’re not going to get slaughtered.” she says, making sure she knows where the gun is. “I believe in the prayer of Angus Buchan.”
“Make up your mind.”
I sneak in when I think she can’t see me and turn the Black Sabbath softer.
“That snake of yours, is it going to bite me?” I ask.
“No, you won’t even notice when she sneaks into the bed with you.”
“… for fuck’s sake…”
SO ZULUS ALLEGEDLY BASH THE VOORTREKKER’S BABY’S HEADS IN ON OXWAGON WHEELS TO KILL THEM AND 170 YEAR LATER WE ALLEGEDLY THROW THEIR CHILDREN OFF A MOVING VEHICLE, KILLING THEM? IS THAT HOW IT GOES? YEP, PRETTY MUCH.
I drove through Coligny on the trip. And that’s where I got my political poesklap. The absolute despair of the place. It was like a scene from the Walking Dead. People were out on the main street, but nobody was doing anything. People were sitting on the pavement, sleeping on their arms, waiting for God knows what. Broken windows. Broken lives. Empty shops, empty futures. It set in motion a set of thoughts and discoveries which ultimately caused me great horror, followed by great peace.
For a reason I cannot explain, I recalled a song we were taught as young children:
“En hoor jy die magtige dreuning? Oor die veld kom dit wyd gesweef.
Die lied van ‘n volk se ontwaking, wat harte laat sidder en beef.
Dit is die lied van Jong Suid Afrika.”
The words of the song refer to a mighty trembling across the land. The awakening of a Young South Africa. It is what we are witnessing right now, except the poem was written 75 years ago, by a fervent Nationalist, Prof JP Erlank – in Wolmaransstad, the area I was travelling through. (I didn’t know it at the time, I had to look it up. What a mindfuck. This trip was just delivering so many coincidences and insights.) Think about it! In the 40’sThen, we were witnessing the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism. Now we are witnessing the rise of African Nationalism. It was originally a struggle song protesting the horrific oppression of the Boers by the British at the turn of the previous century, but it could well be a struggle song sung on marches today.
How the wheel turns.
The ‘Swart Gevaar’ is now the ‘Wit Gevaar’ (White Monopoly Capital) invoked at the slightest turn or stumble.
But the question remains:
How come we were taught at primary school a ‘struggle’ song 40 years after the National Party and the Afrikaner had been firmly in charge of all financial institutions and were running the country with a brutal, violent and unforgiving grip. How come we were taught struggle songs about a war that ended 100 years ago? How come many the struggle songs of the ANC are still those of the 1950’s? I mean they’ve had all of these 20 years to sort everything out?
Why? Because that’s how long it takes a nation to sort its shit out.
An excellent piece by Rian Malan truly made sense to me for the first time. (Link below) According to Psycho Historians a cycle of dominance, humiliation and the need for revenge and reconquering plays itself out in human nature.
It works like this :
A nation conquers and subjugates another nation. The conquered experiences a large degree of humiliation, which can only really be dealt with by ‘revenge’ and acts of ‘vengeance’. We are caught in this wheel: domination, humiliation.revenge,conquer. And we cannot get out of this wheel – because that is how humans work. Acts of revenge (looting/invading/burning/domination) are not ‘senseless’ at all, it is in fact a very logical and human response.
We are like hamsters in perpetual loop of a Cowboy movie:
“You shot my Pah!”
“But… you just shot MY pah”
BANG! BANG! BANG!
It is not something that can be stopped. Personally, I am not sure it should be stopped, but something that has to understood and tackled. Maybe there is a way that the ‘vengeance’ does not have to be violent, but an aggrieved and humiliated group has to go through that avenging stage to ‘get over it.” Maybe we can do it by the conquerors prostrating themselves and asking for forgiveness – but properly – and meaningfully. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee wasn’t enough.
Praying for peace will not work. I don’t think ‘peace’ is a good solution here. Peace is for sissies. For people who do not have the courage to face the past or contribute to the future. If I understand psycho historian theory correctly, there cannot be peace until there is vengeance.
