After attending a two-hour service and being enriched among the green spires at my Forest Church at Platbos Forest Reserve, eating lunch with Niel and Gabi at Baardskeerdersbos — and buying a Niel Jonker painting of Central Park — it was almost an afterthought to motor towards the ocean for a sniff of precious ozone.
So I came upon Uilenkraalsmond, an estuary, river mouth and beach and dunes and light and magic, of which I had hitherto had no experience. Unfathomably.
I would be well advised to simply let the pictures roll before your eyes at this point but I want to add a little bit more. When I parked Lucille on the bridge and scrambled down to the dunes to start a pioneering perambulation of the estuary’s edge, it came to me that perhaps I had stumbled across Mars or Jupiter. Or some as yet unnamed planet.
I have visited many breathtakingly beautiful places in South Africa… but, here, in this wild and and slightly edgy, even harsh place, there was magic in the air. There was salty seaspray, a skin-goldening gentle light, yellow dunes, black oystercatchers, red-rust and canola-yellow ripples and no humanoids in sight.
Out of The Hat column, Stanford River Talk (October, 2013)
There are a plethora of reasons why we Stanfordians have been drawn to live in this little, old village.
I have a plethora all of my own.
One, one that I have grown to hugely appreciate and cherish over the past three and a bit years, is simplicity.
This is never more beautifully apparent than when I sit at my kitchen window in the mornings and look out over what I call “my back garden sanctuary”… and beyond that to the fields, where rainwater lakes have formed, and where Howard’s horses graze along with a group of fallow deer and guinea fowl and geese and ducks. And whatever else blew in overnight.
Beyond all of this are the magnificent trees that line the river. And the river, flowing purposefully towards the lagoon, now an estuary blissfully married to the ocean.
Whenever I, with The Gentle Men’s Movement, have gone out to Bredasdorp to plant trees to honour Anene Booysen, I have wondered whether they will be there when I return.
I have pleaded with the people living near the place where Anene was raped and murdered on February 2 this year. “Anene Row”.
I have asked the adults to remind their children to pour a full bucket of water around each of the trees every Sunday. I have spoken with the kids, shown them how to do it, encouraged them… and, when asked for “n randtjie” (a rand), have given in and given them five rands to do the job.
I’ve tried putting “a white light” around the trees when we leave. I come home. And I am able to put it out of my mind. Until I return.
The church was empty. No people, no people’s paraphernalia. No Sunday hats to show off their religion.
Only my hat. To cover the hairless patch. So the birds, flitting around high up in the roof of my lush cathedral, would not be tempted to take aim with fertiliser bombs.
In the church of my understanding, Platbos Forest, the service is ongoing. No words. Just the wind and the trees, talking in tongue (thank you, Leonard).
And lots of hymn. And him. And the Great Spirit. And her.. The birds, of course. The full panoply of song. And the canopy, alive with the buzzing of a million bees, their high voice as one, harmonised with the budding spring.
I walked into my church, mindful of warning the resident congregation that I came so there was no cause for alarm. The forest floor was damp and scented and musky and rich, the leaves, the bark, the twigs, the moss, the mould, the mulch, the Grandfather’s Beard all creaking and cracking in tune with my footfall. The anthem of the fallen.
The Fallen. This is why I had come back. To talk. To ask them, my family lost, for guidance. To find reassurance. And my truth.
The Gentle Men’s Movement (that’s Tim O’Hagan and I for this day) went to plant more trees for Anene Booysen on Women’s Day.
I am overwhelmed. By what I see as miracles. Little miracles, perhaps, but still they overwhelm me.
I go to Platbos Forest early on Women’s Day to buy two trees to plant in what I’m calling “Anene Row” at the Kleinbegin RDP area near Bredasdorp. Yes, the place where she was brutalised, raped and murdered on February 2 this year.
I take R100, donated to The Gentle Men’s Movement by Beatrice Pook of Stanford, and Platbos owners Melissa and Francois suggest two Karoo acacias, which will be hardy enough to withstand the harshness of the conditions and life at Kleinbegin. To stand near to the White Pear we planted on Mandela Day.
