NO COUNTRY TO CALL THEIR
OWN
PETER CLEARY
“So this over concentration (of the Coloured people) in the
Western Cape is not working for them. They should spread to the
rest of the country.”
Jimmy Manyi in an interview on KykNet in 2010. At the time he
was Director-General of the Department of Labour and President of
the Black Business Forum.
“I now know who Nelson Mandela was talking about when he
said from the dock that he had fought against white domination
and he had fought against Black domination. Jimmy, he was talking
about fighting against people like you.”
Trevor Manuel in an open letter to the Press in 2011. At the
time he was a Cabinet Minister in the Presidency.
PROLOGUE
There had been happier times, before the road came snaking down
into the valley, inexorably boring into the fabric of their lives as they
were exposed to the prejudice of the outside world. They had been
innocent of any unhealthy distinction of race and class until the
persecutors arrived with the assistance of a gravel road.
He remembered the happy days with a poignancy that lingered.
Sometimes it was only those memories that sustained his will to go
on, gave him a base to return to when he thought the world was
crazy; crazy and so unfair he could rip his heart out.
Here he was, halfway through his allotted three score and ten years,
hundreds of kilometres from the valley of his youth, sitting on a hard
chair on the narrow verandah of a small house that squatted on a
tract of flat sand between the majesty of far distant mountains.
How had this come to pass?
He knew the answer and this preoccupation of the past, this
bitterness that soured his stomach and his relationships, was not
something he welcomed or even honoured too much nowadays. He
couldn’t afford it. He had a mission now, was caught up in a
movement to rectify the mistakes of the past, to restore the pride
and the wealth of all the people.
And he had his children to consider, his two girls and his boy. They
had been born into this aberrant world, but he truly believed they
would see the other side of racial domination, perhaps within a
decade, and he wanted to prepare them, make them ready for the
day when they could take their place in society as equals. They must
not harbour his bitterness, not see the shame he felt on being
discarded so many years ago in the ironically pretty town of Prince
Albert.
Man, this bitterness was acid.
Why couldn’t he discard it? Think of something else? Think of that
first meeting in the Rocklands Community Centre. What energy.
There were some wonderful people there, people of all races,
leaders, visionaries, men and women who could inspire with the
hope of a better life.
A tremor of fear came and went. Yes, he had to fight the fear. The
State would use all its many and cruel means to put the movement
down. They had to keep it inclusive, fight on, remain determined and
yes, even cheerful, optimistic for the change, for the final goal of a
nation without fear and prejudice, a nation for all her peoples, the
descendants of all the diverse cultures that came to this place they
called South Africa.
Thought of the name of his country brought the words and rhythm of
the national anthem to mind, the words he used to sing in the school
hall in Oudtshoorn at assembly, the words they believed until they
realised those words and their promise truly referred to only one
race. It was their blue sky and deep sea, not his; he was denied his
birth right to God-created nature.
He remembered going to Newlands to watch the All Blacks play the
Springboks. He’d sat with others also given his epithet, his label, by
the State; hundreds of them, men who loved their rugby but jeered
at the anthem and cheered the team from across the Indian Ocean,
the enemy under normal times, in a normal society.
Afterwards the boere taunted them, their eyes burning with the fire
of zealous fervour, calling them traitors to their country and they
shouted back, “Whose country? Not ours, yours, yours while you
treat us like pigs, we who were here before you.”
He had shouted back with the best of them, but it was shameful
really. He, who had been an aspirant Springbok all those years ago in
his innocent times, was cheering for a foreign country to beat his
revered Springboks. It was undignified mass hatred fuelled by the
beer and the wine, something he as a former teacher of children
should not have allowed himself to be drawn into. He was supposed
to be amongst those who set the example. What if his son had seen
him, bellowing red-faced at those who ridiculed them, the
representatives of the hated regime?
What an upside-down country.
THE VALLEY
As we approached the huts, a shaggy giant in goatskins
appeared and spoke to us in some outlandish Dutch. He was a
White man named Cordier, who lived here with his wife and a
brood of half-wild children, in complete isolation from the outside
world.
Deneys Reitz. “Commando.”
1.
At the western end of Gamkaskloof, just before the river, stands a
cottage that has been in the family for over a century, since Benji
Baartman bought it from the Erasmus family in 1850. It has been
much added to, first by Benji, who had a carpenter’s skill, and then
by his son Dan.
Isaac, the son of Dan, had lived there at first when he came to the
valley, some said to escape his demons. When his son Walter was
married, he had been given the house. Isaac had built himself a new
home in the truncated valley across the river, where he lived a
reclusive life, happy that the periodic flooding of the river denied
access to people who might intrude on his solitude.
It was in Walter’s cottage that a son was born the week before
Christmas in 1947. They named him Falk, because there was a falcon
hunting rock pigeons above the home on that day, his prehistoric
screech a backdrop to the cries of the mother and the first bawl of
the son. He was their first child and was sadly to prove to be their
only child, for his mother Stephanie conceived with difficulty and lost
three babies in the first three months after conception and then
never fell pregnant again.
Walter was an angry man given to melancholy. The inability to
produce more children was just another reason to immerse himself
in self-pity, but the primary cause of his fractious and intemperate
nature was due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing.
And for that he blamed his father.
Isaac Baartman had tried hard to meet the expectations of his
parents. They were wonderful people, his parents, father Dan the
businessman and guerrilla fighter, mother Josie so strong and loving.
The years in the gentle arms of the mountains that surrounded their
farm Rooikrantz should have healed his fear of life.
He was twenty-two when he told them he was going to live in the
family cottage in Gamkaskloof. They were devastated, had not read
the extent of the damage wrought by the war, and also wondered if
it was not the conflagration starting in Europe that scared him. They
could do nothing to dissuade him.
The first four years in the valley, before the troubles descended on
him, were the happiest of his adult life. He raised goats and came to
grudgingly admire the animals for their independence. They
demanded nothing of him. He did not enter the social life of the
valley, except for his observance of the Sabbath when he attended
the church service, held at the school. He normally escaped straight
after the service, but he also had a young man’s healthy appetite for
female company and occasionally he lingered.
There was a young woman who piqued his interest for she was
known to be of loose morals and he fantasised about the meaning of
that judgment. Her name was Faith, an unsuitable name it seemed,
and also not appropriate to her physical being, for she had a look in
her eye and a lascivious smile which awakened the devil in Isaac.
He would never have done anything about it for he was far too
insecure to make overtures, but that didn’t stop her making the first
move. The Baartman family was famous in the valley; Benji was a
hero who stopped the taxman coming into the valley, Dan was the
most famous man to have left the valley for he became a Member of
the Cape Parliament and was said to have accumulated vast wealth
on the Kimberley diamond fields. And, to add to the allure, the
Baartman men were all fine looking, with good physiques and the
bluest of eyes. Isaac was no different, although in him his retiring
nature disguised some of his physical attributes.
On a hot, midsummer day he was bathing in the Gamka River when
she appeared on the bank. He was swimming nude, not out of a
sense of adventure but because no-one ever came to that stretch of
the river. He had not seen her until she called cheerfully, “Hallo,
Isaac Baartman. So this is where ye hide.”
He was mortified at his nakedness, hidden though it was in the deep
water, and astounded that she would have come walking all the way
from her home, a distance of more than a mile.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to see ye. Are you not pleased?”
“Please go away, Faith.”
“Ah, I see. Have ye no clothes on, Isaac?”
“Please, Faith, I beg you, please go away.”
“That’s not polite. I’ve come all this way to see ye. Do you not like
me?”
“It’s not that, Faith, I’m embarrassed.”
“If that’s the case, ye should be embarrassed for a proper reason.”
Faith Willemse affected the dress of the younger women in the
valley who had taken to wearing long skirts and blouses rather than
the pinafore type shift dresses, long and shapeless, worn by the
matrons. She began unbuttoning her blouse.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m undressing for ye. If ye be naked than it’s fitting that I be too.”
He protested no more and could not look away as she revealed
herself, although his training told him it was not polite for him to
stare at the naked body of a woman. When she was completely
undressed she stood face on to him and raised her arms.
“Do ye like what ye see, Isaac Baartman?”
She had a wonderful figure, slim of waist and limb, and he took it all
in, but mostly he was aroused by the sight of her abundant dark
pubic hair against the alabaster whiteness of her skin.
He said nothing, was incapable of speech. It had become her show.
“Well come out now. I can’t follow ye, for I can’t swim.”
Was she really inviting him out of the water? That could only mean
she wanted to make love to him. That thought made him weak but
also, paradoxically, emboldened him and he left the water despite
his acute embarrassment at the physical manifestation of his desires.
After that day she came many times, not turned off by his first
clumsy efforts at lovemaking, and at first he was pleased and did not
reject her, for he had never known a woman intimately before her.
But in time her shallowness of knowledge and self-centred interest
overcame his lust, and he began to wish he could find a way to break
the union.
It was too late.
He found she was pregnant when a delegation of the Willemse’s
visited him: father, three brothers, and Faith, keeping in the
background. The father did all the talking.
“Ye’ve impregnated my daughter, Isaac Baartman.”
He was mortified and looked to her for a word or a sign but she gave
him back nothing. His response was weak.
“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry is not good enough. Action is what I want. What will ye do?”
“I’ll pay my way. I’ll pay for the child to be raised.”
“Pay be damned. It’s not paying that a child wants in this world, it’s a
father and a proper home.”
He knew he should be cautious. They might beat him, but that would
not cause him to make a commitment and he feared not the wrath
of those men. It was the moral dilemma that occupied his thoughts
as he stood there silently before them. A child of his own. That was
something he’d never believed could be possible. He had steeled
himself to living alone for the rest of his days, but now he was to
father another person in his likeness. The thought was alluring and,
in the end, irresistible.
The father blustered. “Come on then, speak up.”
He was still working it out and finally came to a conclusion and when
he spoke it was in strength. “I’ll marry your daughter on one
condition, Meneer Willemse. If she ever leaves me, the child stays
with me. She must sign a paper to that effect.”
Whether it was those conditions, so impossible for a mother to
accept unless she did not care, or whether she grew bored of her life
with a reclusive man, Faith stayed only two years after the boy was
born before she left Gamkaskloof with a man from the valley and
never returned.
It was a blessing for him, but not for their son Walter.
2.
Despite the stern nature of his father, young Falk Baartman was a
happy child, and for that credit had to be given to the character and
love of his mother.
Stephanie nee Cordier was of pioneer stock. Her family were one of
the first to come to the valley in the early nineteenth century. Some
might call the Cordier family backward in not embracing modern
ideas, such few that trickled into the valley, but none would deny
that they were hard workers and Stephanie, like all the sons and
daughters, was put to work in the fields even before she went to
school.
She was a pleasant looking woman, with regular features, but she
was not pretty in the accepted sense, and her broad shoulders and
calloused hands spoke of the work she had done from childhood.
Nevertheless, in all other qualities admired in a woman she was a
gem: selfless, loving, loyal and kind.
The finest act of Walters’s short life was to recognise those qualities
and win her for his wife. And, for seeing beyond her mere physical
qualities, Stephanie adored her husband and would not hear a bad
word against him.
Because of the loving attention of his mother, Falk was not badly
affected by his father’s increased desire for isolation and his periodic
anxiety attacks. Walter was becoming like his father before him, and
did not leave the valley once in the years after the birth of his son. In
earlier years, Walter had left the valley with some frequency, often
precipitated by an argument with his father. On those occasions he
went to Rooikrantz, the farm owned by his grandparents.
The first time he did so, he was only eleven years of age and it was
testament to his physical prowess and horsemanship that he’d gone
alone, taking the route through the gorges northwards along the
Gamka River and then eastwards to the farm. It was a full day’s
travel when the river was not in spate.
That first time this happened, Isaac came to fetch him, embarrassed
and angry at the obvious rejection of his son. When it happened
again, Isaac waited for the son to make the decision to return,
impotent to make his son love him, and unable to embrace the world
for the benefit of the boy.
Walter stayed away for months at a time.
Isaacs’s parents, Dan and Josie, were distraught at the lack of
connection between their son and grandson and did their best to
mend the rift. But they were not the worst affected by the breach
between father and son; it was Isaac’s sister Tess, only two years
older than him, who watched and cried within.
Tess and Isaac had experienced the war together. They’d been only
seven and nine respectively when they’d witnessed the murder of
their brother Robert on the banks of the Orange River, and had then
experienced the horror of the British camps in Bloemfontein and
Springfontein. Like her brother, and despite their parent’s efforts to
reduce the damage to their psyches, Tess had also struggled to come
to grips with normal life after the war.
Tess had waited until Walter was in his teens before broaching the
subject of the war as the reason for Isaac’s behaviour. She suggested
they take a walk through the fig orchards to get them out of the
house and the hearing of her parents.
“Has your Dad told you about the war between the Boers and the
British, Walter?”
“No, Aunt Tess.”
“That’s a pity, for it would help you understand him better. Would
you like to hear about your father’s and my experiences during the
war?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I think it might help you.”
“Okay, you can tell me.”
“When the war started, your grandmother, your dad, our brother
Robert and I went to our farm on the Orange River near Kimberley.
Your grandfather went to fight in the war on the side of the Boers.
“Do you know about your Uncle Robert?”
“No, Aunty.”
Tess was saddened that her brother had not even told his boy the
basic family history.
“Robert was a wonderful boy. He was clever and strong and my,
could he shoot. He was the oldest of us and when the war started he
was eleven, three years older than me and five older than your dad.”
“Why hasn’t my dad told me about him, Aunty?”
“I don’t know, Walter. But maybe it’s because of what I’m about to
tell you. You see, Robert was killed that first year of the war. Some
British soldiers came to the farm and Robert thought he had to
defend his family, even though he was so young. They shot him. We
all saw him dead, because we ran to where he was lying on the
ground.
“It was the worst moment of my life and I think it was even worse for
your dad because a son always thinks he should defend his family. I
think your dad was ashamed that he hadn’t helped Robert, even
though he was only seven at the time.”
Tess could see the boy’s interest in the story. That, at least, was a
good beginning. “Your Dad never told you about the camps either,
did he?”
“No. What were the camps?”
“The British put the Boer women and children and some old men
into concentration camps. They took them off the farms because
they didn’t want them to help their men fight the war.”
“What’s a concentration camp?”
“It was a camp of tents, Walter. Hundreds of tents put together to
imprison us. They had soldiers guarding us and they kept us there
even though we wanted to go home. It was horrible in those camps.
The food was awful, often rotten, and everything was dirty.
Sometimes there wasn’t enough food or water, and we went without
for days. We couldn’t wash properly and many got sick and many of
us died, especially the children.”
“That’s awful, Aunt Tess. How long were you in those places?”
“About two years.”
“Did any of your friends die there?”
“Yes, many. It got so that we didn’t want to make friends, for they
could die and that would make us even sadder. The one who
affected us most was your Aunt Mary’s mother. I’m not sure if you
know this, Walter, but Mary was adopted by your grandfather and
mother after the war, for she’d lost her mother in the camps and her
father in the war.”
Tess waited for the questions.
“I know why you’re telling me this, Aunt Tess. I’m sorry, but it
doesn’t help me much. Why didn’t my father tell me? He doesn’t
care enough to tell me these things.”
“Do you think that’s why he didn’t tell you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I know for a fact, Walter, that he can’t tell anyone about those days.
The only way he can deal with those memories is to pretend it didn’t
happen. Can you understand him doing that?”
“No, I can’t. How can anyone do that?”
“I’ve studied these things, Walter, because I was a little like your dad.
If things are really terrible, sometimes your brain just switches them
off. Your brain won’t let you see those things because they bring you
such pain, and you can’t do anything about it, really.”
Walter thought about what had been said and his aunt could see he
was taking her words seriously, but then a look of stubbornness
came over him.
“Why did he chase my mother away?”
She was horrified at that interpretation. Tess had met Faith and had
seen her shallowness and knew her lack of love for husband or son.
“Do you think your Dad chased her away?”
“Yes, my Grandpappy Willemse told me.”
“Oh Walter, I’m sorry he told you that. It’s just not true. Your dad
would never have chased her away.”
“Then why did she leave me?”
That was impossible to answer without killing the love of son for
mother. “I don’t know Walter. But I promise you, your Dad did not
chase her away.”
It was an unsatisfactory end to the discussion between aunt and
nephew. She knew Walter would reflect on what he had learned, but
because of the lack of tears, the lack of any strong emotional
reaction, she wondered if his attitude towards his father would
change.
Unfortunately her fears were correct. Walter never reconciled with
his father.
Even Falk, shielded as he was by his mother, and with the distraction
of his first year at school, realised something significant had changed
for his father. He heard his parents talking in the early hours of the
morning, his father’s tone anxious, his mother’s reassuring. Falk
could not make out the words.
It was only when he was an adult that his mother revealed the
subject of those late night vigils.
Walter had become obsessed with the dangers of the new laws the
government was introducing to classify and separate the races. The
new laws had been in place for years, but news travelled into the
valley very slowly. Besides, as a largely White populace, the people
of the valley did not believe themselves unduly affected by what was
going on beyond the mountains that protected them. But Walter did
not have that conviction of exclusion. He knew his ancestry began
with the union of a Dutch settler and a Khoikhoi woman.
His fears were numerous: ostracism, rejection by his wife, loss of
home, his son’s reaction. He held them inside himself for a full half
year before he finally steeled himself to discuss them with Stephanie.
He waited until the dark of one night, when she’d returned from a
visit to the outside toilet and had blown the candle light out. He did
not want her to see his expression as he introduced the feared
subject.
“Wife.”
“You’re awake, Walter. What’s troubling you?”
“Can we talk?”
“Why yes, of course. If you feel it can’t wait for the morning.”
“You know these new laws that the government has made?”
“Which ones are those?”
“These new laws that tell you what kind of person you are; White or
Black or Coloured or Asian.”
“I know a bit about them. Why?”
“I’m a Coloured, Stephanie.”
“You’re not a Coloured, Walter. Look at you; you’re whiter than me.
What Coloured person has blue eyes?”
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, Stephanie. What matters is if
your family has Coloured blood.”
“I know about your background, Walter, that you are descended
from a Khoikhoi woman. You told me about it. But it means nothing
to me and others will feel the same. You’re worrying needlessly, my
husband. What does your birth certificate say?”
“It says I’m White.”
“There you go. Stop worrying.”
But he couldn’t, and he returned to the subject again and again.
Eventually he asked one of the transport riders who brought
provisions into the valley to get him a transcript of the laws from the
library in Calitzdorp. He was not a great reader - they had only a bible
in the house - but he read this new bible, the bible of the architects
of a new social order, studying every clause.
He woke her on another night.
“Stephanie.”
Her patience was at an end, but she suppressed the desire to
censure him.
“Yes, Walter, I’m awake now.”
“One of these laws is called the Population Registration Act. You
know what it says about Coloureds?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“It tells you all about the Blacks, how they came to the country from
the north, the indigenous people, it says. All of that. And it tells you
all about the Whites, how they came from across the seas,
Europeans it calls them. But they didn’t know what to say about
people of mixed blood. They say this, Stephanie, I memorised the
words. They say a Coloured is neither a Black nor a White. They’re
saying we who are a mixture of White and Black take nothing from
the identity of those who gave us birth. Nothing Stephanie. We have
no place; neither a Black nor a White. Me and our son.”
Her heart went out to him, for she had seldom heard him so
disconsolate. Nor had she considered the devastating effect of
relegating people to generalisations until she saw it through his eyes.
She put her arms around him to console him and he started to cry.
Walter Baartman took his life not long after that emotionally
draining night. He went to the gravesite of his ancestor Benji, high on
the plateau to the south of the valley. He knew of the place, for his
grandfather Dan had taken him there and had shown him the
remains of a cross that he had made for his father, Benji.
Walter sat on the weathered pile of stones that marked the grave,
placed the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger,
ending the unendurable fears he harboured deep in his being.
When Walter did not return that night, nor the next day, Stephanie
knew he had taken his life and she knew where to find his body. He
would be with Benji, the hero Walter had always wanted to be, a
bold man of action who had sacrificed his life for his community.
Before she even had the certainty of seeing his body, she started
mourning his passing, the man who had believed in her more than
he’d believed in himself. In her he had found the one person he
could trust, and that belief had made her a giant; a plain looking
woman with broad shoulders and calloused hands who had the
conviction of her rightful place in the body of man.
She determined to give her son that same pride of self. Not a
superior pride that bested others, but a belief that all men and
women had the dignity bestowed on them by God. Had not Jesus in
the Beatitudes described those qualities and that birthright?
Her son Falk would be raised with self-pride and respect for others
irrespective of race or economic standing.
3.
The Gamkaskloof School was a community paid school which
provided tuition up to the level of standard 7, a level regarded by
most of the klowers as quite adequate for the education of a child.
The school was not affiliated to any church group, nor did it receive
funding or control from the State. Facilities, teaching aids and
textbooks were scarce or non-existent. Nevertheless, there was a
pride in standards from teachers and parents.
There were three teachers. Two were women who were the class
teachers, splitting the children who attended the school along age
lines, under tens and over tens, and a male teacher who was a
subject teacher, honing the language skills of the pupils. The
language of tuition was Afrikaans, the predominant language of the
valley, but this third teacher, Trevor Weiss, a young man direct from
the teachers’ training college, was to specialise in English tuition.
Some of the more liberal elders had recognised the importance of
that language in the economic life outside the valley.
Weiss had come to Gamkaskloof more because his interest had been
piqued by tales of the strange settlement tucked away in the
Swartberg Mountains, than because of the teaching experience he
might gain, and certainly not for the salary.
When Falk went to the school he was taken into the class of Mevrou
Ferreira, a middle-aged woman of the valley. This was the bigger of
the two classes with just under twenty pupils.
Four others started with Falk that year of 1954, the year he would
turn seven years of age.
It was a very special day, that first day. The school was in the middle
of the valley, almost two miles from where Falk lived. His mother
walked him there the first day, along the shaded dirt road that
crossed and recrossed the stream that ran down the valley into the
Gamka River. Along the way, they passed klowers houses, and
through the trees they could make out planted fields with the people
already working them, and could see the numerous weirs that held
back the waters of the stream.
It was the first school day of the new year: late January, hot days
which meant early starts, seven to one in the first term, with a break
at ten. The early start meant Stephanie was preparing breakfast for
her two men at five-thirty. It was a chore she relished. That day, the
sun was peeping over the eastern ramparts, sending shafts of golden
light into the kitchen. The frying of eggs and vegetables titillated the
senses of smell and hearing and, in the background were the sleepy
first greetings of father and son.
After breakfast, Falk skipped down the road ahead of her and
returned often, egging her on, much like an excited dog on a hunt.
He had been anticipating this day for months, pestering her for
advanced lessons. The bible was too much for him, the writing small,
and the pages full. He’d found other printed matter in the house,
information on foodstuffs and toiletries, and had made her read
them to him so that he could memorise them. They had no writing
materials so she’d taught him the alphabet by writing the characters
in the fine dust in front of their cottage. He knew and could
recognise every letter in normal and capital form.
Falk was also constantly counting things: the number of sheep in a
field; the steps taken to walk down to their swimming hole in the
river. Stephanie was beginning to think she and Walter had
conceived a genius, but would never tell anyone, her natural
conservatism incapable of expressing such an extravagant opinion.
But she happily thought these things to herself.
There was a little ceremony at the school to welcome the new
intake. The older children lined up on the uncovered veranda of the
simple three room building. They had come early, for it was a
tradition. The teacher of the senior class, Mevrou De Villiers, read the
names of the new pupils while they themselves stood below with
their mothers. Each child was cheered, perhaps Falk more than the
others as he was the son of a hero family, the third Baartman son to
attend the school.
For the first week, while the youngest were being orientated into
school life and routines, Este Ferreira taught just the four newest
recruits and the five from the class of ’53, using the slightly older
children in a mentoring role. Her even older pupils went to Mevrou
De Villiers’ class for that week.
She was delighted to find that two of the four new children held
early promise of being exceptionally talented, for there is nothing
more motivating to the true teacher than a pupil who can remind
them why they had chosen their profession. Este also knew that
these two would push each other to heights they could not attain on
their own.
The two were Falk and a girl of the Erasmus family, descendants of
the same family that had sold Benji the family cottage. Her name was
Isabel, soon shortened to Isa. The little girl was short and stocky with
tightly curled blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Este was to have the
two under her care for three years, a year short of their allotted
time, and she came to call them her blue-eyed geniuses.
That first day of school, Stephanie went back to fetch her son, so
keen was she to hear his experiences. It was not something she could
sustain - over eight miles that first day - and thereafter he walked to
school on his own, joining with other children along the way.
All the way home he regaled her with stories of the other kids and
she soon realised that a large part of his education was going to
come from the process of socialisation with his peers. Chief among
those he singled out for discussion were Isa and the boy who ruled
the roost in the junior class, Frans Malherbe. Naturally, Stephanie
knew the parents of both children, for the Gamkaskloof community,
even at its peak in the days before the road was built, contained only
around one hundred citizens.
The Erasmus family lived near the head of the valley and were known
to supply most of the intoxicating liquor in the valley, distilled from
their grape vines. The Malherbe family had only recently come into
the valley. Their grandfather and head of the family had discovered
the valley when he was in Smuts’ Commando raid into the Cape and
they had been running from the concerted efforts of the British army
to cut them off and destroy them.
The Malherbe boys were known to be tough and uncompromising:
typical Transvaal Boers, was the complaint of those who were on the
receiving end of their aggression. In the adult community, people
steered clear of them, but it seemed that their influence extended to
the playground of the school, for that was where Falk had met Frans,
during first break. Stephanie found it ominous that the older boy had
impressed his will upon Falk in such a short time.
Falk’s first two terms of school were filled with the delight of learning
and the jostling for pecking order which contained three pillars: the
status of the parents, the strength of will and body, and success in
the classroom. In all of those pillars Falk was a leader among his age
group but, because of the peculiarity of having a class with children
from the age of five to nine, he had to play second fiddle to the older
and stronger boys.
All of Falk’s early gains came crashing down when his father died in
the autumn term. He would never forget that moment when he
learnt of his father’s death. In the years to come, the time and place
of that moment, even the smells and sounds of the valley, would
reappear before him in times of sadness.
Walter had been missing for several days, and Falk’s mother had told
him the evening before that they thought his father might have met
with an accident on the trail to Calitzdorp and that they had sent a
search party out for him.
When his mother was waiting for him after school, he knew it was
bad news. She took his hand, something he had asked her not to do
in front of the other children, and led him quickly away, down the
road towards their home. He could feel the tremble in her hand.
“What’s wrong, Ma?”
“Let’s get away first, son.”
“It’s Daddy, isn’t it?”
“Let’s get away first, Falk, please.”
He asked no more questions, for he knew already, and his young
mind started to work out the ramifications of the disaster he was
certain would be revealed.
Stephanie could not tell him and she said nothing until they were
almost home, nearly half an hour of silence. The Gamkaskloof Valley
opens up before the river, becoming grassland with tall aloes on the
ridges, and they could see their cottage perched on a knoll when
they were still distant from it.
When she saw their home, Stephanie started to cry.
Falk tugged at her hand and stopped her.
“Please, Mommy, tell me.”
“Your Daddy’s dead, Falk.”
She sank to the ground and he knew nothing else but to sit with her
and hug her, and the two cried together. When she calmed, she told
him. Of course, the greatest sadness, the unbelievable part of it all,
was that Walter had taken his life and she had been unable to help
him, unable to give him a reason for living. She would never
understand that, and now her son had to learn of it and take his
share of the blame.
It was the transfer of this terrible knowledge that had stayed her
tongue.
But, when she told him she told him all she knew, for it would
become common knowledge and he had to know and assimilate the
awful truth before others spoke of it. There would be those who
were supportive and those who speculated with unintended or even
intended cruelty, especially the children, privy to their parents’
unguarded opinions.
He slept a sleep of exhaustion that night and when he woke he told
his mother he was going to school.
“Are you sure, Falk?”
“Yes, Mommy. They will not talk so much if I am there.”
She had grave doubts about his ability to absorb the pressure but
also knew he was right and allowed him to have his way.
Este Ferreira helped tremendously. She hugged him before the class
and addressed them. “Now listen, children. This boy has lost his
father. It is something that could happen to any of us and we feel
terribly sorry for his loss. My Daddy died when I was just ten and I
remember it to this day. We must all help Falk, be kind to him and to
his mother.”
But on the playground Frans Malherbe said to him, “Your Daddy
killed himself because he didn’t like you and your Ma.”
Falk had only one reaction to that. He punched him on the nose and
in turn was hit two or three times before they stopped the unequal
fight. It was Trevor Weiss who stopped the fight. He did not need to
know what had caused it, although he had a pretty good idea. It
didn’t matter anyway, for the size and age differences meant Frans
had to be censured.
“You go home right now, Frans Malherbe. You tell your parents what
you did today. Tell them the truth, for I will be coming to see them
this afternoon. And when you come back tomorrow, you apologise
to Falk.”
In Falk’s judgment, it was the worst thing to do.
“Please, Meneer, don’t send him away.”
Weiss was prepared to listen. “Why should he not be punished?”
“You will just make it worse, Meneer.”
Weiss was amazed at the maturity of the boy, and not a little
ashamed at his own overreaction. “Very well, I will heed your advice.
You can stay, Malherbe.”
After the break, when they were entering the classroom, Malherbe
stopped him. “Thank you,” he said.
Although the events of that day, the day after he heard the news,
put a stop to the worst kind of speculation, the loss of his father and
the on-going suffering of his mother, which she tried in vain to hide
from her son, had an effect on his school and social life and it took
him until the next year before he could recommence the earlier pace
of his development.
Falk worried about his grandfather. His mother had told him that
Isaac knew of Walter’s death, that one of the search party who had
found the body had volunteered to cross the river and tell him.
He had never really understood why there was so little love between
his father and grandfather. There were undercurrents he was not
sufficiently mature to read, and there was also never anything said
about the issue in his presence. Sometimes, however, he had
overheard his father complaining to Stephanie of some slight he
perceived in the behaviour of Isaac. It was all beyond Falk.
But, when he lost his father there was only one other paternal figure
he could turn to, and he decided Isaac was to become a friend of his.
Falk resolved to visit his grandfather and he also decided not to tell
his mother of his intentions, for he thought she might refuse him
permission to do so.
His little deception was to pretend to be ill on a Sunday and
therefore unable to attend church service with her. That should give
him at least four, if not five, hours, for the services and the socialising
afterwards were long affairs in the valley. On top of that, it took an
hour to walk to the church and back.
He had no fears for the journey and the crossing of the big river. He
had turned seven by that time and had been able to swim strongly
since he was a mere child. Falk was also a big boy for his age and his
muscles were toned from the walk to school each day and the
herding of their sheep and the tilling of their small vegetable
gardens.
If he had fears, they were for what he might find and the reception
he might receive. He had not seen his grandfather for a very long
time and on that last occasion it had been when Isaac was at the
market that was held when the transport riders brought in fresh
produce. He had gone to Isaac and tugged at his trousers to get his
attention. Isaac had smiled at him, a shy smile that also appeared a
little vacant, as if the old man was trying to remember who he was.
He crossed the river where there was the semblance of a ford, for he
could see the ripples from the passing of the flowing water over
shallow boulders and he could also see the churned earth on the
bank opposite where Isaac brought his animals across the river to sell
them.
There was smoke coming from the chimney of Isaac’s small house,
but when he looked inside the single-roomed cottage the old man
was not there; coals in the hearth showed he had to be nearby.
Falk was shocked at the crude furnishings in the room. There was a
bed, a table, a chair, and an open-door cupboard for a few clothes,
kitchen utensils and foodstuffs. All were made of roughhewn wood.
At the back of the house there was another table and a few metal
buckets; obviously that was where the old man washed both himself
and the utensils he used to cook and eat from. Partly hidden in the
bushes he could see a corner of an outhouse.
“Who are you? What do you want here?”
The question was delivered with righteous anger and the next
minute Isaac appeared, coming from the outhouse. He was a sight,
his hair and beard were long and tangled, his clothes faded to an offwhite colour and torn in places. He wore no shoes.
Falk waited for the old man to recognise him but he showed no
evidence that he did so.
“I’m Falk, Grandfather. I’m your grandson. Walter’s boy.”
“Oh yes, I’m sorry, boy. Now I see you. You have grown. Let me look
at you closer now.” Isaac came right up to Falk and held his
shoulders, peering myopically into his face. The boy was not afraid as
the grip was gentle and the eyes kind. “My goodness, you look just
like my father, Dan. Is that really you, Falk?”
“Yes, Grandpa.”
“And you’ve come to visit me, even though your Daddy’s dead?”
“Yes. I want to be your friend.”
“That’s good, Falk. That’s wonderful. Your Daddy didn’t like me, you
know. He didn’t want me to get to know you, and that made me sad
because I wanted another chance.”
This was all news to Falk and he was suddenly very glad he had
come.
“Why did you and Daddy not talk to each other, Grandpa?”
“Yes. That was so.” The old man looked vague. “Come.” He led the
way into the cottage and gestured for Falk to sit on the single chair
while he sat on the edge of the bed, on the mattress made of dried
reeds.
“That was a big question boy. I think we need to know each other a
little better before I can answer that question. Now tell me about
yourself and your wonderful mother, Stephanie.”
And so, on that first visit, Falk did all the talking and, as he did so, the
smile grew broader on the wrinkled face of the old man and his eyes
showed a proprietary interest. Falk had lost track of time and his
mother was home ahead of him, sitting on the verandah.
“You went to visit your Grandpa, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Ma.”
“I knew you would. I’m proud of you, Son.”
Falk had no idea what was going on, no idea that his mother had
hoped he would seek out his blood relative, knowing the importance
of having a man in his life. He was just grateful that he was not to be
punished.
The next time she went with him and they took food and all of
Walter’s clothes and they found that Isaac had already done
something about his appearance, anticipating with eagerness his
grandson’s visits and the promise of friendship.
4.
To his great surprise, Trevor Weiss stayed on at the Gamkaskloof
School for five years. His intention had always been to stay just
enough time to satisfy his curiosity about the unique society in the
valley. But, every time he hiked over the mountains to spend his
holidays elsewhere, he found himself missing the place. He had not
factored in the joy he took from seeing the development of the
children - and chief among them were Este’s two blue-eyed geniuses.
By their third year, Isa and Falk were the intellectual leaders of the
junior class and they were promoted to the senior class, skipping a
year. Este Ferreira was going to miss them, but she was a good
enough teacher to consider their needs. Although both children had
mastered all of the subjects, Falk’s special interests were languages
and history, and that meant that the classes with Trevor Weiss were
his favourite times of the day, not just because he learnt something
of the great writers and poets of the past, but also because his
hunger for knowledge of people and places beyond the Swartberg
Mountains was satisfied.
“Tell us about …” was his constant refrain, and the young teacher
was happy to oblige. And so Falk had a vicarious tour of Trevor
Weiss’ life: his school and college in Oudtshoorn, the coast at
Sedgefield where his grandparents had a cottage, the city of Cape
Town where he hoped to live one day. It was information that most
children in Gamkaskloof knew little about, a subject not often raised
by their parents through lack of personal knowledge, or fears that
their children would be seduced by the outside world and leave the
valley. Trevor thought the latter motivation would get him into
difficulty with the parents, and was always careful to give a balanced
view of the outside world, extolling also the virtues of life in the
valley.
There were few books of literature in the school’s small library, and
the only work in English was a translation of Don Quixote which a
parent must have donated. Trevor persuaded the school elders to
give him money to buy readers, but they did so grudgingly and he
found himself paying for books of interest and carrying them over
the mountains himself.
Falk read every new book Weiss brought in within days. This gave a
special challenge to the teacher, because he had to bring the rest of
the class along at their much slower pace. Eventually Trevor solved
the problem by having special lessons after school. He extended the
invitation to all the pupils to attend, but only Falk and Isa came; the
three of them would dissect the latest work.
Because he was not constrained by a set curriculum, Trevor was able
to share with Falk and Isa his favourites - the poetry of Yeats and
Eliot and the novels of Hemingway - and he searched these
favourites to find works suitable to their stage of development.
By the time the two young pupils reached the senior class, Trevor
had them previewing the new material to the class and he delighted
at the insights they brought and could not help noticing the greater
interest the rest of the class showed in the subject of languages
when taught by their peers.
Falk discussed everything he learnt with his grandfather. He visited
him most Saturdays, sometimes only returning after dark, much to
his mother’s concern, for there were leopards and troops of baboons
in the surrounding mountains.
And so, on a Saturday when he was ten, he took with him, across the
river, Hemingway’s first collection of Nick Adams’ stories, for he was
greatly troubled by a story called Indian Camp.
He plunged straight into his problem. “Grandpa, I want to read you a
story from this book because it bothers me a lot and I hope you can
help me to understand it.”
“Is it long?”
“No, it’s a short story.”
“Tell me about the author first, Falk.”
“It’s a man called Ernest Hemingway. He is Mister Weiss’s favourite
writer.”
“Okay. And what does he write about?”
“Oh, all sorts of things, Grandpa - war and fishing and hunting - but
we haven’t read any of the long books yet. Mister Weiss says we
must start with these stories first because they are basically stories
about him when he was young. He calls the boy in the story Nick
Adams, but it is really him when he was young.”
“Okay, I understand, and what is this story about?”
“I’m going to read it, Grandpa.”
“Yes, but before you do, explain the story. It’s a long time since I
read, Falk; I want to understand the story before you read it.”
“Well, it’s about Nick Adams and his father who is a doctor. They go
across this lake to visit an Indian camp because there is an Indian
lady, who is having a baby, but she is having trouble with the baby
and she might die if the baby doesn’t come out soon.”
Isaac interrupted.
“Is this Indian as in India or as in Red Indian from America?”
“It’s from America. The man who wrote it is American. Can I carry
on?”
The old man nodded.
“When they get there the lady is screaming because she is in lots of
pain. Nick’s father sees that the lady cannot get the baby out and he
has to cut her tummy open to get the baby out. He has no proper
knives and things, and nothing to make the lady sleep, so they have
to hold the lady down and she is so scared and sore that she even
bites one of the men.
“Any case, Nick has to help his Pa, bringing boiling water and such
like, and they get the baby out and the baby is alive and starts
breathing and everyone is happy.
“But then the horrible part comes. When they go to leave, they look
for the husband of the lady and they see him in the bunk above the
bed where the baby was born. He is very quiet, so they stand on the
lower bed to see him properly and they find that he is dead. He has
cut his throat and he is lying in his own blood.”
Isaac was horrified. “Does your teacher let you read stories like
that?”
“Yes, Grandpa, but you mustn’t be cross with him. He says stories
like this will help us understand about life. And he is right. Isa and I
have learnt lots from these stories. It’s just this one that worries me
and I want you to help me understand it.”
“Alright son, you’d better read it to me.”
Isaac did not interrupt once and concentrated hard, for he wanted to
do his best to help the boy and it had been a very long time since he
had heard a story. He found the writing quite easy to understand and
even a bit repetitive, and he could see that it was a good story for
Falk because the doctor, the father in the story, was telling Nick what
was going on. It was a learning experience for Nick, and also for Falk.
Nevertheless, the ending, with the Indian husband cutting his throat,
was hard to stomach.
“It’s a good story, Falk. What do you want to ask me?”
“It’s about the man. I understand all the bits about the mother and
holding her down and cutting open her tummy and all that. But I
don’t know about what the man did.”
“What don’t you understand, Falk?”
“Would a man do that? Would he be so worried and scared about his
wife that he would kill himself?”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that, Falk, but I suppose it is
possible. Some men love their wives so much they maybe could do
that.”
Isaac understood then that the real reason why this question
bothered Falk so much was because his father had committed
suicide. He searched for the right thing to say.
“You know son, sometimes we can’t understand why people do
things that seem so wrong. Like this Indian man. The story tells us
that he had cut his foot and he lay in the bunk smoking his pipe while
they delivered the baby. Who knows what worries he had? Yes, I
think we know that he thought his wife could maybe die. But there
are lots of other things that a husband and a father worries about
and sometimes the worry gets so bad that he would rather be dead
than alive.
“Can you understand that, Falk?”
“What was my Pa worrying about, Grandpa?”
“I don’t know, Son. Your daddy and I did not know each other well
enough for me to know the answer to that question. But I can tell
you what he didn’t worry about; he didn’t worry about you and your
ma. He thought he was a very lucky man that your mother married
him and that they had you.”
“So, it was something else?”
“Yes, Falk, it was something else. You must also know that your
daddy was the sort of person who worried a lot. Some people are
like that, they are born like that and they can’t help it. We might
never know what it was that worried your daddy so much. I think you
must just realise that, Falk. It’s like this Indian man. We won’t ever
know why he did what he did and it’s no use us trying to work it out.”
Falk had his first real fight when he was twelve. The scuffles that he
had engaged in previously could not be graced with the term fight.
This one could, and it was all about Isa growing up to become a
beauty.
He’d not noticed her transformation. Isa was his best friend. He
knew her intellect and character well, but when her body lost its
puppy fat and her limbs lengthened and her hair straightened and
she became the prettiest girl in the valley, he was still admiring her
cleverness. He only became aware when Frans Malherbe told him.
Frans had a serious case of hero worship for Falk. Ever since the act
of kindness shown to him by the younger boy, he had watched over
him, making it known that he would brook no acts of nastiness
towards Falk and taking pride in Falk’s academic achievements. His
protection made Falk uneasy, but there was not much he could do
about it.
One day, Frans sidled up to him at break. “Hey man, what do you and
Isa talk about in those special classes after school?”
Falk was surprised at the question. Everyone knew the reason for
those classes. “Well, we talk about books and poetry.”
“No man, that’s what you say you talk about, but how can you sit
next to her and think about anything but her.”
“Pardon?”
“She’s beautiful, man.”
Falk couldn’t keep his eyes off her in the class after break, seeing her
through the eyes of the other boys for the first time and discovering
the truth of Frans’ observation.
That afternoon in the special class she noticed his reserve.
“What’s wrong, Falkie?”
“Nothing.”
“C’mon, what’s it?”
“Frans Malherbe says you are beautiful.”
“Did he? That’s nice. And what do you think?”
“You’re my friend Isa, I don’t think of things like that.”
“So, you don’t think I’m beautiful?”
“Of course I think you’re beautiful. It’s just that we’ve been friends
for years and I’ve never had to think about what you look like, or
what I look like. It was never important. Now suddenly the other
boys are jealous that I see so much of you.”
“Ooh, I like that,” she teased.
Weiss had overheard the conversation and, like Falk, was also a little
saddened that their relationship would change. In a funny way, this
metamorphosis from the innocence of youth helped him to make the
final decision to leave the valley at the end of that school year.
The fight came about because Isa told him of the crude advances of
Danie Prinsloo, a boy who had left the school the previous year. The
Prinsloo and Botha families were regarded with some suspicion and
not a little disdain by the klowers of the valley because of their
practise of intermarrying within the two families. Perhaps because of
the way they were ostracised, they drew ever closer to their own
circle, farming adjoining tracts of the valley bottom near the head of
the valley, just before the Erasmus farm.
Some of the latest generation of the families showed the results of
the incest they practised, both physically and mentally. Danie was
one of these; slow of thought, vacant of expression, and with a
viciousness without boundary.
Isa had to walk through their properties to get to school, and Danie
started to be there every morning and afternoon, waiting for her at a
stream crossing. At first, he said nothing, seeming content to merely
leer at her, appraising her body in an obvious way. Even a twelveyear-old girl, becoming aware of her latent sexuality, could see the
disrespect in his gaze and it frightened her.
Then he started to talk to her, making lewd suggestions. It was clear
to her that he knew about sex, had either practised it or observed
others doing so, for he said things she did not know existed.
One morning he took it too far and blocked her way. “Come on, Isa.
Don’t be such a cock teaser. I know you want it.”
She looked frantically around but could see no-one to help.
“There’s none will help you, Isa. Come on, let’s do it now. I know you
will like it.”
“Get away from me Danie or I’ll scream.”
His expression changed immediately, became closed and nasty. “Like
fuck you will,” he sneered, and lunged for her.
She ducked under his arm and ran with the panic of a hunted animal
in terror of capture. He was no match for her speed, and soon fell
behind, shouting curses after her. When she came into the
schoolyard, the first person she encountered was Falk. He saw
immediately that something was very wrong; her face was streaked
with tear tracks, her legs dusty from running.
“What is it, Isa?”
At first she would not tell him, intuitively knowing that he would
want to do something about it, and that that would place him in
danger of being badly hurt. But he would not accept her evasions
and she eventually told him.
All that morning, Falk thought of nothing but the action he would
take. There was no question that he would make sure that she was
never accosted again, but how best to do it? Danie Prinsloo was not
that much bigger than him, but the four or five years age difference
would tell heavily in the older boy’s favour. Falk also had to consider
the reprisals the Prinsloo and Botha clans would take; he had to
accept that aftermath, but could not worry about it yet.
Should he get the school involved, let Mister Weiss handle it? That
action held no long-lasting solution. There would be censure, but it
would cool down and Isa would still have to walk through that farm,
walk past that boy.
What of Isa’s father and her two much older brothers, both with
families of their own now. He also felt he could not trust them to
take decisive action; the Erasmus family was very laid back, some
said they imbibed more of their alcohol than they sold.
It was up to him. He had to beat Danie Prinsloo so badly that he
would never accost Isa again.
At break he told Frans Malherbe of his plan and asked him to stay
until after the special class and then to trail behind them, unseen,
and made him promise to only intervene if it was absolutely
necessary. He stressed this last point for if they were seen to have
ganged up on Prinsloo it would start a clan war.
After special class, Falk stepped out with Isa, heading east up the
valley.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m coming with you.”
“You’re not.”
“Aren’t you scared he will attack you, Isa?”
She was grateful for his company, as she had spent the whole day
fearful of the events that might unfold when she crossed that stream
near her home. Yet she knew his presence would precipitate a fight
and he could be hurt badly, even crippled; Danie Prinsloo was vicious
enough to not stop once he had the upper hand.
“He’ll beat you, Falk.”
“No, he won’t.”
“But he’s older than you, and he’s had fights before. When did you
have a fight?”
“That doesn’t matter. I’m coming with you, Isa.”
The two walked in silence after that, both preoccupied with the
stream crossing and what awaited them there. Falk hoped Frans had
kept his promise and was behind them, but he did not see him.
Danie Prinsloo was waiting for them with a surprise, his younger
brother Mathias, a boy of their age. When they were some distance
away he called to them. “So you’ve brought brain-box. It makes no
difference. You fucked with me this morning, Isa, and my brother
and I’ll pay you back.”
Falk was looking for a weapon. He would lose this fight badly, and Isa
would be molested, unless he had a weapon to stop them. There
were some cut branches lying nearby. They used them to mark the
depth of the stream, and they obviously had not been put in place
yet. One was about the thickness of his forearm.