And that was my breakthrough. And once I understood the enormity of the situation I went through a state of panic and horror about my future in this country. And then, I accepted it and a great peace descended upon me.
THE WHEEL TURNS: IF WE’RE GOING TO GET SLAUGHTERED, WE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE ABOUT IT.
So, I ask you, what is your part in this unrelenting wheel? Because it ain’t turning itself. Think, what has your fathers and forefathers (and mothers) contributed to this wheel taking this path? More importantly, what are YOU and your children going to do to help make this wheel turns lightly less violently or take a slightly different path? But this wheel will have its way with us. I believe some of us (whites) will be slaughtered, so you might as well have a positive attitude about it. If the time comes it will be horrible and I wish it wouldn’t, but if it comes for me I shall face it with no sense of victimhood. I will bear no feelings of vengeance or retribution. I understand now where I fit in.
I am free. At last. Free from the tyranny of the anger and resentment I had against ‘Them’ for not sorting their shit out in 20 years. 20 Years are just the first step.
Hell, I forgot that when I was a laaitie in the 80’s we still donnered the Rooinekke in the parkie after school.
“Afrikaner, Vrot Banana!” the Rooineks shouted.
“Englishman, Rubbish Bin!” we retorted.
Dish! (Revenge) Pe-Taf!(Humiliation) Ding! (fuck up)
This was 80 years after the war ended – and we still had not gotten ‘over it.’
There are many white ‘boere’ in this area who still behave as if Genl De La Rey is about to come charging down the N12 on Ou Ryperd to help Eugene Terreblanche start Boer War 3.
The wheel is turning. What you gonna do?
DIE LIED VAN JONG SUID-AFRIKA
‘Children of tomorrow
Live in the tears that fall today
Will the sunrise of tomorrow
Bring peace in any way?’
– Black Sabbath
“And another thing,” Sonja says, after turning Black Sabbath louder again. “ I am tired of this ‘us’ and ‘them’ bullshit. Why can’t we all just be the same. I am tired of being called ‘white’. I’m sorry that I am white, okay? In fact, I am not white – look! I am tawny!” she says displaying a tanned arm.
“I am NOT white,” she insists. “YOU are blerrie white!”, she says, pointing at me accusingly.
“I am not that fucking white,” I protest, looking at my pale skin guiltily.
“Jesus, I am actually that white,” I confess, before finishing off the Meerlust. “But this I can tell you, it is because I am this blerrie white that I was in no danger of being killed because I stole a fucking sunflower.”
I woke before dawn, having hardly slept. My thoughts were with the people of Coligny, especially the family of the slain child and those who lost their houses. My thoughts were with poor Ahmed Kathrada who was born in Schweizer-Reneke and spent his childhood here and must surely be turning in his grave. My thoughts were with all like Sonja, who live in a life torn between fear and hope. Mostly my thoughts were with the sunflower thief. To have lived a short life of such poverty and desperation and humiliation and then to experience the horror of spending the last moments of it suffering at the hand of/in the presence of the demon you feared the most: a white ‘boer’. ‘Us.’ You can’t sleep when you have thoughts like that.
I went out and watched the sun rise over Schweizer –Reneke. It was quiet, with only the odd dog barking and an alarm sounding in the distance. If you listened carefully, you could hear a mighty pounding. Can you hear it? Hoor jy die magtige dreuning? Dit is die lied van Jong Suid Afrika.
- Must Read: Rian Malan’s article
- Black Sabbath ‘Masters of Reality” Lyrics You’ll be surprised how much it reads as gospel tunes.
My comments on the facts of the trial of the 2 farmworkers accused of killing the child are written before judgment was handed down and I am stating the facts or alleged facts as I understand them to be true at the time of writing this.
[PS. For in case somebody needs a project to tackle on a Saturday afternoon; nobody really took revenge on the British for the multitude of atrocities they committed in Africa.]