I’ve been imprisoned from the moment I was born: imprisoned by repressive laws and a barbarous system that has criminalized my existence, rendering me a fugitive in my dreams.
Cowardly thieves, sneaking around under cover of broad daylight with a righteous indignation and baying regiments of uniformed henchman who are deployed to silence the voices of dissent in the dead of night: the bloodlust will not be sated.
The oppression and murder were not enough, I had to be confined even further: regularly detained and occasionally arrested; interrogated and routinely tortured; humiliated and maimed. Murdered!
You thought that you could strip me of my soul by tearing off my clothes; you tried to demolish my unwavering conviction that yours is the mind enchained.
Despite your relentless, tyrannical persecution, you have failed to strip me of my humanity.
Broken and bleeding I embraced the cold concrete and steel; the pain and the imprisonment; you wondered when you saw me lying there then, you thought that I would break but I didn’t.
I was prepared.
I had been prepared ever since you enslaved my ancestors and detained my elders; kicking my mother and beating my father; I was prepared and it scared you further.
You thought I would break but I wouldn’t.
The hours and days and years passed in the distance while I counted out the seconds to the sound of your footsteps up and down the corridor.
It made me smile.
I saw you there deep inside your own demise, unable to leave; not thinking, just marking the passage of my every thought, imagining a better world; a world I know in which everyone is free and able to live and die with dignity.
And you did not even realize that you were there with me, in that prison and in my thoughts; you did not realize that it was you. Not free to leave. Your fear and your guilt and your mindless bigotry have enslaved you and made you ever vigilant, ever watching and unseeing.
I am released and you remain. Serving your time for a bastard father who is dead yet still demands your body and your blood and your thoughts and your soul: bowed to the dictate and demand of a despotic patriarch consumed by its own ravening will, being consumed.
And through your bars while you look at me maybe you’ll see the mother; maybe you’ll see another father with a child who is smiling as it points a tiny finger to the future.
I cannot believe that you did not realize that your laws and your jails and your boots and your guns would never serve to enslave me: the concrete and steel and razor-wire were never enough to restrain me; your plots and your schemes and your lies and false dreams never once fooled me.
I am the spirit of freedom, of equality and justice; I am woman and man, I am their child. I am greater than your futility and prejudice and violence; I am consciousness, and I will no longer be contained.
Can I Afford It?
I was conceived in the blistering heat of the golden African sun; born beneath a celestial blanket of diamonds; with the silvery, full moon illuminating the darkness of a mystical nocturnal landscape.
But I was raised and became another kind of man in the bowels of the earth, mining precious metals which seldom adorn the mantel above my hearth; the back-breaking labour under a yoke of tyranny to furrow and sow and reap a harvest that doesn’t fill my stomach; my life reduced to a disposable human resource in the employ of a brutal, relentless economy whose bounty is made tenable by my sweat; my future and the future of my children, sacrificed to secure success for strangers who will never know my name.
I cannot afford to own land; or build a home; yet I must pay for my child’s education: mostly I barely survive, but I do take comfort in the fact that there are so many who have even less than me and in that abject certainty I end up owning my lot and my suffering.
But with that harsh reality, comes an uncompromised clarity – a sensitivity.
Detached, I am able to really see. I am able to see myself for whom and what I really am; I see us all beyond the constricting confines of stereotype and statistics and an imposed identity that we are all constantly persuaded to assume: no longer am I just one of countless millions living below or upon the breadline, on the street or in a shack or a sub-standard block-house where the cold wind keens through the single chink in the night’s armour; the cracked and crumbling walls, frames with cardboard windows and beneath the leaning door.
I am able to see what is happening in the world, what is happening to our ailing humanity; I see what is going on and what has gone wrong; and while we fight these fragmented, meaningless wars against enemies and demons that we’ve been sold, there is another beast watching unseen – unseeing – gloating as its omnipotence swells, sustained by avarice and the wilful ignorance as we bare witness but miserably, doggedly doubt the veracity of the evidence. That we are the unthinking, suffragists that fuel the fires of this capitalist democracy that we inherited through negotiation between urbane warlords with their own interests at heart; a settlement in which small men have become leaders through coercion and corruption, ensuring that my lot remains unchanged.