He whispered to her, “Listen, when we’re almost at them, I’ll shout
to you to run. You must do that, it’ll split them. It’s our only chance,
Isa.”
He looked to her for confirmation that she understood and saw her
naked fear. It gave him an unholy rage to see her so frightened.
When he judged the distance to be right, he shouted to her to run
and he ran too, straight for Danie, and turned his body at the last
moment so that his shoulder thumped into the older boy’s chest,
knocking him off his feet. Then he leaped to the pile of wood and
grabbed the one he had singled out and turned to assess the
situation.
Mathias had caught Isa as she tried to run past and he held her from
behind, his hands roughly groping her breasts. Falk was vaguely
aware that Danie was getting up from the road and knew he should
attend to him first, but the sight of the younger brother groping the
girl was too much for him. He swung the branch with all of his pent
up rage and fear and caught Mathias across the shoulders, eliciting a
shout of pain. Mathias released the girl.
At that moment, Falk felt a burning sensation in his lower back and
turned back to face the more dangerous Danie, who now stood
watching him, a smug look on his face.
“I stuck you, brain-box.”
Falk felt his side and his hand came away red. Then he saw the knife
in Danie’s hand, the kind of short stout knife they used to free stones
from horses hooves. He had no way of knowing how badly he was
injured; there would be time for that later. Now he had to beat this
boy quickly, before he lost his strength.
He went at him with a ferocity that surprised Danie, catching him
across the arm he’d thrown up to protect himself from the swinging
branch, and knowing he had disabled that arm as the knife flew from
the nerveless hand. The next swing caught the older boy on the side
of the head, and the branch broke.
Falk threw the remainder of the branch away and waited for Danie
to recover and get back to his feet. He needed to beat him with his
fists to make it conclusive.
Then he heard Frans behind him.
“I’ve got the other little shit, Falk.”
He turned to see Mathias held in an arm lock by his friend. Isa stood
nearby, her expression one of horror. Danie stood, and Falk could
see the red bruise already forming on the side of the face and the
blood on the ear. Danie tried to surrender, holding his hands upward
in a gesture of supplication. He did not want to fight any more but
Falk did not care; he had come there to beat him in a way that
ensured Isa’s safety and the job was not yet done. Danie stood for
the first punches, and tried to defend himself in an ineffective way,
but then he lost his battle with the little self-respect he had and he
sank to the ground, pleading.
Falk found he could not keep on hitting a helpless person, no matter
what loathing he had for him.
“Why’d I come here, Danie?”
“To beat me.”
“But why?”
“Because I said bad things to Isa.”
“Clever boy, Danie. And what’ll happen if you bother her again?”
“You’ll beat me again.”
“That’s right, Danie. You remember that now.”
He turned to face the small group of onlookers.
“Let him go now, Frans. Let him take his brother home.”
The minute he released the pressure, the need to fight with pure
instinct and passion, he felt the burning pain in his side and he tried
to see the extent of his injury.
“I’ll do that,” said Isa, and she pulled his shirt out of his pants and
inspected the wound.
“It went right into you Falk; we must get you to Meneer Scheepers.”
“No, Isa, you must go home. Frans will go with me.”
“I’ll not leave until I know you’re okay. I’ll come with you.”
“But then you have to walk back past this place on your own.”
“He will never bother me again, Falk. I saw his face. He won’t be even
able to look at me again.”
5.
No-one really knows why Gamkaskloof became known as Die Hel.
The generally held belief is that a stock inspector, who visited the
valley monthly, journeying on foot over the mountains from
Calitzdorp, likened the rugged and tough trip to hell. The name did
not sit well with inhabitants of that hidden valley, and they never
used it to when referring to their home.
What is a certainty is that the road that was built to link the valley to
the outside world, with its tortuous and treacherous twists, and
unguarded giddy drops, and especially the last one-thousand-foot
descent to the valley bottom, made the name Die Hel seem
appropriate for all who dared to travel that way.
Falk was in his fifteenth year when the road was completed, but he
and the inhabitants of the valley had known of it for years, for that
was how long it took to complete. It was a hotly debated topic for
those years, some fearful that it would change their lives, others,
mainly the young people, hopeful that it would change their lives.
And change their lives it did, for eventually it drained the valley of
nearly all of its inhabitants.
But that took several decades.
Back in 1962, the year Falk turned fifteen, the final sections of the
road down into the valley were visited daily, by people in awe of the
large bulldozer as it worked its way noisily, pushing sand and rocks
before it, causing landslides down the precipitous slopes.
And then the visitors started coming. It was difficult to know who
gawked the most, the outsiders, who felt they were in a time-warp
to the past, or the locals, some of whom had never seen modern
motor vehicles.
One of the first visitors was Falk’s grand-aunt Tess, the sister of Isaac.
She had been desperate to visit, to see her brother and his grandson,
the only two males left in their family. Tess had never married, never
had children, and, as she felt she was reaching the end of her days,
the succession of the line, the inheritance of the family assets, played
heavily on her.
Tess had not seen her brother Isaac for more than a decade, for she
had stopped travelling the arduous horseback trail through the
Gamka River gorges when she turned sixty. When last she had made
that journey, Falk was three and his father had still been alive.
She arrived unannounced late on a Friday afternoon, having taken
almost seven hours from Rooikrantz Farm to reach Stephanie’s
cottage. She came in her Zephyr Mark II saloon. As adventurous as
she was in her seventy-first year, the frightening journey in a car with
drum brakes and narrow tyres had taken its toll, and she was
frazzled.
Falk was first out of the house, staring in awe at the dusty car, and it
took him some time before he turned his attention to the elderly
woman who had alighted from the car.
“Gooie middag, mevrou.”
“You must be Falk. Do you speak English, boy?”
“Of course I do. And who’re you, mevrou?”
“I am your grandfather’s sister. Your Great-aunt Tess.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Then he yelled, “Ma.”
Stephanie came out onto the verandah and recognised her at once.
“Aunt Tess!” And she ran out to the car and embraced her warmly.
“Oh, how wonderful. All these years I’ve wondered how you were.”
“Well, I’m a little weary right now, my dear.”
Stephanie looked around for the driver of the car.
“You drove down that awful road on your own?”
“Yes, my dear. I can still drive, you know.”
“Come and sit on the stoep, Tess. Come and have some tea, or
maybe you’d prefer a lemonade?”
“Some tea would be lovely.”
Stephanie took control, ordering Falk to clean his room, make the
bed with fresh linen and to place Tess’ luggage in the room; he was
to sleep in the sitting room.
Tess watched, bemused at this flurry of activity on her behalf.
“But my dear Steph, how do you know I’m staying here?”
“Of course you’re staying here. You can’t stay with your brother, it’s
not comfortable there. Falk will take you to visit him tomorrow.”
The rest of that afternoon they talked in generalities, catching up on
the news, and they ate supper early and retired to bed shortly after
the sun dipped below the western ramparts, as was the custom in
the valley.
When Falk woke the next morning, at his usual time, with the first
bird calls, he heard the murmuring of the two women out on the
verandah, and smelt the pungent aroma of coffee. They stopped
talking when they heard him moving in the sitting room and he
guessed they were talking about him. He went out onto the
verandah, on his way to do his ablutions in the outhouse.
“Morning, Ma. Good morning,” he said to his great-aunt, for he did
not know how to address her.
Tess looked to have benefited greatly from a good night’s sleep. Her
expression alive and interested. “You don’t know what to call me, do
you?”
“No. What would you like me to call you?”
“I’d really like you to call me Tess. Can you do that?”
“I’m not sure I can. I’ve never called an adult by their given name.”
“Well, we’re going to spend a lot of time together, Falk, and I’d like
you to call me Tess.”
He was concerned that he did not know what she meant by that
statement. Was he going to live with her in Prince Albert, or on the
olive and fruit farm?
“Why’re we going to spend a lot of time together? I mean, I don’t
want to be rude, I would sure like to get to know you better, but …
what did you mean?”
She vacillated, cross with herself for the way she had expressed it. It
was not yet time to reveal the true purpose of her visit. “Oh Falk,
don’t be alarmed. I just mean with the new road it will be possible
for us to visit more regularly.”
The road ended short of the river, for they had not yet built the lowlevel bridge. They left the car parked under a tree. The Gamka was
running quite strongly, little whirlpools evidence of the turmoil
beneath the dark waters.
“Are you sure you can cross, Tess?”
“Of course I can. I used to swim in this river. I’ll just hike up my skirts
and hang on to you. You can carry my boots.”
He was sceptical, but she seemed game enough and he admired her
for it. The conversation around the breakfast table had shown him
that Tess was exceptional in many ways, especially her breadth of
knowledge and wisdom; he found himself hanging on to her every
word.
The crossing was hazardous, and on several occasions she slipped
and Falk struggled to maintain his footing. Each time that happened,
she dropped her skirt to hang on to him and the material was soaked
by the time they reached the opposite bank. But the more she
struggled, the greater seemed to be her enjoyment. Falk wished he
had known her when she was younger; his perception of the
Baartman’s had been gained through the difficult times with his
father and the reclusive nature of his grandfather. Here was a
Baartman who embraced life with joy.
When they were in sight of the cottage Falk could see that Isaac was
on the verandah, the normal place for him on a Saturday, waiting for
his grandson.
“Hello Falk my boy,” he called out, and then, “Who’s that with you?”
Tess looked a query at Falk.
“He doesn’t see too well.”
She answered equally quietly. “Let’s wait then ‘til we’re closer.”
Isaac had stood, his attitude one of unease, and then he let out a
great shout of joy. “Tess. Oh my God, Tess.” He moved faster than
Falk had ever seen before, running off the verandah and down the
dirt track.
Brother and sister embraced and Falk stood outside the circle,
watching, and he saw the deep longing as they held tightly to one
another, eyes shut, their old faces streaked with tears. He was
greatly comforted by the love they had for one another and it
confirmed for him what his visits to Isaac had shown him; that his
grandfather was capable of love, that he could love deeply, but could
not express his love and that it was up to the other party to bring it
out of him. Falk was sad that his father Walter had never seen that in
Isaac, never given himself the chance to be loved by this rare old
man.
When the two eventually broke away from one another Tess spoke
first. “Oh my brother, we have so much catching up to do, more than
a decade of memories.”
“Not so much from my side, Tess. I’m here as you see me. No
change, just older. All that happened is my son died and I got a
chance to meet this wonderful grandson of mine. My memories are
of the Saturday’s Falk has visited, all the things he’s done, and all the
things he’s learned from the books he’s read. I’ve lived his life and
here he is, Tess, you can ask him those things directly.”
Falk wondered if his grandfather would ever have told him how
important his visits were if not for this chance meeting with his
sister. He could not let the old man think the benefits were onesided.
“Grandpa.”
He waited until he had his full attention.
“Grandpa, I’ve loved coming here to visit you. Saturdays have
become my favourite days. You will never know how important it
was after Pa died that I had you for my friend.”
Tess told them the true reason for her visit on the third day. She had
learnt all she needed to know and she chose to tell them after the
three of them returned from the church service. They had cut quite a
picture, driving to the church in her Zephyr.
“Can I have a serious discussion about the future?” she asked when
they sat together on the verandah.
Falk had been a little put out by all of the talk that had taken place
about him behind his back. Tess had spoken privately to his mother,
his grandfather, Isa and his teachers. His irritation at not being party
to those discussions caused him to be unnaturally rude.
“It’s about time, Tess, that you included me in deciding my future.”
She was not offended. “You’re quite right, Falk. But, you see, I
wanted to be quite sure that what I propose is right for you, and was
acceptable to your mother. And it’s only a proposal. You’ll have your
chance now to tell me if it’s the right thing for you. If you don’t think
so, well then, we just carry on as usual.
“Is that Okay?”
“Yes. Okay. So you know about this too, Ma?”
“Yes, my son.”
That made him feel even more excluded, but he had the patience to
let Tess finish.
“You have a really good brain, Falk. You outgrew your school here
years ago, probably since Mister Weiss left. From what I hear, you
and Isa have become teachers’ assistants for the last year. Would
you agree with that?”
“I don’t know about the good brain, Tess. Who are we comparing
with? There are just a few children in this valley and we’ve never
had a chance to experience the outside world.”
She acknowledged the truth of his statement with a nod of her head,
and then continued. “I’ve not told you that Mister Weiss came to
visit me. It was he who put into my head the proposal I’m making. He
told me he has never met two children like you and Isa. And he’s
teaching in a big school now, down in Cape Town, not just comparing
the two of you with the children here in Gamkaskloof. He made a
special trip to tell me that, and my impression of him is that he
would not do that lightly. He thinks very highly of you, Falk.”
The boy did not comment, but he was very pleased to hear that
Weiss had not forgotten him.
“Mister Weiss believes that the Hoerskool vir Seuns in Oudtshoorn
would be the right school for you. It’s the school he went to and he
thinks it would suit you well, because it has the right mix of learning
and sport. He also thinks you would fit in well there, for many of the
pupils come from a farming background.”
He had many questions and objections but he waited for her to
finish.
“I went to visit them, Falk, and I was very impressed with their
emphasis on giving a rounded education. I was also impressed with
their facilities and with the few teachers I met. I think Trevor Weiss
was right, it would be a good place for you.”
“You actually went there?”
“Yes. Now let me tell you what this means to me, Falk. You will be
the last Baartman heir when Isaac passes on. You’ve never had a
chance to see what my father Dan achieved, the farms and
businesses the family owns. I’ve been running them myself since Dad
died. You have a chance to come into the family business, Falk. If you
decide you don’t want to, well, then, after I die the estate will be
wound up and you and Isaac and your mother will get your share.
“But I’d love to see the family business go on into the future and I
hope you will as well. But you need to further your education, Falk.
I’m hoping you will accept my proposal to go to Hoerskool
Oudtshoorn as a boarder, and come to Prince Albert during the
holidays to start learning about the family business.”
Falk was astounded. Not about the boarding school, for he had
speculated that would be the proposal, but about the family wealth
and that he could be a part of it. He had never thought beyond
finishing school and going to work on a farm.
“What about you, Ma?”
“I’m grateful for you, son. This is your chance. I will join you in Prince
Albert during the holidays; we’ll stay at the family farm that’s just
outside the town.”
“How will you pay, Ma?”
“Your Grandmother will pay for you, son.”
He turned to Tess.
“I’m not sure that is right, Tess. We have never accepted money from
others.”
“Not others, Falk, your family. You will be helping me realise my
dream of keeping our farms and businesses in the family. That’s
worth much more to me.”
“Thank you, Aunt Tess. I hope I can live up to what you expect.” He
turned again to his mother. “Ma, I’m only sad for Isa, that she can’t
have something like this. You know her family will never help her.”
His mother smiled broadly.
“All done, son, ask Tess.”
He looked quizzically at his aunt.
“Mister Weiss did it Falk. He’s organised a bursary for Isa. She is
going to the Girls’ High School in Oudtshoorn. And what is even more
amazing is that the boys’ and girls’ schools are combining next year
so you might even end up in the same class as her.”
Falk had one last question of his mother.
“And Grandpa?”
“Grandpa is where he wants to be, son.”
OUDTSHOORN
Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes
Waar die kranse antword gee.
C.J. Langenhoven. “Die Stem.”
1.
The three years Falk spent in Oudtshoorn were among the happiest
of his life, but it didn’t start out that way.
Tess came to fetch Stephanie, Falk and Isa in late January of 1963
and took them over the Swartberg Pass to Oudtshoorn, where the
two women planned to stay in a hotel for a few days to see the
children settled into their new school.
For both Falk and Isa that first sighting of the town as they came out
of the mountains was among the most momentous of their lives.
They had never seen a building more than one storey high, never
seen tar roads, never seen stores with brightly coloured signs, and
never seen parks and tree-lined streets, and street signs.
Already on the road journey their world had started the process of
rapid change, when they encountered the increased traffic after the
turn-off to the Cango Caves and then driven past ostrich farms with
fields filled with the large, pop-eyed birds.
That night, after a meal in the hotel, the four had walked the neardeserted streets, passing as they did the school building and the two
hostels where the children would be staying, the imposing old
turreted building that was Pinehurst, the girls’ hostel, and the more
utilitarian Archer, the boys’ hostel.
Both of the children were thoroughly intimidated by all they had
seen that day, and it would be strange for them in future years to
reflect on the feelings and emotions that had beset them that night,
and had left them sleepless in the small rooms of the hotel.
The following day, Friday, they went to the store that supplied school
uniforms and sporting clothing. This at least provided an exciting
distraction, for neither had ever owned new clothes and the feel of
the cotton and the crispness of the creases were new and different;
this did not apply to the shoes, because the restriction of their first
ever closed shoes held no joy, and the delight came with taking them
off.
Falk was quite sure Isa’s bursary did not cover clothing, and he
waited until Tess was on her own before approaching her. “Does
Isa’s bursary pay for all of these things, Tess?”
“Why do you ask, Falk?”
“Because if it doesn’t, then I will pay for them. You can take the
money off when I can afford it.”
She tried to hide her pleasure at his caring behaviour towards the
girl. “Well, you’re too late, Falk.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she asked me before you did, promised to pay me back. I’ll
give you the answer I gave her. I told her I’ve not had such fun for
many years, seeing you two enjoying yourselves. And I told her I have
oodles of money and no-one to spend it on.”
She became more serious.
“Falk, I’ve opened an account at this store. You’ll need other things
like sporting equipment. You must just come here for those things
and they will charge them to me.”
That evening, around the dinner table, Falk introduced a subject that
he knew would distress his mother.
“Ma.” His tone was serious and she was immediately attentive.
“Yes Falk.”
“I want to go to the hostel on my own tomorrow.”
“No son, you can’t.”
“Please listen to me first, Ma, before you say no.”
“Why would you want to do that? All the other new boys to the
hostel will be brought by their mothers and fathers. You don’t have a
father, but I won’t let them think you don’t even have a mother.”
“You’re thinking about yourself, Ma, not about me.”
“What about you?”
“It’s embarrassing for me to need someone to take me to the
hostel.”
“Would it be different if it was your father taking you?”
“No, it wouldn’t. Ma, just look around you. Everything around here is
different. We’re different. The boys at that school are going to see
we are different. It might be okay for Isa, because girls are nicer, but
those boys are going to make fun of me.”
Stephanie tried to see his point of view and she looked at her plain
old-fashioned dress and saw herself through his eyes, the new eyes
that had been watching people intently all that day. He had to adapt
to this world; she could escape back into the valley. Suddenly, she
had a view of his future and it did not include her and the tears
sprung to her eyes.
Falk was contrite and reached for her hand on top of the dining
table. Tess and Isa watched the tableau between mother and son,
sympathetic to both and not wanting to take sides.
“Ma, this is not about you. I love you, Ma. You wanted me to come
here so that I could become part of this new world. I’ve had you to
help me all my life, but now I’ve got to face things myself. Please
understand, Ma.”
“Are you ashamed of me, Falk?”
“No Ma, and I’ll never be. I think you are the best mother in
Gamkaskloof, and I’m the luckiest boy.”
His words comforted her and she started to think about his
predicament without the colour of her emotions, and eventually she
understood his desire to prove his independence.
The Zephyr dropped him off a block from the hostel and he walked
the rest of the way, the shoes pinching and the new cardboard
suitcase with its scarce contents weighing lightly on his arm. He was
a boy big for his age, but with the raw-boned look that is often the
mark of farm children: no fat on him, and arms, legs and face the
colour of stained wood. The blue eyes sparkled in the brown face
with an intensity of interest that marked him as a boy of intelligence
with a burning desire to learn and improve his lot in life.
Falk was a product of his heritage and environment. From his mother
he had inherited his steadfast and determined nature, from the
paternal side you had to go back three and four generations to see
the line, from Dan came his industry and love of words, from Benji
his physical presence and courage.
His environment, Gamkaskloof, Die Hel, had not provided him with
too many attributes of relevance to his new life; physical strength
and a love of nature and solitude were his gifts from the valley and
the first of these would make him a formidable force on the playing
fields, but the others would mark him with strangeness. None of
these complexities would have been visible to a stranger seeing the
lone boy walking down the dusty street on a warm, late-January
afternoon to present himself to unknown persons for the purpose of
moulding his life by their rules and conventions.
There was much activity in front of the hostel, on the street where
cars were disgorging children and their parents and their piles of
luggage, and the entrance way, where harassed teachers greeted
and instructed.
“Wie is jy, seun?” asked a bald man with a large stomach.
“I am Falk Baartman.”
“Where are your mother and father?”
“My father’s dead, meneer. My mother brought me here, but she has
gone now.”
“You are the boy from Die Hel?”
Falk knew the term.
“Ja, meneer.”
“My magtig.” Then he yelled to someone unseen, “Mevrou De Jager,
hier is die kind vanaf Die Hel.”
His voice was loud, and many turned to stare at Falk, as if he were a
curiosity. It was a look he was to encounter many times in the next
weeks.
A kind looking middle-aged woman appeared. “Good afternoon, boy.
Are you Falk Baartman?”
“Yes, mevrou.”
“And where’s your mother, Falk?”
“She brought me to the town but I asked her to let me come here on
my own.”
“Well, that was brave of you. Normally we like to have the parents
see the dormitories and the other facilities, so they can envisage
where their sons are. Did your mother not want to see that?”
Falk had not thought what he was denying Stephanie by insisting
that he come alone.
“She would have liked to have seen that, mevrou, but I wanted to
come on my own. I have to look after myself now.”
She gave him a look of surprise. It was not the first time he would
surprise with his declarations of independence.
“Very well then, young man, you must come with me and sign the
documents if you wish to look after yourself.”
She walked him through to an office where several parents were
completing signing formalities and as she did so she introduced
herself.
“I am Helen de Jager, Falk. My husband is the Housemaster of this
hostel and I am the Housemistress. We will be like your mother and
father while you are here with us.”
Falk liked the sound of that, but then remembered the fat man. “Is
your husband the man who first met me?”
She laughed, a very pleasant warm laugh. “No. That’s Meneer Botha,
one of the teachers who lives in the hostel and helps us. Here, here is
my husband. Willem, this is Falk Baartman, the boy Steven Weiss
told us about.”
Willem de Jager was a tall thin man with a perpetual frown which
seemed very threatening at first sight, but which Falk was to learn
disguised the fair nature of the man. “Welcome, young man.”
“Thank you, meneer.”
“Where’s his mother, Helen?”
“He came on his own; he wants to stand on his own feet.”
“Well, who’s going to sign the papers?”
“You’ll have to make a plan, Willem. Let the boy sign.”
“That’s not regular.”
“Come on, Willem, what else can you do?”
“Well, you do it then,” and he left them, grumbling to himself.
Falk was mortified that he had caused all of this difficulty. But then
he remembered that they said Steven Weiss had told them about
him, and he was grateful that he at least did not need to explain his
background to the De Jagers.
She sat him down and placed some papers before him. “I must read
these documents to you Falk, so that you know what you are signing
for. Don’t be too worried about what Meneer de Jager said. We have
children coming here on their own by train sometimes. We will just
send these papers home with you during the holidays and you can
have your mother sign them again.”
When they had finished she took him upstairs to the dormitory and
handed him over to a senior boy. “This is Michael Johnson, one of
the House Prefects. He will show you around.”
The genial expression on Johnson’s face disappeared once the
Housemistress was out of sight. “So you are one of the hillbillies from
Die Hel. You certainly look pretty stupid. Are you all stupid down
there? I hear you are all kissing cousins, you know what I mean?”
When Falk did not answer he was challenged.
“I asked you a question Baartman.”
“I’m sorry, what was the question?”
“I said you’re all kissing cousins down there. Do you know what that
means?”
Falk had an idea what it meant, because there were people like that
in the valley, the Prinsloo’s for one.
“No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, you people fuck your cousins, even your sisters, maybe.”
The word shocked Falk. His inclination was to strike Johnson, and he
was of a size to do so, but he kept quiet. He had known there would
be challenges like this. He told himself to remain calm; act like this
was not a big deal. “You must have been into our valley yourself
then, because I don’t know anyone who behaves like that.”
Johnson bored of the baiting game, for he had a lot of new boys to
meet and show around, besides there would be plenty of occasions
to bait the boy from Die Hel. He showed Falk to his bed, pointed out
the location of the ablutions and told him he was free until the
supper bell rang at six thirty. Falk sat on the bed and reflected on the
things he had encountered in the half-hour he had been at the
school. It did not auger well for the future, but his native doggedness
made him move beyond the challenges and start assessing the
situation objectively.
He looked around the dormitory. The bed frames were made of iron
and the mattresses of a sponge material. It was covered with fresh
linen, much washed, and thin brown blankets. The beds and linen
were much better than he was used to. At the foot of the bed was a
tin locker with place for a padlock, something he did not have.
The dormitory contained forty-six beds, he counted them. Along the
one side, the room had windows to the outside street. He had been
placed on the other side of the room, so he took a chance and
moved his suitcase and placed it on a bed under a window.
There were boys in the dormitory, around half a dozen of them,
some engaging in first conversations with each other, some seemed
to know each other, presumably having come from the same junior
school. He assumed this was a junior dormitory, perhaps for
standard 6 and 7 boys and, from the absence of boys his age, he
reckoned they only accepted new boys into the dormitory that first
day, allowing them to acclimatise themselves before the senior boys
arrived the next day, the Sunday, the day before school opened.
He wondered why they had put him in that dorm, and not the one
for standard 8s.
Falk’s encounter with the prefect left him with no desire to talk to
anyone, so he went wandering around the building. The floor of the
passages and stairs were polished a dark green colour, very shiny and
clean. He could smell the polish. Downstairs, he found the dining
room and peered through the door; twelve tables, each seating ten,
and a raised section with another table.
On the ground floor there were also classrooms, which surprised him
for he’d assumed the building was only for sleeping and eating.
Could they be for study purposes? He didn’t know. At the back of the
building, down a long corridor that contained offices, there was a
door that seemed to lead outside and he opened it and went out into
an enclosed garden, a very pleasant space with trees and a fish pond
with a fountain. This was a place he could come to when he needed a
break, a place to think.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The voice was angry and he recognised it: Meneer Botha, the fat
teacher. He turned and saw him, sitting on a bench with a newspaper
in his hand.
“Sorry meneer, have I done something wrong?”
“You boys are not allowed in here. This is the teachers’ garden. Now
get out and don’t let me see you in here again.”
Falk went wandering again, this time out the front door and down
the street towards town. It seemed he walked aimlessly for a very
long time and he was brought to his senses when the clock on a very
large church started timing the hour, six chimes. He had to get back
for supper in a half-hour, not that he was hungry, but it seemed he
had already broken enough rules for his first day.
When he arrived in the passage outside the dining hall the end of the
queue was just entering and he joined it, going with the flow and
sitting at a table with a few empty places. The room was quiet, the
boys uncertain what would happen next, watching the high table
where Meneer and Mevrou de Jager, Meneer Botha and a younger,
very pretty, woman teacher sat.
De Jager stood to address them.
“Well boys, this is your first meal at Oudtshoorn High School. We
welcome you to the school and hope your five years with us will be
happy and successful. We here in the hostel will make it our task to
provide you with a home from home, so that you can concentrate on
what the school has to offer you and not worry about matters that
you cannot control.
“Let me introduce you to the people on the high table. Firstly, sitting
on my right here is my wife, Mevrou De Jager. My wife and I are the
Housemaster and Housemistress of the hostel. Next is Meneer
Jansen Botha. Meneer Botha stays in the hostel with us and helps
with prep and other matters. Meneer Botha is an Afrikaans teacher.
Next is Miss Pauline Augustine. She also helps out in the hostel. Miss
Augustine is a Biology teacher.”
The young woman teacher smiled to acknowledge the introduction,
the smile transforming her face so that Falk saw she was beautiful,
one of the most beautiful women he had seen. He was captivated by
the smile, which gave her a luminescence, and had to tear his gaze
away to hear the Housemasters words.
“After supper you will be given a few hours to shower and read, and I
hope you will all write to your mothers. Lights are out at nine thirty.
Tomorrow you will be woken at six o’ clock. This is the normal
waking time during school term and even on the weekends.
Breakfast is at seven, and afterwards you all assemble outside the
front entrance, where you will be accompanied to the church of your
choice.
“That is all you need to remember for the time being. I will tell you
more at lunch tomorrow, and of course we will be joined by the
senior boys who will be arriving in the afternoon.
“Now a few rules. No talking after lights out. No boys may enter the
teacher’s garden at the back of the hostel. We already had one boy
go in there today. He didn’t know, so he was not punished, but now
you all know. No boy may leave the area of the hostel without asking
permission. We are responsible for your safety, and we take our
responsibility very seriously, so this is an absolutely strict rule; you
may not leave these premises without permission to do so.
“That’s all boys, and now bow your heads during the saying of grace.
Mister Johnson, will you say grace tonight?”
Johnson stood and spoke in a loud voice. “For what we are about to
receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”
Falk could not believe that the boy with the foul mouth could be the
one saying grace. Did they not know he swore like that? How did
they choose prefects? Falk realised he had a lot to learn.
That night, after lights out, Falk lay listening to the sounds around
him. Each boy made a different noise, some gentle, some grating.
Would he ever get used to this noise, he who was used to nothing
but the noise of the wind and the harmonious calls of the owls and
nightjars to accompany him in the dark of the night? He had made so
many mistakes out of ignorance. “Thank goodness they did not see
me going into town,” he thought, already smarting at having being
singled out for his indiscretion of going into the teacher’s garden.
Tomorrow there would be more challenges to his lack of
understanding of the way these people lived and behaved, and he
dreaded the arrival of the senior boys as that would signal the real
start of his indoctrination and he knew he would receive special
attention because of the lascivious rumours of the behaviour of the
klowers of Gamkaskloof.
He wondered how his mother was faring, alone in their cottage at
the end of the valley. He already pined for the place and the person.
2.
The sights and sounds of over six hundred boys and girls in the hall
that Monday morning were overwhelming for Falk. He did not know
that this was a special day, the day the boys’ and girls’ schools joined
together in assembly for the first time.
The behaviour was excessive, with individuals from both sexes
striving to be noticed, freed of the artificial barriers that had been
placed in their way by their previous single-sex schools. In a way, Falk
was emulating them, pushing through the throng to find Isa. He saw
her some way off, but the assembly was called to order before he
could get to her.
There was a loud ringing of a bell by one of the teachers on the stage
and a hush fell over the large room. The teacher used the
microphone on the stage to address them; Falk was astounded at the
magnification of sound emanating from the object the man was
holding.
“Boys and girls. Let us first honour our country.”
The piano on the stage led the first ever rendering of the national
anthem that Falk had heard. The singing was in unison and hearty.
Falk liked it, and vowed to learn the words as soon as he could. He
did not yet know that it would be sung every day that assembly was
held, and that it had special significance to the citizens of
Oudtshoorn, for the composer of “Die Stem” was C.J. Langenhoven,
born and raised in the town.
When calm returned to the hall, the teacher at the microphone
continued. “And now we will have our first ever address as a
combined school. I announce Meneer Malherbe Coetzee, our
Headmaster.”
The man who came forward had no stature from his size, but Falk
could see from the way he walked and held himself that he assumed
stature from his position. He was not a prepossessing individual,
being small, bald and with a neatly trimmed goatee.
Falk would hear later that because they could not decide between
the Headmaster of the boys’ school and the Headmistress of the
girls’ school, they had chosen an outsider, a man from Ermelo. They
would suffer the man for nearly two terms; suffer his draconian rules
and his hatred of English-speakers, before the school board replaced
him.
The boy from Die Hel, who hardly had the background to judge such
a man, saw through him immediately, knew he would be a tyrant
and a bully; even the name - the use of two surnames to give the
impression of solemnity - even that alerted Falk to the sham to
come.
“Dames en seuns,” he began in Afrikaans, “this is an historic day. This
day you will all remember because it is today that a great school is
born, a school that will follow the precepts of our national education
philosophy to the full, embracing the great Calvinist traditions of our
country and our church.”
The voice was powerful and deep, but the words were nonsensical
and pompous and Falk soon stopped listening. He caught Isa’s eye
and she shrugged and pulled a face. Falk watched the teachers on
the stage, trying to discern those who also found the address to be
tedious, and saw that both Helen de Jager and Pauline Augustine
looked bored, as did quite a few others, yet some seemed to hang on
to every word, one of them Botha. Falk knew there would be many
clashes with the fat teacher.
After the oration from the Headmaster the same teacher who had
started proceedings returned to the microphone. “Right boys and
girls, it is time for us to organise the classes for the new term.”
He proceeded to tell them the assembly point for each standard,
where the head teacher for that standard would read out the class
names. The standard 8s were to assemble in the quadrangle outside
the hall.
Released from the constraints of assembly, the great hubbub
recommenced as the pupils made their way to their respective
assembly points. This time Falk was able to get to Isa, and the two of
them made their way together to the quadrangle.
Isa’s eyes were flashing with excitement. “Isn’t this wonderful
Falkie?”
“What, this crowd?”
“No, yes,” she laughed. “I mean everything.”
“Well, the Headmaster’s speech wasn’t that great.”
“True, but everything else has been so exciting.”
He had not had such a great weekend, had in fact disliked nearly
everything that had happened to him, but did not want to spoil her
enjoyment.
“How is your hostel, Isa?”
“Oh, just splendid. I’ve already made friends and the beds are so
comfy, I can’t get over it. Oh, and the food Falkie! I’ve never eaten
such nice food.”
He was a little ashamed that he had been thinking negative thoughts,
because he too had found both the comfort of the beds and the
quantity and variety of food an improvement over what he was used
to. Maybe he should be looking for the positives.
They had reached their assembly point and their attention focused
on the pupils around them - their new classmates - and the teacher
who stood on the verandah above them, waiting to proceed. Falk
judged him to be in his late thirties, an athletic looking man with an
open, friendly face and a confident manner.
“C’mon kids, let’s get the show on the road.”
There was an immediate cessation of noise and Falk realised that this
teacher was well known and respected. “I see some new faces here,
so let me introduce myself. I am Jan Robertse, master in charge of
the Standard 8s. My teaching subject is Geography. More
importantly, to the boys at least, I am the under 16s rugby coach.”
That elicited a laugh. Falk had wondered about sport, and this man’s
open approach was attractive to him; he would see about playing
rugby when it started in the second term.
“I’m going to read out the list of names for each class and those
pupils must then go to the classroom indicated where the teacher
designated to that class will get all your details and will give you your
first term timetables. I’ll end with the Standard 8A’s because that’s
my class.
“So, first, the Standard 8B class, in alphabetical order … “
Falk was neither in that class nor the 8C class, which was where Isa
was selected. She gave him a smile and wave as she went with her
group. He was starting to get anxious, why would he be in the 8A
class and Isa in the 8C class?
When Robertse went past the Bs and his name had not been called,
he had had a premonition that this was going to be one of the worst
days of his life. Robertse completed the list and started to move off
with his class.
“Meneer,” Falk called out, stopping him.
“Yes?”
“Meneer, my name wasn’t called out.”
“What’s your name?”
“Baartman, Falk Baartman.”
Robertse scrutinised his lists.
“Yes, your name’s not here. What school did you go to before
coming here?”
“I was at the Gamkaskloof School.”
Robertse gave him a look of surprise, and then said gently,
anticipating the boys’ disappointment, “They might have put you in
Standard 7.”
“Why would they do that, Meneer? Isa Erasmus and I are both from
the Gamkaskloof School and she was put in the 8C class.”
“I don’t know. Come with me, I’ll take you to the teacher in charge of
the Standard 7s.”
There was no discussion between the two of them as they made
their way through the passages. Robertse stopped at the door of a
classroom. “Wait here Baartman, I won’t be long,” and he entered
the classroom and closed the door behind him.
Falk stood alone in the empty passage, trying to calm himself. It was
not a short wait, or at least it seemed that way. Robertse came out
with a woman. Even in his anxious state, Falk saw that she was a
good looking woman, quite young, dark hair and, most importantly, a
sympathetic eye for him. Robertse nodded to him and left.
“Hello Falk, I’m Mrs Wilkins.”
“Good morning, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry about the mix-up; that you weren’t told before school
started.”
“Am I in Standard 7, ma’am?”
“Yes, you are in Standard 7A, my class. I’m also to be your English
teacher.”
“But why? I’ve done Standard 7. Isa Erasmus and I were in Standard 7
together last year, and she has been placed in Standard 8. We both
passed Standard 7 with the same sort of marks. I turn sixteen at the
end of this year.”
“I don’t know exactly, Falk, and I’ll find out when I have a free period
later today. I suspect it’s because Isa has a bursary.”
“Why would that make a difference?”
“As I said, I’m not sure. I don’t want to speculate and I’ll find out
later. In the meantime, you must come back into this classroom with
me. This is the Standard 7A classroom. You must try to overcome
your disappointment and pay attention, Falk, because this might be
your class for this whole year and you don’t want to start off with
these classmates of yours on the wrong foot. Don’t let them think
they are beneath you.”
She waited for his reaction but he was too stunned to reply.
“Okay, come on now, buck up boy.”
Falk could not follow her advice and he remained miserable for the
day, unable to break free of his self-pity. In the fourth period he was
called out of the classroom and told to report to the office. He found
Mrs Wilkins there, waiting outside the Headmaster’s office.
“We are seeing the Headmaster about this matter Falk. You must
remain respectful when you speak to him.”
“Why?”
“You see. He will not take kindly to being questioned like that, Falk.
That might be alright with me, but not with him. Do you
understand?”
“Yes, ma’am, I heard his speech this morning. I know the kind of
person he is.”
Odette Wilkins had her first indication that this was a special boy and
that they were doing him a grave injustice.
Coetzee did not get up for Mrs Wilkins. He looked a little ridiculous,
his small frame behind the large desk.
“Come, sit here boy. You sit there, mevrou.”
They both sat where indicated, obeying the puppet master.
“Now what’s this nonsense?”
Falk looked to Mrs Wilkins and she nodded for him to reply.
“Meneer, I have been placed incorrectly in Standard 7. I have already
completed Standard 7 in my last school and I turn sixteen this year.”
“What school was that?”
“I was at the Gamkaskloof School, meneer.”
“In Die Hel? They have a school down in that place?”
“Yes, meneer, we have a school in Gamkaskloof, a good school.”
“Don’t talk nonsense boy. How many pupils did you have?”
“Normally about thirty.”
“In the whole school? How can that be a good school?”
Falk remained silent, totally alienated by the man’s abrupt and rude
dismissal of his school.
“I think you will need to repeat Standard 7, boy. You will be behind,
coming from a school like that.”
“But Isa Erasmus and I were at the school together, meneer, and she
has been placed in Standard 8.”
Coetzee looked to the woman teacher for an explanation.
“Isa Erasmus and Falk were together at Gamkaskloof School, Meneer
Coetzee, and they both received excellent grades. Isa has been
placed in 8C. She is a bursary student.”
“There you have it,” he exclaimed triumphantly, “She’s a bursary
student. We can’t waste bursary money keeping a child back. Now,
I’m busy. Is that all?”
Falk was not going to be dismissed as lightly as that.
“We had a teacher at Gamkaskloof who came from this school,
meneer. It was he who got us admitted to the school and the hostel
because he believed we were good students. He got Isa the bursary
because her parents couldn’t afford to send her. Please will you
contact Mister Weiss and ask him about us.”
“Weiss, is that the name? Is he a Jew?”
“I don’t know, meneer, he never said.”
“And I suppose he speaks English. An English-speaking Jew, and I
must ask his advice?”
Falk was stunned by the racist attack and he looked to Mrs Wilkins
and saw she was equally nonplussed.
“Come on now, we are finished. You will stay in Standard 7, boy.
Dismissed.”
Tess Baartman came to Oudtshoorn the next day, after receiving a
phone call from the Housemistress of Falk’s hostel. She had no
appointment and had to wait almost an hour before Coetzee’s
secretary let her into his office; the secretary had been uneasy and
kept apologising for her superior, citing his heavy workload as the
reason for his rudeness, but when she went into the office the desk
was clear, only his writing instruments visible, lined up like soldiers
on the polished wood.
He did not stand to greet her.
“I see you do not stand for elderly women, meneer.”
He reddened, but chose to ignore the comment so she took a seat of
her choice, after waiting an embarrassing moment.
“What is your business, mevrou?”
“I’m sure your secretary informed you of the reason for my visit. I am
Tess Baartman. You might not know my family, meneer, coming from
the Transvaal, but we are very well known in the Great Karoo, where
we have extensive agricultural interests in the Prince Albert district.”
She realised immediately that it was the wrong approach for him.
“Your family is irrelevant, mevrou. We are a school and all pupils will
be treated equally. We do not give favour to one over another.”
She very much doubted that, for his bigotry towards Steven Weiss
had been conveyed to her by Helen de Jager.
“I’m here about my relative, Falk, meneer, the grandson of my
brother. I want to know why he has been kept down a year.”
“What qualifications do you have to decide the fitness of a child?”
“What qualifications do I need? This is a brilliant boy who reached
the Standard 7 level two years early and basically spent his last year
teaching other children. I should tell you I thought long and hard
about educating him in Europe, in Germany or Holland possibly.”
He did not like to be bested and fell back on an attack.
“I suppose you wanted to send the boy overseas because he looks
like a Coloured, mevrou?”
Her blood ran cold. It was the little men like these who were the
fanatics; little men with monumental inferiority complexes. The
Adolf Eichmann’s of Apartheid. She would have to be very careful
that he did not conduct a witch hunt into their background. A power
play would be best, she decided. It would alienate him but also give
him pause.
“That is a dangerous statement, Meneer Coetzee. My family has a
proud history; my father fought under De la Rey and he was one of
the Boers chosen to conduct the peace negotiations with the British.
Where was your Grandfather when we fought the English, meneer?”
“That is irrelevant.”
“I don’t think so, meneer, not if we are comparing the blood lines of
our families. Our heritage is important and it is something to fight
for. So I’m interested in your blood line. Was your grandfather a
patriot?”
“Yes, of course he was. Anyway, mevrou, we have finished our
discussion. You are not an expert on these matters and I am. Your
relative went to an inferior school and he is not ready for Standard 8.
We will watch his progress, of course, as we do for all the pupils, no
special conditions for one over the other, and if he shows
exceptional promise we will promote him. But I very much doubt
that will happen.”
She stayed in the town that night, for she needed to see the head of
the School Board, a man she knew from her civic role in Prince
Albert, and the Chairman of the Parent Teachers’ Association, to
whom she was introduced by Odette Wilkins.
Tess was not surprised to hear that, even after only two days of the
school term, she was not the first to level complaints against the new
Headmaster.
It was three weeks later that Mrs Wilkins brought Falk the news.
“You are to be promoted to Standard 8 Falk, to 8C, with your friend
Isa Erasmus.”
She took great delight in his reaction for she too had been bruised by
the anti-English sentiments of the Headmaster, and she had seen the
quality of this boy in the few weeks she had worked with him.
“Thank you so much, Missus Wilkins.”
“Don’t thank me, thank your great-aunt. Anyway, according to this
document, you were placed in the wrong year because of an
‘administrative error’. It is best we stick to that story, Falk, no use
making more waves; you and I and your Aunt Tess know the real
reason, and that should be good enough for us.”
“I’m sorry I won’t have you for a teacher, Missus Wilkins.”
“Don’t be sorry, I’m also the English teacher for Standard 8C.”
3.
The only negative of Falk’s move into standard 8 was that he lost his
bed by the window; the class move also meant a dormitory move, to
the room occupied by the standard 8 and 9s. He went from being the
oldest boy in the dormitory to one of the youngest, and the lowest
on the pecking order for bed locations. That was in the days before
he proved on the rugby fields that youngest did not mean weakest.
But in the classroom, the move was a joyous one. If he had
apprehensions about making his way among a new group, who might
match or exceed his abilities, they were soon dispelled and the one
who smoothed his way was Isa.
Isa Erasmus had become the darling of standard 8C in less than a
month, liked by all for different reasons, for she had beauty and
brains, but mostly liked for her charming naivety. She had decided
that she could not hide her lack of knowledge, so she made fun of
herself. Falk observed this in her on the first day he was in the
classroom, and adopted a similar stance, happy to move away from
his former behaviour where it seemed, as the oldest boy in his class,
he had to maintain a dignified position, even when confronted with
new things and concepts. Isa’s mirthful humility was much more fun.
By the second term, Falk and Isa had regained the position they had
held at the little school in the valley; they were regarded as the
brainiest in the class, particularly when in an English class Falk stood
up and recited the whole of Yeats’ poem The Song of Wandering
Aengus.
Odette Wilkins had tears in her eyes.
“How did you know that’s one of my favourite poems?”
“Well, I didn’t ma’am, but I’m glad it is because it’s also one of mine.
We were lucky, Isa and I. Mr Weiss, who taught us in the valley, had
two favourite poets, Yeats and Eliot, and we made a study of them.”
“Do you know what the poem means, Falk?”
“Yes, I think so. At the end, you know, when he is talking about the
silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun, the
apples are obviously from the tree in the Garden of Eden, and the
moon symbolises imagination and the sun intellect.”
The teacher could only shake her head, for she had interpreted the
poem more literally, moved by the beauty of the words without
examining the inner meaning too closely.
The two blue-eyed geniuses had their eyes fixed on loftier targets,
promotion to the top class in standard 8, and the key to entry of the
top class was the mid-year exams.
That second term of 1963 introduced the two loves which were to be
the reason why the short period of his high school years were so
successful and joyful: academic achievement and rugby. There was a
third, which involved girls, but that was about a year away.
The studying he did for the mid-year exams set the pattern for his
behaviour for the rest of his life. When things challenged him, he
went at it as if his life depended on it. Later the challenges, at least
during his school years, became less, but the behavioural paradigm
was there and was maintained.
They both did very well in the mid-year exams, with average marks
which placed them in the top ten in the standard, but they had to
wait for the third term before they were promoted because a nasty
battle to dislodge Malherbe Coetzee was taking place, and he would
not have approved the move. He blamed many people for his
demise, amongst them Tess Baartman, and if there was one quality
he totally lacked, it was fairness.
But even before they wrote the exam,s it had become less pressing
to Falk that the promotion to the top class take place immediately.
He discovered rugby, and it became his number one priority.
Jan Robertse asked him to stay after the Geography class.
“Have you played rugby, Baartman?”
“No meneer, we did not play games in the valley. Most of us worked
on our parents’ farms after school and there was no time for games.”
“That’s a pity, because you have the build for rugby. But it doesn’t
matter, you can begin now. I’m starting preparation for the season, a
training programme to make the boys fit and tough before the
season starts. It’s mostly the boys from last year, but I’m looking for
new talent. We’re meeting for the first session on the ‘B’ field this
afternoon at five. I expect to see you there.”
Falk was given no choice, but he didn’t mind as he’d been thinking
about the sport and thought he might enjoy it. But he knew nothing
of the kit requirements.