I pay with the R100, Melissa doesn’t have the R20 change and I tell her not to worry, that the R100 was meant to go into the trees which will bring healing to Anene’s community. Francois says: “Well, take another tree.” And produces a beautiful Cape Ash sapling…
We planted a White Pear tree for Anene Booysen on Thursday, Mandela Day.
At the spot where she was gang-raped, disembowelled and left to bleed to death….
“The Anene Tree”
“We” are The Gentle Men’s Movement. This tree serves as a memorial to Anene — and the thousands upon thousands of South African women of all ages, of all ethnic backgrounds, of all social classes who, like her, have had their bodies and souls violated and their lives ripped away at the hands of men.
In a previous post on this blog I told of the conceptual photography artwork I wanted to create, illustrating the story of two young girls who lost their father six years ago.
Ruby and Sara are now 12 and 11 and they have travelled an unimaginably (to me) painful and tortuous path since Richard took his life. I won’t expand on that because two people much, much closer to him have told their personal stories in books and I will later direct you to places where you can find out more, if you so wish.
All I wanted to do is create a triptych of photographs that might illustrate, in simple terms and at least in the realm of my imagination, the spiritual journey Ruby and Sara have had to undertake to get to where they are now — the sweetest, most affectionate, openly love-expressing young children one could be privileged to meet.
I didn’t think I would write this. I didn’t think I could write it.
I was thinking it might be more dignified and honourable if I continued to just think quietly about you, how you might be feeling (or not feeling), after I woke in the morning.
I thought I would remain quiet while I watch the TV pictures showing all the messages and balloons of love going up outside the hospital inside which you slip away, unseen, unheard but still holding us.
I thought, as I ate my Weetbix and Passion Orange yoghurt and heard the clock tick and watched the birds flit about on a golden Overberg winter’s day, about the chilling winter of your last days and how seasons come to an end. How South Africa will go into spring without you… and how our flowers will grow and blossom anyhow. Perhaps not as brightly.
Earlier this year, on February 2, Anene Booysen was taken from David’s Sports Bar and Grill in Bredasdorp to a nearby housing development. To a sandy passage between two small RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses, and alongside a deep culvert.
There, the 17-year-old girl, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister and a friend of some and known to many, was gang-raped and murdered. Inbetween those two events, she was disembowelled. Not just her body but Anene herself… because she died much later, after she was found by a security guard, her blood sinking into the sand.
A week later, with South Africa seemingly rising up in protest over the grotesque invasion and mutilation of Anene’s body and life, I went to join the demonstration outside the Bredasdorp Magistrate’s Court, where three young men appeared in connection with the crime. I also went to the spot where Anene’s dignity and life were taken from her…
… and found these flowers. And a wooden cross. And I found the horror. I found it on people’s faces. I felt it in the heat of a midsummer’s day. Between two unoccupied houses.
The horror had its own home between two tiny, empty houses built on sand. And I felt it snaking through my body.
I’ve spent the past two days feeling the biggest love. Now I’ll try to share it.
The love feeling is so large that I don’t know where to start to spread it. Like mulch. So, obviously, I will start at the end.
Me and Lucille (by now you know that she is my Grand Old Lady of The Road) crested the rise just near Grootbos, but even closer to midnight.
The half-moon that had blessed the blissed at Greenpop’s Reforest Fest at Platbos now hung over Walker Bay before me. The supreme blackness and my headlight beam of just seconds before was replaced by a shimmering silver path on the sea. It was a sight that simply served to send my spirits soaring even higher, if that were possible.
It was. I stopped Lucille. I looked. My heart sang. It sang of one of the most beautiful days of my life. I expelled a frighteningly discordant and quite primal whoop, not a thing of beauty at all but one that yelled of a man set free of the chains of ordinariness. I was alone. And it was mine. I was heading home to my bed.
I left my heart somewhere among the good and happy and carefree people who had planted three thousand trees on the edge of Africa’s southernmost indigenous forest. And my sole remained in the rich and reddy-brown earth which would help those trees grow. I have never had a problem distancing myself from a crowd. But I was already missing the three hundred-odd and somewhat odd people who had gathered for “Friends Fest”, truly a union of friends who had never really been strangers but were now forever unified in the spirit of nursing the planet. And their own souls. And those of each and all of us.