The day arrived at the end of August – our D-day to exit our home in Kalk Bay, Cape Town. All the preparatory work of packing up our house and preparing it for our tenants’ arrival is finally done. The Troopy packed and ready for the continental adventure. And we are on the road north to Johannesburg and then east to the Crocodile River on the southern Kruger National Park to our bush home in Mjejane Game Reserve. This is where the final preparations for our trip will be done and where the last of my work commitments will be finalised over the next two months.
After a long drive we finally arrived at Mjejane in the familiar savanna bush. I’m listening to the dawn chorus of the retiring fiery necked night jar, water thick-knee, the loud and ubiquitous Egyptian geese. I listen not to hear or name, but to feel. Feel back for three hundred million years. To a time when we departed paths with our avian cousins and evolved into the mammalians. I try to dig deep into the sounds. Feel the language of them. Not as a kind of speaking or even communicating. But as a kind of presence. Of being known. At one with and mindful of all other life. That’s how I try to feel the sounds of the morning. Like listening to the soundtrack of our ancient past. Now comes the tap tap of the golden tailed woodpecker. And then the brown headed kingfisher returns to the knob thorn to make its call of knowing and being. This is the dawn savanna ceremony. A ceremony of presence, of being and of living through the collective life of all other living things. And of us on our knees seeking humble allowance, forgiveness and acceptance, of being one with all other life on earth. And of knowing. Knowing one’s place amongst all living things. As a servant, an unseen enabler and promoter of all life, rather than destroyer of natural habitats as the apex predator.
That is my morning thought process. It feels like a new dawn. Like I’m meant to be here. At this very cusp of Mjejane transition to ease us into the people and biomes of the African continent. It feels right. So gentle and forgiving. And at the same time a chance to breath, to smell and see and listen to the sounds and scents of the bush wilds. And prepare. Not just to travel. But prepare to hear with new ears and see with new eyes. A chance to free all our senses from the deafening clutter of urban living. A chance to begin to learn. Learn about what it means to be present, to live in the moment, to end the turmoil of past thoughts or future plans. And just to be quiet and mindful. Be one in the present, be one with the sounds, smells and sights of the bush. And just to think a whole lot more about who I am and what it is I want to discover in ourselves and all other life on our pending travels.
It feels perfect. But nothing really is. Because perfection is not a self-styled creation. It is a mediated product of all other life. And that other life can be ugly. Deeply disturbing. It has a way of creating a circumstance outside of our influence and control. A circumstance which colours us all in a shade of dirty grey. We learn this lesson the hard way through the ghastliest of news reports of us Mzansi men at war with our women, our children and our brothers from the continent. Femicide and rape of women, burning and looting foreign owned shops and attacking our brothers from the continent. The violence sweeps across our townships of Gauteng. The attacks on women are everywhere, at a rate of one GBV murder every three hours. It’s a crisis of epic proportions that propels retaliation looting of SA owned businesses on foreign lands, and the closure of SA foreign embassies in Zambia and Nigeria, the cancellation of football games, and demonstrations on the streets across the continent. Politicians and diplomats make noises of shock and horror and calls for calm. It’s way too little and it’s not even mildly effective. This rot is deep in our soul. And it sinks deep into the consciousness of all other Africans. The world, and especially the African continent, now know that the people from the south are sick. Deeply sick.
It’s painful for me to internalise this deep disgrace of being an African from the south. I reflect on my own history of service to my country. Of my great pride and respect for the fortitude and capacity to struggle and sacrifice of all our people. And the way that this fortitude first cracked and then crumbled the apartheid regime. And how, through it all, from the sixties to the nineties, the people of the frontline states held our activists in their homes, fed and cared for them, and gave them shelter and space to train and arm themselves for a guerrilla offensive against the apartheid regime. And how the whole continent, and the world at large, lent their solidarity to our just struggle for a democratic South Africa through the darkest decades. An act that infused us democratic struggle activists with healthy doses of internationalism as an absolute must have perspective of a life choice. And that was a mere two and half decades ago. I think of the countless activists that I came to admire and trust with everything, my children and my life even, in the trenches of the anti-apartheid struggle. Brothers and sisters as one. Salt of the earth, poverty people. People of impeccable integrity and loyalty. My people, our people. And now this self same well of poverty arise the dark hand of murderers of women and looters of our African brothers. How did we lose our humanity, our African essence, our very morality and ethos and the spirit of ubuntu?
The answers are illusive and complex. This is not the place to try to unpack the countless failures of leadership and the social and economic drivers of the deadly cocktail of femicide and xenophobia. It’s enough to say that it is deep and intractable. And will require much more than leadership declarations to cleanse it from the consciousness of the people of the south. But for me, at this moment in time, poised to travel across the countries of the continent, it could not be more of a millstone, a dark cloud, over our dreams of being a people at one with all other people of our continent. Everything changes. The S AFRICA WP registration plates on the Troopy, that I personalised with pride when I imagined myself using them as a conversation starter and solidarity cementer with the people of the continent, must now be removed. Discarded. Dead and buried. The pride I held in my heart of being a person from the south must now be deleted, or at least hidden, as far as possible. I will replace them with Mpumalanga registration plates prefaced with MP plus some numeral digits. Hoping that they will be indistinguishable from any other. Hoping that they will be invisible. Absent. Ignored. That is the must do change I resolve to implement whilst here in the Mjejane waiting station of my transition. That and some visas and insurance for the car and our health and we ready to roll.