“What do I need to wear, meneer?”
“Have you no sports kit?”
“No.”
“No boots or rugby jersey and shorts?”
“No, meneer, I have only our school clothes and shoes. I can buy
those things, but only on the weekend.”
“Well, come as you are then, but no shoes, you can go barefoot until
the rugby actually starts. You can walk barefoot can’t you?”
Falk saw the humour in that and laughed.
“I never wore shoes until I came here, Meneer Robertse. It was much
more comfortable than these hard shoes.”
There was quite a crowd on the ‘B’ field that Wednesday afternoon,
over thirty Falk estimated. Meneer Robertse had them all sit on the
lower tier of the stand while he stood on the field before them.
“Well, welcome boys, this is a nice turnout, but we need many more.
We will be fielding at least two under-16 teams this year. Now, some
of you were with me last year and you know my coaching methods,
the rest of you will learn. Some of you might fall away, because we
take our rugby very seriously in this school. We like to get fit and
hard and win games.
“For the next three weeks we will not touch a rugby ball. We train
here every Monday and Wednesday, and on Friday we train in the
gym. The main purpose of the field training is to get you fit; the gym
training is to build muscle.
“Some of you, like Baartman over there, have never played rugby
before. I will be watching your training and assessing the best
position for you, but it might be that we will only find the best
position after trying out one or two.
“Now, no more talking. Round the field three times. Off you go.”
That afternoon they did numerous exercises after the initial run; situps, press ups, lunges, squats and a dozen or so more to stretch the
ligaments and build flexibility, and they ended with sprints from the
try-line to the 25-yard line.
Falk thought he coped well, until he woke the next morning with
muscles sore and stiff. He had been surprised how competitive he’d
wanted to be the day before; other than the fight with Prinsloo, he’d
never had to measure himself against others in physical contest and
had thought of playing sport as merely a matter of having fun. But
that wasn’t the case; he wanted to be better than the others and
liked the idea of pushing his body to the peak of its ability. It was a
new feeling for him, and one that filled him with excitement so that
he looked forward to the gym session on the Friday.
By the end of the three-week initial training, Falk had achieved quite
a few firsts; fastest in the sprints, most number of chin-ups, the only
boy who could bench-press his body weight. But he knew he was
going to be clueless when it came to playing the game, so he really
pushed himself when skills training was introduced.
They started by tackling rolled up gym mats, which stood just over
four feet tall and weighed around sixty pounds. The first time Falk
tackled the mat, he nearly dislocated his shoulder. Robertse laughed
at his discomfort. The next time he used the technique, the coach
showed him, bunching the shoulder before impact so that all his
weight went into the contact point. The mat flew backward and he
knew this was what he was going to enjoy most; he was going to be
the best tackler on the rugby field.
Robertse had watched Falk closely and was gratified to find that his
premonition that the boy could be a fine rugby player was working
out. Falk was fast and strong and had no fear in the tackle situation;
in fact, he seemed to relish the physical contact. He decided to start
him out on the flank.
The training started to include dummy runs without opposition,
graduating to contests between two sets of scrums, and two sets of
backlines, until finally they played the complete game, but never for
more than a half hour and as part of the training regime.
So, the first real game was eagerly anticipated. It was an internal
game, the under-16’s playing against the third and fourth open
teams. Falk was disappointed to find himself in the under 16B side,
but he had no real gripe as he was very raw in technique. He was not
to know that his coach was deliberately keeping him down until he
had mastered the basics of the game. Robertse knew that the
routines he was instilling in Falk would be better learned when he
had weaker opposition.
The game was held on the school fields on a Saturday morning, and
was well attended, with nearly all the boarders present and many of
the day scholars. Falk noticed Isa in the stands and she gave him a
cheery wave. Isa had been quizzing him about his rugby experience;
a little grudgingly, for it was something they could not share. She had
felt in him the excitement and was keen to see him in action; keen to
see what he saw in the game.
Falk had scrutinised the team sheets that had been posted on the
school boards, and there were one or two boys who had been
particularly nasty to him in the first weeks when he was in the junior
dorm. One in particular, Martin van Blommenstein, a matric scholar,
was playing centre. He was surprised also to see Michael Johnson
down to play for the fourth team as No. 8; he would have expected a
house prefect to be in the first team. He vowed to save his best
tackles for those two.
The under-16s won the toss and elected to kick-off. Robertse had
instructed the fly half to kick deep if they won the toss, deep but not
over the 25, so that they could mark the ball, and he had instructed
Falk and the right wing, the two fastest boys, to get to the ball first if
possible.
The ball sailed high and Falk went charging towards where it would
land, and there stood Martin Johnson, waiting to catch it. A better
opportunity Falk would not get, and he timed his run to perfection so
that he was horizontal when Johnson bagged the ball. It was just like
the rolled gym mats; Johnson was propelled backwards off his feet
and thumped into the ground, losing the ball. Falk leaped to his feet,
scooped the ball up and made another five or six yards, before he
was brought to ground; but he managed to turn his body so that the
ball was retained by his team.
The under-16s surged down the field and the movement ended just
yards short of the try-line, almost a perfect start. By half-time, the
younger boys were marginally in the lead and Falk had still not
bagged Van Blommenstein, but by then the fourth team backline had
one eye on the ball and the other on Falk, and many a mistake had
been made in avoidance of his crushing tackles. On the side-lines, all
of the talk was of this new boy who threw himself into tackles with
no consideration for his personal safety.
Falk finally managed to catch Van Blommenstein early in the second
half. The centre threw a dummy pass and cut through the line, and
seemed clear with only the full back to beat when Falk caught him
from behind. It was not as satisfactory as the tackle on Johnson, but
it was enough, the nastiness had been returned.
When the fulltime whistle went, the under-16s had won the match
13-6: three tries, two converted, to a try and a penalty.
Falk had experienced his first success on the rugby field, a feat which
he was to repeat many times but never with more delight than that
first victory and those first tackles.
Isa sat on the stands, a little numb at what she had witnessed. She
remembered very well the incident at the stream crossing, when Falk
had beaten Prinsloo and she had seen then his courage and tenacity,
but that was a special case, when he was fighting to stop them being
badly hurt. This was a game, and yet the same characteristics had
marked his approach.
For the last few years, Isa been ambivalent about her feelings
towards Falk; he was her best friend, her protector, her co-worker
and yet he was more. She was aware of the appeal she had to the
boys in the school, yet she could not think of Falk in those terms, not
romantic love, rather the love for a brother, and she was quite sure
he felt the same.
Yet that day she had seen a rival to their platonic love, and she was
jealous. And that felt wrong somehow. As confusing as these
contradictions were, they were of little moment compared to the
deep unease she had felt since the July holiday break. Isa had been
shocked when she went home into the valley for the half-year
holidays, shocked at the lack of ambition and industry of her family.
It was simply amazing how a mere five months of living outside the
valley had totally changed her outlook on life. And she had not been
able to discuss the matter with anyone in the valley, for they would
not have understood her. Even Falk would have been only slightly
compassionate to her outpourings, for he could be a recluse at times,
and found much to be admired in the simple life; anyway, he had
been in Prince Albert for the holidays, meeting his promise to his
aunt.
She would not go back into the valley, not ever. As young as she was,
she had the confidence and the resourcefulness to tough it out. She
had it all planned; she would get a holiday job at the end of the year;
they would hire 16-year olds at the supermarket and the restaurants.
She needed to find somewhere to stay, with one of her friends or
perhaps even in the hostel, if she offered her services for
maintenance or any other chores.
And after that?
Isa knew she had to get a bursary, had already started to research
what was available to ensure she qualified. The end goal she had
already decided: she would study Law at Stellenbosch University and
practise in Cape Town. In this scenario, boys had only a passing
usefulness. Not for her an early marriage because of an unwanted
pregnancy or the subjugation of her will to that of a man.
Caught in the reverie of her thoughts, she had not noticed that the
stands had emptied and she was alone, and to her embarrassment
Falk was standing below her, contemplating her daydreaming with a
smile of knowledge on his handsome face.
“Where did that brain take you Isa? Not the valley, I bet.”
She recovered quickly. “No, never. You played very nicely.”
“Is that a word for rugby?”
“I suppose not. You were fierce. Is that better?”
“Much. Come on then, I’ll walk you back to your hostel.”
“All smelly like that? Well, okay, I guess it won’t do me any harm,
being with the hero of the day.”
Once she had that thought in her head she watched to see the
attention he received and noticed the way heads turned to follow
their progress; two bright kids with the world at their feet.
4.
The much anticipated clash with Meneer Botha, the Afrikaans
teacher, came to a head in the first term of Falk’s standard 9 year,
and it was to prove to be an experience which built his character and
destroyed Botha’s career.
Falk had been made a hostel prefect at the beginning of the year. It
was unusual for a standard 9 pupil to be made a prefect, but it was
not without precedent. The qualifications for prefects had always
been clear; academic or sporting excellence, preferably both, and
proven leadership qualities. The first two achievements were
abundantly clear in Falk. The leadership issue was more difficult, for
he did not seek popularity and could be a loner, but his teachers and
coaches had seen his moral leadership and decisiveness and that was
enough.
Amongst his duties was to supervise the junior dorm, and his bed
was in a cubicle attached to the dorm. He would make sure all the
boys were in bed at lights out and for that task he and the three
other hostel prefects would take it in turns to make sure the
downstairs rooms were secured, lights out and the front door locked.
Falk liked to do a turn downstairs, half an hour before final lights out,
and then check the dorms to see that all were present, before a final
visit to lock the front door. It was a Tuesday night in March, still
warm at nine in the evening, warm enough not to have to wear
shoes, and he moved silently through the downstairs passages, down
the wing of the masters rooms, past the kitchen, laundry room and
dining room and finally the prep room. No light shone under the
door, but he always checked inside anyway.
He was stopped in the act of opening the door by a noise from
within. It had sounded like an inhalation of breath, deep and sharp.
He listened, but there was nothing further. Falk opened the door and
heard sudden movement, shuffling noises. There was someone in
the large room and he felt a spike of anxiety. Something was wrong.
The light switch, which he knew from the many times he had
switched these lights off, was suddenly illusive. Then his hand found
it and he snapped the switch downwards.
They were right at the back of the prep classroom, Meneer Botha
and Mickey Louw, one of the standard 6s, one of his three skivvies.
Both were standing, and the teacher seemed to be fumbling with his
pants. Then he left them alone and faced Falk, his face showing
outrage. That was not the expression on Mickey’s face. He looked
terrified, and then looked down, unable to meet Falk’s searching
look.
Botha spoke first.
“How dare you enter without knocking? I was counselling this boy.”
Falk was shocked into inaction, unable even to reply. Surely Botha
had been abusing the boy?
“I asked you a question, Baartman.”
Falk found his voice. “In the dark, meneer?”
“Yes, in the dark. That’s the normal method when a boy needs
counselling, it gives them reassurance. Besides, we had light from the
outside stoep. You wouldn’t know about these things, Baartman.”
Botha was trying to take control, but his voice was strained, not
normal.
“Now run along, Louw, it’s bedtime for you.”
The boy moved the moment that command released him, almost
running, and he would not look at Falk as he passed him at the door.
Botha followed at a more leisurely pace, but he was pretending
nonchalance.
Falk was thinking furiously what he should do, and when Botha
reached him he was still not sure, but he stopped the teacher from
leaving the room, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back.
“How dare you lay a hand on me?”
The two were of a height and Falk stared into the teacher’s face,
trying to get a clue from his expression, not relaxing his grip on the
man’s arm.
“Let me go dammit.”
“What were you doing to that boy, meneer?”
“You do not question a teacher, Baartman. You are an impertinent
troublemaker. I knew it the day I found you in the teachers’ garden.
Now take your hand off me.”
Falk remained uncertain. Could there be an innocent explanation? It
was beyond his range of experience and he suddenly felt uncertain
and released the fat man. Botha shrugged the arm that had been
held, glared at Falk and left.
Falk stood at the doorway, his mind in turmoil. He heard the heavy
footfalls as Botha walked down the passageway, then the opening
and closing of the door to the teacher’s rooms, and then silence. An
accusatory silence; why hadn’t he been decisive, why hadn’t he
immediately marched Botha to the Housemaster’s rooms?
He stood for a long time in that position, until his heart returned to
normal. The pulse might have returned to normal, but his thoughts
could not. The possibility that a teacher was abusing a boy was
horrific. Mickey’s expression would haunt him that night. Falk went
about the rest of his nightly chores like an automaton, switching off
all the lights and locking the front door. In the junior dorm he
checked that all were in their beds. Some were still reading, one or
two talking, but Louw had his blanket pulled over his head and lay
silent under the covers.
“Okay boys, lights out. Stop talking now.”
He couldn’t sleep, the little tableau at the back of the prep room
playing through his head repeatedly. He tried to slow the memory
down, check Botha’s arm actions. The teacher was definitely doing
something to his trousers, but would he have had enough time to
make a major adjustment? Falk did not think so and that added to his
confusion about what had happened and what he was to do.
In a way, it was a similar dilemma to the incident with Isa and Danie
Prinsloo, yet there was one radical difference. Mickey Louw was the
one who needed to be protected; he was the victim and naming him
would make him more of a victim. That ruled out going to the De
Jager’s to report the incident. Even if he reported it to Helen de
Jager, who would be more compassionate towards Mickey, the boy’s
name, and his shame, would become common knowledge.
He got up frequently and paced the dorm in stockinged feet, silently.
Most of the boys were making some sort of sleep noise, but there
was no noise coming from under the bedclothes on Mickey’s bed.
Falk had no doubt there was one other who did not sleep in the
dorm that night.
In the end, he could make only one decision, the first step; he
needed to talk to Mickey and he gave consideration to where that
conversation should take place. Mickey’s skivvy duties to Falk were
to make his bed, mark his washing for the laundry and clean his
shoes and rugby boots, so there would be a chance to talk to him
while he was in the cubicle the next morning.
Falk discarded that possibility. It would be too rushed, and Mickey
would be expecting questions and would have worked out a way to
avoid them. The second possibility would be to ask him to come to
the prefect’s study, but the chances that one of his fellow prefects
would be in the room were too high. He decided to tackle him in the
half-an-hour between the end of lunch and the first prep session.
With that weighty matter on his mind, Falk’s attention was not on his
classes. Only Isa noticed, and he fobbed off her questions of concern.
It was a relief when he finally approached Mickey and asked him to
go with him for a chat. Falk took the boy to the sports fields and sat
him down on one of the stands situated under the Jacaranda trees
and sat next to him. He had considered his approach carefully.
“I know you didn’t sleep last night, Mickey. I walked past your bed
many times and I heard no noise. Are you okay today?”
“No, I did sleep, sir.”
Falk wished they did not have the traditional relationship between
prefect and skivvy, which obliged the boy to be obsequious.
“Really, well I didn’t. I could not help thinking about what that man
had been doing to you.”
He waited for Mickey to take that opening but the boy said nothing.
He guessed that the boy’s principal concern was probably exposure.
“Mickey, listen to me; I’m never going to tell anyone your name. You
can stop him doing those things to you if you tell me about it. No-one
but you and I will know.”
“What will you do?”
“I’ll speak to Botha, Mickey. I’ll make sure he doesn’t harm you
again.”
“But how, sir? He’s a teacher.”
“Is that how it happened, Mickey? Did he bully you into doing it?”
“I don’t want to say.”
“You can’t put a stop to it unless you tell someone.”
He let the boy work it out. When he did start talking, his voice was
faint and he would not look at Falk.
“He caught me and another boy in the toilets. We weren’t doing
anything bad, I promise you. It was just a game, like just doing
something new.”
Falk suddenly wished he had did not have to hear the tale, wished he
had not been walking past the prep room the previous evening. But
he was into it now and had to finish.
“Was it an older boy?”
“No, it was another Standard 6 boy.”
“You don’t have to tell me his name, Mickey, but you can tell him
we’ve had this chat and that I will do something about it. But you
need to tell me what happened next.”
“He told both of us that there was no shame in doing what we did,
and that he liked that as well. Then, after prep last night, he asked
me to stay behind. I knew what he was going to do but I couldn’t say
no to him because of the other thing.”
Falk was alienated by the knowledge of their behaviour, but he was
not going to condemn that behaviour, at least not between the two
boys. A grown man extorting a thirteen-year-old was another matter
completely.
“You were in there for more than an hour before I came along
Mickey. What did he do with you?”
“I don’t want to say, sir.”
“I think you have to, Mickey. I have to be sure before I can do
something about it. I’m sure you understand that. I can’t tackle the
man until I’m sure he did wrong.”
“He talked to me for a long time, then he touched me and played
with me for a while and then he asked me to do things to him.”
“Okay that’s enough. You don’t need to tell me more.”
Falk thought it through, sitting so quietly that Mickey finally looked
up and peered into the older boy’s face.
“What will you do?”
“I’m not sure Mickey, not sure how best to make sure he never does
this again, to you or any other boy. But one thing’s for sure, your
name won’t come into it, Mickey, you can be certain of that.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Okay you can go off to prep now, Mickey. But I have to tell you to
be careful, you and that other boy. If it was just a game, then don’t
do it again. Be careful because life will be hell if the two of you get
caught by other boys. You understand that ,don’t you?”
“Yes sir, and thank you, sir.”
Falk watched him walk down the stands and out of his sight. There
seemed to be more of a spring in his step. At least Falk hoped that
was what he was seeing, that maybe Mickey Louw had rid himself of
some of his demons.
It took Falk three days before he decided on a course of action and
even when he had a path ahead he still wondered why he was
making it his problem. Why this sense of responsibility for a boy he
did not know well? He always answered that challenge by reminding
himself of the look of terror on Mickey’s face in the prep room and
his disgust at the depraved actions of the teacher; a fat arrogant
bigot and a young and vulnerable mind. He couldn’t ignore it.
He approached Botha in the same prep room. The teacher had been
in charge of evening prep and had stayed to work at the top desk of
the room. Falk walked in and closed the door behind him. Botha
looked up at the intrusion and his eyes showed fright when he saw
who it was, but he quickly reverted to his usual bullying manner.
“What do you want, Baartman?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“I have nothing to say to you. I’m not one of your teachers, so you
have no business with me. Now get out, I’ve got work to do.”
“Put it away, meneer, we need to talk about what you were doing to
one of the boys the other night.”
Botha started to pack his papers away, stacking them and placing
them in his satchel. Falk realised the teacher was going to walk out of
the room. It was not what he had expected. He had thought Botha
would want to talk out of a sense of self-preservation. How could he
stop him? Without further thought, Falk walked to the desk and
slammed his hand down on top of Botha’s, putting a stop to his
actions of packing away his papers. The touch of his hand on Botha’s
filled him with revulsion. Where had that hand been?
“Who the vok do you think you are?”
Botha’s use of the swearword encouraged Falk. At least he had
thrown the man off his stride. Now maybe he’d listen. “I will talk to
you meneer, and you will listen.”
“Yes, get it over with then, and afterwards you can come to the
Housemaster with me.”
“I don’t think so; I’m not a Standard 6 that you can threaten. Get real
Meneer Botha; you sexually abused a thirteen-year-old boy. Did you
think I’d let you get away with that?”
“You talk shit. I was counselling that boy. I caught him and another
boy in the toilet. It was disgusting. I was trying to help the boy, help
him get over his depraved nature.”
Falk was discouraged by the man’s denial. How could he reason with
someone who would not accept the first premise? He decided to
deliver his message and leave.
“I want you to resign, meneer. You must do this within a week, by
next Friday. If you resign, I will do nothing further, even though I
know you’ll go to another school and might do it again. I can’t stop
that unfortunately, but I can stop you abusing young boys in this
school.
“It’s very simple meneer. Resign, and you can put this behind you.
Stay and I will do something about it.”
“Kak, what can you do?”
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know yet. But I can promise you it will
be a lot worse than you resigning. Take my advice; resign and go. Try
to put this behind you and mend your ways.”
“I say again, what can you do?”
Falk left then, left with the ugly image of the sneering face. He
wished he was optimistic that Botha would take his advice, but he
feared he would have to do something more drastic.
Falk waited in the car park of the Queen’s Hotel. It was nearly
closing time in the pub of the hotel, the place where Falk had
discovered Botha came every Wednesday night. He had decided on
this course of action when Botha had not resigned. It was drastic that
he was prepared to beat a grown man, but he could find no other
solution which had the possibility of success and which would not
expose Mickey Louw.
Well, he wasn’t really sure of the success. Perhaps the man was
physically brave, he might even put up a real fight; Falk knew some
fat boys who had great strength, one of them played front rank for
the first team. He knew the mission was fraught with danger, and he
might not even get over the first hurdle, which was that Botha had to
be alone when he left the hotel; that at least seemed possible for
there were only three cars in the car park and some were surely
people staying overnight.
Finally, some men came out of the pub door. Falk’s heart dropped,
for there were two of them. He stayed in the deep shade of the
bushes next to the car park and watched them approach. One was
Botha. The men called farewells to each other and the other man got
into his car and left. It seemed that Botha would do the same, and
then he paused at the door of his car and seemed to make up his
mind about something and walked away from the car, walked
towards the bushes where Falk stood.
The decision was a simple one, whether to urinate in the car park or
wait until he returned to his rooms. The car park won, and he stood
not ten metres away from Falk, close enough that the pungent smell
of beer-laden urine filled the air.
Falk was disgusted that he was about to touch this man. He called
out to him when he had finished.
“Botha.”
The teacher peered into the bushes.
“Vok, is dit jy, Baartman?”
Falk had already decided that he would say nothing once he had the
man’s attention. He had tried to reason with him before without
success, and now he had to do this next thing and he would do it
without words, only action.
He came out of the bushes and advanced on his prey. Botha was
sufficiently sober to see that it was a serious matter.
“Don’t do it, Baartman. Stay away from me now.”
Falk was not skilled at boxing, but he had motivation and strength.
The first blow missed its target, the man’s face, but landed on the
neck and rendered Botha incapable of further talk. Every blow that
Falk struck after that was measured and met with no resistance, until
the fat man eventually collapsed against his car and could not get up.
He had been hit at least a dozen times, most of the blows doing
damage to his face.
Falk walked back to the hostel through the quiet and empty streets.
He was disgusted with himself, could find absolutely no solace in the
likely response of Botha, which would presumably be to hand in his
resignation. If Botha had fought back, perhaps landed a few blows of
his own, Falk would have felt better, but the man had been almost
helpless, a punch bag.
There was at least some pain, his knuckles were badly skinned and
burnt like fury. When he let himself into the hostel his first action
was to go to the San and pour mercurochrome over his bruised
hands. In his cubicle he rid himself of the tainted clothes and went
through to the showers, standing in the dark for it was after lights
out, reflecting on what he had done and hoping it would not leave a
permanent scar on his character.
It was in the History class, the third period of the next day, that Falk
was asked to report to the Headmistress’s office.
The Headmistress was Mevrou Heidi Fronemann, appointed after the
fiasco with Malherbe Coetzee, when the parent-teachers’ body
finally did the right thing and appointed the most competent of the
two head teachers from the previous boys’ and girls’ schools. She
was respected by all, a stern but fair middle-aged woman who had a
flair for administration combined with dedication and a feel for
people.
Falk had never been called to the Head’s office since the first days
with Coetzee, and he was filled with apprehension. What was the
problem? A shiver of fear came and was discarded; it could never be
Botha, never would that man take the chance of exposure. What was
it then?
The only person in the outer office was the secretary. She told him
he could go right in, her expression giving nothing away. His fears
increased tenfold when he discovered that his Housemaster Meneer
De Jager was in the office with Mevrou Fronemann. De Jager spoke.
“Come in Baartman, sit here.”
Falk did as he was told, greeting them and receiving cursory nods in
reply. He knew then that this was about Botha. Of all the likely
scenarios to his action, he would never have believed this could
happen. How could the man risk exposure? It could only be that he
had monumental self-delusion that his story would be believed.
The Headmistress opened the discussion.
“Meneer Botha was assaulted in the car park of the Queens Hotel
last night Falk. He was badly beaten. He says you did it.”
“Yes, mevrou, I did.”
They both stared at him, it was not the answer expected, and from
their expressions it was also not the answer they had hoped for. A
glance passed between them and Fronemann continued, “Have you
any idea how serious this is, Falk?”
“I think I do, mevrou.”
She was still taken aback by his calmness; felt he had not really
understood the seriousness of his actions.
“He has laid a charge of assault with the police. We have already
spoken to him and tried to get him to drop the charges and let the
school handle the matter. He says he will only do that if we expel
you.”
Falk did not know how to respond. He was devastated that Botha
had even gone to the school, let alone the police. Did the man not
understand the danger of exposure? Surely, the question of Falk’s
motives would be explored and that would cast suspicion on him,
even if his story was believed. The threat of expulsion was horrifying.
How could he tell those who believed in him the most: his mother
and Aunt Tess and Isa? He needed information.
“What did Meneer Botha say, mevrou?”
“That’s not how it works, Falk. We’ve heard his side of the story, now
we want to hear yours.”
“What do you need to know?”
De Jager spoke for only the second time. “This is not like you,
Baartman, why did you do it?”
Falk decided to tell the full story, but he could not reveal Mickey
Louw’s name and he did not know if he’d be believed without the
testimony of the younger boy. There was no other choice for him,
once he had confessed to carrying out the beating, and the evidence
had been right there from the beginning; he had seen them looking
at the red mercurochrome on his hands.
“I caught him molesting one of the Standard 6 boys, meneer.”
He took them through the complete story, including his questioning
of the boy, his subsequent attempt to get Botha to resign and finally
the action in the car park. All he excluded was the name of the boy
and the story of the liaison of the two standard 6s in the toilet. As he
spoke, he watched their faces and saw the softening of their
expressions, and he hoped he was being believed.
When he had finished, they took a long time to answer, for it was a
sad story for both of them, one a person dedicated to teaching
young people never likes to hear: the worst deception of them all,
educator turned molester.
De Jager spoke first. “What was the name of the boy?”
“I can’t tell you, meneer.”
“You have to, Baartman. If your story is true, and I’d like to think it is
because I know you, we can do nothing about it unless we can prove
his actions. You could have made a mistake. There could be an
innocent side to his actions in the prep room. Come on boy, surely
you can see that?”
“Yes, meneer, I can.”
“Yet you went ahead with all of this, even beat him up. How could
you do that?”
“I believed the boy, meneer.”
De Jager threw up his hands in frustration and the Headmistress
interjected. “We will not reveal his name Falk; it will be kept inside
this room.”
“I’m sorry to argue with you, mevrou, but I don’t think you can do
that. If you want to use this information to get rid of Meneer Botha,
the boy’s name will come out.”
“So you won’t tell us, even if it means you could be expelled?”
“No, mevrou, I gave him my word.”
“Alright Falk, I won’t press you further, although I think your desire
to keep your promise is ill-advised. Is this boy worth the risk of your
school career?”
“I don’t know, mevrou, but I gave my word.”
“Alright son, you go and sit outside. The Housemaster and I need to
discuss this privately.”
The waiting was five days of hell, anxiety at a level he had never
experienced in his young life, and sleepless nights in which many
horror scenarios attended him in the dark.
On the day of the interrogation, De Jager had eventually come out of
the Head’s office and told him he could go for the time being and not
to discuss the matter with anyone, not even his mother, until there
was resolution. It was all very well to ask him not to talk about the
matter, but secrets don’t exist in schools, they are filled with
speculation. Botha had disappeared and the rumours were rife and
sometimes lurid; it would seem that his proclivity for young boys was
known, at least in some circles.
Mickey had come to Falk on the second day, the Friday.
“Do they know it was me with Meneer Botha, sir?”
“No, Mickey, they don’t.”
“Didn’t you give them my name?”
“No, I gave you my word, remember.”
The young boy went away looking worried, apparently not reassured
by Falk’s answer.
The waiting through the weekend was the worst because his days did
not have the distraction of classes. Finally on the Monday he was
called to the Head’s office again. His Housemaster was again in
attendance. He felt the more relaxed atmosphere the minute he
entered Mevrou Fronemann’s office. This time she let Willem de
Jager do the initial talking.
“Mickey Louw came to see me yesterday evening, Baartman.”
The tension drained out of Falk like a heavy expulsion of breath. He
could only nod.
“He confirmed everything you said, so there is no longer an issue
with the morality of what you did.”
“Thank you, meneer.”
“You didn’t let me finish, Baartman. There might be no issue with
your moral position, but there is a very big issue with the action you
took. We can’t have pupils beating up teachers.”
It seemed Falk’s relief was to be short lived.
Mevrou Fronemann took over the talking.
“You see Falk, in the end you were wrong not to come to us. Mickey
has now done so and no-one will know it was him, only the three of
us and some education officials who needed to know.”
Given the tenuous position he was in, Falk did not want to argue, but
he knew that Mickey’s story would have received a sceptical hearing
if there had not been a third person involved.
“What will happen to Meneer Botha, ma’am?”
“He has left the school and he will not ever be employed again by the
Cape Education Department.”
“What about the other provinces?”
“They are all autonomous, Falk, so we can’t guarantee they will not
employ him, but they have been warned.
“Listen Falk, we have to take your beating up of Meneer Botha
seriously. On the positive side, your actions have exposed a
paedophile and most probably saved many young boys from being
abused and maybe even having their lives ruined. We admire what
you did, the way you questioned young Louw and the way you tried
to leave his name out and at the same time get Botha to leave the
school. Those were admirable things.
“But in the end, you went about it the wrong way. If he had resigned
he would just have gone to another school and might have done it
again, and as for beating him up … well that turns my blood cold.”
Falk could not agree with them, for they had let Botha off without
sufficient punishment. They had not reported him to the police,
obviously to protect the name of the boy, but was that not what he
had done? The same motives he had in not coming to the school
authorities? However he was in no position to argue and he
remained silent and did not defend himself.
The Headmistress continued. “We have no real means of punishing
you, Falk, because whatever we did would lead to speculation that
you were somehow involved in Meneer Botha’s leaving the school.
And we certainly don’t want anyone knowing that a boy can get
away with beating a teacher.
“So we are left with just this. A discussion between the three of us, a
learning experience if you will. We have learnt about your character,
the positive side, your loyalty to young Louw, your moral values, and
the negative side, taking independent action when there was a
support structure for you, taking the law into your hands. What have
you learnt, Falk?”
He tried to think in-between the relief he now felt, knowing he
would not be punished nor have to lie to others outside the room.
What had he learnt?
“I’m not sure, Mevrou Fronemann. I know I was disgusted with
myself for beating Meneer Botha because it seemed like the action of
a bully. It made me sick to think what I had done to him, mainly
because he did not defend himself. I also learnt that I could stick to
promises that I had made, even though it threatened my school
career.”
He thought of the courage of Mickey Louw. How to characterise
that? “Mickey Louw showed me that there is courage in the
physically small and weak. I don’t know where he got the strength to
approach Meneer De Jager. Perhaps one act of selflessness, or of
loyalty, if you want to call it that, leads to another. I know that
sounds like giving myself some of the credit, but where did he get
that strength from?”
Suddenly a picture of the previous Headmaster came to mind and he
wondered what would have happened if the episode had taken place
when Coetzee was in charge. He added another learning experience.
“And I’ve also learnt that I can expect fair treatment from this
school.”
She smiled at him. “Okay, that’s enough for me, Falk. You can go
now. Go, and remember that we are grateful for the final outcome of
what you did, if not the method. You will go far in life, Falk, if you
remember that the law is above all of us.”
5.
The Botha saga gave Falk a heightened awareness of the extremes
of human behaviour. It had been a few weeks of introspection, often
with painful thoughts and self-revelation, and it had ended with an
understanding and admiration for the values of others around him; a
few weeks of observing life from the depraved to the honourable.
There was another outcome that was to have a profound effect on
his school days. Within a week of the meeting in which Falk learned
of his reprieve, the school scuttlebutt had picked up almost the
entire story of Botha’s demise. Rumour correctly had the fat teacher
being fired for relationships with young boys and that he was
brought down by a senior schoolboy, logically narrowed down to
someone in the hostel and likely to be Falk Baartman because of his
reputation of bravery to the point of foolhardiness on the rugby
field.
Falk denied involvement but was not believed.
On a Thursday evening ,Falk was on lock-up duty and was on his last
patrol of the ground floor when Pauline Augustine came in through
the front door. She had obviously been out for the evening and was
dressed in jeans and a cream blouse with narrow shoulder straps and
a revealing neck line.
She seemed a bit startled to find him in the passage way, right before
her, and then recovered with a merry greeting.
“Oh Falk, reliable Falk, locking us up for the night?”
He realised she had been drinking, and enjoyed the mood she was in
for it introduced an intimacy not normal in the relationship between
teacher and pupil. It allowed him to be friendly in return.
“You’ve had a good night, Miss Augustine?”
“Yes, indeed I have. But I want to talk seriously to you, Falk.”
She came right up to him and laid her hand on his arm. The touch
was like a flame to him, a disconcerting feeling, and he looked down
and saw her slim white hand on his brown arm, and in his
heightened awareness he noticed the fine hairs on her arm, almost
translucent.
When he looked up, her face was close to his, her amber eyes fixed
on him and the closeness and the aroma of her, perfume and body
heat and the sweet smell of alcohol, rendered him almost breathless.
“You got rid of that fat pig. I think you’re terrific, Falk. My hero.”
Then she was gone, and he turned to watch her walk with confident
strides down the passage to her rooms. When she had opened the
door she gave him one last look and a cheerful wave. For a very long
time he carried a picture of the few moments with her in his mind,
the bareness of her upper body with naked arms and shoulders, the
hint of breast, the beauty and liveliness of her face, the lights of the
passage shining in the curls of her black hair, the scent, the parting
compliment and the swing of her hips in the tight jeans. It would not
leave him.
The irony of his ardour for a teacher was not lost on him, but
somehow it seemed in a different league to Botha’s lust for a
standard 6 boy. Whether it was the lesser age difference, or the
more natural relationship of male and female, he was able to feed
his sexual desire without guilt. It was anyway unspoken and always
would be.
But it was perhaps not innocent after all, for it led to a mistake that
was to change his relationship with Isa.
The prefects from the two hostels met on occasions to discuss
matters of mutual concern in an attempt to achieve common rules
and restrictions. It was a kind of trade union which the Housemaster
of Archer and Housemistress of Pinehurst were aware of and
somewhat uneasy about, but so far the collective had not caused
them great difficulty; on the contrary it provided them with good
feedback, reminding them that their choice of prefects had been
good.
The prefects met on a Sunday afternoon at a coffee shop in town and
afterwards strolled back as the dusk fell on the town, breaking into
smaller groups as they did so. As always, Isa and Falk walked
together.
“Let’s go and sit in the park, Falkie, and watch the sun go down.”
They broke away from the main group and walked down to the river
and sat on a park bench facing north-west, where they could see the
mountains and the setting sun.
“Do you think about the valley much, Falkie?”
“I do when it’s like this. Ma and I used to sit on the stoep and watch
the sun set behind the mountains behind the river.”
“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Yes, but it’s more than that. I sometimes feel guilty that I have this
new life and she is stuck on her own in that old cottage of ours.”
“I’m sorry.”
She moved closer to him and put her arm around him and pulled his
head to her shoulder.
It was an awkward position, but he would not change it for anything
at that moment, as he welcomed her comforting gesture. But then
lascivious thoughts came to him. He tried to put them from his mind,
but they grew and for the first time he thought without self-censure
about her as a sex object, something most boys in the school did
every time they looked at her.
Isa had shapely breasts, high and pointed, and they were right there,
centimetres from his mouth. Without thought he lowered his head
and kissed her breast through the shirt she wore, and his arms went
around her and he raised his head to kiss her on the mouth. She
reacted with fright, rearing her head back so that he could not kiss
her.
“What are you doing, Falk?”
His shame knew no bounds. He had broken her trust and saw that he
might never again have the kind of relationship he had enjoyed for
more than a decade.
“I’m so sorry, Isa.”
She disentangled herself and stood up. “I’m going. Don’t follow me.”
“Please stay and talk to me. Please let me try to explain.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He stayed on the park bench long after she left. “This happened
because I fantasised about Pauline Augustine,” he thought to
himself. He knew he had been doing wrong to think that way, and
now it had resulted in him losing something he valued, a relationship
that meant the world to him. He felt unclean, a boy with a dirty
mind.
Fortunately, the rugby season came to take his thoughts off the girl
and the young woman. The close and easy friendship he had enjoyed
with Isa never came back in the same way. He was not to know for
many years that her reaction had not been a rejection of him but
rather an awakening in her of her own unwelcome thoughts.
There was much anticipation in school rugby circles that autumn of
1964, for it was to herald the birth of a higher level of school
competition. It was the inaugural year of the Craven Week.
Robertse had moved up to coaching the open teams, much to Falk’s
delight, for the coach had a soft spot for him and had taught him
much. He conducted the first meeting of the coaching team and
players in the same way he had done the previous year; he had them
sit on the stand when he addressed them.
“Okay boys, I have something to tell you that is the most exciting
thing to happen in my coaching career. There is a new competition to
be started in school rugby, a tournament between all of the
provinces of South Africa, and even Rhodesia and South West Africa.
“The first tournament is to take place in July during the mid-year
holidays. It’s to be held in East London.
“Now, I would love to see some of you in the South Western Districts
team. We don’t know yet how we will decide who’s in the team, but I
think you all know that it will consist mainly of players from our
school, the Landbou boys from Riversdal, the Gimmies and
Outeniqua. It’s up to all of you first team boys to make an impression
this season.
“And, of course the way to make an impression is to win games.
Team play will make you shine, boys, not individual play. Our first
game is against the Gimmies, here on our home field. It’s only six
weeks away, so let’s get to work.”
Falk was as interested as the other boys in the opportunity to make
the provincial side, and he joined in the excited speculation between
them, but he did not really give himself a chance. He was still only in
standard 9, not yet seventeen years of age.
The first game against the Gymnasium changed all of that. He was
surprised by how much he had developed in the year, how much
stronger and fitter he was. Part of that was the exercise regime he
had kept up in the off-season, and the hard physical labour he had
embraced at the Prince Albert farm during the long Christmas
holidays, but he had to put it down mostly to natural growth. He was
an early developer.
Against the Gimmies he found he had a greater appetite for tackling
because he was fitter and recovered faster, and he also found he
now had the upper body strength to wrestle for the ball, often
successfully. Oudtshoorn won the game easily and he was one of the
stars.
Falk wished his greater physical strength was supported by equal
growth of his emotions, but the events of the year - the Botha
incident, his sexual fantasies about Pauline Augustine and his grave
error of judgment on the park bench with Isa - had all conspired to
leave him uneasy in his dealings with others, lacking the easy
confidence he’d had before.
He saw both Isa and Pauline daily, and it both fuelled his ardour and
was a reminder of failure, but he would not have it any other way.
At the Gimmies game he had looked out for Isa but had not seen her.
He was sure she would have attended: as a hostel prefect it was
expected that you showed support for the school’s sporting
endeavours, and besides, she had come to be a fan of rugby. So she
must have been there, but not showing herself to Falk. At least, that
was his sad conclusion.
Yet on the other side of the field, where the teachers and parents
sat, he saw Pauline, cheering enthusiastically for the Oudtshoorn
team and seeming to take a particular interest in him. It was
confusing. Finally he protected himself in the age-old way, by putting
them from his mind and concentrating on the things he did well.
As the weekend games came and went, it became increasingly clear
that Falk was in the running for a position in the South Western
Districts team for Craven Week, and he became more excited at the
prospect and thought hard about ways to improve his performance.
His introspection led him to the belief that having flanks play on only
the one or other side of the scrum was wrong. Invariably, the two
flanks had different skills. In the case of his team, the other flank,
Paul Serfontein, was a bigger and slower boy, who ran strongly with
the ball in hand, while he was quickest to the tackle and the maul.
Surely the tackler and fetcher should always be on the open side of
the scrum?
Falk decided to discuss his idea with Paul before approaching the
coach. He knew it could be a delicate matter, as if the flank on the
blindside was a lesser player. His approach was a little manipulative.
“Paul, I’ve been thinking about the scrums. Don’t you find the
shoulder you’re packing on gets a work over?”
“Ja, that’s right, sometimes it gets pretty sore.”
“So, what if we packed down on different sides of the scrum
sometimes?”
“How would that work?”
“It seems to me that, depending where the scrum is on the field, the
flanks have different roles to play. Obviously, if the scrum is in the
middle and the opposition backs line up on both sides of the scrum,
then both flanks play the same role.
“But what about when the scrum is close to the touchline? The flank
on that side has a different role. He stops them from coming around
his side, and then he goes into cover defence. Isn’t that right?”
“Okay, I agree with that. What about the flank on the other side, the
open side, what’s his job?”
“He needs to get into the face of the fly half and centres, tackle them
hard and then compete for the ball on the ground. He’s not the guy
who will be running with the ball.”
“Explain how the flank on the blindside gets to run with the ball.”
“Two main ways, as I see it, Paul. The first is he’s following the game
and is ready to take the ball up when it’s cleared from the maul. The
second is at our line-outs, where he can be standing with the backs
and can take the ball to break the line or set up another maul. What
do you think of that?”
“You’re a crafty one, Falk.”
“Why?”
“Because you led me through that perfectly. You know those are the
things I like to do, and the others are the things you like to do.”
Falk was not happy to be caught at his deception, and was reminded
not to underestimate people. Nevertheless, he was sure it was the
right plan.
“Ja, sorry Paul, I didn’t really mean to make you feel like that. But
what about the idea, do you agree with it?”
“Oh yes, I think it’s brilliant. When do we see the coach?”
Robertse loved the idea and put it into place immediately at practise,
but he waited until the second week before he allowed them to play
open and blindside flank in a game against competition.
The South Western Districts found a novel way to choose and coach
the provincial school side. The four main school coaches decided that
three of them would be selectors and the fourth the coach, that way
no favour could be given to any one school. To Falk’s great delight,
Robertse was chosen as the first coach of the SWD Craven Week
team.
It had risk, as perhaps he would not make the team, but if he did, he
knew the coach would continue to play the flanks in the way they
were pioneering.
Falk need not have worried about not being selected, as he was
probably one of three or four boys who picked themselves. His only
regret was that Paul Serfontein was not picked, for they had formed
a formidable combination; nevertheless in the four practise games
the team had before travelling to East London, Robertse had them
practise with open and blindside flanks, the four loose forwards
chosen alternating until the coach found the preferred combination.
The boy from Die Hel had never seen the sea and he was almost as
excited at the prospect of seeing new sights as he was about the
rugby; to his regret, the bus travelled through the Langkloof and his
first sighting of the sea was in the far distance, near Cape St Francis,
then the close up view as they drove along the shore near the
railroad sheds in Port Elizabeth.
The SWD boys were to stay in the Grens Hoerskool hostel. Most of
the fifteen provincial teams were accommodated in this way, staying
at boarding hostels vacated for the mid-year holidays. They had a
short practise on the Sunday afternoon, a loosener to get the
wrinkles of the six-hour journey out of their system.
There was an unbelievable level of excitement on that Monday
morning, the first day of the first Craven Week. It seemed that half of
the city of East London was crowded onto the A and B fields of
Selborne High School, but of course that was an illusion, for the
teams and their retinue of coaches, teachers and parents themselves
numbered over five hundred. Whatever the numbers, none of the
boys had ever played before such large crowds.
Border, as the hosts, were down to play the first game and the last
game on the Saturday afternoon. The week was seen as a festival of
rugby, rather than a contest to pick the best teams and players; that
level of competition and the intensity which accompanied such
endeavours, was to come many years later.
SWD played at 10.40 am, the second game on the B field, against
Western Transvaal. Falk’s image of Transvalers came from the
Malherbe’s in the valley, the toughest and most contentious family,
and he’d expected a hard battle with no holds barred and relished
the thought of it.
His mental preparation was not shared by his teammates, despite his
warnings, and the boys from SWD were soon two tries down and
being made to contest every set piece and maul by boys whose
behaviour was characterised by force rather than skill.
Eventually, inspired by Falk’s kamikaze tactics, the boys from the
Cape clawed their way back and won the match by a narrow margin,
but they had taken a physical beating with two of them playing with
injuries for the last ten minutes and virtual passengers. They did not
know how they could pick themselves up to play three more games
over the next five days.
Robertse juggled his players as best he could, and was well pleased
with the final result; they won two of their games, lost narrowly to
Free State, but were well beaten by Natal. Falk had been rested for
the Natal game, a mistake, for their centres carved holes in the SWD
backline.
East London is not a large city, but to Falk it was a metropolis. He
gained more from the contact with others and the difference in
environment than he did on the rugby fields. On their two rest days
they went to the Eastern Beach and had soft practise, running on the
sand passing the ball, and then a time for swimming.
The beach was full of girls, pretty girls keen to engage with them.
And Falk, with his strong brown body and deep blue eyes was a
centre of attention. The team were not able to socialise other than
the two times on the beach, but that brief contact did much to
restore Falk’s self-belief.
When the year came to an end, and Falk went off to Prince Albert to
take up his training on the family farm, he was able finally to gain
some perspective into the events of what had been a tempestuous
year.
He had excelled on the rugby fields and in the classroom, but those
achievements were blunted by his actions for one brief moment on a
park bench. He did not understand why he could not put it behind
him. And then there were the dreams about making love to a
teacher. Why could those also not diminish? Why couldn’t he fill his
idle thoughts with the triumphs on the rugby fields?
He would have to try and rectify the imbalance in the next year, his
matric year: make friends with Isa; and recognise Pauline Augustine
for what she was, a friendly teacher seven or eight years older than
him, the friendliness signifying nothing but a good nature.
6.
The first of Falk’s two resolutions was easily accomplished.
He returned to school on the Sunday before the day of school
opening, having been driven over the Swartberg Pass by one of the
farm drivers in the Toyota Stout that the farm owned. Falk had come
straight off the fields, had not changed his dusty and sweaty shirt
and was still wearing his heavy boots. The first person he met was
Helen de Jager.
“Welcome back Falk. Gosh, you’ve been working.”
He was a little abashed at his appearance.
“Hello, mevrou, thank you. It’s good to be back.”
“I’ve got news for you Falk; your friend Isa Erasmus has been made
head girl.”
“That’s fantastic news. Thanks for telling me, mevrou.”
He dropped his bags in the hostel prefect’s bedroom and walked
over to Pinehurst immediately, not bothering with his dusty and
dishevelled appearance.
It was a typical January day, the temperature in the high 30s, but he
hardly noticed, so proud was he that Isa had achieved such an
honour. The entrance of the old Victorian building was busy with
returning boarders. He stopped a girl who had been in their standard
9 class and asked her to call Isa.
It was a long wait and he only then remembered that the meeting
between them might be awkward; they had not been alone together
since the incident more than half a year earlier. He realised she
might not even come out to see him, and that thought made him
self-conscious. But when she came, he saw the welcoming smile on
her face. Isa was dressed in a summer dress and she looked young
and vital, her lovely face flushed with excitement.