I still warm my brittle bones under the blistering African sun, I still lie prostrate upon the rich fertile soil beneath the glare of my forefathers’ celestial gaze embracing all of my wealth, the irrepressible spirit of my African soul.
This African soil where the dust of my ancestral memory lies decaying with parents and sons and daughters, buried beneath the convenient text-book lies: the powdery flaking white-wash ineffectually trying to conceal the story of an age of African prosperity.
Sometimes as I watch you turn away – unable to face the facts – I wonder ‘what is the price I have to pay for your dignity?
“Can I afford it?”
All of this land was once our home. Fertile and rich, we were sustained. We knew the seasons and understood the elements, we could read the stars. Our children knew their kin and shared in our stories. Without shame or judgement they grew; but now no more.
This is where I used to live. The wall along the boundary, the garden, the path; the door upon which visitors knock, the hall, the rooms and windows; the ceiling and rafters and roof; the jaded, faded memories of birth and death and life: was once mine but is no more.
These walls were once our sanctuary; a habour from the tempests; keeping safe my family who I love most dear; a humble haven against the ravages of the relentless, blustering winds that have swept so much rubbish to these shores: our refuge no more.
This grain of sand is now my home. Just a single, tiny grain that contains all of me: my history, my reality, my dreams all contained within this single grain.
A single grain that is the mountains and the valleys, the oceans and rivers and the land: a grain so mighty and yet so small in which the seed of my existence was planted and nourished and where I grew; but seemingly no more.
My afterbirth lies buried here in this grain with the murdered bones and the miserable torture and indignity and the tragic joy of my ancestors.
Now this single, tiny grain once again contains all of my living, all of what is me.
I am this land, the air; the mountains and the skies; the sunshine and the moon and the stars and the clouds.
The bricks, the mortar, the glass and the wood; each a moment carefully constructed. There a smile, or a tear or some laughter; a celebration, mourning, the sound of a baby crying, the final sigh of an elder dying.
This grain of sand is all that is left of my birthright.
Once a mighty mountain of resistance: now a lone wailing in the distance.
Shivering outside, exposed to the estranged elements, dying inside on the sandy wastes of cinderblock tenements.
This land is no longer my home. I have been evicted and abandoned, sacrificed for a corporate profit which purchased my vote and my hopes and the dreams of my children who now live here with me in this grain of sand upon which you stand without noticing my suffering. My life and my living became an obstruction: to your views, your plans, your safety and your justice.
These walls which were once my home were bulldozed again, burying my plight along with my rights: another District 6, another Sophiatown, another Cato Manor; in the name of a gentrified Woodstock, a Slum Act for Kennedy Road and State corruption in Lenasia.
Bankers and corporations buttering bread for an exclusive banquet to which we were never invited, but are expected to serve: where they discuss the economy and foreign investment between trips to the piss-house-parliament to make way for yet more gluttonous gorging where you and I are never mentioned except in passing.
I know that no one speaks about my cupboard that is bare and broken beneath the rubble that was once the walls supporting my roof. The constitution and education is failing because already the children have learned how to mistrust and hate fate; learned that only money can change circumstance and financial success can be attained through criminal gain.
A police force skilled in bullying and harassment: supposedly civilized men in uniforms and suits who continue to rape and torture, prolonging the suffering of parents who must live so that they can repay all of their debt with interest.
State sanctioned suppression and condoned murder; the brutal accomplices of this insecure tenure.
And in the end I know that you will also want this tiny little grain that houses me and the misery that is all that remains of our once lofty ideals.
This single, tiny grain that is the last vestige of resistance.
Woodtsock, Schubert Park, Itireleng, Skurweplaas, Mooiplaas, Debonair Park, Thembelihle, Lawley Ennerdale, Khayelitsha…