When I was at school, we gained our gender images from two sources: Barbara Cartland romances and our history lessons about the Voortrekkers and The Great Trek. Barbara taught us that women were emaciated and helpless; history taught us they were solid and labouring. While Barbara’s Selina’s or Ianthe’s fainted and cried for help, the Afrikaner Hanna’s and Magda’s loaded guns and trekked bare foot over the Magalies Mountains. But both images had one thing in common: self-sacrifice. The men were dark and dashing or burly and religious, but they shot “the enemy” and they rescued the damsel or the nation, while the women prayed at home and willingly sacrificed.
I remember my first hiding at school, and the first lesson: boys’ needs come first. I was in grade one and the teacher was telling us about our Afrikaner heroes. We watched a stirring slide show with a voice over about Wolraad Woltemade (technically Dutch, but no one was counting), who with his trusty horse risked his life to save umpteen people from a sinking ship and eventually perished in the waves in his attempt. I was interested in this heroism, albeit sorry for the horse that had no choice. Then Mrs. Van Der Merwe turned to us with gleaming eyes, “Now girls, here is something for you”. The plummy voice sorrowfully intoned the tale of Rachel de Beer, a young girl who saved her brother’s life. Apparently the two children got lost in the veldt one winter evening, and as night fell they stumbled freezing in the dark. They were found the next morning in an ant heap. Rachel had taken off all her clothes and given them to her brother. They first removed her frozen dead body from where it covered the hole of the anthill and then found her brother – alive. At the mention of the naked Rachel, I began to snigger uncomfortably. Naked people were never mentioned at home, certainly never at school! Mrs. V. turned, she pounced. I was hoisted across two desks and dragged to the front of the room. Her ruler rained blows on the back of my legs, my arms and finally shattered against my back, “You filthy brat, you’ll learn, you’ll learn!” she said, and I did. (more…)
A Dance with Death
She smiled as she remembered the night it all began. He was so handsome and danced like there was no tomorrow. The music played softly in the background and the full moon cast a spell on the slow moving tightly embraced couple. That was truly a night designed especially for lovers, life, love and laughter, she thought.
“You have the sweetest and deepest brown eyes I have ever seen on anyone,” he said looking intently into her shy eyes, and gently running his fingers up her exposed back. She was pleased and felt a flush of pleasure spread on her face. “The way you say it I could almost believe you,” she said softly.
“Believe me, I speak true,” he whispered into her ear.
“Is this what you say to all inexperienced farm girls like me?” she quipped feeling suddenly daring.
“Life generally gives fortunate people three things, a good heart, a good mind and a brilliant smile but you life gave one more – the most beautiful eyes in the universe,” he said in an intimate mesmerizing tone.
He smiled that cute smile of his- his gold tooth glinted in the soft light and she felt like heaven was here and now and all that mattered was this precious moment.
“O thank you Emily for lending me the evening gown,” she thought as she buried her face against the cashmere dinner jacket he wore ever so elegantly.
“No! She said,” breathlessly. (more…)
The Rainbow Nation
A few decades ago, we lived in the province of Kwazulu Natal,a lush and tropical part of South Africa. Many of our friends still live there; one couple was stopped a while back by a (black) man they did not recognise. He however knew they were friends of my mother. They did not recognise him because he had been a teenager when they last met, and now looked very different in his late thirties. A large and proud Zulu man, with very dark skin and close-cropped peppercorn hair, he cut an imposing figure.
This man, Charles, called my mother here in the Western Cape, and when she went to KZN for a holiday she contacted him and they met up. He told her his story. She relayed it to me, and now I am passing it on to you.
Charles is a Zulu from KZN, and when he was young he lived with his mother in a shack in a township. She was working but there was not enough money with her small wages, so when he started high school he looked for some kind of job to help put bread on the table. It was at this stage that he started working for us as a garden boy. (more…)