“Oh Falkie, look at you, the farmer.”
He wasn’t sure if that was a compliment, despite the easy manner in
which it had been said, but he had only really heard the diminutive of
his name and it was the first time she had addressed him in that way
for a very long time.
“Ja, sorry, I came straight here when I heard you’d been made head
girl. Congratulations, Isa, I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks Falkie. Yes, who would have thought two kids from Die Hel
could become prefects in this school. They never gave us a hope, did
they?”
“What do you mean, two prefects?”
“You don’t know?”
“Know what?”
She laughed delightedly.
“They haven’t told you yet, that you’ve also been made a school
prefect. That’s just great; I get the chance to tell you.”
“Well I’m also happy that you’re the first to tell me.”
“So, my congratulations to you also. I’m only sorry you weren’t also
made head boy.”
“That was never going to happen.”
As he said it he realised his mistake. No-one knew for certain he was
the one who had led to Botha being discovered.
“That’s a strange thing to say, Falk. What do you mean?”
He tried to think of a way to explain his strange remark and realised
she would see through whatever he said. He would have to tell her;
it was no risk for she would never disclose a confidence. “I was the
one who found out about Botha, Isa.”
“I knew it. Typical Falkie, protecting the underdog. I want to hear all
about it.”
“You know, I’d rather not.”
“Of course, but you won’t get away with that. Come on Falkie, don’t
be mean, tell me about it.”
He did. He told the same story he had in the head’s office; not even
Isa could hear the name of the boy, nor the incident that led Botha
to blackmail him. To his amazement, she stepped close and hugged
him, dust and sweat and witnesses notwithstanding. When she broke
the embrace he could see the emotion in her face.
“So, they couldn’t afford to make you head boy in case your beating
of Botha came out. That’s so sad, Falkie. You were a hero and you’ve
been penalised for it.”
He left soon after that, happy that his friendship with Isa was once
more established, and feeling very good about what had transpired.
Only then did he remember that he was now a school prefect and
wondered what additional duties and benefits that would bring.
Fate is a funny thing. On that day it made him walk straight into
Pauline Augustine as he entered the hostel grounds. He was not
often given to biblical allusions but the thought came to him that if
Isa was Rachel, here was Jezebel. Pauline was wearing an outfit that
looked like she was coming from a tennis match, white shorts and
shirt, her bare arms and legs tanned from what had obviously been a
holiday on the beach. But she clearly had not been playing tennis, for
even Falk’s untrained eye could see she was not wearing a bra, and
her full breasts swung under the thin material as she turned to greet
him.
“Why Falk, so nice to see you.”
She came right up to him, invading his space so that he retreated a
little.
“You look so manly. I’ve always had a soft spot for farmers.”
She leaned forward in a conspirational manner.
“You’re still my hero, Falk.”
She swung around again and headed into the building and he had
still not said a word.
Falk was shaken when he got to the room he shared with the three
other prefects, none of whom were present. He sat on his bed to try
to understand what, if anything, had just happened.
She was clearly flirting with him, but not the girlie thing he had
experienced on the beach in East London. Pauline was a confident
woman, fully aware of her effect on others. So what was she hoping
to achieve?
Surely she was just a friendly person. If Helen de Jager had said those
same words to him, he would never have stopped to think something
hidden was being said. Yet her body language had been … he
searched for the word. Provocative, yes, that was the word.
It was ironic that Isa and Pauline had both used the word farmer to
describe him, and both had invaded his physical and emotional
space. But they were so different, the one you would wish to marry;
the other you would wish to have as a lover.
Anyway, this was a ridiculous conversation he was having with
himself. He had obviously misunderstood Pauline; never could it be
that she wanted a relationship with a seventeen-year-old boy.
He was wrong.
When she made her move it was unexpected, for nothing had taken
place between them for almost four months. It had been the normal
teacher-pupil relationship, a little more relaxed due to her younger,
more modern way, but nevertheless nothing that could remind Falk
of her behaviour that first day of the year.
It happened in a week when he was on lock-up duty and she was
taking evening prep. Yet for the first two days nothing occurred; she
continued to work in the classroom after the boys had finished prep,
and he would come in at nine to switch the lights off and exchange a
few words with her. Each time she packed her work into her
briefcase and came out of the room so that he could switch the lights
off and go about the rest of his duties.
On the Wednesday night that changed.
“Come in Falk, I want to have a chat with you.”
He came in and sat opposite her. There was something subtly
different about her, but he could not put his finger on it at first. Then
he recognised it; she was nervous. For some strange reason, that
made her more attractive to him.
“What I’m about to ask you is unethical for me to do as a teacher.
I’ve tried hard not to ask you for this, but in the end I want it too
much. I want to take the chance.”
She stopped then, and would not look at him. Her breathing was
ragged. He knew what the question was and it thrilled and terrified
him. He wanted to help her get it out, but was transfixed by the
enormity of it all, by the huge risk.
She gathered herself, and then and looked at him again.
“I want you to come to my room tonight after lights out. I think it will
be a wonderful experience for both of us, but the decision will be
entirely yours. I will leave my door unlocked.
“And now I must go.”
He realised then that she had already packed her papers into her
briefcase and had been waiting for him, waiting for how long and
with what trepidation? Falk did not look at her as she left and only
realised she was gone when he heard the door close behind her.
When he had finished locking the front door and switching all of the
lights out except the one they kept burning on the verandah, he
returned to his room and sat on the edge of his bed. His fellow
prefects had not yet come to bed and would still be in their study for
the next half an hour or so and then they would take time to fall
asleep.
He got under the blankets fully clothed, and when they came in he
pretended to be asleep. After what seemed to be an enormous time
they switched the light off and he still lay there without the decision
having been made.
At some point, he must have dozed and when he woke all was quiet
and they were asleep. In a sudden panic he made his way to the
window where there was faint light and looked at his watch, the
watch his Aunt Tess had given him for the last Christmas. It was
nearly twenty minutes to eleven. Was it too late?
In his stockinged feet he made his way quietly downstairs. He had
still not made the decision. There was a legitimate excuse for him
being downstairs, he was on duty. What if he had heard a noise? He
was investigating.
In this quandary he passed her door twice before he stopped before
it and tried the handle. It turned. The decision was made and he
entered quietly and closed the door softly behind him, releasing the
handle only when the door was fully seated against the frame.
A light was on in her bedroom, a warm light. She was in bed, reading,
had not heard him coming in the door. When she saw him she got
out of bed and stood looking at him.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” she said softly.
“I wasn’t sure.”
She pulled her negligee over her head then and stood naked before
him and he could scarcely comprehend the beauty of her. She raised
her arms to him in a beckoning gesture.
“Come,” she said.
It is possible that they could have got away with it, but they were
too greedy for each other’s bodies. He went to her room too often,
not just in the weeks he was on duty, and his absence was noticed.
They did not tell on him, but it was talked about and the talk
eventually reached the ears of the Housemaster.
One night when he came out of her room De Jager was sitting on a
chair in the passage, waiting for him. “Go to your room, Baartman.
We will speak to you in the morning.”
As he walked down the passage he heard the Housemaster knocking
at her door and calling her name, identifying himself so that she
would not think it was Falk returning. All night he lay thinking about
the shame of it. He had no doubt about the consequences and his
thoughts were only on the shame he had brought to those who loved
him, those who believed in him: his mother, Tess, Isa, Jan Robertse,
Helen de Jager, Odette Wilkins, and Trevor Weiss. If only they didn’t
have to know. The shame was such agony that he knew then how his
father had come to take his life.
Pauline Augustine was not at breakfast.
They called Falk to the Head’s office after assembly. De Jager was
present. The message was short and was delivered by Mevrou
Fronemann. “You are to be expelled, Baartman. Miss Augustine has
had her services terminated and has already left the school. I will
give you the benefit of doubt that she was the temptress, but you
had the moral choice to refuse her.
“We have not informed either your mother or your aunt. We will
leave that to you and you must use the telephone in my secretary’s
office immediately upon leaving my office.
“Have you anything to say?”
He had registered only the disgust they felt towards him.
“No,” he said.
“Very well then. Make the telephone call and go to your room and
pack your belongings. Do not return to the school precincts. You can
tell whoever is coming to fetch you to pick you up at the hostel.
Make sure you are gone before school ends.”
Despite her harsh words, the Headmistress was too compassionate a
person to leave it at that. “I am sorry your school career has ended
like this, Baartman. You have shown such promise and that has made
this all the worse for us. We never expected something like this from
a boy like you.
“You may go now.”
As he left, he realised that De Jager had not said a word.
It was when he was packing his rugby boots that he started to cry
and that was how Jan Robertse found him. The coach sat next to him
on the bed and put his arm around him, said nothing until he had
controlled himself.
“You are bigger than this, Falk, and the pain will go away in time.”
“I can’t see how.”
“It will, I promise you. Now listen to me. This was not a life-ending
mistake, boy. The punishment is severe because this is a school and
we can’t have things like this, but it was just about a boy and a young
woman attracted to each other. Outside the school it’s not even
illegal.
“Don’t make it a big thing that affects your life after this, Falk. Yes, I
know right now you can only think about what you’re going to say to
your mother and your Aunt Tess. You need to say those things, but
then you need to get on with your life.
“I want you to promise me something. Will you do that?”
Falk was overcome with love for this man, a man who had treated
him with favour but had never had shown him this side of his nature,
nor given any inkling that he was interested enough in his young
player to find out about his life.
“I will do whatever you ask me.”
“Finish your matric. When you get home, write immediately to
UNISA and enquire about finishing matric by correspondence. You
can give me as a reference and I’m sure some of your other teachers
will also vouch for you. It is likely that you can only register next year,
but don’t be put off by that; finish it even if it takes you to the end of
next year.”
“I promise you, meneer.”
Falk was still holding his boots. “And these?”
“Yes, I know what that meant to you. If you are living in Prince Albert
you won’t play for a while, unless you are prepared to travel over the
mountain every time you have practise or a game. But you have ten
years more to play the game Falk; if you keep fit, you can return to it
in the future.
“Rugby is important, but it’s not as important as getting yourself
back on track. By that I mean the track of your life. The way of your
life, doing what you were meant to be doing. And whatever you are
meant to do with your life, it all starts with education.
“I’m sure you have a great future, son. I believe in you.”
Falk was waiting downstairs when the farm driver arrived in the
Toyota Stout. He had yet to tell his mother and his aunt. He would go
first to the valley and then to Rooikrantz Farm.
PRINCE ALBERT.
My heart drowned in bitterness
with the agony of what White
man’s law had done.
James Mathews. “Cry Rage”.
1.
At the eastern entrance to Prince Albert, on the road to Prince
Albert Valley and Meiringspoort, are two farms which are owned by
the Baartman family. The farms run from the main road down to the
river which comes out of the mountains and is the reason for the
existence of the town.
The farm closest to the kloof is the original farm of Tannie Mostert,
surveyed and developed when the area was still known as
Queekvalleij in the late 18th century. It was here that Tannie took in a
young Khoikhoi woman who had borne a child out of a union with
her son, her son who was later killed in a skirmish with cattle thieves.
The Khoikhoi woman had named her child Baartman, for the most
distinguishing feature she recalled of the man who visited her three
times to have sex with her was his blonde beard. Tannie gave the boy
a Christian name, Isaac, and when the Khoikhoi woman tragically
took her life she raised him as her own.
Isaac was the first of the Baartman family in a line which had reached
its sixth generation in Falk.
It was to these two farms that Falk came in 1965, after his
ignominious expulsion from Oudtshoorn High School. He knew them
well, for he had been spending his holidays there for more than two
years, training under the foreman in the art of market gardening. He
had always come to them joyously, for he loved the work outdoors
and the beauty of the valley, the lush vegetation of the isthmus
created by the disgorge of the mountain river set against the dry and
grey vistas of the Great Karoo.
But when he came there in late autumn of that year, there was no
joy. It had been a bruising week, spent first in the valley with his
mother Stephanie, and then accompanied by her to his aunt at
Rooikrantz.
He could not explain to them the lure of Pauline Augustine, how
could he? His deep depression at the loss of what had been most
dear to him - the friendship of Isa, the passion and companionship of
Pauline and the joy of battle on the rugby field – left him inarticulate.
The mother and aunt stopped asking for explanations and gave him
the unconditional love he needed, and in doing so planted the first
seeds of recovery, at least a recovery which had outward
manifestations, for the experience had embittered Falk in a way
which would be embedded in his psyche for the rest of his existence.
They talked of him taking over the two farms, but in the end the
proximity of the town and people he was sure knew of his shame,
drove him to the seclusion of Rooikrantz, and it was there that he
went for almost a year.
Stephanie saw in her son the same anxiety pattern that had driven
her husband Walter to commit suicide, and she was fearful of leaving
Falk alone. When she thought about it, she also made the connection
to Walter’s father Isaac. He too had become hermitic and fretful due
to the stress he’d suffered as a boy in the Boer War.
Until this setback, she had been sure Falk would escape the demons
of his father. During his boyhood he had been adventurous and
totally unafraid, and he had achieved so much at the school, she
recalled with great pleasure her pride in his being picked to
represent SWD schools.
She tried to work out why the two men descended from Dan and his
wife Josie had this characteristic, and now perhaps also her son. Both
of Dan’s surviving children, Isaac and Tess, told of their father’s
courage and his entrepreneurial spirit, how he had embraced life and
defeated the challenges it threw at him.
Why then this retiring and fearful nature in his male descendants?
Tess didn’t have it and, until now, Falk didn’t have it either; that
thought made her wonder if the school could not have handled the
affair better. She had never met Pauline Augustine, never even seen
her, but Stephanie harboured great resentment against her for
singling out her son for her sexual gratification.
Stephanie made the decision to leave the valley and move
permanently to the farm in Prince Albert. She was not to know that
she would never return, and that the cottage would revert to nature
until future custodians restored it to satisfy the curiosity of a modern
generation. She did not even say goodbye to Isaac, because her visits
to him had seemed to upset him progressively more, and on her last
two visits across the river he had hidden from her. She knew he was
alive only from the signs of recent occupation of his home.
When, a few months later, Falk moved to Rooikrantz, his mother
made the decision to stay in Prince Albert. She knew by then that he
had the strength to overcome his setback. And he didn’t need his
mother around to remind him of his failure towards her.
Falk had never spent much time at Rooikrantz. On the few occasions
he had gone there with his mother, it had been a day trip and only
once had they stayed overnight. So he did not know the locale, had
never strayed far from the main house and had never investigated
the orchards nor seen the production facilities of the farm. These
now became objects of curiosity and he began to explore the
orchards and spend time observing the jam- and preserve-making
operations, questioning the staff.
The main production of the farm was figs, which were sold fresh on
the market at Prince Albert, or pressed, or turned into jams and
preserves; for the production of the latter there were also small
stands of apples and lemons, and further down the river there were
orchards of apricots and pears.
Tess observed his wanderings and was pleased at his astute
questions to her every night at the dinner table. The operation of the
farm was very different to the market gardening done on the Prince
Albert farms, yet there were similarities in issues of distribution and
labour, amongst others. She found Falk to be particularly interested
in the marketing of the produce of the farm and even more
interested in the history of the family, both the Armitage’s, the
maternal line, and of course the paternal line, the Baartman’s.
Outside working hours, Falk began to explore the river further afield
and one day he walked into the kloof upstream and discovered a
deep pool under a vigorous waterfall, swollen by the winter rains.
Above the pool brooded red cliffs, high and mysterious, the calls of
birds echoing amongst the many crags. These were the cliffs from
which the farm derived its name.
Standing there before the pool, its waters already coloured black in
the deep shade of the coming night, he felt a strange sensation of
familiarity. Had he been there before? His curiosity was piqued and
he asked his great-aunt about it that night.
“Tess, I went into the kloof this afternoon after work and discovered
the waterfall and the pool below it. It’s a beautiful place, so
mysterious. I had a strange sensation there, as if I’d visited it before.
Obviously I haven’t. Can it be a family memory? I know that sounds
silly, but the feeling was so strong I thought I’d ask you about it.”
She was amazed and delighted. There were so many similarities
between Falk and her father Dan, not the least their appearance. Her
father had come to this place from the valley at about the same age
as Falk was that day. He had loved the place and had introduced
most of the farming methods. And it was here that Dan had found
his first love, her great-aunt Caroline.
Caroline had been older than Dan, about the same age difference as
Falk and Pauline Augustine. Tess had never met Caroline, for she had
died before Tess was born, but she had heard all about her, the
romantic stories of the frail woman, dying of a consumptive disease,
and the young man from the Gamkaskloof who became her lover.
Funny how she made that connection now, she thought. The one
relationship was honoured by the family; the other caused Falk to be
expelled from his school. It was time to tell him his history.
“It is a family memory, Falk and I’m delighted you felt it. Tomorrow
we don’t work. I’m going to take you to the places in this valley that
have a special standing in the annals of our family.”
Tess was seventy-four that winter, but she looked ten years younger
and could out-walk many who were two decades her junior, so she
strode out strongly that morning, but soon came to a halt at a small
stone cottage that had intrigued Falk the previous day.
“First history lesson, Falk. Let’s sit here.”
She had indicated a bench on the small stoep of the cottage, a lovely
vantage point from which they had a view of the river just below
their feet and the valley which slanted up to the poort, some five
kilometres distant.
“My father Dan built this cottage. He came out from Gamkaskloof
when he was seventeen, your age, leaving his widowed mother
behind. Dan knew he would never grow if he stayed in the valley,
and his mother encouraged him to leave for the same reason. But it
was a wrench for both of them; they had become very close after
Dan’s father Benji died trying to stop a stock inspector coming into
the valley. But that’s another story. Let’s get back to Dan.
“My father came out of the valley with two horses, the clothes on his
back and a rifle. It was 1867, Falk, just two years short of a century
ago. His route took him north up the Gamka River, then east along
this very river in front of us. Look over there to our left; follow the
course of the river. You see that mountain behind where the river
disappears from our view?”
He followed her pointing arm. “Yes, I see it.”
“We call that Chameleon Mountain. That’s where the river Dan was
following, this very river, came out into this more open land and he
followed it and came to this farm.
“Back then, nearly a hundred years ago, the farm was a very simple
affair, an orchard of figs planted by a young Englishman called Rob
Armitage, who had settled here. The two of them got on well
together, and Dan decided to join Rob.
“It was a great partnership over the years, with Dan bringing
innovation and expansion to the farm. It was he who started making
jams and preserves, it was he who introduced the apricot and pear
orchards, and the packing plant; lots of the new things.
“Rob Armitage and his wife had three children, one of them Josie, my
mother. But when Dan came here, Josie was still a child and it was
only many years later that she and Dan married. Rob also had a sister
who lived in England; she was ill with a consumptive disease and Rob
persuaded her to come out here because he believed this clean
mountain air would be good for her.
“Well, she and Dan fell in love. He was less than two years older than
you are today Falk, just turned nineteen - you are about to turn
eighteen - yet he had a love affair with Caroline, who was in her midtwenties. You know why I’m telling you this story, don’t you?”
Of course Falk knew why she was drawing these parallels; a dead
father, an only child, a need to escape from the valley, a love affair
with an older woman. He had not known any of this history and he
was intrigued. History repeating itself. How often had he heard that
phrase?
“Yes, I do. Carry on please.”
“Dan and Caroline tried to keep their relationship a secret. They used
to meet here in this cottage, and at the waterfall that we will go to
just now. Then eventually they moved to the farm in Prince Albert,
the one your mother is staying in now.
“Caroline bought that farm. And, because she knew she only had a
few years to live, she would not marry Dan. She loved him too much
to burden him. She even tried to drive him away, but he wouldn’t go,
he stayed with her until the last. You can see her grave, Falk, in that
little cemetery just up the road from the farm. You must go and see
it.”
There were so many details Falk wanted to know: how long did they
have together; did the affair consume Dan as his with Pauline had
consumed him? How fortunate they were that they could carry on
seeing each other, live as man and wife despite the age difference
and no doubt the censure of the society they had lived in.
He realised Tess had stopped telling the story and was watching his
reaction.
“You’re thinking, ‘why couldn’t I have had that chance,’ aren’t you?”
“No, Tess. Not really. It was a different time and there were no real
prohibitions to their relationship, not like with me, a pupil and a
teacher.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself Falk. It was also a boy and a girl in
love.”
Her words were an echo of those spoken by Robertse, and he was
grateful to both for simplifying the matter in a way which gave him
some dignity.
“Okay then, son, let’s get on to the waterfall. Next history lesson.”
The waterfall and the pool below it looked very different in the full
light of day, the gush of water sparkling, the pool an indigo blue
reflecting the sky above.
“Come sit here.”
She sat on a small rock bench and he took his place beside her.
“You’re sitting on the rock where your Khoikhoi ancestor was raped.”
He was horrified at the revelation, and immediately stood up. Tess
laughed delightedly at his reaction, his discomfort at the subject
matter. “Come on, sit down again. I don’t think the rock minds what
happened two hundred years ago.”
He sat down. “Are you joking?”
“No, I’m not, but the actual facts we don’t know for certain. No-one
wrote it down, but those of us who were interested have pieced it
together.
“What we know is that a girl called Ahad, a Khoikhoi girl, lived in a
village below the mountain I pointed out to you earlier. This girl was
a shepherdess, and she brought her sheep to this place every day. As
far as we can tell, this particular small clan of Khoikhoi had never
encountered the Dutch settlers, but one day one of them was
exploring the valley and came across her, right here. We think she
might have been swimming in the nude and he became aroused and
raped her.”
“That’s truly awful. How old was she?”
“We don’t know, but the Khoikhoi girls married young and she was
not married, so she had probably just entered puberty, maybe
eleven or twelve.”
“And if she was the mother of our ancestors, she obviously fell
pregnant.”
“Yes, but maybe not that first time, for he came back again, a few
times. We romantics like to think that they developed a feeling for
one another, but who knows.”
“So what happened?”
“She had a boy and called him Baartman, for the only thing she knew
about her Dutch lover was that he had a ruddy great beard. Sadly,
the clan eventually drove her away because they would not accept
her son. The same old pattern we see repeated today, Falk: racism
and bigotry. Her son was different, and that wasn’t acceptable.
“Ahad went looking for her Dutch lover and found his mother
instead. Tannie Mostert was her name, and the farm was, of course,
the very farm Caroline bought. Tannie Mostert’s son had been killed
in a skirmish with a Xhosa raiding party, so she took Ahad and her
child in and raised the boy as her own when Ahad died.
“So that’s your ancestry, Falk. It started right here. A Khoikhoi girl
and a Dutch settler.”
The poignancy of the Ahad and Caroline stories awakened in Falk a
powerful desire to write, and he knew exactly where he needed to
be to give expression to the many thoughts and emotions surging
through his mind: in the cottage his forefather Dan had built.
Tess gave her consent to the move immediately for she could feel
the new energy in him. She would miss his close presence in the big
farmhouse, but already knew that he would not last too much longer
at Rooikrantz and she was better off getting used to his imminent
departure. He was the closest she had ever had to having a child of
her own, and his mental recovery and development were of
paramount importance to her, above her need for his company.
At first, the words were clumsy and awkward and could not do
justice to the ideas. He scoured the library at the farm and found
many books that he had not read and could study to give him models
for his own work. There was also a dictionary and Thesaurus in
English, and they too became companions on the small table he
placed under the window in the cottage which gave him a view of
the river.
Throughout this early surge of creativity he did not shirk the work on
the farm, and fulfilled the duties he had been given with diligence, if
not passion; he had found his passion in the written word. On a visit
to Prince Albert, he purchased a second-hand typewriter and used it
solely when he wrote and soon was able to navigate the keyboard
with some fluency and speed.
At first he wrote in only the shortest form of creative written
expression, the poem. He wrote about Pauline and their passions
and hopes and fears, and about the Swartberg Mountains in all their
seasons, and about his ancestors, the fey Caroline and the young
shepherdess with the terrible burden of interracial bigotry.
His writing had a simplicity and tough exposure of the way he saw
nature and the world. It was to prove controversial when published
later. Some of his work was graphically disturbing in its sexuality and
honesty - the nakedness of the bed and the mind, was how he
described it when challenged years later.
Falk had met his promise to his coach and had written and received
the prospectus from UNISA and had enrolled to complete his matric
the following year, 1966. Now he pulled out that prospectus and
discovered he could do a diploma course in journalism, and he wrote
again and enrolled in the one-year course. He knew he had the
capacity to do both courses at the same time.
They accepted him for the diploma course on the understanding that
he could only receive the diploma if he passed matric, as that was a
minimum stipulation, but he did not care about that: he didn’t need
the certificate, only the knowledge.
As summer descended on the farm, Falk went frequently to swim in
the pool under the waterfall and he often experienced a
supernatural connection to his past as he lay partially submerged
and allowed the water to flow over him. It was in those moment too
that he sometimes had whole phrases come to him, the words and
the cadence so much purer than at his desk, and he would have to
hold them in his mind until he could type them out.
Eventually he craved again the company of his peers and he told Tess
that he would return soon to the Prince Albert farms. But, before he
did, he wanted to visit his grandfather Isaac in Gamkaskloof, and he
wanted to do it the way that the others had done before him: his
father Walter, grandfather Isaac, great-grandfather Dan and the first
Baartman to visit the valley, Benji. He would travel down the rivers,
through the massive gorges flanking the Gamka River until he came
to the valley of his youth. He saw it as a pilgrimage of sorts, paying
homage to his ancestors.
There was a difference in his travelling to the valley: he would do it
on foot, as he had never ridden a horse. He packed enough food for
the five days he expected to be away, which, together with spare
clothes and a sleeping bag, came to quite a large and heavy pack, but
he relished the challenge.
Tess added to his burden. “You can’t go in there without a weapon,
Falk. There are leopards and troops of baboons in there.”
“You sound just like my ma, Tess.”
“Good, I would hope so. She’s also a sensible person.”
“A rifle will just weigh me down, and it’s so unlikely to be needed.”
“Humour me, Falk. It’s the least you can do.”
Put that way, he had no choice, and he took with him the Mauser
that Dan had used during the Boer War.
The morning he left she was up early to bid him farewell. “I’m glad
you’re doing this, Falk. We’ve had no word from Isaac for a very long
time and I’ve a concern for his wellbeing. Did your mother tell you
that the last few times she tried to visit him he hid from her?”
“No, she didn’t. That’s a worry. He loves ma.”
“Yes, so we don’t know why he did that. He might try to hide from
you as well.”
“That won’t work. I’ll just sit him out.”
At first the journey after he left the precincts of the farm was easy, a
track on the east side of the river worn by the hooves of domestic
and wild animals over many years. It meandered a little and went
through numerous gullies, but the walk was satisfying and not
strenuous.
With his concentration on his immediate surroundings, he had not
realised he was approaching the Chameleon Mountain and when he
did look upwards it loomed large before him, dominating the skyline.
He was at a place where the river turned west and ran beneath the
mountain, and where he stood there was a wide pool with a beach.
He surmised that this must have been the site of the Khoikhoi village,
and he sat and took out his notebook and described all he could see
before him.
The next part of his walk was more difficult, and he had to cross the
river frequently when confronted by impassable places due to high
banks or dense undergrowth. It was not until the middle of the
afternoon that he reached the Gamka River, hot and a little fatigued,
and with his arms and legs scratched from pushing through thickets.
The confluence of the two rivers was in a wide valley but, when he
looked south in the direction he would travel, he could see how it
narrowed and ran between high mountains and massive cliffs; he
thought they could be at least three or four hundred metres high.
The walk into that place looked daunting, and he decided to take a
break, have a swim and eat his first meal of the day.
Three hours later, he was deep in the gorge and had completely lost
his sense of direction as the river wound its tortuous way through
the high red mountains. Sometimes it seemed to him that the cliffs
would fall in on him as the clouds moved overhead, giving the
impression that the earth was moving. The noises surprised him the
most, for it was never still in there, the gorge an echo chamber for
every bird and animal call.
Night fell quickly as the light left the deep valley and he decided on a
place to spend the night when it was still early; outside the gorge it
would be light for another two hours at least. He found himself
conscious of his safety and chose to sleep on a sandy patch at the
base of a high curved rock so that he could only be approached on a
narrow front.
His evening meal consisted of fruit and dried meat. It was warm, and
he had no need for a fire, but he made one nevertheless and
gathered a large mound of dead wood so that it could burn
throughout the night. Once the fire was set, he decided to boil a billy
can of water for coffee.
Sleep did not come easily for Falk that night. He was beset by the
weight of history, his imagination seeing his ancestors coming
through that very way, perhaps sleeping at this very place, motivated
to do so by the same concerns for safety and comfort. There was no
evidence of them - no ashes, no tracks - but he knew the winter
floods would have obliterated any such memory from the earth.
How did Pauline fit into this history, this timeline of his family? He
saw her in vivid definition, her beautiful face composed as she
looked at him lying there in his sleeping bag, and then changing,
flushed and intense as they made love. Had her passion been solely
for sex, or was there a deeper motive, a connection to him, the
young Falk Baartman, not just a sex object, an appreciation for a man
in the making who had values and achievements to be admired; a
promise for the future worth the risk? What about his motives? Was
she just a learning experience, the first carnal knowledge of a
woman, his good fortune to be taught by one with more experience?
Was there love?
Lying there in the dark, surrounded by the ghosts of his ancestry and
the ancient rocks, he found he could answer that most important
question. Yes, there was love, if love was a desire to know more
about each other, to share time together, even moments so fleeting.
Pauline had become his companion. They had talked for many hours
after making love. Neither wanted the other to leave once the initial
passion was exhausted. They were interested in each other. If it
wasn’t love, it was a kindred feeling of deep intensity, and that was
enough.
He knew he could not close this chapter of his life until he saw her
again and resolved to find her once he moved to Prince Albert.
When Falk came to the Gamkaskloof, at around noon of the next
day, he was on the east side, the side of his old home, and he
decided to visit it before crossing to see his grandfather.
The cottage was as he remembered it, nothing changed except for a
subtle air of abandonment, as if a house had a life when occupied,
but was dead when the humans went elsewhere. The stoep was
covered in dust and baboon droppings, but nothing had been
damaged, not vandalised by the animals or neighbouring children.
Through the windows he saw the emptiness, the rooms which he
envisaged full of furniture and life, now appeared minute. How had
they fitted everything in there?
In a mood of melancholy, he crossed the river at the ford and had
not gone one hundred metres when he smelt death and came across
it shortly after, a goat killed and gutted by a big cat, only the soft
stomach eaten, a hollow hole left to mark the passing of the
predator. There were two more before he reached Isaac’s cabin, and
by that time his fear for his grandfather was full blown.
His apprehension was not allayed by what he found: an empty cabin,
the bed clothes drawn up as if it had been made that morning, but
the only foodstuffs looking days old, ants infesting the little
cupboard. Isaac had clearly not been there for several days, perhaps
weeks.
Falk searched the surrounding bush, did it systematically, going
around in ever increasing circles until it was too dark to see. He
found three more dead goats and surmised that the others must
have run into the hills where, no doubt, they had been systematically
hunted down. Because of the largesse, the leopard had eaten only
briefly from each carcass.
When he returned to the cabin he had the choice of sleeping inside
but felt that would be wrong, as if admitting that his grandfather was
dead, something he was not yet prepared to accept. He laid his
sleeping bag off the stoep, in the soft sand where he could make a
shallow depression for his hips.
He could not eat. The sight and smell of the slaughtered animals had
killed any appetite he might have had and, because there was
nothing further he could do, he retired early, fully expecting to lie
awake for hours, but the physical exertions of the day overcame his
anxiety.
Later, something woke him and he sat up. There was a half moon
and he could see his immediate surroundings quite clearly, but the
grey bush beyond was a mystery. Then he heard the thing that had
woken him: the petulant snarl of a big cat. It was not close, rather
somewhere up in the choked valleys of the mountain behind the
cottage, he thought. He took no further chances and moved his
sleeping gear to the hard bed of his grandfather, but this time he
could not sleep and lay awake and fretful until the sky lightened
outside.
Falk knew where to go once he could see well enough. His
grandfather must have gone up there to protect his animals; a
seventy year old man against one of the most cunning animals on
earth, not much of a contest, but one Falk was sure the old man
would never have shirked.
He found the remains of his grandfather within an hour. With no
wind to disperse it, he had smelt the sweet aroma of death from
afar. The body had been broken open and the bones scattered, the
little flesh left on them blackened with age. Even the head had been
mutilated; it must have happened more than a week before.
Falk sat on the ground amongst the remains of his grandfather and
stared at the bones, connecting them until he saw him again, whole,
the wise and simple man who had befriended him after his father
had died. He had learnt from this man to be true to himself, despite
the conventions and temptations of the world. Had he followed that
lesson? He didn’t want to think too deeply about that.
What about the leopard? Strangely, he did not feel he had to
revenge Isaac’s death. He had no skill in hunting leopards, but had
grown up with stories of hunting them, the two favoured methods
being to lure them with bait or to corner the animal with dogs. He
had neither the means nor the skill with a gun, but that would not
have stopped him if he felt it necessary. But he did not. Isaac had
chosen the path of natural life, the life of his forbears. His
grandfather would have killed a leopard to protect his livestock, but
never for vengeance. The leopard had as much right to these
mountains and the fruits of the environment as man did. That would
be Isaac’s thinking and he would honour it.
He left everything as he had found it and went back down to the
cabin to prepare himself for the return journey through the gorges.
2.
When Falk moved back to Prince Albert in March 1966 he stayed at
first on the old Mostert farm where his mother was living. He felt he
owed it to her, but knew he would not stay there long; his
independence in Dan’s cottage at Rooikrantz had come to mean
much to him.
He soon discovered another reason why he had to move. His mother
was being wooed by the dominee of the NGK Kerk, a widower named
Abel Cromhout. It was not that he would be in the way - their
courtship was of the old variety with third parties often present - it
was rather that he had attended a service conducted by Dominee
Cromhout, and was devastated that his mother could contemplate a
life with a man of such radically conservative and racist views.
Stephanie had asked him to attend the service with her; she had yet
to reveal that she and the dominee had begun visiting one another.
She knew her son well enough to know he could be alienated by the
man’s views and therefore be against the union but, in her honest
straightforward way, she would bring it to a head by having him hear
a sermon and face the consequences after that. She was still not sure
if she would pursue her relationship with the dominee if her son
strongly disapproved.
Cromhout preached against what he called the dissolution of
Christian values and morals brought about by the sale of alcohol in a
number of commercial establishments in Kerk Straat, the high street
of the town. This resulted in certain sectors of the community,
particularly on pay day, becoming drunk and disorderly in full view of
the women and children of the upstanding people in the community.
He called on the town leaders to ban the sale of alcohol to Coloured
people in the town precincts; let them have their own bottle stores
out of town.
Falk looked around and saw there were still Coloured people
attending the service, sitting at the back as they had for as long as he
had attended the church, although the numbers on that day were
greatly reduced. They were mostly older folk. Did they believe in selfflagellation, that they sat in the church of this bigot, or could they
somehow ignore the content of the sermon in their need to observe
the Sabbath in the time-old way?
Stephanie sat until the church was empty before leaving, and Falk
was compelled to wait with her. Dominee Cromhout was standing on
the steps outside the main door, in the full mid-morning sun.
Stephanie introduced them. “Abel, this is my son, Falk.”
Falk was alarmed by two things at once: his mother’s use of the
familiar name and the look on Cromhout’s face which told him the
man knew all about Pauline. For his mother’s sake he shook the
proffered hand.
“I’ve heard all about you, young man. I’m sure between your mother
and I we can help you through your difficulties.”
Falk looked to his mother for an explanation of this assault on his
privacy.
“Dominee Cromhout and I have become friends, son.”
“No, Ma, that can’t be.”
He turned back to the minister. “I don’t have to like the friends my
mother chooses, meneer, any more than she’ll like some of my
friends. But I do have the right to decide whether I will have anything
to do with them and I will have nothing to do with you.
“Did you not see those Coloured people sitting at the back of the
church? Did you not think how your words were hurting them,
hurting some of your own congregation, what you probably call your
flock? Is yours the example of Jesus, meneer, or the propaganda of
the government?”
Cromhout looked like he would like to strike Falk. Never had his
assumption of moral leadership been challenged in that community,
but Falk brushed past the man, making no effort to minimise the
bodily contact. His mother found him on the back stoep when she
arrived home. She sat next to him and waited for his questions.
“Is this a serious friendship, Ma?”
“I think so. We have been seeing each other for some months now.
His wife died two years ago and he is only now able to contemplate
having a new lady friend.”
“Are you not also alienated by his hypocrisy?”
“Not like you are, Falk. I see other qualities in Abel, ones he cannot
show the people of this community. You have no idea how much his
behaviour is driven by the expectations of the people of this town.
They expect him to be almost God-like.”
“Well, he gets nought out of ten there.”
“Don’t be flippant about this, son.”
“No Ma, flippant I won’t be, not about Dominee Cromhout. Have you
forgotten that the Baartman’s are descended from a Khoikhoi
woman?”
“Oh Falk, don’t be like your father.”
“What does that mean?”
She knew she had made a mistake, but it was something she had
always known she would have to explain. But she also needed to
break the cycle of bad feeling that lay between them at that
moment.
“Wait here, I’m going to get us some coffee.”
While she busied herself in the kitchen Stephanie thought with
regret about the sermon Abel Cromhout had preached that morning.
She had heard him give inspiring sermons, using biblical texts to
inspire and teach, without racist or elitist overtones. Why had he not
done so that morning? Yet she knew it was dishonest to think that
way; Abel Cromhout held the views he had expressed that morning,
it was only whimsical thinking on her behalf that her son should not
have heard those views. Her motive in asking Falk to attend church
with her that morning had been to have the possibility of Cromhout’s
more radical views being exposed.
The real question was, could she live with a man who believed as he
believed, and could she live with a man who her son would have
nothing to do with?
It had been flattering when he started paying her attention. Many
had told her of the arrival of Dominee Cromhout four years
previously, how the church elders had organised a town reception
for the new dominee and his wife, children lining the street, waving
the South African flag, the beautiful manse, just a hundred metres
from the church, filled with flowers.
He was a special man in that community and he had chosen her to be
his friend, and perhaps more. She had often wondered why she had
been selected for his favour. He was twenty years her senior, and she
was still a relatively young woman, an acceptable widow with a good
figure and related to a wealthy family. It was enough, she supposed.
And for her? Was there anything beyond the superficial attraction of
the town’s acceptance, no, the town’s eulogy, of the man? Not
really, not when she saw him through her son’s eyes. She had been
on her own for so long, and it had been a pleasant thought that she
could have a partner once again.
But perhaps not this man. She would let him know that she needed
more time to contemplate a change to her widowed existence, find
out more about his beliefs and the flexibility he could exercise to
modify them, slow the courtship.
And her son did not need to know that it was he who had cast this
doubt in her mind; for now she needed to think how she was going
to explain Walter’s paranoia, the anxiety that led to him taking his
life.
Falk was sitting just as he had been when she left, the stiffness of his
posture showing his deep concern for the revelations that were to
come.
“So Ma, will you explain?”
“Yes, my son, I’ll try as best I can. Your father had become concerned
at the new apartheid laws that were being introduced in the country
in the 1950s, when you were a young boy. No, that’s the wrong
word, he was more than concerned; they worried him sick.”
“Which laws?”
“I don’t remember the names, the ones about race, the ones that
defined who we are, what race, etcetera.”
“You mean the Group Areas Act, and the Population Registration
Act?”
“Yes, those were the names. Do you know about them?”
“Yes, Ma, I read about them at school. I don’t know much about
them. It made me sad that non-whites are being treated that way,
but I guess I just thought it’s not my problem.”
“Well, maybe it is your problem, son. You said earlier that you are
descended from a Khoikhoi woman. That’s what your father
agonised about, that very fact. He used to go through the whole
family history with me. The Coloured blood in your family got
watered down; apart from the first Khoikhoi woman there was only
one other union that introduced Coloured blood - I think it was the
son of the first Baartman boy, he married a Coloured woman. All the
other partners in the family, as far as he could find out, had married
women of European extraction. But those two women in the family
meant, strictly speaking, that the Baartman’s are Coloured.”
“Jeez, Ma, we’re talking about over a hundred years ago, more, a
hundred and fifty.”
“Yes, that’s what I kept telling him, but he got more and more
concerned that he would be classified Coloured, and that you would
be too.”
She let him think about it, saddened that she had to introduce this
concern, but knowing that she could not explain his father’s suicide
unless he fully understood the possibility of a re-classification of the
family.
“So it’s a real possibility that this could happen to us. Not to you, Ma,
but to me, and to Tess. I read that they are starting to look into the
ancestry of people. I don’t know where I read that, I wasn’t much
interested. I suppose I should get interested.
“So what happened in Dad’s case?”
“It killed him son, it led to him taking his life. He became obsessed
with the shame it would bring on me and you and the radical change
it would make in our lives. His obsession was so great that he could
no longer live with the agony of his thoughts.”
“Oh, God Ma, that’s terrible. Those bloody laws killed him.”
Like his father before him, Falk obtained copies of the two laws in
question, and the other laws pertaining to a separation of the races,
and he made a study of them. What he learned alarmed him, both
for himself and his Aunt Tess, but also for the non-white people of
the country.
Mostly, he was disgusted that he had not paid attention to what was
happening in the country. Surely there were Whites who resisted this
massive unfairness? His readings found them, lone voices,
themselves persecuted for their opposition.
His feelings of remorse were so acute that he started to write about
it, writing for himself, just to get his thoughts and emotions on
paper. And because he needed the freedom of his own space to do
the writing, he moved to the smaller house on the adjacent farm
once the tenants occupying it had served the notice period.
He spent many days at the western end of the town, where most of
the Coloured people lived, observing, talking to them, even joining a
few drinking sessions with them on a Friday night, sessions which
gave him monumental hangovers. He tried to breach the chasm
between himself and the people he met: poor people, people with
little education, different concerns, hunger, lack of money, sex and
drink as escapism, too many children, lots of hatred for the privileged
in the town, those blamed for their predicament, little self-belief,
only pockets of pride and achievement, mostly among the religious,
Muslim and Christian alike, maybe Muslim especially, their God’s
laws giving them order and discipline.
All became the subject of his writing, the stories flowing, about
individual people, about group behaviour, about despair and a wild
kind of joy, and great acts of compassion towards each other and
acts of self-destruction.
3.
Falk needed to find an occupation in keeping with his new-found
love of the written word in particular, and creativity in general. He
was helping on the Prince Albert farms, not supervising them
because the foreman was still in place and doing a good job.
The farm work that he had so enjoyed during his school holidays had
now become a chore. In a way, that was good for he had his studying
to do, the matric to complete by correspondence and, of increasing
interest, the course on journalism.
For the latter he had submitted assignments with content heavily
laden towards the social effects of Apartheid and had received a
number of letters of censure from his teachers. He recognised the
danger of continuing that line of writing with UNISA, which did not
have the culture of academic freedom that prevailed at some of the
campus universities.
The answer to his quest for a different occupation became obvious
to him once he’d made a systematic review of what was available in
Prince Albert; there was no stationary store, no place to make copies
or send faxes without asking favours, no outlet for the many artists
settling in the town, nor a place where they could buy supplies, no
place to develop photographs for printing, no local newspaper.
He tackled the problem with relish: the legal requirements, the
business zoning of the town, what property was available and its
suitability, how faxes worked, the economics of copiers, where to
print a small newspaper, how to develop a photograph, where to
find suppliers for the goods he would sell. When he had it all
together he wrote up his plan for the Prince Albert Writers and
Artists Mecca and went to see his Aunt Tess.
His aunt went through the document slowly, not asking a question
once during the reading. Falk could see that she understood it fully
from the way she would look up sometimes as if contemplating what
she had just read and then her eyes would return to the page, or
refer back to an earlier passage. He knew her business acumen,
honed through running the Baartman empire for the more than
twenty years since her father died.
In the quiet of her reading, he noticed her hands, old and gnarled,
the blue veins prominent. It’s funny how the hands tell the age most,
he thought to himself, shocked to think that this clever and
resourceful woman was in her mid-seventies.
When she finished she looked him directly in the eye, a half smile on
her lips, the look inscrutable otherwise. “So, you’re not going to be a
farmer.”
“No Tess, I hope that doesn’t let you down.”
“Let me down? No, it doesn’t let me down. So what do you want to
be, Falk?”
“I want to be a writer. But I have to earn a living until I’m established;
this business would at least put me in touch with the tools of my
trade, and hopefully with others of similar ambition.”
“Yes, I can see that.
“Sometimes you spook me, Falk, so like my father. Just like him when
he contemplated doing something new, such research, everything
worked out. I can’t fault your reasoning young man, nor your
projections.”
“I’ve tried to be accurate, Tess. The need is there and I’m pretty sure
of the cost projections, the tricky part is estimating the revenue the
business will earn. I’ve asked many who might be interested in these
goods and services, so it’s not just a thumb suck, but in the end it has
to be a guess whether they will behave the way they say they will.
“There is a positive for the future that I’ve not taken account of, and
that is the possibility of getting tourist trade in Prince Albert; I’m sure
with its climate and beauty the town will eventually become a place
people will want to visit, and even to own holiday or retirement
homes.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Now, what about these properties, Falk?”
“They are both residential houses at the moment, but zoned for
commercial use. The one on Kerk Straat is the best for the business
as it has the visibility and will require less to modify it. I know it is
nearly thirty percent more expensive, but I think that it would be the
better investment.”
“And you want me to loan you the money for the deposit on the
property and enough money for the initial equipment and stock?”
“Yes, Tess, as I’ve laid out in the schedules. If my projections are
right, it would take me just over three years to pay you back,
including interest.”
“And you can get a bond for the balance of the house payment,
including the alterations you will undertake?”
“Yes, I’ve made preliminary enquiries with the United Building
Society in Oudtshoorn.”
“I saw that. They’re prepared to loan an eighteen-year-old boy all
this money?”
“Well, I did use your name, Tess, and they would require a surety
from you.”
“I don’t give sureties, Falk, but we’ll come back to that. What about
the farms in Prince Albert? What would you have me do with those?”
His heart had sunk at her rejection of the surety idea, and he had to
shake off his immediate disappointment to come back to her
question. “I can continue to live there and act as the eyes and ears of
the family, but you have a very good man in Joe Baker. He’s hard
working and honest, and the staff like and respect him. I would think
of giving him a minority shareholding and a profit-sharing bonus.”
She laughed. “Just like my Dad. This is no surprise to me, Falk, your
coming to me with a business proposal, and even your idea about
the farms. I’m only surprised that you didn’t come to me a few
months earlier.”
He felt relief then, sure she was going to help him.
“Okay, Falk, this is what we’ll do; I don’t like being indebted to the
building society. If your projections are wrong, the business could go
through a difficult time and you might not be able to service your
debt.
