Cape Point: 8 degrees East Longitude, 34 degrees South Latitude. March 2,000.
From where I am, adrift on this lighthouse where the Atlantic and Indian giants wrestle at Africa’s tip, ahead of me is an open sea: nothing between here and Antarctica two thousand miles south but the calm curved horizon of these finally-melded oceans. Pointing to the South Pole is this rock on which I stand, an arrowhead cleaving the salt waters that rage and retreat, rage and retreat at the cliffs plunging down beneath me.
Down down on my right -- from the West -- the Atlantic Ocean at the end of its long passage via Canada. On Namibia’s Skeleton Coast it has been licking the windblown bones of merchant ships, then pocketing a diamond or two from Luderitz. That was payment for its silent collaboration all those Apartheid years encircling Robben Island, its icey barbs invisible spears guarding precious prisoners whose escape must must not be allowed.
Now, for its final fling, stunning in translucent turquoise, it sweeps around the bluffs.
Down down on my left, the warm Indian Ocean, sweat of my Africa. Its swells fill me …. with those torrents of unbridled tears, and that ever-brimming laughter tumbling over as waterfalls splashing hitting bottom percolating up through my parched soul.
I grapple for my centre as gales tip me now towards Africa the spring of my life the country of my blood, now toward Canada the place I’ve been calling home.
Groping drunkenly for the stone parapet I try to anchor myself, feet shoulder-width apart, wanting both to hold my own and to feel this raw spirit’s power. I am witness here to this sacred moment precisely where these oceans meet.
Oh this blessed land enriches me! But the poverty, deliberately engineered in the past and which will take decades to overcome, overwhelms me. The flagrant wealth sickens me. The violence is terrifying, inbred by systemic brutality that will take generations to be purged from these millions of abuse-victims. And yet there are the millions more who weathered and rose through that Baptism of fire – unproclaimed saints they are, Mandelas all! And Tutus … Bikos ….. every last one of them!
Steve, had I not known you, I would be asking: how is it possible that the women we used to call our ‘Girls’ when we were their ‘Medems’, and who used to address us in our language, eyes averted, now greet me open-faced, “Molo uSisi!” Good morning Sister! This beamed to me the other day on a Ciskei sidewalk, by a woman trying to feed her family by crocheting plastic shoppingbags into jaunty hats and purses. “And HOW are you today?” she really wanted to know. They all, really really, want to know.
As I stand in this tempest I recall the battle towards the death of the Beast, and marvel at the reconciliation that has now only just begun. “Nkosi sikelele Africa” – God bless Africa – was our hymn. “Uit die blou van onse hemel, Uit die diepte van ons see” – Out of our blue heavens, From the depths of our sea – was the anthem of The Oppressor, in the language we abhorred, Afrikaans.
But now, just the other day, there I was, belting out those Afrikaans words with great gusto, my face awash in tears, the salt water on my cheeks a strange solution of joy and grief, triumph and weariness. Because, you see, I was dead centre in the miracle voiced by the new National Anthem: in harmony, we were all now singing, together celebrating, four of our languages flowing together: “Nkosi sikelele Africa…. Morena boloka sechaba sa Jeso…. Ringing out from our blue heavens …….. Uit die diepte van ons see…”
“Yurre Piet it’s a blerry mirrykel these Okies diddunt draav us ovah those cluffs into Die Diepte van ons See or shup us off to Antawktica!”
Yes they didn’t, did they?
Instead, they embrace us as Sister. And the hip young blackguy sauntering along Jo’burg’s streets, fake cellphone on his belt, raises his palm to the approaching dreadlocked whiteguy and without missing a beat they slap hands to his “Yo Broe!”
Borrowed from “broer” – brother -- in what used to be the hated tongue.
Oh, how I love and fear this place of passion! This place where the pulse of life is so so close to the surface, palpable at every turn and just a hairsbreadth away from ever-present death. This land of drought and violent storms whose flashfloods can sweep you away, and of Ubuntu -- that spirit in community that grace that glue that rock that can weather anything.
I want to dwell in this miracle. I want to be in this communion. I want to absorb that state of grace which I swear exudes from this very earth on which I stand. And I want to indulge, more, in our laughter, and in this feeling of slipping back into my own skin as my tongue laps up our slang and my being dances to the music of my homeland.
I feel a pull to complete the circle, to join with these my people in picking up and creating with what’s tumbling out of this box that I once helped to prise open. But, there is still an enormous amount of work to do! Would I have the strength of spirit, the courage …. and yes the Ubuntu, to crochet with them a new fabric out of this magical soil and mangled bodies and music and AIDS and plastic shoppingbags?
The currents churn, the Atlantic wrestling for supremacy over the Indian, riptides vying hundreds of feet below me lacey white bridal veils streaming behind them every which way down the aisle to their eventual union.
Tapping me on my right shoulder, beckoning from way back over there, there is Canada. Safe. Kind and solid Canada, gracious host all these years to this my body, these my children. Canada where I’ve put down roots and which I have seeded with my mongrel being.
There is my body.
Here is my blood.
Written September 2003
Latest edit Jan 2011