“I will give you the capital for the refurbishment of the house and the
purchase of equipment and stock, and I’ll pay fifteen percent of the
house cost; for that I want a twenty-five percent stake in the
business. I’ll loan you the money for the balance of the purchase
price of the house. The property will be in your name, and you will
undertake to pay me back at ten percent per annum.”
He was stunned by her generosity and quick decision making. “That
is really fantastic Tess, thank you.”
“And you don’t mind me being a partner in your business?”
“I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
It took him three and a half months to open his doors. Three and a
half months of frenetic activity until he could stand across the street
and look proudly at the large sign above the verandah of the former
house. WARM it read, and underneath the full explanation of the
name: Prince Albert’s Writers and Artists Mecca. Flanking the
verandah on both sides were billboards announcing the goods and
services he offered.
Falk took a chance on future business and hired two young Coloured
people as shop assistants. In their own way both were characters,
Joel the budding poet, the serious one, and Bianca - well Bianca was
hard to describe, precocious and clever and very striking; she flirted
with him when they were alone in an ironic but clearly serious way. It
was a tantalizing prospect but one he kept at bay, knowing the
dangers of pursuing it, both legal and in terms of good business
practice. But he humoured her when she brought her mother in to
meet him; it was as if he was a suitor.
He was still four months shy of his nineteenth birthday, yet he
owned his own business.
The flood of business in his opening week was more than he had
projected, but much of it was simply the curious among the small
community and it soon settled down to the real customers, and that
too was more than he had anticipated. Many artists came forward
with offers to display their paintings and sculptures for commission,
and the three rooms he had set aside and decorated for that purpose
were soon full. Each piece had a bio of the artist and the price, all
typed on thick bond paper.
It was the production of his first newssheet which made Falk a
character in the Prince Albert community. He wrote and edited every
article, making sure the content would appeal to a wide audience,
then went to Oudtshoorn to have the layout completed and the
paper printed. That first edition contained no ads and comprised six
tabloid pages.
In researching the stories he made a wide variety of contacts, some
of whom became friends. He was invited by a group of young
farmers to join them on Friday evenings at the Bush Tavern, and
there he got to know the young life in the town, his reputation mixed
because of the two main stories about him: the rugby success and his
expulsion for sleeping with a teacher. Both stories gained him
notoriety of a kind. Some, mostly men, were favourably impressed,
but others reserved their judgment.
Falk’s first edition was free, and he distributed it through the stores
in town, wanting the storeowners to see the reaction so that when
he approached them for advertisements they would have a feel for
its popularity; or so he hoped.
For the young writer the most important part of his newspaper was
the editorial; that was where he could put his ideas and opinions
freely into print. Sometimes he chided himself that what he was
doing was counterbalancing the sermons of Dominee Cromhout.
There was truth in that, because he focused on the dysfunctional
elements of community life, mainly to do with the unnatural
separation of human beings of different colour.
The contentious editorials became the first thing everyone read,
even the most conservative of his readers, for it gave them a surplus
of acid for their bigotry, but for some it was a confirmation of the
feelings they had been afraid to air; now they could do so by
referencing the young maverick who wrote them.
By the third fortnightly edition, he was printing three hundred
copies, and he had sufficient paid advertisements, mostly smalls, to
make a small profit. Regretfully, he had to break the schedule for a
month while he studied to complete his matric and the journalism
course. When he wrote the papers in a supervised school hall in
Oudtshoorn, he knew he had been right to do so and that he had
passed well, had met his promise to his rugby coach.
In the second week of December, Isa walked into his store,
accompanied by two young women, obviously friends. He saw them
through the window of one-way glass that separated his office from
the main sales room of the store. His young Coloured assistant Joel
went to their aid. Falk could not hear what was being said but he saw
Joel direct them into the gallery section.
Falk was overwhelmed and the emotions he had felt in Oudtshoorn
that fateful day when he had left the school came flooding back to
leave him breathless. He had never thought he would see her again,
but had often wondered what he would say should that ever happen.
Now he would find out.
She had her back to him when he entered the first gallery room,
studying a painting on the wall. Isa heard his approaching step for, in
truth, that was what she had been waiting for, the study of the
painting a facade, and she turned to face him. He could only mouth
her name, and she the same, and then they stood, not knowing what
to say, their eyes looking for the changes, finding that which had
always attracted them to one another. One of Isa’s friends broke the
impasse with a mischievous chuckle.
“So this is why you took us so far out of our way, Isa.”
Isa made the introductions and he was obliged to take in their names
and make polite small talk, all the while his skin tingling at her
proximity. Finally, the friends moved to another room and they were
on their own, with too many questions to ask but difficulty choosing
where to start.
“How did you know where to find me?”
“I’ve been writing to your Ma.”
“She never told me. Why?”
“You were my best friend Falk. I needed to know what happened to
you. I asked your Ma not to let you know.”
“Oh, I see. And what about you? I never knew how to ask after you.
What have you been doing?”
“I’m at Stellenbosch, just finished my first year, Falk. I’m studying
law.”
“And where are you going now?”
“We’re going to spend Christmas with Louise; her folks have a
cottage at Port Alfred.”
“So this is a bit out of your way, a large bit, actually.”
“Yes, we can’t stay long. I needed to see you, see if you are okay.”
“I’m okay, Isa. Actually what happened is in a way a good thing, for
I’ve found what I want to do with my life. I don’t mean that to sound
like self-justification. Nothing like that. And of course I’ll always
regret what happened, and that I lost you as a friend.”
“No you didn’t. I’ll always be your friend. It’s just different now and
will never be the same. That’s a loss, but I’ll always care for you,
Falk.”
“Thanks.”
“So, what do you want to do with your life? Run this store?”
He saw the funny side of that and his laughter was a relief for both of
them.
“The store is a means to an end Isa. I’m becoming a writer.”
“Really? Have you written anything?”
“Yes, quite a lot. In my job here I publish a newspaper and I write
every word except the ads. Correction, I write some of them as well.
I’ll give you a copy when you leave. I love writing the paper,
especially the editorial which I must say has this town in a tizz. And
then I’m going to publish a small book of my poetry in the new year.
I’m just putting the finishing touches to it.”
“God, I’m impressed, Falk. Can I see one of your poems?”
“Yes. Some of them are on the walls here.”
He was glad then that he had made the decision to put none of the
poems about his joys and anguishes with Pauline on public display,
although they would be in the book and Isa might well see them in
time. He took her to a poem block-mounted and hanging on the wall,
a poem about the leopard that killed his grandfather.
She stood for a long time, reading it over several times and, when
she turned to him, the tears were streaming down her face.
“That’s your Grandfather Isaac, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“Did that happen to him?”
“Yes Isa. I don’t think I could write with such emotion if it hadn’t
been real.”
“It’s beautifully written, Falkie. Trevor Weiss would be proud of you.
You must get one of your poetry books to him.”
He noticed the diminutive of his name and he was glad she had come
to lay some of his devils to bed.
They did not stay much longer after that, and when he walked them
out to their car, Isa waited until the others were in the car before she
had a final word with him.
“Do you think about her, Falk? Pauline, I mean.”
The lie came easily to his lips, but he stopped it in time.
“Yes.”
“Have you followed her movements?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“She’s in Port Elizabeth, Falk, working in the lab of one of the car
companies. She has a chemistry degree, you know.”
He nodded, wondering why she was telling him this.
“Maybe you should visit her Falk; it can’t have been easy for her.”
“Why are you telling me this, Isa?”
“It’s no good not seeing things through, Falkie. You can’t move on if
you don’t.”
She came to him, gave him a hug and turned quickly and got into the
car. He watched as the car went east on Kerk Straat, saw her wave at
the back window.
It was the last time he was to see her for almost fifteen years.
4.
In January 1967 Falk went looking for Pauline.
He left his store in the hands of the two young assistants he had
trained over the preceding months. He did not level with his mother,
as he did not want to give her needless worry; he had no idea what
kind of reception he would receive in Port Elizabeth.
It was meant to be a holiday, the first he had enjoyed since the
expulsion from the school, earlier really, because he had worked on
the farms during his school holidays. A whole week off, travelling
down the Garden Route that he had so wanted to see in 1964 when
the world was at his feet. He would dawdle down the Garden Route,
for dawdle was all the old Toyota Stout could do anyway, stopping to
camp when the mood and the scenery was right.
His first stop was Sedgefield. He felt he knew it from the tales of
Trevor Weiss, but he was disappointed. The caravan park was on the
lake, not the sea, and the lake was shallow. He should have stopped
earlier. That view of Wilderness from up high, with the beach and the
quaint railway bridge across the river, had been marvellous.
Nevertheless, he tried to make the best of Sedgefield and wandered
the main street and the beachfront and slept the night under the
pine trees in the campsite. The most vivid image he took away the
next day was a house on the main street with concrete ponies as a
garden wall.
Next stop was Plettenberg Bay, the campsite on the Piesang River,
within easy walking distance from the beach. The day had been
stimulating, with Knysna begging to be explored, the Heads, the
furniture shops in the town, and the birds on the mudflats. He was a
mountain boy, mountains and desert, and the sea in its many forms
was all new to him.
Fortunately it was after the school holidays and not as busy as it had
been the week earlier, as he would never have found entrance to the
camping sites without a booking, nor would he have enjoyed the
beach with the hundreds of bathers.
He swam at Central Beach, cooling off. The day had been hot and
sweaty and there was no air conditioner in the Toyota. But, when he
sat on the beach afterwards, he was aware of how lonely he felt
among all of those strangers. He could easily have trekked into the
Great Karoo and slept out for many nights without feeling alone; it
seemed that the unfamiliar had an attraction that did not endure. Or
was it that he could no longer delay his mission, fooling himself that
there was a secondary purpose to the trip?
It had been easy to find which company she worked for; a few phone
calls established that. She worked in the laboratory at Ford’s Neave
Plant, in the heart of the old industrial area. He stopped for
directions a few times, but soon the huge building loomed in sight,
and he turned into the main gate area. It was just before 4.30 pm, a
full half hour before the closing time in the laboratory.
Immediately he was confronted with a problem: they would not let
him into the complex unless he had a legitimate reason. He argued
with the White security guard.
“I’m here to see Pauline Augustine.”
“Who isn’t, pal? Does she know you’re coming?”
“She would want to see me.”
“Wrong answer, pal. Does she know you’re coming to see her?”
He parked in the visitor’s area outside the gates and went into the
security building to make the phone call to Pauline. This was not the
way he had envisaged the meeting. He had seen himself in a parking
lot, waiting for her to come out and to see him standing there;
speaking to her first on the phone was the last thing he wanted to
do, but he did not know where she lived and she was not in the
phonebook. He had to go through with it, or return to Prince Albert
and wonder forever what might have been.
Her warm voice was so familiar with her utterance of just one word.
“Hello.”
“Hello, Pauline. This is Falk.”
There was a sharp intake of breath and then silence.
“Pauline, did you hear me?”
“Yes. Oh my God, Falk. Where are you?”
“I’m calling from the security office here, at this plant where you
work.”
“Oh, my God.”
There was another prolonged silence.
“Listen, do you have a car?”
“Yes.”
“And where are you parked?”
“In the visitor’s parking lot outside the main gate.”
“What is the car?”
“It’s a bakkie, a white Toyota Stout.”
“Wait there. I’ll come to you when my shift’s over. It’s not long; I’ll be
there in less than fifteen minutes.”
It was a very long fifteen minutes - in actual time twenty; in his
frenetic mind, hours. He could not decipher her reaction. There had
been shock but he did not know if it was a shock of joy or horror. It
could easily be the latter. Who would want to be confronted after
nearly two years with a mistake, a very major mistake?
How would she find him? He had grown a little, filled out, and he was
fit, had not ignored his coach’s advice to keep himself ready for the
day he could return to the playing field. But he was conscious of his
clothes, had seen the impression he gave in the eyes of the security
guard: disdain, disdain at his khaki shorts, and the sandals. Why had
he not bought some clothes which would be more acceptable in her
eyes? Too late now.
She drove into the parking lot. The car was not what he would have
expected, a red Ford Cortina Mk II. She was an unconventional
woman; a red family car was not her image. All of these out-ofcharacter moments served to unnerve him.
Pauline drove into the parking lot next to his Toyota, the passenger
door exactly where he was standing. She leaned over and opened it a
crack.
“Get in, Falk.”
It was a command. He climbed into the proffered seat and only then
looked at her properly. Her hair was longer, still black and silky, with
luxurious curls. The face was the same beautiful visage he
remembered in his dreams. Only the eyes were different, anxious
and troubled.
“Why did you come, Falk?”
The terse question unnerved him further. This was definitely not
what he had hoped for, and he became defensive.
“Would you rather I left?”
“No, that’s not why I’m asking. It’s just such a shock seeing you
again, having you follow me here. Why after all this time?”
“I don’t know. I think about you all the time. A friend told me this
was unfinished business. It is, isn’t it? We were ripped apart, and we
accepted it like lambs, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She thought about that, looking at him closely, remembering all of
the times they had had together, the snatched moments of passion
and companionship.
“You’re looking good, Falk.”
The change in mood and subject was a surprise and a relief.
“Thank you, so are you. Terrific, actually.”
“Oh, Falk, it’s not that easy. I’ve got commitments now, a boyfriend,
a job. Why come and upset it all when I was just getting over it? All
that hurt and shame.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, Pauline. I just wanted to see you again to
find out if there was anything left for us. If there’s nothing, I’ll be on
my way.”
“Wait, I have to think.”
She was breathing erratically in her anxious state, and she took a
moment to calm herself.
“Let’s slow this down. Where do you live, Falk? What are you doing?”
“I live in Prince Albert. I have a small business. It’s called ‘Warm’,
short for Writers and Artists Mecca. I produce a small newspaper,
sell stationary, sell works of art. And I write, that’s my passion.”
“Goodness, Falk. All that in such a short time.”
“Well, I’m that sort of person; all or nothing, you know that.”
“Yes, I do. I shouldn’t be surprised.
“Falk, this isn’t going to be easy. I don’t know what to think. You’ve
got to give a girl time. I can’t be with you until I’ve thought this out,
and maybe the answer will be that we are over and cannot start
again.
“I don’t want to talk any more about this. Where can I contact you?”
“I’m at the Brookes Hill camping grounds. There is an office there,
but I don’t know the number. I’m sure it’s in the book. You can leave
a message for me. Can’t I have your number?”
“No, Brad might answer the phone.” She regretted it the minute she
said it. “I’m sorry, Falk. I didn’t mean to mention his name. He’s part
of the thinking I need to do. You do understand, don’t you?”
It was looking increasingly like he had made a mistake to seek her
out, but then he corrected that conclusion. He had to come; he had
to know, although he would now carry this new image into the
future, one of a very beautiful and troubled woman.
“Yes, I understand.”
“I’m going to go now, Falk. I’ll contact you as soon as I sort this out in
my head. You can’t hope or despair, for I have no idea how this will
end.”
She kissed him lightly on the lips and then leaned past him and
opened his door.
“Goodbye, my young hero. Maybe we’ll meet again.”
It was not until the Thursday evening, three days later, that she came
to the camping site. It had been a nerve wracking time. He had not
wanted to leave the camping grounds in case she phoned, but
eventually the waiting proved too stressful.
Brookes Hill is just above Humewood Beach, and he could go down
into Happy Valley and walk under the bridge to the beach, where he
would burn the stress from his brain and his muscles by swimming to
the end of the old piers and back. By day three he could make the
round trip four times, only occasionally stopping to hang onto the
ropes which dropped down into the sea from a steel cable stretching
from the pier to the rocks on the north side of the beach.
He ate at the Red Windmill, just a hundred metres from the beach:
fast food, burgers and chips, curry and rice, fish and chips.
Every time he returned to the camping grounds, he would go to the
office and ask if there were any messages for him, embarrassed at
the frequency of asking, especially as the day receptionist was a
severe, middle-aged woman who made it quite clear he was
bothering her.
When he thought he could not take any more she was suddenly
there, the red car slowly making its way through the caravans and
tents to his site. This time there was no restraint and she kissed him
passionately, and when they came up for air there was a look in her
eye that he recognised.
“You’ve made up your mind?”
“No, not yet, not fully, but maybe I’ve started the process. At least
Brad has gone, that much I could decide. Now I need to find out if
you and I still have that magic.”
“Didn’t the kiss give you a hint?”
“It was a good start. Look Falk, you and I were never together
without the fear of discovery; maybe that was an aphrodisiac. I hope
not, as that would make what we did very shallow. But those were
the conditions under which we met. Don’t you think we should try a
few days together just as lovers with no fear, do what the normal
folks do?”
“I can’t fault that thinking.”
“You see, you have changed. Suddenly a dry sense of humour. I like
it. So you’re okay with the idea?”
“Oh yes, I like it a lot.”
“Good, that’s settled then. I’ve taken tomorrow off and booked us
into the Beach Hotel for three nights, starting tonight. Tonight until
Sunday; that’s when I have to go and claim my flat back from Brad.”
That first night they hardly slept, eating a room service meal
between the first and second bouts of lovemaking, talking up a storm
during the other breaks between the infinitely satisfying assaults on
each other’s bodies.
On the Friday she took him to an outlying shopping centre to
purchase slacks and closed shoes so they could go to the restaurant
in the hotel. They did not think any further excursions were
necessary, other than quick swims in the sea and walks early
morning and late afternoon along the beach front.
By the Sunday morning they knew almost everything there was to
know about each other and she had a new respect for him. She had
last known a work in progress, now he was almost fully fledged,
sensitive and brilliant, a go-getter and thinker. Apart from the age
gap and the unfortunate history which she worried would cause
difficulties, she could not find a more lovely man to spend the rest of
her days with.
The disclosure for him was a little different. She was in a job she
hated, a routine she could not stomach, an unhappy relationship
which she had now apparently ended but, most distressingly, she
seemed to have an inability to let the past go. But he easily
overlooked those thoughts. She would be in a new environment, the
past would be forgotten, the job no longer a daily thorn. He loved
her and they could overcome anything together.
They made love one last time on the Sunday morning and it was
then, lying on the dishevelled sheets, the smell of sex in the room,
that she asked the searching questions which exposed her fears.
“What will the community think of me, Falk?”
“Well, they know all about us. We can’t hide that. What will they
think? The men will wish it was them who you had chosen. The
women? I don’t know Pauline; you’ll have to make friends with
them.”
“What will I do?”
“Take some time off, get over the lousy job you had here. Help me if
you want to, but there’s no hurry, is there?”
“I guess not. I have enough saved that I won’t be a burden on you for
quite a long time. Maybe you’re right. I should just settle in, and take
it day by day. But I really worry about your mother and your Aunt
Tess. I’m sure they blame me for what happened at the school.”
“Pauline, it doesn’t matter whether they do or don’t. If I’m to be
honest, I think it will be difficult for my mother, not at all for Tess.
We have to overcome that and we can if we’re a team together. I’ll
tell my mother now, when I go back today, give her time to come to
terms with it before you arrive, tell her how much I love you, what
kind of person you are.”
She absorbed his answers for a while, then asked a question which
suggested she had made up her mind. “You’ll have to come and fetch
me.”
“Why, what’s wrong with your car?”
“It’s a lease car from the company. I have to hand it back.”
“That’s a relief. I thought you’d chosen it.”
“Not a chance. They give you the oldest car in the stockyard.”
It was the only humorous part of their too serious discussion, both of
them feeling the weight of the separation to come.
“There’s still so much for me to do, Falk, before I can say for sure I’m
coming to live with you. This weekend has been the most magic time
of my life, but it’s not reality. Reality is the resignation I have to hand
in, the termination of the lease to my flat, moving arrangements, all
those things which are awkward and not fun.
“Reality is also facing my parents who live in this city and have
already received enough shocks from me.
“I still don’t know if I can trust myself to have the courage to do all
those things and, until they’re actually done, I can’t promise you
anything. I’m sorry, that’s just the way I am.
“Please don’t tell your mother until you’re sure of me. I’ll keep in
touch I promise.”
Falk could do nothing but accept those terms.
In a way, Falk was glad to have the few days of reflection before
Pauline phoned him. He was not sure what outcome he wanted,
because her insecurity and discontent with her present life bothered
him. Would she be happy in any environment? Was she one of those
persons who saw their fulfilment in only some future imagined place,
and could not be truly happy in the present?
If she decided not to come, he would forever remember with the
regret of loss her warm, passionate nature, her quick mind and, of
course, the wonderful sex. If she came, he would be true to her and
build a life for them, a life where she could be fulfilled.
In truth, he was too young for such life-changing decisions, but he
was the kind of person who would always play the chips as they fell,
a resolute man, even at nineteen years of age.
The phone call came to his business.
“Falk, I’m coming to live with you.”
He felt relief and apprehension, disguised it well. “That’s truly
marvellous; it will be wonderful having you here.”
“Yes, I’m going to find it hard to get through this next month. Listen, I
have to work my notice month, but I’ll be finished at the end of
February. Can you bring that truck of yours? There’ll be things to
move.”
After they had discussed the details, and he had replaced the phone
on his desk, he sat there staring sightlessly, imagining her in his
town, meeting new people, glorious weekends in bed, and the whole
imagined life with a person you love, out in the open.
That thought reminded him he needed to talk to his mother and
Aunt Tess.
It was terrible news for Stephanie, and she could not hide her great
anxiety for him and disdain for the woman who had cut short his
school career.
“How old is she Falk?”
“Twenty-six.”
“Seven years older than you. Don’t you think that will be a
problem?”
“Ma, I can’t debate this with you. How big an age gap is too big? Why
should the man always be the older? We could go at it endlessly.”
“My son, I fear this woman has a character flaw. She should never
have seduced you when she was a teacher. Now she will come here
without the possibility of using the education she has, maybe again
driven by a whim. She seems to make decisions based on her
physical needs, or some imagined nirvana of the future.”
He was angered, mostly by the possibility of the truth of his mother’s
opinion. But if Pauline had a character flaw, then so did he, for he
had responded to her advances and would still do so. He would not,
could not, go back on his decision.
“So be it, Ma. Not all women have the strength of character that you
have.”
She knew she could not sway him and would have to make the best
of it but could not help expressing one more hurt. “I stopped seeing
Dominee Cromhout because I would not be with a man who my son
did not respect. Wouldn’t you do the same for your mother?”
“Oh Ma, I’m sorry it was me who forced that on you. I would hope
you too couldn’t respect the narrow views he has; you are a person
of compassion, with a heart for the downtrodden, he would have
suffocated you.
“I can’t go back on this decision Ma. You don’t know her yet so I ask
you to give her a chance. I love her and will do everything to make
her life a success here and to get on with people, especially you.”
5.
Pauline surprised nearly everyone, particularly her potential
mother-in-law. She was engaging and friendly, and came to be
accepted equally amongst the young mothers and matrons at the
Saturday morning market and the boisterous crowd at the Friday
evening Bush Tavern parties.
She was a more joyous person in her new life and the principal
reason was that she confronted with Stephanie the shame of her
actions at Oudtshoorn High. Pauline went to her one afternoon and
the two sat on the back stoep and talked until it became too dark to
see. Pauline was brutally frank, knowing that she would never be
believed or accepted if she held anything back; she had already seen
the honesty, integrity and humility of Falk’s mother.
Stephanie was persuaded of the sincerity of the younger woman and
her genuine love for her son and was prepared to forgive. The
reaction was stronger for Pauline because it liberated her and the
cloud of guilt and self-doubt was lifted from her head. Pauline also
responded positively to other factors in her new environment,
principal among them the beauty of the town and its surrounds and
the love of her young partner. All gave her a peace and happiness
she had never known before.
Of course, there were enemies. Living out of wedlock and writing
editorials decrying the unfairness of social engineering were bound
to make for strong opposition to their lifestyle and opinions. Chief
among their detractors was Dominee Cromhout and the elders of the
NG church. But there were others, amongst them those jealous of
the wealth and fame of the Baartman’s and those who coveted their
farms and businesses. Falk and Pauline were not to know that these
forces rallying against them were going to destroy their way of life.
Falk had published his book of poems in February, printing only fifty
copies, as he felt he might not find an audience for it. The language
was as harsh and uncompromising as the open Karoo veld in winter,
and the contents often graphic and personal.
Whatever the reaction was going to be, the act of publishing his own
book was a source of great pride and satisfaction. He could not help
picking the slim book up frequently, looking at the simple cover, a
line drawing of a mountain peak against a dark grey background, the
title and author’s name in lower case; in the shadow of the
swartberg; falk baartman. This was what he was all about, this little
book, this first exposure of his naked soul to the world.
He posted copies to a number of universities, addressing them to the
head of the English and Afrikaans faculties, as he had no idea what
channels he should choose. To his utter surprise, he received a letter
from the secretary of the UCT English Department, inviting him to
contact them when in Cape Town to arrange for him to do a reading
to the Literary Society.
He was amazed and showed the letter to both Pauline and Stephanie
which was a mistake, as he had not given a copy to either of them to
read because of the personal nature of some of the poems. Both of
them demanded to read the work, and both recognised the woman
who was the object of many of the poems, resulting in a cold
shoulder from his mother and a quickening of the libido of his lover.
The publication of the book of poems also gave him minor celebrity
status in the town even though very few read or understood the
work. He didn’t mind. The business was doing well, he loved the
work and the contact with creative people, and he adored his
partner and the life they were enjoying together.
In later years he would always wonder if the blow that came that
first Tuesday in July of 1967, on a miserable wet winter day, would
not have been so much easier to stomach if he had not been so
happy.
Pauline had begun helping in the shop and had discovered that she
had a talent for store keeping, a very important function in a
stationery store with so many line items. She ran the purchasing
section, forecast the movement of stock, received the orders, set
them out on the shelves and periodically checked for shrinkage and
re-ordering. It was not a full time job, so she had plenty of free time
and, in any event, she liked being where Falk was.
That Tuesday morning, she went to fetch the mail. When she
returned, she went straight to the storeroom at the back, not saying
a word to him. The behaviour was strange; she never passed through
his office without a touch of affection. When she did not return, he
went looking for her.
At first, he could not see her and he had to round one of the shelves
of stock where he found her, sitting on a chair between the stock
shelves, the mail she had fetched strewn on the ground before her.
She looked up and he saw her face. Never had he seen an expression
like that. She looked manic, both frightened and angry.
He was alarmed.
“Pauline, what is it?”
She shook her head violently. “No” she said, the word mouthed like
an expletive.
He went up to her and knelt before her. “What is it? Please tell me.”
“No” she said again.
It was then that Falk saw the letter in her hand. “Is it this? What is
it?”
He reached for it and she snatched it away. “You can’t see it.”
“Pauline, if it has terrified you like this you have to show me.” She
was shaking badly and he tried to comfort her but she shook him off.
“Pauline, come on, please my love, show me the letter.”
She thrust it at him.
He saw the seal of the Republic at the top and the words “Ministry of
the Interior” and that it was addressed to her, Pauline Edith
Augustine, and then a few sentences. He was trying to speed read it
and thought he had got it wrong and went back, trying to make
sense of it, reading it slowly, although he had understood the first
time, just could not believe it.
It said that in terms of the Population Registration Amendment Act
she had been classified Coloured. He looked up, and she was
watching his reaction with a morbid fatalism.
“What will you think of me? What will they all think of me?”
He tried to calm his thoughts. What he said next might be the most
important thing he would ever say to her. “They … I, will think no
differently about you. You are Pauline Augustine, who I know and
love. You cannot be classified; you are a person, your own person, as
you’ve been forever.”
“No you won’t. You’ll come to hate me.”
“Because of a piece of paper from a government department?”
“Because of what it means, because it changes my life. I’ll have to go
and live outside town, in a hovel; I might as well join the
karrietjiemense. Don’t you understand, Falk? I can’t do the things I
love any more. They’ve made me a second class citizen.”
“No they haven’t. That can’t be. This is a mistake.”
He tried to comfort her again, and this time she allowed him to put
his arms around her and she began sobbing, her face buried in his
shoulder. His mind was trying to do two things at once: to unravel
how this monstrosity could have occurred, was it a mistake, was it
for real and for ever; and how could he best help her?
She took a deep breath, a calming breath, and then she said quietly
and with compassion, “I think there’s one for you too, darling.”
He pulled back so that he could see her tear filled face. “One what?”
“A letter.”
He found it among the other mail on the floor. The same envelope
and, when he opened it, the same message. He, Falk Baartman, had,
in terms of the Population Registration Amendment Act, been
classified Coloured.
A strange thing happened to him. His life flashed through his mind images of his life, the valley, rugby fields, his mother, Isa, making
love to Pauline - bunches of images, and he struggled to understand
why it was happening and then he did. It was what she had said. The
old life was over, those things would forever be seen and judged in a
different context. He was no longer who he was.
It was impossible to even think of the ramifications, so big was the
change. But there had to be hope, it had to be a mistake; there
surely was a way to rectify it?
He sat at her feet, his back resting against the stock shelf.
“Come,” he said to her, patting the floor next to him and she sat
there also, and he put his arms around her and they rested there for
a very long time, saying nothing, just feeling the warmth of each
other’s body where they touched.
He broke the silence. “I have to go and see Gerard Pieterse.”
“Who?”
“Gerard Pieterse, the lawyer.”
“No, you can’t, Falk. Please no.”
“Why not?”
“Please don’t do it, Falk. As soon as you tell someone, our lives will
change. Can’t we just keep it quiet, even if only for a few days?
Please, Falk. Let’s not tell anyone.”
They could not face clients, and he let the staff go home and closed
the shop and they walked back to the farmhouse and got into bed
and lay there for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening and
they found succour in the most primeval instinct of man, like caged
animals whose only real freedom is the act of mating.
6.
Falk went to see Pieterse on the Thursday. He could not delay it for a
second more, despite Pauline’s pleas; he had to know.
The uncertainty of their future was the most debilitating emotion
either had ever known. The shame of the expulsion from the school
had not been nearly so crippling. They were in a limbo of anguish and
fear.
Falk had gone to the store on the Wednesday, but he could not stay
and left it to his assistants. Pauline would not leave the house.
Pieterse had handled Falk’s legal matters regarding the store, the
property transactions and the registration of the company. He was a
young man, just qualified a few years previously, an active
sportsman. He and Falk had worked well together and had then
become friends through the Bush Tavern.
The office was in an old house on the west side of Mark Street, the
verandah high above the street commanding a view over the town to
the grey veld beyond, featureless but for the ribbon of gravel road
trailing off into the far distance on its way to Seekoegat.
Falk had been fitted into the lawyer’s schedule, but had given the
secretary no hint of his business which was unlike him and had
alerted Pieterse to expect something different.
“What’s up, ou maat?”
Falk said nothing, merely handed over the two letters.
When Pieterse finished reading both of them he looked up and his
face was a picture of sorrow.
“Oh shit, Falk.”
“It can’t be right, can it?”
“Right it never can be, Falk, but unfortunately it’s authentic.”
“How can it happen?”
“It’s happening a lot, vendettas and other things, people with a
grudge against their neighbours. You can lodge an objection at the
Population Registration Office in Cape Town for only twenty Rand.”
“You can destroy someone’s life so easily?”
“Not quite so easily. The Registration Office has inspectors who
investigate the details of the objection and only proceed if there is
substance to the claims.”
“But we weren’t investigated, Gerard.”
“It’s not done openly. This whole Act is an injustice to one’s rights,
Falk.”
“But I still don’t understand. If it was investigated they would have
found both Pauline and I were registered as Whites, that we both
attended a White school.”
“That doesn’t protect you, unfortunately. When this law first came
into being in the fifties the main criteria was appearance and social
issues, the friends you had, the language you spoke, and so on. But
now the person’s ancestry is being investigated, sometimes
generations back.”
Falk knew what would happen if they had done that with his family,
but he wouldn’t give up that easily.
“Isn’t there a way to appeal?”
“Yes, there is.
“Look Falk, I’m not an expert on this, I only know what I’m telling you
because I’ve just been reading about a case of a boxer in Cape Town
named Ronnie van der Walt. I’ll speak to friends who know more and
have specialised in these cases and I’ll come back to you.”
“When?”
“By Monday at the latest.”
“Thank you, Gerard. You can imagine we will not rest until we know
whether there is any way to correct this.
“What was that about a case you were reading? A boxer? Van der
Walt, was it?”
“Yes, Ronnie van der Walt. He received a letter just like you. A few
days later he was due to box in a tournament at Green Point Stadium
and his name was withdrawn by the Cape Boxing Control Board.”
“The bloody spineless bastards.”
“Yes, right. Anyway, that basically put paid to his profession because
there’s no money in Coloured boxing. He went to a lawyer and
started preparing an appeal. It seemed the reclassification was a
mistake as Ronnie, like you, had attended a White school. However,
the lawyer, in investigating the defence, found that Ronnie’s wife
was classified Coloured. If they appealed and those facts came to
light, Ronnie would have been prosecuted and jailed for
contravening the Immorality Act.”
“For fuck’s sake, Gerard, this can’t be happening in South Africa.”
“It is, I’m afraid.”
“I never knew it could be as bad as this. So fucking unfair.”
“Join the club, ou maat, not many Whites do.”
“What happened to Van der Walt?”
“He and his wife immigrated to Britain.”
Falk decided he would never tell Pauline the Van der Walt story. She
was in denial and his attempts to get her to leave the house were
unsuccessful. He had found that the routine of work, the normality
of it, gave him some relief, but she would not attempt it.
Midday on the Saturday, when he returned home after closing the
shop, he found her on the back stoep, staring across the farm lands.
She did not respond to his greeting and he called out to her again
with the same result. He went and stood in front of her, cutting off
her view and forcing her to look at him and saw then that her eyes
were unable to focus, a glazed vacant look in them.
“What is it Pauline?”
She took a long time to answer and when she did the word was
slurred. Like her tongue could not deal with it.
“Nothing,” she said, unable to pronounce the ‘th’.
“Are you drunk, Pauline?”
She glared at him, and then she seemed to shut him out, closing her
eyes as if in denial of what she was going through. Her body started
rocking and the tears squeezed from her eyes. Falk got his arms
under her and picked her up, elbowed the back door handle open
and carried her through to the bedroom and laid her on the bed.
He found an empty bottle of wine in the kitchen. They had taken to
having a glass or two of wine on the weekends, and there was a
small stock in the pantry. He could not remember how many bottles
there had been, but it seemed that more than just the one had been
drunk.
When he went back into the bedroom a little later she was asleep
and he stood looking down at her. She looked so peaceful, her
beautiful face relaxed, her dark hair fanned out on the white
pillowcase. He felt tremendous compassion for her, but knew that
the drinking could easily become a dangerous escape. He had a
premonition that this could become her life, that she might never
overcome this misfortune, the ignominy of it.
On the Monday morning, Pieterse’s office phoned and made an
appointment for Falk later in the day. He could tell from the
expression on the lawyer’s face that he was not the conveyer of good
news.
“I’ve found out what I could about the appeal process, Falk.”
“And it’s not good, is it?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Look at you, Gerard; you look like someone has died.”
“Sorry, I don’t mean to add to your burden but yes, I don’t think it is
good news.
“There are special appeal boards set up in the larger cities; one of
them is in Cape Town. They are presided over by judges or
magistrates, usually retired, and sometimes by appointed public
officials with some legal background.
“The bad news is that the normal rules of the court do not apply,
Falk. They are regarded as enquiries only. You can have legal
representation, but the entire hearing is regarded as confidential and
you get no feedback. They hear you out, make a decision and that’s
it. It’s not law, Falk; you have none of the normal rights of an accused
person.”
“But don’t you think I should try? How can I sit back and just take
this?”
“I’m not telling you not to try, Falk. I just don’t want you to think that
you can go in there with rights. There’s another thing you need to
think about before you make your decision; the process is brutal.
There will be detailed questions about your ancestry, your friends,
your mode of living, your school. They can call witnesses to testify to
these matters, including any living relatives, your Aunt Tess, for
example.
“There will definitely be much emphasis laid on your lifestyle, Falk.
Please excuse me, but I must be frank with you. You are living with a
woman with whom you had a relationship when she was a teacher
and you a pupil; you have made some of the intimate details public
through your poetry.”
Falk was incensed.
“That’s got nothing to do with my race. What? Are White’s supposed
to be angels? Whites don’t fuck?”
“Calm down, Falk. I’m just telling it like it is.”
“So they will use that sort of shit?”
“Yes, and they will try to discredit your family.”
Falk thought then of what it would mean to his aunt. Could she then
be also found to be descended from a non-white person, and be
reclassified? He could not do that to her, not without her permission,
not without her knowing the risk to herself.
“Do you know who the presiding officials are in Cape Town?”
“Yes, I’ve got it somewhere here.” He went through documents in
the file and found what he was looking for. “There are several, but it
seems that most cases are handled by an official of the Population
Registration Office. His name is Malherbe Coetzee.”
The name was a shock. It was a long time since Falk had thought
about his first headmaster at high school. Could it be the same man?
“Do you have any background on him?”
“Yes, let’s see. Often knowing who the presiding officer is can help
prepare the appeal and my contact has information on all of them.
Here it is. He’s originally from the Transvaal, been with the Ministry
of the Interior for three years, previously in education. He’s seen as
an ardent supporter of the process of segregating the races, probably
got this position because of his loyalty to the Nats. Extreme loyalty,
my friend writes here.”
Pieterse noticed Falk’s expression of concern.
“What’s up, do you know the man?”
“He was the Headmaster of Oudtshoorn High when I first went there.
I had a run in with him over the standard I was supposed to go to.
Eventually Aunt Tess intervened and got the school board behind
her. It led to him being dismissed.”
“That’s an incredibly bad coincidence, Falk.”
“Yes, Tess is at risk. I wonder why they went after me and not her.”
“I can’t be sure, but it’s probably that she’s a more difficult target.
I’m afraid you’ve made enemies of the old guard here in town, Falk.
It would have been one of them who lodged the objection against
you. Maybe your Aunt is out of the frame: she’s respectable, churchgoing, influential and rich.”
Falk could not help thinking that he was none of those things.
“The appeal is out, Gerard. I can’t put others at risk.
“So this is it. This is my life, consigned by some pricks in Pretoria to
conform to their idea of what class of human I am: not like them, a
lesser being.
“Tell me Gerard, how long do we have before this becomes common
knowledge?”
“I’m not sure. You heard with Ronnie van der Walt how the Boxing
Board acted on it immediately. They must have been told, but I don’t
know by whom. I do know that the lists of those reclassified are
published in the Government Gazette every year, that would be
January I would think.”
When Falk got home his mother was there. Pauline had finally left
the house but she had not gone far, just to the neighbouring farm to
speak to Stephanie. It was at least a start, Falk thought, and he was
grateful that he did not have to break the news to his mother,
constrained as he had been by Pauline’s paranoia.
Stephanie came to him and put her arms around him, her head
against his chest. “Oh my son, my son. It’s just as your father
predicted.” He could offer her no word of consolation and she asked
the question he was expecting.
“You’re going to be able to fix this mistake, son, aren’t you?”
Looking over her head he could see that Pauline was also waiting for
that reply, a half smile on her face in anticipation of a positive reply.
“No, Ma, we can’t fix it.”
He felt his mother’s reaction, saw his lover’s. Stephanie broke away
and stared at him in horror. She knew her son, knew he would fight
to explore every avenue and this apparent capitulation could only
mean there was no hope.
“Come on, Ma, let’s sit here with Pauline and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Falk told them everything Pieterse had said, almost word for word.
When he came to the name Malherbe Coetzee they both recognised
it, but only Pauline knew the full extent of what that meant. As a
teacher she had seen even more than Falk the man’s bigotry and
religious fanaticism.
He concluded, “Coetzee will not let another preside over this case.
He has a score to settle with the Baartmans. But even if he was not
the presiding officer, there are two other reasons why I cannot
appeal. The first is that Aunt Tess will definitely be at risk of
reclassification. I cannot do that; she has been wonderfully good to
our family, Ma, and to me in particular.
“The second concerns you, Pauline. I believe you have been targeted
because of your relationship with me. You can go to Port Elizabeth
and make your appeal there. Once you are no longer attached to me,
I believe you would have a chance of winning.”
If she had ever doubted the character of her young lover those
words dispelled such doubts. “Thank you Falk. You know what that
means to me? It tells me that I was not wrong to do what we did at
the school. I saw in you, a seventeen year old, something I’d not seen
in another man.
“I also have two reasons why I cannot make this appeal. My
grandmother, my mother’s mother, is Coloured. She is still alive and
living in Gelvandale, one of the Coloured areas in Port Elizabeth. My
father did not know that when he met and fell in love with Mom, and
when he found out he didn’t care, he loved her so much.
“My parents live in Framesby, one of the White suburbs. I don’t think
they worry about Granny’s race, like I never have. But there is no
doubt in my mind that Mom would not survive an appeal I would
make. She would have her life turned upside down as mine has been.
“The second reason is much closer to home. I think I’m pregnant,
Falk.”
7.
It was nearly three months before the knowledge of their changed
status leaked into the community. Every day of anonymity was
regarded as a gift, although they began the process of withdrawing
from White society. They turned down invitations and no longer
went to the Bush Tavern.
Tess was told, and was philosophical about her own possible
reclassification. Had Falk not had other considerations, his love for
Pauline and the baby to come, she would have urged him to appeal
and the devil with the consequences.
Apart from the four of them, and the lawyer Pieterse, there was one
other who knew of their fall, and that was the unknown person who
had made the objection to the Population Registration Office. Falk
was convinced it was Dominee Cromhout but, when the rumours
started to spread, it seemed it was another, although in the end
nothing could be proved.
Hans Van der Mescht had emigrated from Holland and settled in
Prince Albert in the late ’50s. He was builder by trade, and had had
little capital when he arrived. Within a few years, however, he’d
graduated from building for others to doing so for himself, becoming
a developer.
It seemed he shared Falk’s belief that the town would become a
sought-after destination for holiday and retirement homes, and in
pursuit of the anticipated influx he was particularly interested in
purchasing commercially-zoned land in the central sections of the
town.
Initially, Van der Mescht was well received by the citizens of the
town. His first customers expressed satisfaction at the quality of his
work and his ability to stick to time schedules. Then word started to
spread that he did not pay his bills; suppliers had to wait months,
staff often did not get their weekly wages. Most had to fight to get
the money they were owed, and often could only achieve this by
sacrificing part of the payment because of some perceived nonperformance.
By the time Falk started his business, Van der Mescht’s reputation
was of a hard man who wasd not above cheating to build his wealth.
Only those who were desperate dealt with him.
He bought the property next to Falk’s store and made an offer to
purchase Falk’s property. The offer was rejected. From that point on
Van der Mescht started making life difficult for the young
businessman by embarking on a campaign of annoyance; angle
grinders would sing incessantly, waste was dumped on Falk’s
property, workmen used Falk’s water and left the taps running. It
never ceased.
Falk eventually became so enraged at the continuous harassment
that he accosted Van der Mescht and threatened to beat him up. The
older man realised the threat would be carried out and stopped the
campaign.
Then, in October 1967, he came into Falk’s store and asked to see
him. Falk immediately noticed the change in Van der Mescht’s
demeanour. The older man had always displayed an arrogance that
was aggravating, but now complete disdain was added as an overlay.
“I will now buy your store Baartman, now that we find that you are a
Coloured. I always suspected as much, you and that Mevrou of
yours.”
Falk nearly physically ejected the man at that point but held himself
in check; rather find out what this meant before doing so. “What are
you talking about?”
“What everybody is talking about, ne. You are a Coloured and cannot
own property in town. You must sell to an approved buyer. I am the
approved buyer. What do you say now, junge?”
“This is what I say,” said Falk, and he punched the man in the face
and followed him as he stumbled away, kicking him in the backside
so that he fell off the verandah onto the street pavement.
It seemed the word spread fast because when he got to Pieterse’s
office he knew about it.
“I wish I’d seen it, Falk, but I also wish you hadn’t done it.”
“You know already?”
“Yes, and I’m sure the police also know. The bastard will no doubt be
down there already, laying a charge of assault against you.”
“Ah, shit. I’m sorry, Gerard, it was extreme provocation and the man
is such a fucking arrogant bugger.”
“Tell me what he said?”
Falk repeated the few words that had been exchanged.
“It’s started Falk; the word will be all over town before this evening. I
wonder if he was the one who lodged the objection against you, did
it just to get his hands on your property.”
“What are my rights?”
“Pretty much none, I’m afraid. Non-whites are not allowed to own or
run a business in a White area. It’s a criminal offence to reside in or
own property in the areas of a race other than your own.”
“That’s what I remember. God, the cruelty of it all. What
compensation will I get?”
“Wait here, Falk, I’ll get the Act.”
Pieterse took longer than expected to return to the room.
“Sorry man. I decided to phone the commander at the police station,
Anton van Rensburg. You know him?”
“Yes, I’ve met him.”
“Van der Mescht has laid a charge of assault against you, so I told the
commander what happened. Fortunately no one likes the Dutchman
and he believes your story. But we’ll have to go to court in
Oudtshoorn.”
“We’ll have to go?”
“Ja, that is if you want me to represent you.”
“Of course I do. Thanks, Gerard. It would have been nasty and
embarrassing if they had come to arrest me. I don’t think Pauline can
take much more.”
“That’s okay.
“I found the relevant part of the Act that deals with compensation.
It’s a bit complicated.
“This is how it works. You take the market value of the land on which
your store is built. That should be easy to calculate, as Van der
Mescht just bought the piece of land alongside you, so we will know
what he paid.
“So that’s your start. To that you add the estimated cost to build
your store from scratch and then you depreciate that estimated
building cost. Depreciation for you is minimal because you only
bought it last year.”
“And the renovations I made?”
“I’ll have to get advice on that, Falk, ask some colleagues down in
Cape Town who’ve been through this procedure with clients. The
way I read it, you estimate the cost to build the store as you have it
now, which means you won’t get the full value of the renovations
back.
“Are you with me so far?”
“Yes.”
“Right, now the authorities are the ones who will be buying you out,
but they can also put you in touch with other qualified buyers. I think
this is what Van der Mescht was saying; that he is an approved
buyer. Hopefully there are others because he will screw you for
sure.”
“Will you find out for me?”
“Yes, I’ll handle the whole thing if that’s what you want.”
Falk nodded, thankful that he had the support of Pieterse.
“Okay, good. Now there’s more. The final value is determined by
what you get for the property compared to that theoretical value we
just talked about. If you sell for above that amount, half of the
‘profit’, the difference in other words, goes to the Group Areas
Development Board.”
“So I can’t even pocket all of the profit I make?”
“No, only half of it.”
“What will they do with the other half?”
“Presumably it goes to funding the cost of purchasing all of these
properties.”
“And if the purchase price is less than the theoretical price?”
“That’s catered for in the Act, so at least it will not be a total loss.
They will pay you back eighty percent of the difference.”
“So when does all of this happen?”
“It’s going to happen immediately I would think, Falk. Van der
Mescht wants your property, so he is going to contact the authorities
and start the process. If he didn’t, we would anyway because now
that you understand the ramifications of the Act you would become
liable for criminal prosecution if you continued to run your business
there.”
“You mean I should close it immediately?”
“I would think you would be given some leeway, to sell your stock,
collect from your debtors, pay your creditors, that sort of thing. I’ll
find out and let you know.”
Falk understood the commercial transactions that would have to
take place, but he could not get his mind around the reality of it, his
livelihood taken from him, his passion for the things he was doing,
the newspaper, the artists whose works he displayed and who
provided him with an infinite richness of ideas. All of it gone. He
suddenly remembered Pieterse’s earlier comment about not being
able to live in a so-called White area.
“What about where Pauline and I live Gerard, the farm?”
“Oh hell, Falk, that’s right, you have to consider that. I honestly don’t
know if the farms fall outside the areas declared White. They’re
inside the municipal boundaries, but I don’t think they have been
declared to be in any race group.
“I’ll find out about that as well, but I do know that farms have nonwhite employees’ living on the property and dispensation is made for
that, but they have to be declared to the authorities.”
“So Pauline and I will be declared to be Coloured labourers living on
the farm,” he said bitterly.
“Let’s not jump the gun Falk, I’ll find out.”
8.
Pauline managed her depression by focusing on the growing life in
her body. She had never imagined herself with child, had always seen
herself as being independent. Of course there would be men, but the
impediment of a child, never.
Now she had this intense interest in another being, imagining the
small life growing, limbs becoming distinct, ears and eyes and mouth,
a little bit of her. Would it be a girl or a boy; what did she want? A
girl, definitely she wanted it to be a girl. When would her child move
enough for her to feel it?
She went to Stephanie every day now, the two becoming
conspirators, the older woman sharing her knowledge, reassuring
when the morning sickness came, encouraging good food practices
and exercise. It was a joint venture and it kept the reality of what
was happening around them at bay.
Falk talked to her about the sale, Van der Mescht’s underhand
attempts to have himself declared the sole buyer, the bribes they
thought he was paying but which they could not prove. At one level
she took in what he was saying, but on another level she retreated
into her fantasy world, populated by images of her child and the
nursery, she the model mother, the child quiet and happy, no
bother.
She was fortunate he did not bring his bitterness into the home, the
slights he was forced to endure daily, sometimes from people he had
regarded as friends. Nearly all of his customers had deserted him,
leaving him with unsold stock which he knew he would have to dump
in the end, losing thousands.
The artists who displayed their works in his gallery were the most
supportive group, many openly, but they too eventually removed
their creations from his store for all could see that no-one went
there anymore.
He had to bring Pauline back to reality regarding the issue of identity
documents. They had to make application for new identities for
without them they would not be able to register their child.
When the documents came, Falk did not show her their race
classification, the eleventh and twelfth numbers, 01, Cape Coloured.
So simple and yet such a profound change to go from 00 White to 01
Cape Coloured. Who could ever have hated enough to demean
millions of humans in such a way?
He was sometimes resentful that she made him face the outside
world alone, but then always chided himself for such selfish
thoughts; he should be happy that the mother of his child was in a
better space, for would not the child benefit from a calm mother?
Certainly he was grateful that she no longer had the need for alcohol
to escape into a twilight zone in which the realities of life appeared
only through a golden filter.
Strangely, Pauline’s pregnancy increased her ardour and sometimes
when he came home in the evening he found she had prepared a
romantic scene in the bedroom and she wanted him to join her on
the bed immediately, her fervour obviously fuelled by some hours of
anticipation. Those days brought an escape for him also, a sweeter
side to life, passion and love, a reminder that, no matter what your
circumstances, the union of a man and a woman was at the heart of
human existence.
Falk had laid off his two young staff members but they refused to
leave. They had no other work and they said they preferred to come
into his shop for no earnings than to stand around Pep Stores all day
long. He was grateful for the company, and knew their true
motivation was personal support for his plight; he had become one
of them, a symbol to the coloured community, and a living example
of the unfairness of the Nationalist government. Falk’s achievements
were what they believed they could have achieved given an equal
chance to education and jobs, his demise was their demise, brought
about by the Apartheid system, the brainchild of the hated boere.
The days dragged for Falk. He would be up early and in the fields to
pick vegetables for his young assistants, the food the least he could
give them for their loyalty. In the shop there was little work, even the
daily mail run he assigned to one of his helpers because it was
uncomfortable to walk through the streets, all eyes following him.
He tried to write, but the bitterness of loss was too great and his
mind drifted off into an endless litany of self-pity, balanced by hatred
for those who had caused his predicament, the predicament of what
he was to do with the rest of his life. There was nothing to keep him
in Prince Albert. He was waiting for the court case to be held In
Oudtshoorn, the dissolution of his small business, the arrival of the
ID documents and the birth of his child.
In two of those matters he was being assisted by Gerard Pieterse and
the meetings with Pieterse were highlights of his week because the
lawyer was one of the few who dealt with him as if there was no
change to his racial status. That could not be said of others in his law
practice whose demeanour more closely reflected what Falk was
subjected to by most Whites. It was a subtle thing that Falk could not
put adequately into words. His Thesaurus could do it better, giving
synonyms to describe the superior attitude he confronted daily;
arrogant, condescending, disdainful, patronising, lordly and another
half dozen.
Pieterse had persuaded a number of persons dealt with harshly by
Van der Mescht to testify as to the man’s character, supporting Falk’s
defence in mitigation that the provocation was extreme, but when
the day arrived they made excuses.
It had been agreed that the two of them would join with Pieterse
and Falk at the law office at dawn and travel together. They were not
there when Falk arrived.
“They’re not coming Falk, they both phoned me last night.”
It was just one more disappointment.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“And give you an uneasy night? Why would I do that?”
“Okay. What’s their excuse?”
“It was just that Falk, excuses. It doesn’t matter what excuses they
used, both were probably lies. I’m sorry, Falk. In the end they didn’t
have the guts to support an unpopular cause.”
“Now my cause is even less popular than the character of Van der
Mescht?”
“It would seem so. I’m sorry, ou maat.”
At the Magistrate’s Court in Oudtshoorn there was a pleasant
surprise. Waiting outside the main entrance was his old coach, Jan
Robertse.
“Meneer, what are you doing here?”
“No more meneer, Falk, You’re not in school any more. I’m here to
support you.”
“But how did you know? Sorry, support me you say. That’s wonderful
but why, and how did you know about this case?”
“It was in the local paper, Falk. As to the how and why of my support,
let’s just say you were one of the most amazing boys I’ve had the
good fortune to teach and to coach. Your plight has touched the
hearts of a few of us who knew you well; both Odette and Helen will
also be coming.”
Gerard Pieterse had been outside the conversation, but had heard
the entire exchange and introduced himself.
“More, ek is Gerard Pieterse, Falk’s lawyer.”
“I’m sorry, Gerard. This is Jan Robertse, my former teacher and rugby
coach.”
The two shook hands and Pieterse plunged straight into the idea
which had come to him when he overheard the conversation
between Falk and Robertse.
“Would you be prepared to attest to Falk’s character, Meneer
Robertse?”
“Yes, what do you have in mind?”
“Well, it is true that Falk assaulted Van der Mescht; he hit him and
chased him out of his shop. We are not able to refute the charge, so
we need to show that there was extreme provocation. We asked two
men from Prince Albert to accompany us here today to testify to the
character of Van der Mescht, but they let us down, made excuses at
the last minute.”
“What was the provocation?”
Pieterse looked to Falk, who nodded.
“Van der Mescht bought a plot of land next to Falk’s business. He
wanted to also buy Falk out and, when his offer was rejected, he did
everything in his power to be a nuisance, making excessive noise in
his building operation next door, leaving waste on Falk’s property,
using Falk’s water. Just causing disruption to force Falk to sell to him
out of sheer frustration.
“Then, Van der Mescht heard about Falk’s reclassification of race and
he came into the shop, made disparaging remarks about Falk’s
character and told him he would now be forced to sell and he, Van
der Mescht, would be the approved buyer.
“Falk had known of his changed race status for some time, but this
was the first person in the community to confront him about it. You
can imagine the distress this caused Falk, word of his cruelly changed
status coming from the one who had been victimising him for
months.”
Robertse heard the story with sadness, and could not help but
express what he felt. “I’m sorry, Falk. Some of this was in the papers,
but not the full story. You have certainly had your share of
misfortune, young man.”
He turned to the lawyer.
“I’ll help where I can. What would you have me do?”
“Testify as to his character. If you found Falk a person of moderate
temper, well controlled, you could say that.”
Robertse laughed.
“I found him to be the fiercest tackler I’ve ever coached. Look, I know
this just came to you, but have you thought it through? What if when
you put me on the stand they ask me about other matters, about the
relationship between Falk and Pauline for instance?”
Pieterse thought about that.
“Ja, you’re right. Sorry, ou maat, it’s just you and me then.”
Falk was reminded once again how he had messed up his life, even
when he was a so-called White, and a debilitating melancholy settled
on him. He wanted them to stop talking about it.
“Let’s move on, can we?”
They both noticed the lethargy in his voice.
Fortunately Odette Wilkins and Helen de Jager arrived at that
moment. Both of them greeted him warmly and hugged him, those
actions meaning much more to him than anything which had gone
before that day.
The trial was a quick affair, and fortunately the magistrate was
persuaded that there was extreme provocation from both the
witness given by Falk and the pompousness and obvious
exaggeration of Van der Mescht, and he gave the most lenient
sentence available to him.
Falk was found guilty and given a fine of one hundred Rand, or thirty
days in prison, both suspended providing he did not commit a similar
offence for a year.
It was a rap over the knuckles, but one which was to have serious
repercussions in the future.
The buyer of Falk’s business and property was a complete surprise.
He had tried without success to attract buyers other than Van der
Mescht. Ideally, he would be able to find a buyer for the business
and the property so that he could sell his stock and equipment at
market values, but both he and Gerard Pieterse had been
stonewalled by the local community.
Then, surprisingly, Pieterse seemed to withdraw from an active role
in soliciting a buyer, much to Falk’s dismay. The lawyer had been his
staunchest ally. Falk had misjudged him, as he found out when he
was asked to attend a meeting at the lawyer’s offices. Pieterse’s
secretary told him to go right in, his Aunt Tess was with the lawyer
and his mother had just left.
The two of them stopped talking when he entered the room.
“Hello, Tess.” Then he turned to the lawyer. “I’ve just heard my
mother was here, Gerard, what’s going on?”
“Come and sit, Falk. I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise.”
He sat as instructed. His aunt began the disclosure. “Your mother has
bought your property and your company, Falk.”
He could only stare at her, a little open mouthed. She laughed, a
delighted, almost girlish, laugh, and leaned towards him and slapped
him on the leg. “Oh Falk, this is such a delight for me. I’ve struggled
to keep it a secret from you because I know you. You would have
tried to stop me for ridiculous chivalrous reasons.”
They were both grinning at him and without knowing the reason he
found himself responding, a brief joy in the midst of months of
worrying.
“Okay, you guys, you’re having fun. Are you going to tell me what the
heck’s going on?”
Pieterse answered. “Okay Falk, I’m going to give you the facts, and
then I’m going to leave you and your Aunt Tess to discuss it.
“Your mother has become the owner of the property on Kerk Straat
and the owner of Warm. The purchase price of the property was
exactly the same as the theoretical value as determined by the
government, so no compensation or penalty is applicable. Our friend
Van der Mescht was not prepared to match that price. The business
was sold separately for R23 500, fifty percent over the net asset
value of the stock, furnishings and equipment.
“Your mother has signed all documentation and will take over the
business and property from the first of next month.
“Those are the bald details. Have you any questions?”
“You’re joking, Gerard. I’ve got a thousand.”
“Well, I think you should address them to your Aunt. I’ll leave you
two to discuss it. If you want my input, I’m in the building.”
After Pieterse left the room Falk did not talk for a while, looking at
Tess, sitting smugly with her hands in her lap. He felt such love for
her then that he stood and went to her and knelt next to the chair
and put his arms around her frail bony shoulders.
“You’ve been my guardian angel again, haven’t you?”
“Sit, Falk, you’re making me uncomfortable.”
“I’m staying right here. What have you done, Tess?”
“Please sit, Falk. I’ll not tell you until you do so.”
He relented, relinquished his hold on her and returned to his seat.
“Okay, here I am. Now tell me.”
“Right Falk. Now, I want you to just listen. I know how quizzy you are,
but just this once wait until I’m finished. I’m going to start with me,
then your mother and finally you.
“Okay, my situation first. They will come for me. The farms here in
Prince Albert are in the municipal boundaries and on the wrong side
of town, the so-called White side. Someone will desire them and go
for me, lodge a complaint that I’m Coloured. It will probably be some
outsider like your lovely Dutchman.
“So, I’m going to sell them. Sell them before I have to go through the
same cruel process you’ve just had to endure. After that, there is no
reason for anyone to bother me. Rooikrantz can remain in the hands
of a Coloured person so, even if I’m declared Coloured, I can live out
the rest of my days there, happily I might say.
“Now your mother. No-one can have her declared Coloured. I’ve
done a proper search, and the Cordier’s are solid White from the first
settlers. If some idiot lodges a complaint against her, we can defeat it
on appeal.
“But she needs a place to live and, quite honestly, she also needs
something to occupy her time. She can’t stay on the farm once it’s
sold, so I’ve bought your business for her. I will be a partner in the
background but all the documents will show her to be the sole owner
of both the property and business.
“Your mother loves the idea of trying to run your business. I think
she sees it as a come-uppance to all those who’ve slighted you, your
legacy living on so to speak. She knows quite a bit about the business
from all you’ve told her, and she’ll hire the two young people you
trained. She says she’ll be happy to live in the bedrooms in the back
of the store, convert them into a flat of sorts. She’s also very happy
to be right in town, as she has no desire to learn how to drive a car.
“Now you, Falk. You will receive just under nineteen thousand Rand,
after I take my share of the proceeds from the sale of the business.
Have you given consideration to what you will do, now that this
nasty episode is over?”
“Yes, Tess, but first let me say how very fortunate my mother and I
are to have you in our family. This solution of yours is brilliant and so
typically you, thinking of everyone.
“I’m very, very grateful to have this money. It will allow us to leave
Prince Albert, for there’s nothing for us here.”
“So you’ve made that decision, have you?”
“Oh yes. We’ll leave after the baby is born.”
“And that’s around March, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“Falk, can I make some suggestions? Will you indulge me?”
“Yes of course. I would welcome it. You’ve been my wisest council,
Tess, and I must say this horrific situation Pauline and I are in has
bamboozled me so that I can’t think clearly anymore. The future is so
uncertain, an absolute black hole.”
“I know, son. At least I can imagine. Falk, you are the last Baartman.
If you have a son it will be he who carries the name. I’ve been
thinking a lot about how I can secure the future of our family and this
is what I’ve decided: the proceeds of the sale of the two farms here
in town will go into a trust for your children.”
He was astounded, had thought her words of advice would apply to
him only, not look forward into the distant future.
“Is that what you want?”
“Oh, yes. The proceeds of the trust will go in equal share to your
children as and when they turn twenty-five, but only if these
Apartheid laws are overturned by then. I don’t want them receiving
money until they are free. In the meantime, the trustee will be
instructed to use the interest to pay for their education. There will be
enough money for a decent education, Falk, and you must make sure
they receive the very best.
“Are you with me so far?”
He could only nod his thanks, so overwhelmed was he by her
generosity and far-sightedness.
“The trustee will be your friend here, Gerard Pieterse. I have found
him to be a young man with brains and a conscience. While I’m alive
I will make sure he manages the trust well, after that it will be your
job.”
“Now about you, Falk. I’m well pleased that you have made the
decision to leave Prince Albert. You need to go to a place where the
Coloured folk can provide you with friendship and personal growth.
There will be places like that. I’m sure that Cape Town has many
communities of Coloured people like that; businessmen, teachers,
philosophers, people you can talk to and admire.
“Have you thought about attending university?”
“No, Tess. Why would I do that? I have to earn a living for my
family.”
“You have enough money to last for many years, Falk. Listen,
academic fees for the University of the Western Cape are only R175
a year.”
“You’ve really studied this, haven’t you?”
“Yes. You’ve been occupied with trying to sell your business, and that
nastiness in Oudtshoorn. I’ve been trying to think how I can help you.
The University of the Western Cape is a university for Coloureds. It is
mainly to provide teachers and employees for the public service, but
it is where the intelligent young Coloured people are going, Falk.
How will you connect with such people if you don’t go there? Of
course, you will eventually get to know such people but it will be a
slow process; going to university will speed it up.
“And there are thinkers there, Falk. One of the lecturers is a
Coloured man named Alan Steed, a poet and playwright. You’ll meet
him and other fellow writers. Think how stimulating that will be.”
She was weaving a picture of attraction that was compelling. It was
the first time in many months that he saw a glimmer of hope in the
future, something he could look forward to. Then he thought of his
responsibilities, Pauline and his unborn child.
“I can’t, Tess. I have a child coming.”
“Falk, listen to me now. There is no reason why you can’t fulfil both
your obligations, to your new family and to your own development.
You have the funds to do both. The money from your business will
last you five or six years if you are thrifty. Get your education and
make the contacts that will last you a lifetime.”
“And what will Pauline do?”
“I don’t know, Falk. Look son, you must accept that Pauline is not a
very strong woman. I believe you should leave her here with your
mother while you find your feet in Cape Town. Registration at the
university is in late January. Go down there and find a place for your
family, but only bring them down when the baby is established. Take
that pressure off Pauline.”
He slept fitfully that night and eventually got up, moving carefully so
that he did not wake Pauline. She was five months pregnant and
becoming uncomfortable and her breathing had become more
erratic and sometimes she sighed deeply in her sleep and he
imagined all the worries she was inflicted with.
He went into the kitchen and switched on the light, dazzled by the
sudden flood. He switched the light off once he had made a mug of
coffee and went out to the back stoep when he had his night vision
back. The next month would be December, the first of the hot
months, but the nights were already balmy and it was no discomfort
to sit in his short pyjamas. It was a dark night, but he could sense the
mountains before him and to his right. It was a wrench to think of
leaving that place, but it truly could no longer offer him anything. He
had become a pariah in the place he loved the most. How bitter was
that? Get rid of those thoughts, he told himself, concentrate on the
future, and take out of it the best it had to offer in his circumstances.
What about immigration? To where? He felt no affinity for any place
across the oceans, or even on the continent. What was his
background? Some native South African, some Dutch, some English,
not enough of anything to think those two foreign countries could
offer him more than here, even a blighted here.
What about Tess’s ideas? He had been excited thinking about the
possibilities after he left the lawyer’s offices. It would give him a
challenge and she was right that it would integrate him into the new
society much more smoothly than if he went out as a job-seeker, not
knowing where to live, where to seek work. But he felt guilty that he
would have something while Pauline would not, trapped into
motherhood in a strange place with no friends and a partner absent
during the day. But wouldn’t it be the same, irrespective of what he
did, study or work, both would take him out of the home during the
weekday. Why then this guilt?
He recognised it. He would have something exciting to do, and she
would not. He could be learning new things, meeting people like this
Alan Steed his aunt spoke about, and maybe he could even take up
the offer from UCT to do a poetry reading, maybe even something
like that at the university he could attend. And what about rugby?
Was there a Coloured league, did the university have teams? Surely
yes.
Would it make a difference if he and Pauline were to get married? He
was sure she wanted it, but was not sure about his own feelings.
Why did he hesitate? He loved her. She had shown the courage to
follow him to Prince Albert, had given up a lot for him and now
carried his child. He owed it to her to marry her, but there was a
doubt and he knew the source: a golden-haired girl from the valley
who had been fated to be his life partner until his own actions and
the cruel laws of the nation destroyed that possibility.
Forget such useless thoughts.
Yes, he would move on. He would follow the advice of his aunt and
he would also do his best for Pauline and their child, care and
provide for them.
He would write to the university that day.
THE CAPE FLATS.
The south-easter swept the voices of accusation and
recrimination into all the houses into which the people had been
driven, into the matchboxes of Hanover Park and the concrete slabs
of Bontehuewel and Manenberg. And the people in the bleak Flats
whisper and remember what greed and intolerance have done to
them.
Richard Rive. “Buckingham Palace”.
1.
From the perspective of the Twenty-First Century it’s hard to
envisage the area that has become known as the Cape Flats before
the men from the northern hemisphere came. Hard to imagine it
even before the 1960s and 70s when it became the dumping ground
for Apartheid’s unwanted.
You can see some of it if you roll along the N2 past the Maypole
electric poles of Langa, and the portable toilets on the canal, past the
ugly three-storey, graffiti-bedecked concrete blocks and past the
shanty towns beyond the airport, cheek by jowl corrugated iron and
cardboard shacks, even into the sky double-storied. Out there, you
see some sand dunes with scant grass cover, tenuous stuff, thickstemmed to withstand the summer drought and the wind.
Maybe that’s what it looked like when the wooden ships brought
maritime man, hungry for the riches of the east, searching with great
courage into the unknown seas, seeing first the mystic table
mountain and the illusion of a sheltered lee anchorage.
When those people started into the hinterland it was there, those
Cape Flats, shifting dunes that hindered the passage of their wagons
with their narrow, iron-banded wheels. The engineering started, fast
growing bush brought from their far flung empire, hardy stuff from
New South Wales that fastened the loose soil and spread like
contagion so that it too became something that needed to be
dislodged in time.
Like the juxtaposition of Jekyll and Hyde, the monotony of the flats,
the lack of variety, the sheer ordinariness of it, is magnified tenfold
by that which borders it: some of the most majestic mountain terrain
in the world. The slopes of those mountains became the desired
location, then and now, so that when the forced removals began, the
unwanted were pushed into the dunes, the demarcation the railway
line to the southern suburbs and the one into Bellville and beyond.
That’s where they had to go and live, east and south of those two
railway lines, sixty thousand out of District Six and multitudes from
other places desired to be the exclusive realm of the Whites.
As terrible as those removals were for the Coloured people - their
history, their culture, their social patterns and their livelihood turned
upside down - it was even worse for the Black people, regarded as
aliens and forced to carry passes, given temporary citizenship of that
hallowed space, ejected if they happened to move away for a short
time and forfeited their rights, such that they were.
It was in the middle of that tumultuous time that Falk came to the
Cape of Storms, a name with meaning beyond the weather patterns.
The wait until the university year started seemed interminable. They
had accepted his application for entrance; now he had to wait. Falk
had never felt so passive, so out of control, so trapped. And so
anxious.
Christmas at Rooikrantz had been a reprieve, a time to think of
others with small gifts, toasts to the past and those passed, but soon
the few halycon days were gone and it was back to the farm on the
outskirts of a small town with prejudice, real or supposed.
Pauline’s mood swings were frightening. Stephanie told her son that
it was normal for a woman in the last stages of pregnancy to have
such hormonal emotional shifts but he had his doubts and his fears,
chief among them Pauline’s denial of her racial status or the
difficulties facing them in Cape Town in the new year.
Falk realised he too could scarcely envisage what lay ahead of them.
The problem started with racial stereotype. Whites perceived
Coloureds to have problems relating to alcohol and sex: too many
children, too much abuse, no self-control. He knew that was a crude
and totally unfair characterisation, had seen for himself different
behaviour in the small, largely poor Coloured community in Prince
Albert, had seen it in Joel and Bianca, his own two employees, had
seen the family values and decency and sometimes slavish
adherence to religious custom.
Yet he had also seen the behaviour that led to the typecast; had seen
it in Prince Albert and had seen it in the White community in
Gamkaskloof. He knew it related to poverty and ignorance, not race.
But the anxiety persisted and he left Prince Albert many days before
he needed to, the fight instinct in him demanding he confront his
fears.
In a bout of independence, he would not accept the old farm Toyota
Stout as a gift from Tess and arranged a lift to Oudtshoorn where he
bought a used Borgward Isabella and travelled on. He had with him
the clothes he thought students would be wearing, his typewriter
and the last copies of his book of poems, a map of Cape Town and
directions to the house he had arranged accommodation in from the
list sent to him by the university.
He stopped the car at a layby at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass and got
out to stare. It was early evening, the sun still high in a clear sky.
There was Table Mountain and, stretching from it southwards, the
mountains of the peninsula, blue with a strange luminescence at
their base where they touched the sea, False Bay.
But it was not the mountains that struck him. It was the mass
evidence of mankind, the houses and businesses of Somerset West
and the Strand, the multi-storey hotels along the beach and, in the
far distance, the haze of the factories and power stations. Never had
he seen such numbers of people. Yet the mountains stood serene
and clear above the evidence of man, not touched by it, and here,
close by, just below him, valleys with forests, familiar and welcome
to his eyes.
With the aid of his map and some enquiries he found the boarding
establishment. It was in Elsie’s River, the university recommending
places which were close by. By that time it was too late to explore
and he was tired from the day’s travel, but he walked up the street
to a corner café he had seen and there he found a welcome
cheerfulness and interest in his presence.
Days later he wrote to Pauline on his typewriter, disguising the
unease he felt.
My darling Pauline,
I can see Table Mountain! Well not quite the picture we see in
magazines because where I’m staying I see it from the side, the side
where Devil’s Peak obscures the face. Nevertheless, it is Table
Mountain and I’m thrilled with this view.
I’m staying in a house I’ve rented for us in the suburb of Athlone. It’s
quite comfortable, two bedrooms because of the baby, a bathroom, a
lounge come kitchen, and a patio on the front garden. It’s all quite
cosy really. You could call it palatial compared to the cottage where I
grew up in Gamkaskloof
But by far the best thing is the view. When you sit with me on the
patio in the evening you will see the mountain climbing above the
roofs of the houses in front of us. The view of the mountain makes
me feel closer to home, the same mountains on the same continent.
A stretch? I know.
I’m missing you terribly, Pauline. There is the thrill of being in a new
place, but that is quite overpowered by concern for your well-being,
and that of our child-to-be. I’m just grateful to know that you are in
good hands, and that I can get on with the job of settling in here and
finding the best solution for our future.
I’ve visited the university, just to look around. I’m impressed with the
buildings, the architectural style is a mixture of the grand and the
utilitarian. It’s not what I expected, not second rate. I hope what goes
on in those buildings, the teaching, is of the same standard as the
appearance. Oh well, I’ll find out soon enough, we register next week,
on Wednesday.
The people who live in this street seem very friendly, very interested
to make my acquaintance and to share their stories. They are
Coloured folks of course, because this is a Coloured suburb.
I wanted to get you as close to the mountain as possible. The place in
Elsies River where I went the first night is far out of the city, too far.
Of course, it was close to the university and would have been
convenient from that point of view, but I was more interested in
finding a place where you could be happy and I hope this is that
place.
And for myself I can catch the train from Athlone Station. It goes right
past the university and then I can leave the car I bought (a Borgward;
German engineering you know!) for you and the baby to get around.
The day after I arrived I went into the city and explored the possible
places where we would be allowed to live. The area they call District
Six is very run-down and already the demolitions have started; I
found it all quite sad. Next door is another possibility, Walmer Estate,
and I contemplated it but it could easily suffer the fate of District Six
and we’ve had enough disruption to our lives, you and I, and I could
not take a chance on another.
Well, that’s it, not much news. I’m finding my feet here, learning the
ways of the people and finding where everything is, but most of all
looking forward to the birth of our child and the two of you joining
me here.
With much love,
Falk.
At least he had not exaggerated about the reception he had received
from his neighbours. On the one side there was a Muslim family and
they were reserved, but not unfriendly. They were the Emerans:
father, wife and three teenagers. They never gave their Christian
names and he continued to refer to them as Mister and Missus, and
they called him Mister Baartman.
On the other side were the Hendricks family. The father Callie was a
baker and had a shop in Athlone. He was a rotund little man, filled
with a joy of life except when he spoke of his anger against Whites.
He was polite towards Falk at first, but thawed quickly and
eventually totally when he heard the younger man’s story.
Falk had decided to be open about his predicament to all who would
listen. He was in a strange world, one he could only have imagined
with his White persona. It was not dissimilar to the time he and Isa
went to Oudtshoorn and were lost in a different culture. It was Isa’s
example he copied, making fun of himself, making himself accessible
through humility.
Callie’s wife was a large lady with an hilarious turn of phrase when
she spoke in English, which was not often. Whenever Falk expressed
an opinion or passed an observation unfamiliar to her she would
answer, a quizzical expression on her big round face;
“Ja, but jy’s mos clever.”
He suspected she was being somewhat disingenuous.
Meisie cooked like a dream and they often invited Falk over for a
meal or afternoon tea in the days before Pauline arrived. He soon
learned the tea was a front, one cup before the sweet wine was
introduced.
The Hendricks’ had four children, all living in one bedroom, and he
wondered what they would do when the young family grew up. Of
course, he could be in the same predicament if he were to buy the
house he was renting.
But it was the young couple across the street who were to feature
large in Falk’s life.
Eric Biggs was a graduate of the University of the Western Cape, and
was working in the City Treasurer’s Department at that time. He was
a tall thin man, light skinned. His stare could be disconcerting and his
moods uncertain, but he had a charming side and was attracted to
persons of intellect which meant he soon became close friends with
Falk.
His wife Jessie was a stunner, with deep brown eyes set in an oval
face with high cheekbones and a generous mouth. Her smooth olive
skin and dark straight hair completed the illusion of a Persian
princess. Men found themselves staring and embarrassed when
those eyes fixed on you with the obvious question.
The Biggs had a daughter of just five months when Falk came to live
in Brandon Street near the confluence of Klipfontein Road and Jan
Smuts Drive. Falk hoped the urbane couple and their child would
become the first Coloured friends to Pauline and that perhaps their
obvious achievement and sophistication would be an example and a
reassurance. A reassurance that there could be life under apartheid,
that they could survive and lead, if not a normal life as they had
known it, a life nevertheless, with friends and a job that allowed
them to maintain an acceptable level of living. Or so he hoped.
Falk had met Jessie first. It was the Saturday before registration at
the university. He had decided to paint the inside of the small house,
all white, ceilings and walls, to make it look bigger. Dawn saw him
moving the sparse furnishings from the first room to be painted,
placing everything on the stoep and postage stamp lawn, next to his
car. He worked without a stop for refreshments, only gulping water
from the tap when the paint fumes got too much for him. He was on
the last room before the stoep, the lounge/kitchen, when he heard
the gate squeak and stooped down from the ladder peering under
the window frame and saw this stunning girl-woman coming towards
the house.
She came in through the open door and looked up at him, seeing the
strong lithe body, naked except for his rugby shorts, and the face
dotted with white paint. So the first sound he heard her utter was a
giggle.
“You look so funny. Do you always work so hard?”
He smiled through the paint. “I always stop when I get visits from
beautiful girls.”
“My, my, a worker and a charmer. Don’t let my husband hear you
say things like that.”
“Sorry, couldn’t help it.”
He climbed down from the ladder and extended his hand and then
saw the paint on it and withdrew it. “I’m Falk Baartman.”
“Yes. I know. And I’m Jessie Biggs, your neighbour from across the
road. I’ve brought you some things, sandwiches and lemonade.”
“That’s wonderful. I’ve been driving myself to finish without a break
but it’s silly.”
He looked around for a place to sit and there was none, so he led the
way outside where she sat on a couch on the lawn and he on the
stoep wall.
“Please help yourself.”
He did, gulping the lemonade down and was half-way through the
first sandwich when she resumed the conversation. “So you’re
renting from Hassan, are you?”
“Yes, you too?”
“Oh yes. He owns a lot of properties on this street. Can I look
around?”
“Of course. Mind the paint smell, I think I’ll be sleeping out here
tonight.”
He took a good look at her figure as she passed through the door,
couldn’t help himself, her tight jeans inviting the examination. While
she was in the house a green Ford Anglia pulled up across the street
and the tall driver loped across the street and looked at him over the
gate.
“How’s it man? I’m Eric Biggs.”
Falk walked across to him and this time he did stick out his hand.
“Falk Baartman. I think it’s your wife in my house checking my work.”
“That would be Jessie. She’s the most curious woman I know.”
“She’s also very kind. She brought me lemonade and sandwiches.”
“Lucky man, doesn’t happen to me all the time.”
The conversation was so easy and normal that Falk had to remind
himself that this was the new, fearful world he was entering. Jessie
joined them and the two Biggs’ sat on the couch while Falk perched
above them on the wall.
The conversation was broken by a baby’s cry from across the street.
Jessie got up to leave immediately.
“That’s our daughter Sarah. Why don’t you join us for supper, Falk?
When you’re finished come on over.”
That night they heard his story and he heard theirs and they became
bonded by their common predicament.
The much anticipated registration was an anti-climax.
For weeks Falk had imagined the event, meeting with Alan Steed,
discussing the best subject choices with dedicated teachers. The
reality was that there was much queuing, much waiting, much filling
in of forms, and when they could talk about subjects and timetables
the persons informing them were councillors, not the lecturers
themselves.
His biggest disappointment was that there was no department of
journalism, no media courses. He registered for English and
Afrikaans, Philosophy because of Alan Steed, and he did not care
about the fourth subject but eventually was persuaded to do Public
Administration to give him at least one subject that offered job
opportunities apart from teaching.
He had some time after finishing the many administrative
procedures and he wandered the campus, getting the gist of the
layout, going to each classroom where he would be required to
present himself the next day. Many of them were small classrooms
just to the south of the main square, but some of them were lecture
halls, seating more than a hundred he calculated; these were for the
more popular courses like the languages.
He also went wandering to the east where he could see the poles of
a rugby field reaching into the sky above the bush. There was just
one field. It was a disappointment. What was their level here?
He found a canteen in the student centre and stood in line to collect
a hamburger and coffee, both very cheap. The place filled up rapidly
and two girls asked to sit at his table. They were charmingly frank
and full of fun, characteristics he was coming to understand to be
almost universal.
The one girl, more precocious and prettier than her friend,
challenged him. “You look mos White.”
He was equal to it. “And if I am?”
The playfulness disappeared. The other girl addressed him. “We
don’t sit with Whites.” They made to get up.
“I’m sorry. I was making a joke. I’m not White.”
They relaxed and he thought of the strange declaration he had just
made. I’m not White. It was the first time he had said that aloud. I’m
not White, I’m Coloured. That was also wrong, any race declaration
was wrong. He realised then what his philosophy would be. He
would not embrace any race. The thought made him angry. If
something did not include all races, well then fuck it, he was out.
He returned home that evening with much to contemplate, and he
sat down on the patio in the cooling evening and typed out his
thoughts and beliefs. Apart from the one letter to Pauline, it was the
first time he had written in weeks and, as he had always found in the
past, it was a liberating experience to see his thoughts on paper.
Much to his chagrin, he then started writing a poem about a Persian
princess. It had obviously lain in his consciousness, waiting to be let
out. Was he ever to be driven by lust? His girlfriend was about to
give birth to his child, yet he wrote a poem about another woman
whose appearance and charm had stimulated him. Yet the poem had
value, was true to his observation. That’s what a poet was, an
observer and recorder of the world, why should he censure himself?
He didn’t believe his own vacillation.
The second day was much better, giving him a glimpse of the
possibilities for personal growth, and he met Alan Steed at last.
The Philosophy class was in the fourth period of the day, and was
held in one of the small classrooms he had noticed the previous day.
There were only fourteen students, most of them men, and they
stood waiting, some of them making small talk, the others silent with
their own thoughts, waiting for the lecturer with keen anticipation as
they had for every class that first day.
Steed came in with a rush.
“Okay boys and girls, take a seat.”
Falk had seen pictures of the man, but they missed the liveliness, the
quick expressions. Steed’s features were dominated by the high
forehead, long sideburns and heavy framed glasses. He was thirtytwo years of age that summer day of 1968, still with a shock of black
curly hair.
“Right, so you are my Philosophy One class. Let’s see, eleven men
and only three girls. The girls shunning my subject, hey?
“That was a joke. I don’t care for your gender, only your brains, and
how you can grow them through the fascinating study of some of the
greatest thinkers the world has ever known. Every year, when I see
the students who come into these classrooms, my first thought is
why are they here? Why are you here, people?”
No-one volunteered an answer to that question.
He pointed to Falk.
“Why are you here, meneer?”
Falk would later think it was fate that led Steed to pick him out first,
but at the time he was frantically thinking of an appropriate answer.
“For several reasons, sir. Firstly, because you are a poet and a
playwright and I want to learn from you. Then because you are one
of the few Coloured lecturers at this university and I want to learn
from someone who has made his mark, despite the difficulties you
must have gone through.”
“I’m flattered, but I heard no mention of philosophy. Why’s that?”
“Because I know very little about it. I’m at this university, meneer,
because I received a letter saying I’m Coloured and this is the only
learning establishment for Coloureds. I had a small business that I
was forced to sell to Whites and I ran my own local newspaper which
I also had to give up because of my race. I want to be a writer and
have already published a small book of my own poetry. So when I
come here, what am I to study? Languages, yes, and what else? I
want to study under Alan Steed, whatever you teach.”
Falk had had no intention of baring his soul so publicly and so soon,
nor to show the bitterness he felt. It was almost as if it had not been
he who uttered those words. He wished he could take them back,
was very conscious of the stares of his fellow students.
Steed just looked at him, nodding his head ever so slightly as if
contemplating what to say. “Bravo. What’s your name?”
“Falk, Falk Baartman.”
“And where did you have this business that you had to give up?”
“In Prince Albert.”
“Small town hey. I understand the mentality, I spent my first years in
a small community outside Wellington. You must lend me your book
of poetry Falk.
“Right, let’s find out why the rest of you are here. Hopefully some of
you want to study philosophy.”
Falk spent nearly the rest of that class berating himself for being so
outspoken then, as he calmed, he started to think it wasn’t such a
bad thing that he had declared himself, as long as he had not
alienated Steed and it did not seem he had, or why else would he
want to read his poems?
Dear Tess,
I have to write and tell you how I’m getting on. After all, you are the
reason I’m here.
Firstly, I have to tell you how very grateful I am to you for the advice
you gave me to come to Cape Town and to study at the “Bush
College” - yes that’s what they call us, not too complimentary you
would say but it does not describe some of the scholarship that I’m
finding here.
Most of the lecturers are still White. When they started this place
eight years ago, most of the staff came from Stellenbosch but that
has changed now and we have lecturers from some of the other
White universities.
I think the standard is quite high. I’m certainly happy with what I’m
learning in English and Afrikaans (lots of literature in the English
course fortunately), but not so happy with the course content and
standard in Public Administration, but that could well be a reflection
of my lack of interest in the subject.
You said I would meet people who I could relate to and befriend and
that has become a reality. That’s not just at the university, because
my neighbours across the street in Athlone, where I am living, are a
young couple whom I would have sought out for friendship whatever
their and my race.
I’ve left the best for last. In our first conversation about this move of
mine, you mentioned Alan Steed. I didn’t forget and registered to
study Philosophy, as he is the head of that department.
In my first class with him I bared my soul and was embarrassed,
thinking he would find that weird. Fortunately he did not, and asked
to read my poems. A week later he called me to his study. Was I
nervous! He had read them all and was very complimentary, said I
had talent and that he had no doubt I would realise my ambition to
be a writer of renown. He went on to say that he could not be my
advisor on matters of literature, after all he was the head of the
Philosophy Department and would be stepping on the toes of his
colleagues in the language departments.
He’s going to do something even better Tess. He’s going to introduce
me to Coloured writers who live here in the Western Cape. The first
one I’m going to meet is Richard Rives who teaches English at the
Hewat College of Education in Athlone, just up the road from where I
live. Rives has edited two anthologies of poetry and they include
some of his own work.
As I’m sure you can hear from the tone of my writing I have found
hope where I thought there would be none. And for that I have you to
thank.
With much gratitude,
Falk.
2.
Falk did not hear from Pauline. Not a letter, not a phone call. When
he went to the Post Office to phone the Prince Albert farm he could
not get through. Eventually he got through to Rooikrantz and spoke
to Tess. She tried to reassure him, but he could hear the tension in
her voice.
He made his excuses to his lecturers for the Friday and Monday and
left in the dark and was near Caledon before the sun made its
appearance, peeking over the Riviersonderend Mountains. At
Riversdale he turned inland and made his way over the Garcia Pass
and on to Route 62. He stopped once to refuel and then not again
until he reached the lookout point on the Swartberg Pass and there
he stopped again.
It was mid-morning, a calm day, so calm that he could hear the river
hundreds of metres below him. Out beyond the mountains was the
vast emptiness of the Great Karoo, flat and grey to the horizon.
He was home, but what awaited him? He had been posing all sorts of
scenarios; she was ill, she had miscarried, she had decided to go to
her parents in Port Elizabeth, she no longer wanted anything to do
with him, felt he had abandoned her. There was not one positive
reason he could think of that would have her not communicate with
him. It had not been a happy journey.
The farmhouse was quiet, no activity to be seen. He thought they
were perhaps at the shop in town and was about to turn the car and
head in that direction when his mother came on to the front stoep.
Her welcoming smile was a great relief to him; surely nothing tragic
had happened. She hugged him, holding so tight that his anxiety
levels shot up again. He had to have answers.
“How’s Pauline Ma?”
“Don’t you think you should greet your mother properly first, Falk?”
“I’m so sorry, Ma, it’s just that I’ve not heard a word. That’s why I’m
here. I have to know.”
“All in good time, son. Pauline is sleeping and she will not wake for
several hours.”
“She sleeps during the day?”
“Don’t rush it, son. You must have left in the dark to be here so early.
I’m sure you’re tired and thirsty. Come through to the back stoep,
son. I’ll make you some breakfast and coffee. Be quiet now, don’t
wake her, she needs the sleep.”
He stood with her in the kitchen while she prepared a meal for him.
By now he realised that she would not be rushed and calmed
himself, let her go at her own pace. It was only when they were on
the stoep that she began her explanation.
“I’m afraid Pauline has not been well, son. It’s not really the
pregnancy, although I have some worries there; it’s this terrible news
about becoming a Coloured. She can’t take it in and I think it has
affected her mental balance. Don’t look like that, I’m sure after the
birth she will regain her equilibrium.”
“You’re holding things back, Ma.”
“Yes. She blames you for everything that is happening to her. I’m
afraid she’s forgotten that she was the adult and you the boy when
the relationship started.”
“Okay, and what else?”
“She drinks a lot. We have to keep it from her but somehow she gets
it from the staff, probably from the farm next door. I’ve tried to tell
her the affect it will have on her child, but she’s not rational.”
“Oh God, Ma, what are we to do?”
“Nothing from your side, Falk. She will not accept it and it will
probably upset her even more.”
“Do you mean I shouldn’t even see her?”
“I know that’ll be impossible for you to accept, son. When she wakes
I’ll go in and prepare her and then you can try to talk to her. I know
you have to see for yourself, but I fear your presence will be a setback for her.”
He was trying to get to grips with his emotions over these frightful
revelations. He kept seeing the house in Athlone and his optimistic
dreams that they could be a family there. “Do you think she will
recover, Ma?”
“I don’t know, son. Right now, Tess and I can think only of getting her
to the birth without greater mental and physical harm. Then we will
have to see if the baby is normal and try to help Pauline through the
next phase. Motherhood is an amazing emotion. It’s our hope that
the love of her child will help her recover and accept her condition in
society. Whether she will ever want you back in her life is a question
we can’t answer now Son.”
“Is there really a possibility that the baby will not be normal?”
“I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have used that word. Excessive alcohol
use and tension in the mother can affect an unborn baby. At least
that’s what I think.”
He changed the subject, did not want to think about it. “Did she
receive a letter from me?”
“Yes, the letter came, but she said she didn’t want to read it. But I
think maybe she did because when I looked for it later it was gone.”
“That’s sad if she didn’t read it, because it might have offered her
some promise. How long is it now to the birth?”
“She will reach term in about five weeks. Now come, son, there’s
nothing you can do. Tell me about your new life.”
“I would love to, Ma, but right now that’s impossible. I’m going to
take a walk down to the river and think about all you’ve told me. I
have to try and absorb it, it’s a great shock never to have had an
inkling.”
“I’m so sorry, son. Tess and I consulted over this and couldn’t see any
advantage to you worrying about it when you are trying to start a
new life. We felt the best you could do was get on your feet and
then, if there was any hope, at least she and the baby would have
something to go to.”
The walk to the river did little to clear his head. What was obvious
was Pauline’s weakness of character, yet he could not censure her,
felt only sorrow at her mental anguish and depression. If it was not
for the child, he felt he could leave her, that it would be better if she
returned to Port Elizabeth. But the child changed everything. It tied
them together, and he would make the effort to see her through
these bad times, even if she tried to reject him.
When he returned to the house, his mother told him that Pauline
was awake and knew he was there, that she would rather not see
him but if he insisted he must go to her quickly, get it over with.
The room was darkened, the heavy curtains drawn. He stood at the
foot of the bed and looked at her over her distended belly. She
looked as beautiful as he remembered, despite the sullen expression
and the chill in her eyes as they followed his movements.
“Hello, Pauline.”
She nodded slightly.
“Falk.”
“I’m so sorry you are ill.”
“Well, you know why.”
The conversation with his mother had told him why but he needed to
hear it from her. “I’m afraid I don’t.”
“I should never have come here. I had a good job, a nice flat and a
boyfriend who all my friends admired. You should never have made
me come here.”
The accusation was ridiculously unfair and self-serving, but he said
nothing.
“Look at me now. I’ve lost my identity and you made me pregnant. If
I hadn’t come here, they would never have looked into my
background. They would never have written that awful letter to me.”
He realised she could not even say the word “Coloured”. He did not
know what to say to ease her bitterness, and the silence grew
between them.
“I think you should go now Falk.”
He left without another word.
His mother was waiting on the back stoep and he sat down heavily
beside her.
“It was unpleasant, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“I’m terribly sorry to say this, son, but I think you should go.”
“Yes. But a few questions, Ma. How’s the store going?”
“Good. Actually, really good. All the artists have come back and
we’re making some money.”
“But you’re staying here, aren’t you?”
“Yes. We’ve finished the flat at the back for me, but I must stay here
while Pauline is in this predicament. We have two of the farm
women helping me to look after her, and I go to the store every day
for a few hours.”
“How do you get there?”
“I walk, of course. Remember how we used to walk in the valley?”
He realised then that she was barely forty, still a young woman.
“No men in your life, Ma?”
That brought a smile to her face.
“Don’t be cheeky. Anyway I wouldn’t tell you, you chase them away.”
It was a rare moment of levity in that dark conversation.
“Yes Ma, I can’t stay here. I’ll go through to Rooikrantz to see Tess
and probably spend the night there and drive back to Cape Town
tomorrow.”
“Tell her all about your new life, son, so that I can hear about it from
her. It’s no good you staying here longer. Pauline will hear that
you’re still here and she won’t come out until you go.
“And look, son, about the birth. It won’t help that you’re here, unless
she has a radical change of mind. Don’t worry about it, we’ll see her
through and if things change I’ll get in touch with you and you can
come through.”
“Alright, Ma. We have our Easter break in April. It’s just over a week,
ten days I think. The baby will be born by then and I’ll come through
no matter what she thinks. It’s also my baby and I want to see it.”
Tess was much more objective.
“She’ll come round Falk, she has to. What else can she do? When she
thinks about it rationally, which will happen after the baby is born,
she will realise that you’re the best option she has.”
It wasn’t a great prospect for him, being the best of a bunch of bad
options, but he took that thought back with him and it held some
promise.
It was rugby that pulled him through.
The notice appeared on the general bulletin board in the Student’s
Union. It called for those interested in playing rugby to list their
names and certain other details. Falk pondered over what to put for
position and previous club or school, especially the latter because
both Oudtshoorn High and SWD Schools were White teams. Once he
mentioned those places anyone reading it would know some of his
history, but he had not found people unsympathetic when they knew
his background. He wrote neatly “openside flank” and “SWD Schools
(1965)”. Let them make of that what they would. He soon found out
what they did make of it when a small, slightly-built man was waiting
for him after a Philosophy lecture.
“You must be Baartman.”
The voice was brisk and authoritarian, and surprised Falk.
“Why?”
“Because you’re the only big guy in this class. I’m your rugby coach.
Johnny Arendse is the name.”
He did not proffer his hand.
“Yes sir, Mister Arendse.”
“You can call me Mister A, all my players call me Mister A. Now, I
know you’ve got a free period and I want to talk to you. Come with
me to my office.”
Falk was surprised because of the physique of the man. It was only
later that he would hear what a fierce and competitive scrumhalf
Arendse had been, and what a hard taskmaster he was on the
training grounds.
He headed towards the sports administration offices and Falk fell
into step with him, towering almost comically over him.
Falk was now totally bemused by the sequence of events. How did
this little man know his timetable? How did one so slight become
involved in rugby? And why would he be interested enough in one
player to seek him out?
“How did you know my timetable, Mister A?”
“Do you know how few provincial players we get here, even if it was
at school level? Of course I’m going to find out about you. Alan has
told me what he knows of you.”
Sports Administration was in its infancy in the 1960s, and the offices
were in a temporary converted classroom. Johnny’s office was
almost overpoweringly filled with rugby memorabilia and team
photographs.
“Right, Falk. I’m interested in your story. First thing, tell me about
this openside flank thing?”
“You’ve not played open and blindside flank here, Mister A?”
“Nee.”
Falk told him how he and Paul Serfontein had agreed to play on both
sides of the scrum, the theory of it and how it had worked in
practice, and how their coach had taken it forward to the games in
which he played for SWD schools.
Arendse did not interrupt him in the telling of the tale and kept
nodding as he made the points for the technique.
“Right, you’ve confirmed what your old coach Robertse told me.”
“You spoke to him?”
“Ja man, a coach must know all about his players.”
“Did he tell you everything, Mister A?”
“I don’t know about everything. He told me about your rugby ability
and that unfortunate thing with the school teacher.”
Falk was relieved. He had always known the team he played for and
the absence of two years from the game would attract numerous
questions, and he had not been sure how honest he wanted to be.
He realised how impressed he was already with this man; his
slightness of stature had been dismissed as a distinguishing mark.
Arendse’s zeal for rugby, his no nonsense approach and his obvious
sincerity persuaded Falk to confide in him without restraint.
“I find this blindside and openside idea very interesting. We’ll see
whether we adopt it, but that will depend very much on you. You’ll
find Coloured rugby different, Falk, not so much structure. We prefer
to allow our players to do their own thing on the field. We’re smaller
and faster, more suited to the open game.”
Falk had his doubts about that. He would see.
“Right, now you’ve missed two seasons. Speak to me about it.”
He told him nearly everything, not just about the events but also the
feelings and concerns. It was the first time he could truly unload, and
he did. It took nearly half an hour and when he was finished there
was silence in the room. Arendse kept shaking his head slightly, not
looking at Falk. Eventually his eyes found the younger man and he
spoke.
“My magtig, seun, I’ve never heard a tale like that. I’ll say one thing,
you’ll need tremendous strength of character to see your way
through this. Do you have that strength, Falk?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
“And you’re really keen to get back into rugby?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve kept fit for the day I could get back. You say I’ll need to
be mentally strong. Rugby will help me with that. It’s something I
used to do well, and if I can get that back it will give me confidence;
it will help me.”
“Ja, I can see that. You’ll find it hard to get match fit again after such
a long lay-off. If I was you I’d start training today. There’s a sports
complex up Klipfontein Road, not far from your house. Go and have a
look at it, see how it can help you. I’ve given them your name and
they’ll let you use the premises and equipment, but if you join their
club I’ll donner you.
“We start our training here in a few weeks, and I promise you it
won’t be a picnic. I can promise you another thing, Falk; give me your
best and I’ll help you all I can with whatever you need, and I mean off
the rugby field as well.”
Falk threw himself into the task of getting himself fit. He had added
motivation now, to repay the trust that was being shown in him from
a most unexpected quarter. The sports complex in Klipfontein Road
was not to his liking, so he used the University facilities, bringing kit
with him in the morning and training in the gym, on the rugby field
and in the vast nature reserve adjacent to the campus which had
extensive paths through the dunes. There were no proper washing
facilities, so he went home sweaty every evening and showered at
home. On the Saturdays and Sundays he went back to Elsies River,
studied in the library and then did at least a two-hour training stint.
There was nothing else for him to do, and the punishment to his
body was therapeutic. It kept his mind off the impossible riddles of
the future. Would she come, wouldn’t she come? Did he want her to
come if she became destructive to the new life he was making for
himself?
In Brandon Street, his two friendly neighbours showered him with
invitations. Eric and Jessie were runners and he changed his Sunday
routine after he joined them on a run on the mountain; they ran the
streets through Rondebosch and up to Rhodes Memorial, where they
joined the contour path that circled Devil’s Peak and onward along
the face of the mountain. It was exhilarating and he wanted more of
it, more of the thrill of running with the city at his feet and the
ancient rocks stretching above him to the sky. It became a standard
feature of his Sundays, if the weather permitted, even if the other
two could not make it.
If it was the three of them running, they invariably went back to one
of their houses, dismissed Jessie’s mother who looked after Sarah
while they ran, and settled to a braai and long conversations. And
sometimes a surfeit of wine and beer. No matter how drunk he
became, he never revealed to them his concerns about Pauline and
the baby.
The hardest part was running behind Jessie, seeing that perfect
bottom moving provocatively beneath the tights. Lustful images of
Pauline became co-mingled with those of his neighbour, and it was
disconcerting and an act of betrayal to both women. He did not like
what such mind pictures said about him, and tried to think of other
matters just before dropping off to sleep so that he would not be
ambushed by bawdy dreams that he knew were only a manifestation
of his desires.
The only good thing about those dreams was the way he punished
his body at the next training session as a form of penance. He didn’t
know where he got his repressive ideas about sex and sin from; it
was hardly in keeping with a boy who slept with his teacher. He knew
in his heart of hearts that the illicit sex with Pauline would live with
him forever, a form of sexual stress disorder, the delicious sex
balanced with monumental guilt, the pleasure with the pain.
When Johnny’s training started on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was
more than ready for the routines and grateful for his level of fitness
because, as promised, Johnny gave them monumental workouts. The
coach did not have the benefit of expensive facilities and equipment,
but he more than made up for it by using what was available in
plenty; one of the routines had them sprinting up to a 44-gallon
drum, dropping to the ground in front of it, picking up a rock of
around ten kilograms and crawling through the drum with the
impediment of the heavy and awkward rock.
In the nature reserve, Johnny used the dunes to torture them,
replacing the traditional twenty-five-yard sprints with sprints up soft
sand. He reserved the best for the end. When they were on their last
legs he had them tackle the fiercest and highest dune; they called it
Golgotha.
Falk loved every minute of it. Training with others and pitting
yourself against them was much more satisfying then training solo.
There were about eighty recruits, but Johnny’s brand of training
chased some of the first years away and eventually he had a core
which would allow him to put three teams into the field.
The majority of the men playing rugby lived in the hostels, and Falk
heard that the routine was for the captain of the first team to blow a
whistle in the corridors of the hostel to call the troops to battle.
Training started at four and ended around six to allow the hostel
dwellers to shower before their evening meal. In mid-winter it was
almost dark when they finished, and often the weather was
miserable, as the Cape cold fronts washed through the Flats.
Driving back to Athlone in the dark and wet induced negative
thoughts and feelings and when Falk trained on the off days it was in
the early afternoon to avoid unhappy hour.
Falk had no real idea of the standard of the players until the trials
which Johnny organised for the Saturday of the third week of
training. Until then, Falk could only see the effort and fitness levels;
as in all sports, some were passionate and trained until they
dropped, while others conserved their energy and shirked. Falk knew
that some of the shirkers would have natural talent and surprise on
the rugby field, but he rather scorned those who did not play with
the passion he thought the game deserved.
It turned out that the standard was about what Falk would have
expected. They would probably have beaten the SWD schoolboy
side, but it would not have been a pushover. He was clearly the best
loose forward, but there were others to challenge him and a few
really good tight forwards, one of them a brute of a front rank. Some
of the backs were mercurial, just as Harry had said, and more than
once Falk found himself tackling thin air.
On the day of the trials, the coach kept changing the teams, seeking
out his best players and best combinations. It was early days, but
Falk, in the times he sat on the side-lines, could see order starting to
take place. There were not enough heavy tight forwards and they
would have to adopt a game plan built on mobility, avoiding set
pieces; the backs looked a speedy and skilled bunch.
When he was on the field, Falk delighted in his old warrior mentality,
throwing himself at the opposing backline, stopping forward rushes,
digging in the mauls for the ball.
In one of the rest periods, the coach came up to him.
“Are you ready to show us this openside theory of yours, Falk?”
“Yes, Mister A, if that’s what you want.”
He called out two of the other loose forwards. They were Fanie
Meyers and Zack Moosa. Fanie was a heavily built man in his midtwenties who looked like he spent a lot of time pushing weights in
the gym and wore his jersey a size too small. Zack was closer to Falk’s
age, with the shoulders of a swimmer. Both sported small
moustaches which seemed to be the badge of manhood in their
community.
“Listen, guys. Falk has a theory I want you to listen to. Okay, Falk, you
explain it to them.”
He did, the explanation now becoming second hat. Fanie Meyers did
not like it. “Where does this idea come from, Mister A? What we did
last year got us in the top five in the championship. Wasn’t it good
enough?”
The coach turned to Falk. “What do you say about that Falk?”
“It depends on the quality of your loose forwards, Mister A, and
what they’re good at. If both are fetchers, then there’s not much
point. But if one of them is a fetcher and the other a runner who can
break the line, then why not play the one openside and the other
blindside.
“Fanie, as for coming in the top five, surely our aim must be to win
the championship.”
He should not have made the last statement because he could see
the hackles rise on the older player. The coach however seemed to
be relishing the challenging tone of the conversation and he
deliberately pitted them against one another in the next playing
session. Fanie was too angry to play effectively, but Falk could see
the power of the man and hoped he could turn him into a friend
because they could make a good combination. He went to him
afterwards.
“I’m sorry I had an argument with you in front of the coach, Fanie. I
think you and I could play really well together.”
“Ja, but with me mos the dumb ou on the blindside.”
“You’re stronger than me, Fanie. You’re the one who can do those
power runs.”
Fanie was not entirely appeased but Falk had set in motion the older
player’s acceptance, which would lead to a strong and effective
combination later in the year. Falk had also seen the wile of the
coach, letting the players settle disputes, but getting his own way in
the end.
The schedule of games for that season gave them two easy fixtures
to start, Buffaloes and Olympics, both at home, but then they were
to play the previous season’s winners, Good Hope at Green Point
Track. The day of the Buffalo game was a misery, the wind had
howled through the night and did not let up much during the day,
low clouds scudded across the sky and the rain drops when they
came were stinging missiles which struck their faces like icicles. The
Buffalo’s had said they would field three teams, but only enough
players arrived to field two, and even then there was a discussion
about the ability of the pitch to withstand two games. No-one really
had the heart for the game, and a decision was made to play only the
first teams.
Within fifteen minutes of the game starting only a handful of the
spectators were watching. Most of the UWC supporters had drifted
back to the hostel, and the Buffalo spectators, mostly family
members who had given the players a lift to the ground, had escaped
to their cars and watched in relative comfort, some even running
their engines to use the heaters.
The players could not get warm and were tentative, fearing injury to
their cold muscles. The leather ball became as slippery as a wet bar
of soap, and both sets of half-backs resorted to hoisting the ball as
high as they could. It was not a rugby match, and the only redeeming
feature was a win for the university team.
The Olympics game was the complete opposite. Conditions were
perfect, a cool day with high clouds and little wind, and the
spectators, including a very large contingent of girls supporting the
university, turned out in their droves. It was Falk’s first experience of
unbridled spectator enthusiasm, with many hilarious and profane
injunctions to the home team.
Falk revelled in the conditions and the enthusiasm of the crowd, and
was soon wreaking havoc in the opposing backline, reminiscent of his
best performances for Oudtshoorn. The spectators were at first
silent, for they had seldom seen tackling of such a nature, but then
they began to enthuse and in-between the “C’mon Bushies,” the girls
began to chant “Die Valk jag,” which was indeed the truth, the
Falcon was hunting.
The university team scored seven tries and ran out winners 34-3.
The real test was to come the following Saturday, Good Hopes at
Green Point Track. But before that game could be played, Falk
became a father.
Falk did not have a phone at home and had left the Biggs’ number for
his mother or Tess to phone in the case of an emergency. When he
got home in mid-afternoon on Wednesday, he was scarcely out of his
car when an excited Jessie came running across the road, shouting
the words.
“You’re a father, Falk. You’ve got a son. How about that?”
He had been worrying about it, for the due date had passed and he
had heard nothing. The baby was by then nearly two weeks overdue,
and his fertile imagination had been digging up horror scenarios
again. Through his wonder and reverie he heard Jessie exclaiming,
“Come on, you can use our phone. Come on, Falk, come.”
He allowed himself to be lead into their lounge and have the phone
thrust into his hand. Stephanie picked it up on the first ring. “Falk, oh
my son, you’re a father. You have a healthy little boy.”
“I know Ma, Jessie told me. Is he really healthy?”
“Yes, and Pauline’s fine. The baby was born just after two this
afternoon.”
“That’s wonderful, Ma. And tell me, has Pauline’s attitude towards
me changed, can I come and see them?”
“She has been starting to talk about that possibility, Falk, but the
time isn’t right.”
“Can’t I come up and see the baby? Maybe just see my son.
Separately, I mean.”
“I suppose that’s possible, Falk. The mother must get her sleep and
we will look after the baby when she does so, but Pauline is hypersensitive to the presence of others in the house. I wouldn’t take that
chance. You might just reverse the positive feelings she is starting to
have.”
“Alright, Ma. Has she got a name for the baby yet?”
“Not that she’s told us.”
When he rang off, he found Jessie staring at him with a look of
concern. He had forgotten she was in the room.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overhear that. Have you and Pauline got
problems, Falk?”
“Yes, Jessie. Well, maybe. I’ll tell you about it sometime. The time’s
not right now. I’ve got to go and see my son.”
“Right now? It sounded like your mother was saying don’t come.”
“She was, but how can I go a day without seeing my son? I’ll find a
way to do so without upsetting Pauline.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you? You’re going to get in your car and drive
straight up there.”
“Yes. And I’ve got to get back for rugby practise tomorrow afternoon.
We’ve got this really important game on Saturday.”
“You told us. You’re a crazy man, Falk Baartman.”
He made it to the downward stretch of the Swartberg Pass, only
twenty kilometres from Prince Albert, before it was dark and he had
to switch on his lights, and he drove slowly past the farm and
stopped a few hundred metres beyond. He walked back. In the dark
he had not been able to see if there were any visitors, but as he
pushed through the farm gate and started down the short road he
could see his Aunt Tess’s old Zephyr. Falk moved carefully around the
house, keeping out of the light. At the back, the porch was lit and he
could see both his mother and Tess. He approached as close as he
dared and threw some pebbles against the fly screens that enclosed
the area. Tess caught on first and came outside, closing the swing
door softly and walking into the dark.
“Is that you, Falk?”
“Yes, Tess, here.”
When she was close enough she said, “I knew you would come.”
“I couldn’t keep away.”
“I know.”
“So how do I get to see my son without alarming Pauline?”
“Go to the window at your mother’s room. It’s the furthest away
from Pauline. We’ll bring the baby there.”
When she came, his mother came as well, and it was she who held
the baby. Tess opened the window and he climbed through and
kissed his mother briefly before taking his first real look at his son.
The boy was asleep. Falk had seen many babies before, and they
were just that, babies, all the same, scrunched up faces, no
distinguishing marks; a typical male reaction. But this was different.
This was his own flesh and blood and he was sure he could see a
resemblance to himself, even if it was only that the child had a head
of thin black hair plastered to his scalp.
“Can I hold him?” he whispered.
“Do you know how?” His mother too was whispering.
“Yes.” He had learnt, holding Eric and Jessie’s girl.
He cradled the head in the crook of his arm and gazed at his son,
deep and long. The words came to him. “This is my son in whom I am
well pleased.”
He sat in the car for a long time and then put the seat back and tried
to sleep. It was fitful, and he gave up after an hour or two, started
the car, turned it around and began the long journey back to his new
home.
3.
Green Point Track is part of the greater area known as Green Point
Commonage, both then and now. It is the coastal strip west of the
city which lies beneath Signal Hill.
Since the time counted from the landing of the wooden ships it has
been a recreational area and, over the ages, has come to host
cricket, golf, rugby, soccer, running and cycling. It was also, in the
early days, an area of pasturage for cattle and, during the Second
Anglo Boer War, was notoriously used as a holding area for Boer
prisoners prior to them being shipped to concentration camps in
places as far away as the Philippines.
There was no impediment to persons of any race using the
Commonage in the beginning. No one race could claim it, but,
because it was the closest point of recreation to the predominantly
Muslim communities in BoKaap and District Six, it became their
favoured place and when rugby developed in the late 19th Century
the clubs from those areas played there, including Roslyn, which was
the first Coloured rugby club in the country, BoKaaps, Arabian
College and, of course, Good Hopes.
Distinctions, call them categories if you will, started to develop in the
Coloured communities and many say this was given impetus by the
Apartheid government who specialised in the identification of
categories of race. And so there were peoples they decided were
Cape Malay and others they decided were Cape Coloured and, as an
example of their ungodly deliberations, they went so far as to say the
area known as Walmer Estates on the slopes of Devils Peak was to be
occupied by the people they pronounced to be Cape Malay.
Certainly, in sport these distinctions became more pronounced in the
1960s, but it is argued by some that the split in coloured rugby owed
more to the ambition of two powerful men and their respective skill
in administration, rather than the religious make-up of the two
groups. But that argument is disingenuous. There were differences in
social norms and habits between the Muslim and Christian Coloured
communities, and perhaps Apartheid exacerbated them.
It is a matter of record that when the split did come in Coloured
rugby the centre of the Muslim branch of the game, their
headquarters, was Green Point Track.
Falk was blissfully unaware of these distinctions when he came to
play against the Good Hopes at Green Point Track in April 1968, just
one week before the Easter break. Johnny gave them their final pep
talk. It was a repeat of what he had said to them at both practices
during the week.
“Okay, mense, I say it again. Their forwards are five years older than
you and ten kilograms heavier. They will try to donner you, and make
you play their game. Don’t let them. You win games by scoring tries
and kicking goals, not having a fight. In the scrums and lineouts,
don’t fight like crazy and tire yourself out. Let them have their ball,
but then we get at them. We spoil their game and take away their
rhythm. You tackle low and hard, and we win those mauls and then
we run. They can’t touch us when we’re running. Fanie, you and Falk,
you are our secret weapons. Falk will smash their backs and you,
Fanie, you pick up the pieces and you drive into them.”
It was not quite the way that Falk would have described the
respective roles of the openside and blindside flanks, but he admired
the way the coach had given Fanie added motivation. As for him, he
needed no extra inducement; he had the memory of the magic
moment when he held his son, and he had his new friends from
Brandon Street in the stands. Even Mister Emeran had come to his
door that morning to inform him that they would be there to watch
him. He was beginning to learn the communion of Coloured
neighbourhoods.
There was a large crowd, mostly the Good Hopes fans, but he
managed to pick out his neighbours and, sitting on the lower slopes
of Signal Hill, already in a festive mood, were the students of UWC
who had been brought from the hostels in Bedford trucks, ex-army
troop carriers with canvas covering the load beds; they made a solid
block of indigo blue, the varsity colours.
The festive mood of the students was soon quelled as the Good
Hopes smashed into the UWC team, forced a turnover and carried
the ball through their big forwards, forming ruck after ruck until they
broke the defensive line and scored near the poles. 5-0.
On the UWC kick-off, they caught cleanly and moved the ball rapidly
to the outside backs, the movement only being stopped with the first
of Falk’s open play tackles on the outside centre. The movement
stalled, then gathered momentum again. Falk made another two
tackles before the ball was again grounded. For the duration of that
movement the tackled centre lay on the ground, but managed to get
gingerly to his feet before the next kick-off. Two tries down and 8-0
before the fifth minute.
The next time they moved the ball to their backs there was a fumble,
the fly-half watching Falk. The ball dropped behind him and Falk was
through and snatched it up with only the fullback to beat, which he
did easily with an outside swerve to run in under the poles. 8-5 and
the students on the hill found their voice again and the “C’mon
Bushies” calls dominated.
That was the way it stayed until half-time, but by that time all the
inside backs had felt the steel in Falk’s tackles and their appetite to
run the ball had been greatly diminished.
Harry’s half time talk was encouraging; stay out of the rough stuff
and they could win the game. The opposition team talk must have
centred on one objective, stop Falk Baartman, because the dirty play
started immediately. They held him illegally in the line-outs and
mauls and when the chances presented themselves they gang
tackled him and tried to bring their elbows and knees into play to
inflict the greatest hurt.
Falk responded with a kind of fury, but it was impossible for one man
to match that onslaught. Then Fanie also got mad and he stayed
constantly at Falk’s side, smashing back into them when his fellow
flank was tackled. Between the two of them they stopped the attack
on Falk, but by then the damage was done, two further tries, both
converted. 18-5.
The last quarter was the best passage of play for the students and
they pulled back the score with a converted try and a penalty for a
full-time score of 18-13. It was a loss, but a good result for an away
game against the reigning champions. The team was mobbed by the
students and manhandled back to where the party had started on
the slope of the hill.
Falk had a beer bottle thrust into his hand and he downed it, then
another and a third before his thirst was quenched. Everyone
wanted to talk to him and many a willing and nubile young body
pushed itself against him. It would have been heady enough without
the alcohol, but as his body cooled he began to feel his bruised
muscles and he quite willingly left when Eric and Jessie appeared at
his side and she entreated him to get into a warm bath as fast as
possible.
It was good advice, and he felt the pain receding as he lay in the
deep hot bath, the warm cocoon giving temporary relief. When he
got out of the bath he inspected the damage and, to his surprise,
found the evidence of two bites on his upper arms.
There was a knock on the front door and Eric’s voice called out
cheerfully, “Come on Falk. Get dressed and come join the party at
our place.”
Callie and Meisie Hendricks were also there and many drinks ahead
of Falk. It felt terrific to have friends like this who wanted to
celebrate his performance. The feeling of euphoria dwindled as the
evening wore on, and he felt drowsy. The pain was back in his body
when the Hendricks’s left, and that was when the conversation
became serious.
It was Eric who raised the subject.
“Tell us to shut up if you want, Falk, but we are worried about this
woman of yours. Jessie told me about your telephone call with her. If
you want to talk about it we’re here for you. Okay, kerel?”
It was a moment of vulnerability for Falk. In a week, he would be
leaving for Prince Albert for the Easter Break and he would know for
himself. Part of the fury he had felt on the rugby field that day had
been directed at Pauline, and the possibility that he would not be
allowed to be involved in the raising of his son. He had welcomed the
physical challenge of the Good Hopes and now he was faced with a
different challenge, to share or not to share, to be disloyal to Pauline
or to maintain his silence. But was it being disloyal when she had told
both his mother and Tess that she would have nothing to do with
him? These were his friends, and he was so tired of keeping the
secret. Tired and alone.
“Ja, friends, I’ll tell you.”
Where to start? Did it make sense if it was not at the beginning?
“Pauline and I met at Oudtshoorn Hoer. She was a teacher and I was
a pupil. We were attracted to each other and started our relationship
when I was in Standard 10. We got caught. She was fired and I was
expelled.”
The litany continued, factual, with little sentimentality in the telling.
Eric and Jessie became part of his inner circle. Stephanie, Tess,
Gerard Pieterse, Johnny Arendse, and now them. He did not expect
sympathy, only understanding, but as the telling continued Jessie
came and sat next to him on the couch and her arm went inside his
and she held him tight. Eric sat silent and still, leaning forward,
elbows on knees, head down. Falk did not know what he was
thinking.
It became cathartic. He took them on his imaginary journey of the
following Saturday, into the farm, seeing the baby, sitting down with
Pauline on the back stoep, late afternoon, the mountains in the
distance, the focus on her face as she listened to his plea and gave
one of her own.
When he was finished Jessie leaned forward and kissed him above
the eye which had now blackened.
“We will be there in spirit with you next Saturday,” she said.
He could scarcely get out of bed the next morning, yet he was at
peace. The body had been thrashed, yet the mind had been salved
with the balm of sharing. He examined the body first. One eye
blackened and swollen, cuts on the face, the pain of the two bites
and muscles sore and awkward. It was very fortunate that there
would only be light training for that week, stretching and getting
function back, no serious contact for three weeks.
And the mind? The sharing had been therapeutic, the sympathy of
his two friends a connection which promised support for the future,
that very uncertain future of his relationship with Pauline and the
baby. What had she named him? If he could get them back to this
place, this small house, there would be allies across the street,
friends who understood and would help them.
The mind remembered another assignation for that week, before the
nervousness of what awaited him in Prince Albert. They were to
meet Richard Rives on Wednesday evening, he and Alan, at a bar
near Hewat College, at six in the evening.
Alan had loaned him some of Rives’s work, including “Quartet,” the
anthology that Rives had edited and which had been published five
years earlier, and then banned by the South African government. The
book contained the work of four authors, including Rives. Falk had
read all of the stories several times, particularly impressed with the
writing of Rives and Alex La Guma, both of whom captured the
essence of people and place with colourful characters, startling
images and the underlying unfairness of the society. He had wanted
to read more of La Guma, but his works were also banned and the
author himself had left the country a few years earlier.
Falk was particularly wanting to take up with Rives his philosophy of
acceptance of all African literature. In the foreword to another
anthology called “Modern African Prose”, Rives had written that he
had collected works produced by Africans and by that he meant
people of Africa, regardless of colour, language or national
distribution. It was those few words which struck a chord of harmony
in Falk, which portrayed so accurately his own dislike of segregation
in any form.
Rives was in his late thirties, that day he met the two of them. Falk’s
first impression was of a well-built man, dark of hue, with a square,
sensuous face and heavy brows, below which peered eyes bright
with intelligence.
The voice was also deep.
“Hallo Falk. I’ve read your poems. You write good stuff. A bit raw and
self-conscious, but lots of promise.”
It was amazing the boost those few words gave to the young author.
He remembered reading about Hemingway’s early writing days when
there was a collection of American authors living in Paris and they
learned together, and it seemed also fought and loved together.
What an environment for a new generation of writers. Could he also
benefit from these two men whose works he admired so much?
“Thank you, Mister Rives.”
“Well Falk, we won’t get on if you call me names like that. I grew up
in the poorest part of District Six. Only Whites and people from
Walmer Estate were called Mister. You’re having a drink with us, so
it’s Alan and Richard. Okay?”
To Falk’s disappointment the conversation then turned to more
mundane matters, everyday exchanges by two men involved in
education.
Then they started talking about Steve Biko and the influence he had
exercised at the National Union of South African Students
conference held at Rhodes University that year, and his assertion
that the student body could no longer represent Black concerns
because it was dominated by White liberal thinking. They both felt
there would be a breakaway of students attracted to Biko’s new idea
of Black consciousness.
Falk had many questions, but held his tongue, better to learn from
these two, both of them in the forefront of Coloured thinking. But
then his curiosity became too much for him.
“Excuse me but I want to know what’s wrong with White liberal
thinking, and why do we want to accentuate “Black”. I read your
introduction to your second anthology, Richard. You argue for
acceptance of literature from all Africans, regardless of colour. Is
Black consciousness not just another form of racism?”
Steed answered. “You have to understand where Biko is coming from
Falk. He doesn’t want Black racism any more than he wants White
racism. He argues that Black people must regain their place in world
society by their own deeds, not by backhands from Whites; that they
must develop self-belief through their own endeavours.
“And as for White liberals, you’ll have to attend a NUSAS meeting to
see for yourself. Lots of resolutions which are meaningless in the
end. The White students ultimately will take up their place in the
White society and therefore will not support radical action against
the government; they are, in fact, rooted to the status quo, despite
their dislike of discriminatory legislation. Sometimes it seems their
opposition is only to assuage their conscience. Many of us feel the
real issues are not being addressed.”
“But who is ‘Black’? What about us?”
“Biko wants it to be inclusive of Coloured and Indian people. But
your question is a good one, for many of his followers want him to be
more radical. He sees ‘Black’ as an attitude of mind, not a skin colour.
There’s going to be a split and there will be a new grouping which
will not follow Biko’s philosophy or even the leadership of the ANC.”
Falk was not at all convinced and realised he still harboured feelings
of supremacy which came from his White background. He needed to
know more. “Does Biko ever come down to the Cape?”
“He hasn’t yet. At the moment he is living in Natal. Next time I go
there, will you come with me?”
Falk realised there was much more to that simple question. It
involved commitment and risk. He would be pinning his flag to the
anti-apartheid movement and his name would be listed in the
records of the Security Branch.
They both waited for his answer, also realising this could be a
watershed for him. He gave a half-answer. “I’m against all forms of
racism. I even see it in our rugby, with Muslim and Christian clubs.
We played Good Hopes on Saturday and the game became a battle
and I know at the heart of it was the religious split. It’s absolute
rubbish. I’m not ready to decide which way I should go. I’m sorry
Alan, I’m not ready for that question yet.”
It was an unsatisfying answer but the two older men recognised his
honesty.
“That’s alright Falk. Take your time. Look around you, see what’s
happening. When you’re ready come and talk to me.
“Now listen Richard, this young man came to talk about literature.
You’re the teacher of English, tell him what to do.”
“You think I can give advice just like that? It’s a bit more difficult. But
what I can tell you, Falk, is you must work at it constantly; write and
keep writing. Express yourself on paper and start writing about
everyday people. You’ve got the gift of language, now you must find
the themes that will bring you to life so that the passion in your head
becomes the passion on paper.
“You understand that?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“And read, boy. Read the great South Africans. Olive Schriener. And
read the Afrikaans writers. It doesn’t matter that they’re mostly
White, they’re part of the spirit of the country, specially the rural
country. And read Drum, they’re the only ones with the guts to
publish some of our stuff; better still, send them some of your
stories, get into print.”
Falk was hanging on every word and was surprised when it stopped.
It seemed suddenly that Rives wanted to go.
“That’s it then. Good luck, boy. And by the way, I watched that game
at the Track. At the moment you’re a better rugby player than a
writer. You’ve got heart, boy, and when you become a freedom
fighter, God save the Boere. Totsiens.”
4.
Falk had a strange reluctance to tackle the next phase of his life. On
the rational level he knew it was caused by the last meeting with
Pauline. It was hard to overlook that rejection. Hard to be in love
with the person who rejected you. He realised he could no longer
distinguish between love, lust and duty, nor did he have a compass
to set the next course.
There was another layer to it. He was becoming reconciled to his
circumstances. If Pauline came with him to Cape Town, it would be
like starting again, having to get her to his level of acceptance or
there would be no peace for them. You could not live in this unequal
society, filled with bitterness, without losing your sense of self. The
bitter ones were filled with despair and hatred. He knew that. It was
one of the reasons why he had not agreed to go with Alan to see
Biko. That step could lead down the stairs to the well.
Of course, there were the ones who retained their calm, even in the
midst of the fight against the regime; kept their sense of purpose and
self. He was not sure if he could be one of those and, if he could not,
he should not enter the fight. So there was the need to find his voice
in the battle, find his place. It was hard enough without the need to
assimilate Pauline into the plan as well, especially when he thought
she would be a reluctant voyager.
These thoughts occupied the drive to Prince Albert so that he could
not have told you afterwards what the weather was like along the
way, nor the traffic. The time passed, that was it, and then he was
entering the outskirts of the town. He stopped at the small cemetery
and alighted from the car, his ears singing with the memory of the
monotonous drum of the engine.
He found Caroline’s grave. It was the first time he had visited it. This
was his great-grandfather’s lover, heroine of the romantic story that
had helped him recover from the bruising he had in his soul after
being expelled. In a way he realised it was also the story of Dan and
Caroline that had made him want to connect with Pauline again, the
romance of it opening his heart.
He read the inscription in the stone;
Caroline Armitage.
1845-1873.
Beloved partner of Dan Baartman.
“Full beautiful – a faery’s child”
Keats. So appropriate. He could still recite the sad verses. What was
that line again? “The sedge is withered from the lake / and no birds
sing.” Such finality to even the birds abandoning the lake, the
fictional season of loneliness.
He made a minor decision; he would go to Rooikrantz first. Tess was
always the sage one. He could not help first driving past the town
farm, seeing nothing, then turning at the corner before the dairy and
returning to drive past again. Still nothing to be seen. In the absence
of something to jolt him from his decision, he turned before the
cemetery onto the gravel road and headed west towards his aunt’s
farm.
It was Saturday and Rooikrantz was also quiet, with no people to be
seen when he parked behind the big house. He opened the car door,
the action spilling dust into the interior, and stepped outside, taking
in the serenity, feeling the memories of happier days.
“Hallo, Falk.”
The voice came from the fig orchard and shortly she emerged in her
traditional dress, dungarees and boots, basket swinging from one
arm. They embraced and he smelt the dust in her hair and the
pungency of the cut figs in her basket.
“So you’ve come for advice from the old aunt first?”
He played along with her light tone. “Of course. But first tell me my
son’s name?”
“Haytham.”
“What?”
“Haytham.” She spelt it.
“Where did she get that name from?”
“She’s an intelligent girl, your Pauline. I think she wanted to please
you. It’s an Arabic word. It means young hawk. The son of Falk.
That’s an admission, isn’t it?”
He ignored the question. One thing at a time.
“I like the meaning, but the poor kid’s going to get stick from his
friends.”
“Maybe not. A name’s just a name, Falk, like yours. You get used to
it.”
“So she wants to please me. That sounds like a good start.”
“Yes, I think it is. But come now, tell me, why did you come here
first?”
“I was suddenly reluctant to see her, Tess. I went to the cemetery.
Remember you told me years ago to do that, to see Caroline’s grave?
Anyway, that sense of history made me nervous. I wanted to find the
lay of the land.”
“Good idea. But now you’ll get there in the dark, and that’s not a
good idea. Do you want to stay here tonight?”
“Yes, I think that would be better.”
“Okay, I’ll phone your mom.”
“What’ll you tell her?”
“I’ll tell her the truth. She’ll understand. Pauline doesn’t know you’re
coming yet, now we can prepare her for your visit tomorrow, and
you’ll get there in the morning when both she and the baby will be
refreshed.”
Later he could explore the subject further.
“If she’s considered me in the naming of the boy she must have had
a change of heart. What brought that about, Tess?”
“Reality, I think. Given a good old nudge by her parents.”
“So they’ve been here?”
“Yes, they came up three or four days after Haytham was born.
They’re a nice couple, you’re bound to meet them one day. But
they’re clearly terrified that Pauline’s mother will be branded
Coloured, like her daughter. I think that’s what the conversation
between Pauline and them was about. Your Ma and I weren’t privy
to it, but that’s what we think happened; they refused to allow her to
go and live with them in PE. Pauline was in a bad state for a few days
after they left. She couldn’t even produce milk and we had to switch
the little tyke to formula.”
Falk was saddened on two counts; that Pauline had tried to leave
him and that she too had suffered the feeling of abandonment. He
could take no sense of revenge from her pain.
“Has the boy been registered yet, Tess?”
“Yes, I took her over the mountain when she regained her
composure.”
“Did she give him her surname?”
“I don’t know, but I would assume so.”
“What do you think I’m going to be confronted with when I go there
tomorrow?”
“I think she now realises she has to make a future with you, that
you’re her best chance. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, son, but I know
that’s why you came to see me; to get the truth. Of course, it’s not
necessarily the truth, only my reading of it. I’m sorry to say I don’t
believe her change of heart has its roots in any love she might feel
for you. That love can come back, but I think you’ll have to regain it
through your actions.”
“You don’t much like her, do you, Tess?”
“Oh, I like her well enough. She can be charming, and she’s a rare
beauty. I just don’t like what she did to you.”
“You need to get over that, Tess. I’m just as much at fault; I was an
adult when I went looking for her in PE.”
“Well, be that as it may. You asked what I think you’ll encounter
tomorrow. I think she’ll be calm and rational and hopefully will talk
about her fears, confront them as it were. That’s the best scenario.
You’ll just have to wait and see Falk.”
“And my son?”
Her demeanour changed.
“Ah, he’s the cutest child, a beautiful boy, full of smiles, only niggles
when he has cramps. He’s the reason that I know you’ll try to make it
work, Falk. I know your heart.”
He wished he did.
Pauline was waiting, alone, on the back stoep. He knew it had been
orchestrated, for Stephanie was nowhere to be seen.
Falk pushed open the screen door and they both took stock of one
another, like boxers entering the ring. The simile was his, and not a
welcome thought. She had a look of plea in her eyes, almost fearful,
and it was the first time he had seen that look for many years; the
last time had been that fateful night when she propositioned him in
the prep room of the hostel.
It took just that look to change their relationship. Falk had always
been the supplicant in their partnership and had not enjoyed the
feeling, although he understood where it came from. He had not
been able to change his junior age status, but had long wanted to
break the teacher/pupil subjugation that was implied in much of
what they had done together.
He noticed other things in those few moments that they stood facing
one another, before anything was said or done. Pauline had always
been slim of build, her breasts the only voluptuous part of her body,
and to his surprise she had already almost returned to the weight
she had enjoyed before the pregnancy, only a slight bulge of the
tummy marking her passage to womanhood.
And, as always, he was surprised by the beauty of her face, which
perhaps was even enhanced by the pleading look in her eyes. She
took the first step forward and then they were embracing and her
lips were soft and welcoming and he was lost in the change and the
hope and his only thoughts became ones of forgiveness and
rejuvenation.
They talked for what seemed like hours, sitting on that back stoep,
the blue mountains looming in the background. As he had wished it,
he listened to her plea and she to his and, for the first time in many
months, they were common; a return to the previous feelings for
one another, an acceptance of their changed status, building a family
and future together in that far-off place called Athlone under the
mystic mountain.
He wanted to be sceptical, but allowed himself to hope. She had
done much to try to rectify the damage she had done in their
previous meeting and amongst those things the one that stood out,
made him softer in his acceptance of the possibilities of the future,
was that she had registered the boy in his name: Haytham Baartman.
The sound of their hungry son broke the chain. The boy was already
so changed in appearance from that first day of his life that Falk had
to hold him close and the mother let him sit on the couch in the
bedroom and feed him his bottle. Then she showed him how to burp
the little boy and only then could he lie him face-up on his lap and
have his first nonsensical conversation with his son. The boy’s eyes
stayed fixed on his and every now and then he would smile, whether
smile or grimace it did not matter, for the father was enchanted.
When they came to live with him, a few weeks after the start of the
second term, all of his neighbours turned out to welcome them; old
Emeran in his red fez, Meisie with profferings of cake, Eric and Jessie
looking cool and modern.
In later years, Falk would admit that Pauline did try, she just did not
have the staying power that was needed. Those first weeks and
months she did her best to accept every condition that moving to a
lower-middle class Coloured suburb required of her. And the Biggs
family played a large role in her acceptance and then much later an
even more significant role in her demise.
On the day she arrived she was charming and self-effacing and she
had the advantage of the perfect distraction in Haytham, who smiled
at all the strange faces peering down at him. It was only when they
were alone in the house that she questioned his friendship with the
Hendricks and Emeran families and he worried even then that she
would not be able to accept Coloured people at face value. But he
was prepared to cut her a lot of slack and in the beginning was
optimistic that she could change. And that night she initiated the first
sex between them for nearly six months, and she was more
uninhibited than she had ever been, and he knew he could never be
objective about her as long as her unbridled joy in the many varieties
of the sexual act were a feature of their relationship.
The positive for Falk for the many months before the relationship
started to unravel was coming home to a house filled with human
activity. It was more difficult to get to and from the university on the
train and rugby practice days were the most difficult because he only
got home after seven in the dark, and so eventually he started to use
the car on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But he thought it all worth it, and did not begrudge standing on the
cold and sometimes wet railway platform with all the other winter
commuters.
In particular, he loved his son with a depth of feeling that constantly
surprised him, and he would bring study material home with him
rather than study in the library so that he could spend as much time
with Haytham as possible. The studying was done when the child
slept, as was the additional fitness training, but now he used the
facility on Klipfontein Road.
When the arguments started they were about money, perceived
neglect and boredom, in that order. One afternoon when he came
home there was a smart new pram standing in the lounge.
“Nice pram, Pauline, what did it cost?”
“We can’t question cost when I comes to our son, surely only the
best for him?”
His first response was mild. “I don’t think material things are what’s
best for our son.”
She became sarcastic and that was what angered him enough to
make an issue of it. “I suppose you’ll say it’s just the love of the
mother?”
“Yes, I would. The child needs love and security, not a fancy pram.”
“And you don’t consider my needs, carrying a baby around when I do
the shopping.”
“You have the pram that Tess gave you.”
“That old-fashioned thing?”
“So, it’s about appearances is it, Pauline? And that has nothing to do
with Haytham. That’s about your image, not the comfort of our son.
That’s all about you at the fancy shops in Claremont, pretending to
be White.”
“Now you’re being fucking horrible. What’s wrong with me escaping
this place for just a few minutes?”
He ignored the question, for he could not censure her for her desire
for escape; at least not in absolute terms. It was the degree that
worried him, but that was an argument for another day.
“What did it cost, Pauline?”
She grabbed her handbag in a rage and threw things out of it and
eventually she found what she was looking for and flung the invoice
at him. “There, if cost is all that matters to you.”
The cost of the pram was almost the same as two months’ house
rent. He was appalled. “This is two months’ rent, Pauline.”
“We’ve got the fucking money, Falk.”
“We’ve discussed this before. We have to live with no income until I
get my degree. We have to be careful. And I wish you’d stop
swearing.”
“You are a one, Falk. Stop pretending to be White, you say. You’re a
Coloured, you say. And Coloured’s don’t swear? No fucking way,
Coloured’s don’t swear.”
She snatched up her bag and the keys to the car and slammed out of
the house and a few moments later he heard the car engine straining
to obey her angry will. When she came back that evening she was
morbidly drunk and he knew she had been to a white bar or hotel in
Rondebosch or Claremont and he wondered who she had spoken to
and what she had done.
He threw himself once more into rugby, taking his resentment out
on the opposition, and he led a charmed life, not being injured
despite the heroic antics. If the opposition had known the source of
his anger and energy, they would gladly have paid Pauline to be
more compliant.
They won game after game, the opposition succumbing to their
brand of aggressive loose play and classy backs: Pumas, Tricolours,
Young Ideas, Montrose, Silver Tree were just some of the clubs that
fell to the onward march of UWC under their coach, Mister A.
It was not until September that they suffered another defeat, this
time at the hands of Fairplays from the Strand, and shortly thereafter
Vineyards narrowly beat them in a game played at their grounds in
Paarl.
Both teams that beat them late in the season were affiliated to the
Union, the predominantly Muslim grouping. UWC, with both Muslim
and Christian players, stayed out of the orientation of the other clubs
to either the Union or the predominantly Christian grouping which
called itself the League.
Falk was becoming increasingly uneasy about the split in Coloured
rugby. It was spoiling his enjoyment of the game and there were
times when, even in the small world of their own team, arguments
about perceived differences threatened morale. He did not want to
think too deeply about the problems, just enjoy the game.
For the first months Pauline came to watch the Saturday games,
taking enjoyment from Falk’s successes and the obvious following he
had among spectators. Hers was the reflected glory and that was
enough in the beginning. Later she came to resent the time he spent
training and playing the game of rugby, and it became the target in
her complaint that he was neglecting her. He argued that if he had a
full-time job, they would have seen even less of him, but she had
travelled beyond the rational as 1968 drew to a close.
UWC made the top three in the rugby championship that year. Falk
was the undoubted star, and all expected him to represent the
Coloured “Springboks” the following year, in their annual test against
the Black national team.
Falk, though, was beginning to doubt that he could continue to play
the game, for he not only had the opposition of his partner, but
playing a game that was segregated along both racial and religious
grounds was against his own principles. He remembered well that
first day sitting with the two girls in the cafeteria and vowing that he
would not support anything that segregated people. He even
remembered the words he’d used to describe his path: “If something
did not include all races then, fuck it, I am out.”
The clubs affiliated to the Union, mostly Muslim, were starting to
argue against a continuation of the games against the Black national
team and they were strongly opposed to Coloureds playing against
overseas touring teams, feeling these games were only organised to
give a veneer of normality to the game of rugby so that Whites could
continue to play international competition.
Their credo became “no normal sport in an abnormal society”, which
was heartily endorsed by Falk who was taking a more aggressive
political stance on campus. His unique positioning as a rugby hero
gave greater credence to his word and he was listened to.
The year ended with another blow to the culture of the Coloured
people. For the first time in the Twentieth Century, the “Coon
Carnival” could not march through the streets of Cape Town on the
day after New Year’s Day, the day they called “tweede nuwe jaar”
and which meant so much to them, for it had been a tradition from
the days of slavery, it symbolised the day off they were given by their
Dutch masters.
The previous year they had been banned from using Green Point
Track as their final assembly point, following the march of the
troupes through the city. It seemed the authorities had no idea how
important Green Point was to the Coloured communities of the
Western Cape. A part of their identity was taken from them by an
unthinking White minority.
Now this second blow. It was hard to comprehend the senselessness
of it. Laws had been promulgated to control the assembly of nonwhite people and they would be enforced by an authoritarian and
perhaps nervous regime, despite a history of peaceful marches, and
the great joy it gave to the Coloured people; an outlet for their
exuberance, a celebration of the colourful and the bizarre.
There were street parties throughout the areas where the people of
colour lived. On Brandon Street the party started on New Year’s Eve,
quietly at first, with people standing outside their homes on the
narrow street, drinking with their close neighbours. Then it started to
shift, and the throng moved, meeting new people, swapping stories.
By eleven it was quite uninhibited, and impromptu dances were
starting, dancing to the music pouring into the street from the
numerous gramophones moved out onto the small verandahs for the
occasion.
Falk made it his task to keep checking up on Haytham and the Biggs’s
little girl, Sarah. They were in the Biggs house under the eye of
Jessie’s mother, a widow, who was always, it seemed, available for
babysitting duties.
When he re-joined his party on the one occasion, just before the
midnight hour, he witnessed a strange and disturbing scene. Pauline
and Eric were dancing, and their skill and exuberance had attracted a
crowd. It seemed like they were old dancing partners, almost as if
their movements had been choreographed. They made a stunning
couple, and the crowd were enjoying the performance, cheering
them to new heights.
Falk knew Pauline could dance, had experienced it at the Bush
Tavern in Prince Albert on those far-off Friday nights. But this was
different; she had found a partner who could match her skill and Falk
felt uneasy seeing the ease and fluidity of their movements. I’m not
jealous, he told himself, and the moment might have just become a
passing incident if he had not then seen Jessie’s face. She was
standing in the background, away from the light of the overhead
street lamp under which the two dancers were performing. The look
on her face portrayed a deep hurt. Falk approached closer to her,
disturbed by what he saw, wanting to make sure he was not
mistaken. He was not. It was a look of betrayal.
She sensed his presence and turned to see him and immediately the
look changed to one of shame, as if she had been caught doing
something illicit. He moved over to her.
“What’s wrong Jessie?”
“Nothing, why? Why do you ask?”
“You looked strange. Upset.”
“No, I’m not, really.”
She would say nothing more, but he knew she was hiding something.
Jessie had always seemed so serene, so completely in control of
herself and her feelings, enough to make her seem contented, happy
with her place in life. She was the antithesis of Pauline, who was
always seeking new horizons, new thrills.
The parties started to break up shortly after the boisterous New Year
wishes. They had to keep some energy for the real party, which was
to take place the next day; many of the troupes would be marching
at Athlone Stadium.
The four friends strolled back through the emptying streets and it
was as if the disturbing incident had not taken place. The banter was
light and perhaps only Falk detected the strain in the voice of Jessie
and her unnatural attempt at frivolity.
After they had retrieved their sleeping son and returned to their
home, Pauline went straight to bed, leaving Falk to tend to the boy.
The child murmured in his sleep but did not waken. Falk stayed in the
boy’s room, sitting at the side of his cot, watching his face in the light
which spilled into the room from the streetlamp. It had been a
tumultuous year with so much new, so much emotion, such adaption
required that sometimes in the journey through that year he had
marvelled at his capacity to absorb the changes.
The little boy was the best happening of the year, his birth correcting
many of the things Falk was not proud of. He would be changing
certain things the following year. The incident he had observed that
evening made him see once again that he and Pauline had little in
common. Why had he not admitted that to himself before? Part of
growing up, he supposed, realising the boundaries.
He thought of the qualities he saw in Jessie, and that he had so
admired in Isa, and realised he had taken a four-year deviation from
his path, gone down the wrong road because of physical attraction
and now duty. But it was not his duty to penalise himself for too
much longer.
Jessie had been obviously concerned that she was losing her man.
Perhaps it was only that one incident that gave her that fear, or
perhaps Eric had given her cause for alarm on other occasions.
Whatever it was, she had shown to Falk her genuine love for her
man. In his heart he knew Pauline did not love him like that. He had
tried to be a good partner to her, but he knew her tenure in his
home was entirely driven by her self-interest. Of course he had
known that was her motivation. Tess had told him. But he had
thought she would change and he was wrong, and that new year,
1969, he would rectify it. There was one thing standing in his way: he
wanted his son. Not only that, he thought Pauline was an unsuitable
mother.
There were other things he wanted that coming year. He wanted to
be true to himself. Stephanie had always said she raised him to have
self-pride and to have respect for others, irrespective of race or class.
His self-pride had taken a dent that year. To believe in himself he had
to rid himself of the toxic relationship he had with Pauline, and he
had to fight for the people who were being deprived of their rights,
dehumanised by an evil philosophy which placed one man above
another on the basis of race.
It was a tall order but right at that moment, with the New Year just
hours old, he made himself that promise.
5.
In a June 1969 edition of Drum magazine, an article appeared which
exposed the political intrigue and power struggles in Coloured rugby
in the Western Cape. What made the article more newsworthy was
that the author had just been selected for the trials to pick the next
Springbok Coloured team to face their Black counterparts.
The headline read;
Religious intolerance and power ambitions in Western Province
Coloured rugby circles.
An expose by Coloured Springbok trialist, Falk Baartman.
The article had taken Falk weeks to write. He knew the furore it
would create in rugby circles and knew too the impact it would have
on his life. He would never have embarked on the project without
first understanding that it would put an end to his rugby ambitions,
and once that monumental decision was behind him, he deliberately
timed its release to take place after the trial teams for Coloured
national honours had been announced.
He had interviewed numerous players and researched the structures
and constitutions of both Union- and League-affiliated clubs. He
frankly disclosed the social and religious differences through the eyes
of the participants; the Muslim players did not party after the games,
the Christians did. The Muslim clubs were often family affairs and the
Christian players felt this excluded them. The consensus amongst
players was that these differences did not require separate clubs;
that the motivation for separation perhaps lay in the egos of the club
leaders.
The author also found that none of the Muslim clubs excluded
Christian players but that some of the Christian clubs barred entry to
Muslim players.
Falk reserved the most coverage for the executive of the Union and
League branches of the sport and in particular to their two
Presidents, Cuthbert Loriston and Abdullah Abbass. Neither had
granted him an interview, and he had been required to gain a view of
them through their associates.
Falk was careful not to express his own views. It was good
journalism, and it left an abiding impression that the power struggle
of the two top men was a major factor in the division in the sport. He
was also careful to have others express the view that they should not
be involved in rugby that accentuated the differences between the
races and therefore should neither play racially biased rugby nor
allow themselves to be used as propaganda to attract overseas
competition for White rugby.
The article ended with the slogan, “No normal sport in an abnormal
society”. That, he knew, would attract the attention of the
authorities, but it was time to express his creed. Falk had started his
campaign to regain his self-pride.
The reaction to the article was far stronger than he could possibly
have anticipated. It started with an urgent message to meet with his
coach.
Johnny Arendse was almost beside himself. He had the edition of the
Drum in his hand.
“Falk, what’s this fucking rubbish?”
Falk kept quiet, not about to answer rhetorical questions, but greatly
saddened that he had needed to offend this man who he admired so
much.
“This is fucking rubbish, Falk. Where did you get such nonsense? You
make out that the Christians are the bad guys, not allowing Muslims
into their clubs. Where did you get that shit?’
“It’s in the constitution of three of the League clubs I studied, Mister
A.”
“Written like that? Muslims not allowed?”
“Yes.”
“My Jirra, such fucking stupidity! And where’d you get this nonsense
about Cuthbert? He’s a good man, a blerrie fine administrator. You
don’t know the inside story Falk. You’ve got it totally wrong. The
reason for the split was because Abbass bled the Union dry, they’ve
got no money. Cuthbert refused to lend them more; why should he?
They can’t control their affairs. Shit, you’ve got it wrong Falk.”
The younger man kept silent. He had heard that argument, had
included it in the article, but Johnny’s anger was giving him selective
recall.
“And what do you think’s gonna happen to you now?”
“I was not going to play for the national side, Mister A. I’ve decided I
cannot play for a side selected on the basis of race, so I’m going to
withdraw from the trials. I’ve already written to them.”
“Ag, Falk, what a waste. You don’t know what you’re throwing away.
Why didn’t you come to me? I told you I’d help you with anything.”
“I couldn’t, Mister A, not about this. You would have tried to stop me
writing it. You love rugby so much that it’s more important than
anything else in your life. I’m not being critical of you. I admire you
for your love of the game. I’m different. There are other things more
important to me, things I have to do about what’s happening to us in
this country.”
Arendse became angry again.
“God gave you this talent. It’s not just your decision. You can’t beat
the Boere. Don’t try that, they’ll fuck you up. They’ll make your life a
misery. Not just you, also your family.”
“I’ve seen you fighting them, Mister A, trying to arrange a game with
UCT. You told me they threatened you. You’d do it for rugby and
your team. I’m going to do it for different reasons but you and I,
we’re not so far apart.”
Arendse stopped then, the anger draining from him. He sighed
deeply. “Such a fucking waste. Do you still want to play for Bushies?”
“I’d love to play for you, Mister A.”
“As long as it’s just against other Coloured teams?”
“Yes.”
“We’ll see. The Rector wants to see you, Falk. He’ll be in his office ‘til
ten.”
The Rector at that time was still a White man, a government
appointment.
“Why did you write this article, Meneer Baartman?”
“Because it needed to be written, Doctor. It is a shame that Coloured
people, under threat as a race, should be unable to be united even in
sport.”
“I was not aware of the extent of this division between the two
Coloured rugby unions. Is it as you’ve written it?”
Falk was appalled that someone in the position of Rector of a
Coloured university could admit to such ignorance.
“Yes, I was careful in my research.”
“I don’t think you should write more articles like this. It makes it very
difficult for us with the government. We rely on government funding,
Meneer Baartman. We can’t afford to alienate them.”
The comment raised two questions for Falk.
“Do you think the government would be unhappy about this angle,
Doctor? Don’t you think they might be pleased that there is division
in Coloured rugby along religious lines? It shows they are right to
split people, in this case Cape Malays and Cape Coloureds.”
“Yes, you have a point.”
The second point was trickier, but Falk had started his campaign to
be himself and he was not to be thwarted.
“You surely do not want to censure what I write in the public
domain, Doctor?”
“I didn’t put it like that. I’m saying you should be careful what you
write. It could put an end to your academic career.”
“You would rusticate students for what they write?”
“Listen, Meneer Baartman, you are being contentious now, putting
words in my mouth. You live in a society prescribed by law, in a
university subsidised by the makers of that law. You’re intelligent
enough to work it out for yourself. I’m trying to help you here,
pointing you in the right direction. Your first priority should be to
complete your degree so that you can find gainful employment.”
There were also positive consequences to the article. The Argus
group reprinted the article in all their newspapers and Falk received
a message from the Editor of the Cape Argus, complimenting him on
a fine piece of journalism and inviting him to talk to the newspaper
should he seek employment as a journalist.
One evening, shortly after the article appeared he arrived home on
foot from the station to find a battered old Opel parked outside his
house. On the veranda sat Richard Rives.
“Falk, my boy, you’ve arrived in the world of us writers. I’m proud of
you. I think your article is going to be discussed for some time and
maybe, just maybe, it’ll make us ashamed enough to stop these
foolish divisions amongst ourselves. Well done, it’s is a fine piece of
journalism.”
“Thank you, Richard. You came all this way to tell me that?”
“I came from just up the road Falk, but I would have come from far
further afield.”
“Thank you again. You’ve no idea how I appreciate your support. I’ve
taken some stick this week.”
“Ja, I can imagine. Well I must be going now.”
“Won’t you stay? Can’t I offer you a beer, or some wine?”
He would not stay and Falk wondered why he was in such a hurry. He
found out soon enough. “Who was that Black man?” asked Pauline.
“What are you talking about?”
“That man who I asked to wait for you on the veranda. I wasn’t going
to let him into the house.”
Falk was mortified. The writer he admired so much had been turned
away from their door. “Pauline, that is Richard Rives, one of the best
writers in the country, and you showed him such discourtesy. How
could you do that?”
“How was I supposed to know? He looks Black.”
“That’s your problem, Pauline. You still think like a White, seeing
people in colour, regardless of their worth.”
“I’m sick of your criticism, Falk. I sit around here all day with nothing
to do, nothing to stimulate my mind, not like you, and then you have
the gall to criticise me. You try staying at home.”
“Staying at home is your choice, Pauline. I don’t make it for you. You
have a car, there are places to go to, friends you can make. Open
your eyes to what is around you.”
“Yes, good idea, I’ll do just that.”
She disappeared into their bedroom and when she emerged she had
changed her blouse and put lipstick on.
“I’ll be back sometime, I suppose. You know what to do with the
boy.”
Once again he was left to an evening with his son, hardly a penance.
He wondered where she was getting the money to go drinking in the
White bars; ever since the pram incident he had limited the funds
available to her.
Falk also received support from most of his rugby team mates, and
he received a challenge, a repeat of an earlier challenge, delivered by
Alan Steed.
“Are you ready now Falk?”
He pretended ignorance.
“For what?”
“To take a chance. To take a risk for your ideals.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Biko is organising a conference next month. The venue is at the
University of the North, outside Pietersburg. It’s to inaugurate a new
union of non-white students.”
“Alan, stop right there. Listen to yourself. You’ve just defined this
new organisation in racist terms.”
Steed’s reply was mild.
“Perhaps I chose the wrong words. I know that Steve admires NUSAS
and has invited them to send a delegation to the conference. But
NUSAS is unable to be the organisation it wants to be. It’s banned
from all the non-white campuses and controlled by Whites who,
even if they want to change the discriminatory laws of this country,
have limited influence on White society and the government. Even
with the relatively small danger they represent to the government
their leaders are being banned; some of their Rhodesian leaders,
some wonderful young men, have been deported.
“They won’t cross the line, Falk. They won’t consider more radical
action to effect change.”
“And you will?”
“Yes. Well, maybe. I’ve not been tested yet. But you asked that
question of me personally. Ask it in general terms. Will the new
student organisation consider more radical action: boycotts, strikes,
burning passbooks, things like that? Yes. I think they will.
“So, what’s your answer? Will you come with me?”
Falk had been thinking about it for some time; the need to go the
step further and all the dangers that entailed. His greatest fear was
strangely not for himself, it was for Haytham. He did not trust
Pauline to look after him. What would happen if he was not there?
“I’m not convinced Alan, but yes, I’ll go with you.”
They travelled by train in the non-white coaches and slept on
benches designated for non-whites at the railway stations where
they made connections. It was a tiring journey, almost two full days.
A taxi took them into the countryside to the university premises
where they were to be accommodated in the hostels of the
university, empty because of the mid-year holidays. The inaugural
conference of the new South African Students Organisation was to
commence the following day and was scheduled for three days.
Alan and Falk were the only two Coloured representatives at the
conference and contrary to what they had been informed, no NUSAS
office bearers attended the meeting. The delegates all came from
the Black universities: the non-European section of Natal University,
Ongoye, St Peter’s Seminary, the University of South Africa and, of
course, their hosts, the University of the North.
They were made to feel welcome, even effusively, for Alan was much
admired for his writing. Falk was initially uncomfortable to be in the
presence of so many Black people, but soon his strangeness
disappeared as the speakers began to talk of topics which showed
him the commonality of their causes.
Steve Biko was a colossus at that conference, his presence felt in
almost every debate, his will becoming the collective will. Falk was
fascinated by the charming power of the man and was delighted
when Alan informed him that they were joining a party that first
evening with Biko and some of his close associates.
The party was held in the common room of one of the hostels. There
were a dozen of them, including three women, one of whom seemed
to be Biko’s companion. All three women were young and modern,
the one particularly interested in Falk, making it quite clear that his
advances would be welcomed.
Early in the evening, Biko challenged him in a loud voice, deliberately
loud to attract the attention of all.
“So, Falk, you won’t play rugby against us.”
“Who’s us?”
“Us. Black people. You know we love our rugby in the Eastern Cape.
We wanted to see the falcon. Your reputation preceded you. But you
didn’t want to play against us.”
By then, all attention was on Falk and their leader and he felt the
pressure of getting that encounter right.
“I’ll play rugby against anyone, Steve. But I won’t play rugby that
institutionalises racism.”
“Interesting point of view. What do the rest of you guys feel?”
No-one ventured a reply; they wanted to listen to the two
protagonists.
“So. One of the topics for tomorrow is the use of intervarsity
competition as a means of communication between the centres of
learning. It’s something we can do without the boere interfering.
Would you play for UWC against Fort Hare?”
“Of course. You’re getting me wrong about the Black versus Coloured
thing Steve. I don’t want to play Coloured rugby or Black rugby. I just
want to play the game, and if I’m good enough I want to play for my
country. I don’t want to play in a trumped-up farce which pits one
race against another in an attempt to ape the national White side.
That’s wrong. Playing for my university against another university is
fine with me; as long as everyone at my university qualifies to play.
“You see, Steve, that’s what really got to me about Coloured rugby.
Did you read my article in Drum?”
“Of course.”
“Good. I was driven to write that article because of my disgust that
religion became a divisive thing in Coloured rugby down in our part
of the country. How do you feel about religion dividing sport?”
“The same as you. You know, of course, you’re presenting one of the
main arguments for Black consciousness?”
“How so?”
“Be proud of what you are. Don’t let race become a constricting
factor as in, ‘Oh look at him, he’s pretty good for a Black man’. That’s
bullshit. If I’m good I want it to be a universal good, not a qualified
good, and certainly not because the White man helped me get there.
You with me?”
The conversation moved to other topics and the beer flowed. Falk
managed to avoid a close encounter with Peggy, the Black girl,
although he was sorely tempted, for sex had become a sometime
thing between him and Pauline. It was a disappearing act that he had
to repeat for the duration of the conference.
6.
Falk was away for a week, and when he returned Pauline had flown
the nest. The house was quiet, the curtains drawn. It was
inexplicable, for his car was parked in the yard. He did not have a key
and rattled the door knob with no response.
He heard his name called from across the street. Jessie had come to
their fence and gestured for him to go to her. When he got closer he
could see the anxiety in her face. She appeared to have aged in the
short time he had been gone, her face drawn and haggard.
“She’s gone, Falk. They’ve both gone.”
He got her meaning immediately, and he felt a surge of relief
followed by a spike of anxiety regarding Haytham.
“Who’s gone, Jessie?”
“Pauline and Eric. Come in, Falk, I can’t talk out here. All the
neighbours know. They’ve probably been anticipating your return
and are looking at us from behind their curtains. I can’t stand that
thought.”
He followed her into their lounge and there on the couch were Sarah
and Haytham, the boy asleep, cushions piled around him so that he
could not fall.
He looked the question at her.
“She left him. Said you loved him more, and he has your name
anyway. I suppose you could say that is the one decent thing she did,
but it’s probably simpler than that; most likely she didn’t want a child
to spoil her fun.”
“And Eric went with her?”
“Yes, they’ve gone to Port Elizabeth. He says he has a job there with
the municipality in the Department of Housing. She’s going to try and
get her job back with Ford.”
“Oh shit, Jessie. I’m so sorry.”
“Yes, I know you are. I don’t know how long they’ve been lovers.
Probably months and I never guessed it. You know I looked out for
this after that dance on New Year’s Eve, but they still deceived me.”
She sat down suddenly, as if the energy had left her body. Her face
looked such a picture of misery that he went to her side and put his
arms around her, felt the tremble in her body. His compassion
released the floodgates.
“Oh, my Lord, Falk, I just wanted to have you come back. I couldn’t
speak to my mother, she thinks I must have done something wrong. I
can tell only you. Only you know the love I had for Eric, you saw it
that night.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I’m so wrapped in my own grief that I haven’t thought of you. I’m
sorry. You’ve lost Pauline.”
“Pauline and I were going to break up Jessie. I never initiated the
break, because of Haytham.”
Her voice became bitter.
“So she switched her sights to my husband. Why didn’t you end it
sooner Falk, before she stole my husband?”
There wasn’t an answer he could give that could ameliorate her
acrimony, and he let her think it through, knowing she was not the
kind of person to hold unfair grudges. When some time had passed
he asked quietly, “When did they go?”
“It was a few days ago. Saturday, I think. Yes, Saturday.”
“And you’ve looked after my son.”
“That was a godsend, because he was a distraction. He’s a very good
little boy, Falk.”
“I know, and now I have him for the rest of my life.”
“What will you do when you go back to ’varsity?”
“I still have more than two weeks of the holidays to think about that
and make arrangements.”
“I can help, Falk. I’d be happy to care for him. It’s not much more
extra work, and he and Sarah get on well. She likes to pretend she is
the mother.”
“That would be splendid, Jessie. Let’s think about that.”
“Of course, I might not be able to do it for long. It depends on what
maintenance Eric pays. That’s all to be negotiated, I suppose, when
the divorce proceedings start. I might have to go back to work.”
“I didn’t know you worked before. What did you do?”
“I was a secretary in a legal office, and I was studying part time. I was
in my second year of a degree in law through UNISA when I fell
pregnant with Sarah, and I’ve now managed to finish that year.”
Jessie had the key to his home and a short while later he left to open
the house and check what food and other provisions he needed to
buy before the shops closed. He would fetch his son later; better to
let him sleep.
For a few days there was a strangeness to his new life, just he and
Haytham in the house, adjusting his routines to his son’s rhythm,
getting to know his neighbourhood as never before, seen through
the eyes of his son on their many walks, Hatytham leaning out of the
pram to touch the dogs loping alongside them, housewives leaning
over gates with their own children, some still in their gowns with
their hair in curlers, introducing themselves with colourful language
and good humour, and doing what he could for his neighbour and
her grief; shopping for both of them.
And the writing. The writing came back. He had not realised how his
strife with Pauline had stunted the creative side of his nature and
with her gone he started to see the world differently and to see in it
opportunities to describe it in refreshing and new ways.
He wrote a short story inspired by what he had observed at the SASO
conference: the exuberance of new beginnings, the thrill of finding
common ideals, the danger of the police state looming over them. In
his story there were two characters, fictional Falk and Peggy,
different race and background, speaking in the vernacular, Kaaps for
him, township chic for her, exploring bodies and minds, day and
night with no let-up in their delight at just being there, in the
cauldron of that small piece of history.
He wrote a revised version, took out the graphic sex and sent it off to
Drum.
The return to classes was also welcomed, much more stimulating
with his mind open and free of the daily niggle of an unsatisfying
relationship. He worried about Jessie, but that worry brought about
positive energy, how he could help her. He heard not a word from
Pauline and delighted in that because, if she ever wanted Haytham
back, she was giving Falk the tools with which to fight her, her
abandonment proof of her unsuitability.
He still took the train on the days he did not have rugby practice,
leaving his car and his son with Jessie, returning home as soon as his
classes were over, realising in time that it was not just his son that he
missed.
Jessie’s divorce proceedings started, letters from Eric’s lawyer, and
she sought out Falk’s help in both the detail and the emotion of the
betrayal. Eric claimed she was living with Falk, had started a
relationship with him while still living under the roof of her husband;
claimed that was the root cause of him leaving the city, unable to live
in the same place as his cheating wife.
As cruel as the false claims were, they had one unintended outcome:
they healed her of her love for Eric, and they placed her and Falk on
an equal footing, both having to admit their poor judgment in their
former partners.
Falk realised his admiration for his neighbour had morphed into
something much deeper, a love which was selfless and patient; he
would not burden her with a declaration of his love until she was
ready.
She saw it anyway, saw it in his faithfulness and the way he looked at
her. She also admitted to herself that there had been an attraction
from the beginning, the lithe and strong body up the ladder, paintdaubed and almost naked, his complimentary first words, and the
blue eyes so playful and warm.
Falk had worried that attending the SASO conference would bring
him to the attention of the security police, but it was not that which
caused their first attack on his person. The anti-apartheid forces
realised later that the State was not displeased with the formation of
a non-white student body, for it sanctified their own race policies.
Falk’s earlier piece on Coloured rugby had also pleased hardnosed
right wing nationalists for the same reason.
What got them going was the short story in Drum, with the
plagiarised title A Hard Day’s Night.
It brought Wynand van der Spuy, the dreaded head of the Security
Branch in the Western Cape, to his door.
There was a white late model Toyota Corona parked outside his
house. He had seen it as he turned into his street and knew it for
what it was, a government car. As he approached, he could see two
men sitting in it, White men with short haircuts and hard faces, and
he knew instinctively that he was in trouble and that he should not
go first to Jessie’s house to get his son.
As he passed them, walking into his yard, they got out of the car and
the taller one, the one who had been the passenger, called out to
him, “Is jy Baartman?”
“Ja, meneer.”
He hated himself for the obsequious tone he heard in his voice and
for pandering to them by calling them ‘mister’. He had succumbed to
the many frightening stories he had heard since coming to live
among the Coloured community in that city.
“Come with us. Get in the car.”
“Why should I? Who are you?”
“Don’t argue, jong, get in the car.”
Perhaps because he was ashamed of his first frightened reaction he
dug his heels in.
“You can’t just order people around. I suppose you are the police. If
that is so, why are you detaining me? What is your reason for coming
to my house? Are you arresting me?”
“Too many questions, jong. Get in the car or we’ll fuck you up.”
They came to him and pushed him towards the back door of their
car. Falk knew better than to resist, for that would earn him a charge
of assaulting a police office.
In the end they did not do much to him, but he remembered for all
time that first loss of freedom, the feeling of helplessness that
accompanies incarceration in the hands of an uncaring enemy for
whom observation of the law is not a requirement.
He was taken to a police station and interrogated. There was not
much physical abuse, some slaps and digs, but it was meant to
humiliate not cause serious damage. It was to show him their power
and his impotence.
The interrogation was conducted mostly by the taller policeman. It
started much later. Falk had been placed in an interrogation room
and made to wait. When he thought that perhaps nothing would
happen that evening, the two came into the room.
“I am Colonel Van der Spuy. You’ve heard of me?”
“Yes.”
“Yes what?”
That was when the other man stood up and reached over the table
to slap Falk in the face.
“You will call the Colonel, meneer.”
“Ag, never mind Hans, he’s just a Hot’not who still thinks he’s a
White man.
“So, White man, we see now that you never had a right to live
amongst us. Fucking kaffirs now, hey? Maybe we should have
declared you a kaffir, not a Coloured.”
At first Falk did not know what Van der Spuy was talking about, and
then realised he was taking the story in Drum literally, although the
reference to the story was a red herring. What they were really after
was information about the SASO conference and whether it held any
threat to the state. Falk stuck to the story that the conference was
about peaceful communication between the non-white centres of
learning, sporting and academic ties for the purpose of personal
development.
They went over the same ground for nearly three hours and then
they dropped the bombshell; he was to be served with a banning
order for three months. They went through the restrictions with him:
he had to stay within the confines of the suburb of Athlone, not
more than one person could visit him at his home at a time, he could
not address an assembly nor publish anything. He was to be allowed
to receive material from the university and could write the end-ofyear exams.
It was all relatively mild, a reminder of his vulnerability and a warning
to curb his writing. He felt alternatively angry and defiant, and then
afraid and cautious.
When he got out of the police station it was dark. Parked at the curb
was Jessie in his Borgward.
When he got into the car, she leaned over and kissed him, hard and
desperate. “Oh my God, Falk, I thought I’d never see you again. I was
so afraid. Are you alright, did they hurt you?”
“No Jessie, they didn’t hurt me. How did you know I was here?”
“I took a chance. If it’s the security police, they always bring people
here. But those bastards in there, in the charge office, they wouldn’t
tell me anything. I decided to stay until ten and then I’d have to
leave.”
“God yes, the kids.”
“It’s okay, my mom’s with them.”
He told her all about it as she drove back to Brandon Street, but his
mind kept returning to the kiss. It was the first time they had ever
kissed. He had looked at that generous mouth often, envisaging that
first kiss. It had not been what he had imagined and now he was
amazed that he was dwelling on it. Perhaps it was an escape from
the frightening episode he had just had to endure; the mind choosing
the beautiful and hopeful.
“Falk, you’re rambling.”
“Yes, I know, I was thinking about your kiss.”
“What!”
He had done what he had promised himself not to do, started the
conversation about the two of them and he immediately drew back.
“Just a joke Jessie, a little escape.”
“Some joke,” she said, a smile on her face.
Eric returned to Cape Town for the divorce hearing, but he never
came near Brandon Street so Falk did not see him, nor could he
accompany Jessie to support her because of his banning order. It was
one of the few occasions where the banning order impeded him to
the point of anger.
At first there had been the car parked down the street, always with
two men in it, watching. But the state could not keep up such a
presence for a minor foe, and it disappeared after a week, never to
be seen again in the three months.
His routine was not onerous. Alan Steed came to see him every
Saturday, bringing lessons and assignments; he spent all day with his
son, either in his own or in Jessie’s house; he set aside time to study
and complete work assignments; and he found time to write in the
evening, after Haytham was put to bed.
If there was one thing he did miss it was the rugby. The sport and the
hard physical training it required had always been like an electric
conducting rod for him, releasing pent-up negative energy into the
firmament. The training ground in Klipfontein Road was outside the
suburb of Athlone, so he found himself running the streets of his
suburb, timing his runs to give himself a target for improvement.
He had visitors. His coach came to see him several times, and at first
Falk was surprised. Then he realised that Johnny just wanted to talk
rugby and as a coach he felt he could not discuss it with his players
without losing some of his authority.
Richard Rives came to see him to discuss A Hard Day’s Night and
read the original.
“Why did you water it down, Falk?”
“The magazine would never have published it in the original form.”
“So why did you write it that way?”
“I don’t know, Richard. I’m learning as I go along, but I don’t know
why we have this taboo about describing sex. I mean, it’s part of the
cycle of life: birth, sex and death. So why must we always be so
careful in describing it, as if it’s some shameful thing?”
“You didn’t treat it as shameful in some of your poems.”
“That was different. I published them and I did not have to worry
about outside editing, and besides, you can be obscure in poetry and
still be very direct, if you know what I mean.”
“Yes and no. You can apply those principles in prose and it’s regarded
as artistic.”
“I don’t want to be artistic, I want to be real.”
“Good, we’re getting somewhere now. You’ve just described the kind
or writer you want to be. You see, Falk, when you write to please an
imaginary audience you lose the truth. You must write to please
yourself.”
“So I should have sent Drum the original version?”
“Yes, let them censor it and then decide whether you’ll let them
publish it.”
The betrayal by Eric had released Jessie from his thrall and she no
longer had that haunted look of the deeply disturbed. But the
approaching divorce case tried her loving and kind nature sorely. The
uncertainties were how she would react to Eric’s presence and
whether she could persuade the judge that Eric, not she, was the
initiator of the separation and would therefore grant her the
settlement she requested. She worried too about her performance in
the court; she had prepared her own case while Eric had a qualified
lawyer to represent him.
All of these uncertainties were discussed with Falk and he too
worried about them on the day she went to court and he sat at
home, forbidden to be the support she needed. He did not know
when her case would be heard; there were always numerous cases
on the register. He occupied himself by supervising the play of
Haytham and Sarah, but his mind was in an imaginary court room,
seeing Jessie brave and determined.
He heard the Borgward coming up the road, recognised by the
suspension shackles rattling; he really needed to have those
attended to. Jessie did not bother to park the car in the yard. She
stopped it in the street, got out leaving the door ajar and ran into his
arms. This time there was no desperation in the kiss nor a concern
for prying neighbours. When the kiss ended they were both a little
breathless.
“I’m free, Falk. I’m a single woman. Why don’t we have the children
sleep together tonight?”
He held her at arm’s length and took in her flushed and excited face
and there was no longer a lingering doubt caused by the memory of
a golden-haired girl from the valley.
7.
There was a time of wonderment for Falk and Jessie. It did not last
long, barely a half-year, but during that time they were blessed
beyond their greatest expectations.
They moved into one of the houses, Falk’s, and in that small space,
with their children in the room next door, they made love that was
so sensuous and spiritual that it obliterated earlier memory; they got
married in a church in Elsies River and were embarrassed when
uninvited but welcomed guests had to spill out to the street.
Stephanie, who attended the wedding, fell in love with her new
daughter-in-law and stayed as long as she could, spending all her
time with the two children.
When the trouble started it was entirely unfair. Falk had too much to
lose and he had not engaged in any political activities and the two
stories he wrote and published through the Cape Argus were free of
any criticism of the government. He was not going to jeopardise his
future.
They wanted to get rid of Alan Steed, for they had finally figured it
out that the Black consciousness movement was gathering
momentum and becoming a threat, and Alan was a staunch advocate
of the movement. Alan was also a Head of Department and that set a
bad example in the eyes of the leadership of the university, still
snow-white in its composition. However, if Alan had to go, so too did
his friend and fellow delegate to the Pietersburg conference.
They sought an excuse to expel Falk from the university. The banning
order was not sufficient, for it had allowed him to write his second-
year exams, the implication being that he should be able to continue
his studies. They found it in a little white lie he had told in his
application for the university; he had not declared the criminal
record he held for the assault on Hans Van der Mescht. The
Dutchman was to have the last word.
The irony was that he had not lied deliberately, for he’d never
believed himself to be guilty, and that, had he declared it, his
application would still have been accepted for the scale of the
offence did not disqualify him.
There was more than one irony but that is too gentle a word to
describe the State’s utter misreading of the threat of Falk Baartman.
He was in a loving relationship, had two children whose well-being
would have remained uppermost in his mind, had passed his secondyear exams with distinction, despite the circumstances of his banning
order, and was almost reconciled to his second-rate status under
apartheid. He might have become an activist in time, but they did
not need to deal with him then, in April 1970.
By doing so, they made of him an implacable enemy.
Cognisant of the threat of student protest the State chose to deal
with both Alan and Falk simultaneously. Once more, Falk found
himself in the Rector’s office, but this time he did not know the
reason. The Rector got straight to the point. “Meneer Baartman, it
has come to my attention that you lied in your application to this
university.”
The tone was ominous but Falk had no idea what the Rector was
talking about. “What do you mean, Doctor?”
“You said you had no criminal record.”
“I don’t have a criminal record.”
“Then what is this record of a court case in Oudtshoorn in 1967,
where you were found guilty of common assault?”
“That small thing? Doctor that was a minor offence which, in any
case, should have been thrown out of court. Do you have the
transcript of the verdict given by the magistrate?”
“No. What difference would that make?”
“The magistrate censured the other man for provocation, but said he
had no choice but to find me guilty for it was a proven fact; he gave
me the least sentence possible because he felt it was unfair and that
I was sorely provoked.”
“How does that change things, Baartman? The fact is you lied in your
application. We can’t have students in this university who enter
under false pretences; this institution would become a farce if we
permitted such immoral behaviour.”
“I kicked a man in the backside who had been disparaging about my
ancestry, Doctor. What’s immoral about that?”
“I’m not going to argue with you. We have taken this matter to the
Senate and the finding is that you are to be expelled from the
university.”
The words were almost meaningless, because Falk could not believe
what he was hearing. They could not expel him for so trivial an
infraction.
“You can’t be serious, Doctor?”
“What could be more serious than an act of fraud?”
“Have you no consideration of the pettiness of this so-called fraud
and of my record in this university; my results place me in the
honours category.”
“That was all taken into account.”
Falk sat and stared at the man, the hatred building in him, pushing
him beyond his normal measured responses.
“There’s something more to this, isn’t there White man?”
“Don’t you dare be rude to me in this office.”
“Come on, tell me. What is it White man? Is it Alan Steed you are
afraid of?”
“You are dismissed, Baartman.”
“Come on, tell me, Doctor. Are you the Rector here, or just a
puppet?”
The Rector would not answer, getting up from behind his desk and
opening the door for Falk to exit.
Falk went straight to Alan Steed and found him clearing his office.
The older man saw the rage in Falk. “Have you just seen our
esteemed Rector?”
“Yes. They’re expelling me.”
“And what is your trumped up charge?”
“I didn’t declare something on my application form. It was such a
small thing that it could never have justified their action. This doesn’t
come from them, Alan. They’re doing what they’ve been ordered to
do. Why are they getting rid of you?”
“Salacious teaching, so they say, innuendo in the classroom. What
does it matter what the charge is? They want us out, Falk, because of
our huge crime of wanting to better the lives of non-white people.
They’re afraid of us, afraid people like us will stir the masses.”
He took his last ride as a student in the train from Elsies River. It was
mid-morning, so it was a new experience for him to ride an empty
train. He stared listlessly at the factories of Epping and the slums of
Langa and the middle class White houses in Pinelands, without
seeing any of it.
They had taken the soul of one of God’s children, Falk Baartman, and
abused it, piling indignity upon indignity on that delicate essence, the
being who only wanted to be at peace with the world and his
surroundings, to be allowed his God-given right to make his way
according to his ability. They had pushed him into the stinking mud,
face down and trampled upon him in the name of White supremacy.
Fuck them.
But he must compose himself, he realised. This was not the person
he wanted his wife and children to see.
He tried to make light of it with Jessie. “Well, my darling wife, I’ve
been given a bonus holiday, an early holiday for the Baartman’s.”
She knew his moods intimately and was not remotely fooled. “What
is it, Falk?”
He told her what had transpired that morning, the full story but
without the bitter thoughts. It was she who made light of it, giving a
hope for the future. “That’s okay then, Falk, we’ll finish our degrees
through UNISA. It will be fun working together, don’t you think?”
They decided the first thing they needed to do was take a break, get
out of Cape Town and go someplace to refresh themselves. The
obvious place was Rooikrantz, the refuge through the ages of the
Baartman clan.
It was not refreshing at all, because what they found at the farm
under the red cliffs was history in decline. At first it was fun. Jessie
and the children had never been to Prince Albert and Falk drove
through the town, pointing out all the places of his past, and then
they stopped at the shop and were greeted enthusiastically by his
mother and the two employees of the old days, Joel and pretty
Bianca, still working loyally at Warm.
There was an interesting aside as Bianca and Jessie sized each other
up. When they were out of hearing Jessie said to him, “Did that girl
always work for you?”
“Yes, I hired her and Joel when I opened the business.”
“And you never took up her offer?”
Falk pretended not to know what she meant. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, my husband, that girl has the hots for you. I’m sure she’s always
had them.”
Of course, they could not sleep over in Prince Albert for there was no
establishment that catered for Coloureds, so they headed for
Rooikrantz. Stephanie packed a bag and went with them, sitting
happily in the back with the children. When they topped the rise, and
saw the valley spread out beneath them, the scalloped ridges
climbing towards the high mountains to their left, the small
mountains marching into the distance to their right, Stephanie
leaned forward so that she could be heard by Falk and Jessie.
“I want to prepare you for this visit, Falk. Tess has been ill. She turns
eighty soon, you know, but she’s never looked or acted her age. But
this last year has been difficult for her. She’s not felt well, and has
been unable to tend to the business of the farm. You’ll see it, I’m
afraid, Falk, see the decay.”
He was alarmed. A world without a fit and active Tess was not
something he had ever had to contemplate.
“How bad is it, Ma?”
“We don’t know. She won’t go to a doctor. I fear it is cancer, for she
has pain in her stomach and kidneys. I didn’t want to give you this
news when I came down for your wedding. I didn’t want to spoil your
happiness.”
Even though he had been prepared, Falk was shocked at his first
sight of Tess. She was in a reclining chair on the veranda and was
unable to stand to greet them. Her skin was grey, her look
unfocused, her voice reedy and her form skeletal.
He knelt next to her. “I’ve brought you my family Tess. This is my
wife Jessie, and our children, Sarah and Haytham. You haven’t seen
Haytham since he was a month old. Well, he’s over two now and
Sarah is even older than him.”
“I’m two years and eight months,” said Sarah.
Tess smiled at the children then her eyes sought out Jessie.
“Come closer, my dear.”
Jessie knelt next to Falk.
“So it is you who will look after the future of the Baartmans, Jessie.
I’m so happy to have met you finally. Stephanie came back from your
wedding and couldn’t stop talking about you.”
Jessie looked back at Stephanie and thanked her with a smile and the
older woman acknowledged the gesture.
“How long will you stay, Falk?”
He thought of all she had meant to him, all she had done for him.
Since she had come into the valley that day with her dusty Zephyr
she had been his talisman. It was inconceivable that he could leave
her now when she needed him. “We will stay here until we are no
longer needed, Tess.”
He could see from her eyes that she knew what he meant.
While Stephanie and Jessie prepared the rooms for their stay,, Falk
went wandering around the fig orchard and the production and
storage sheds of the farm. The lack of supervision was evident in all
he saw: rotting fruit on the ground and in the processing sheds;
machinery that had not been cleaned for weeks. The smell of decay
hung over the farm like a blanket, wet with the sweat of a horse.
When he went back into the house Stephanie approached him. “Why
don’t you and Jessie stay in the cottage, Falk? I can look after the
children here in the big house at night.”
He took Jessie to look at the cottage. It needed to be cleaned, but
she was thrilled at the opportunity to stay there with him. It would
be like a holiday, and she had heard his answer to his aunt, knew he
would not leave until the end.
The next morning Tess asked to see him alone. The previous day the
two farm women who looked after her had fed her and taken her for
her ablutions and bed before it even became dark. She had only
managed to eat some thin soup, and the same diet in the morning.
He sat next to her on that big wide veranda with the early sun on
their faces.
“Ah Falk. What would my life have been if you hadn’t been around?”
“I ask myself the same question, Tess.”
“Tell me about your life in Cape Town.”
He told her the bits she wanted to hear: the brilliance of Alan Steed,
the bluntness of Richard Rives, family life with Jessie and the two
children, his friendly neighbours the Hendricks family, playing rugby
at the Track with the watching crowds on the slopes of Signal Hill,
the passion of Johnny Arendse.
She sat back in her recliner, eyes closed, and a half-smile on her face
as she listened. When he stopped talking she opened her eyes and
looked at him with amusement, an old look he remembered well.
“So, just the good stories for the old woman?”
“The good stories for me too, Tess.”
“Yes, I can imagine some of the things you went through. It’s enough
isn’t it, just to imagine them?”
“Yes, Tess.”
“But what’s it like, Falk, living the life of a Coloured person?”
He was indignant at the question and answered with heat.
“What’s a Coloured person? Me? My beautiful and loving wife?
There’s no such thing, Tess. There are only people. Some have more
than others, some want to enslave others out of fear and greed.”
“Sorry, Falk, I stand corrected.”
He was immediately contrite.
“I didn’t mean to put you down. It’s just not a subject I want to talk
about. It’s also impossible to describe to people of another so-called
race group for we all come to such a conversation with our own
preconceptions. I will say one thing; I’m glad in a way that I
discovered the humanity of people I regarded as different, when I
was one of the privileged.”
He thought about what he had said and what she might have made
of it.
“We’re all just people Tess.”
“Okay, sorry about that Falk, an old White woman who doesn’t
understand. Let’s talk about the farm, and about the future.”
A look of pain passed over her face and she inhaled sharply.
“What is it, Tess?”
“It’s just the pain of this disease. Nothing to be done.”
He would not accept that.
“Why haven’t you seen a doctor, Tess?”
“Because I know its cancer, Falk, and I don’t want someone trying to
get me to prolong it. It can’t be beaten, and I will die soon. I want to
die here, not in some hospital with people who don’t care a hoot
about me except in so far as I give them employment.
“Anyway, let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about the situation here at
the farm and what’s to be done about it. Have you been over the
farm?”
“Yes.”
“Then you’ve drawn your own conclusions. I’ve learnt something in
my old age, Falk. I always thought I was so clever, running things
around here personally, making all the decisions for the labourers,
even the small ones. I never taught them to do things for themselves
and when I stopped being there they stopped working.
“So, what to do? Firstly, let’s talk about the town farms, Falk. Like I
told you I would, I’ve sold them and left the proceeds in trust for
your children. You need to go and see your old friend Gerard, and
take him a letter I wrote this morning which includes little Sarah as
one of the beneficiaries.”
He nodded his thanks.
“Now, this farm, Rooikrantz. What to do? I was going to write to you
about this Falk, now I can discuss it personally. I want to sell it, but I
want to sell it with your permission.”
“Why my permission?”
“Because you might want it. But I don’t know if it would be good for
you to inherit it. Your future lies in the city. Even if I think beyond this
terrible time with the present government, when maybe we will be
free of discrimination, I still think you should see your future in the
city where you can grow your talent; become a great writer.”
“I wrote pretty well out here, Tess.”
“Yes, but consider the subject matter. You need to be in the midst of
life, boy, not stuck out here with the mountains and the baboons.”
He laughed at that image and remembered that Rives had given him
the same advice.
She looked sheepish. “Well, you know what I mean. Anyway, you
need to decide your future, Falk. I’ve got buyers coming out here
next week.”
“Delay them, Tess. We need to get this farm shipshape if it’s to be
sold. Give me a month.”
“And you’ll think about your decision?”
“Of course.”
Tess died in July, when the first of the big cold fronts started to bring
mixed blessings; life-giving water and freezing temperatures. She
died with the farm having been sold and in the presence of people
who loved her. She also died in the knowledge that another
Baartman child was on the way. By then Jessie was sure and she was
able to tell them. What she did not tell them was the nature of the
conception, or at least the event that she hoped had been the
conception, for there had been many other opportunities in the
cottage that had been built by Dan Baartman.
The day Falk told her the story of Dan and Caroline, and of his
ancestor Ahad, was one of those rare hot days of late autumn. He
told her after they had swum naked in the pool in the kloof and lay
on a warm rock drying themselves in the sun.
She’d pretended not to believe him. “You’re making this up aren’t
you?”
“No, why should I?”
“To get into my pants.”
“Look at you Jessie. Where are the pants?”
The rock was too hard to lie on and she sat on his lap and their lower
bodies moved in increasing urgency while they faced one another,
saying the words which expressed their ardent feelings, repeatedly,
like a mantra.
Rooikrantz was no longer the seat of the Baartman’s, but it had given
up from its earth another genesis.
8.
Trafalgar High School nestles below the imposing one thousandmetre-high buttress known as Devil’s Peak. Today, as you travel on
De Waal Drive, you see it just below you, next to acres of weeds and
concrete platforms that once contained the vibrant community of
District Six.
Trafalgar consists of blocks of two-storey rectangular buildings
topped by russet coloured tiles. The main building has a certain style
to it, with gables on the first storey windows and main doors, and
angled roof supports framing the tall second storey windows.
The school was opened in 1912, after years of protest to the Cape
School Board to provide a school of secondary learning for Coloured
pupils. It was the first Coloured high school in Cape Town, opening
sixty-three years after the first White school, Bishops. Opened in
protest, it remained a struggle school, because the teachers and
pupils of Trafalgar never accepted the social and education precepts
of the Nationalist government and the preceding White
governments.
The school produced many prominent Coloured men and women,
among them the first Justice Minister of the ANC government, Dullah
Omar, Hassan Howa, president of the South African Council of Sport
and Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of
the Free State.
Falk’s coach, Johnny Arendse, had also been to Trafalgar, as had
Richard Rives. Johnny used to travel by train daily from the Strand
and had had to run from the station up the streets through District
Six to be in time for classes.
Falk came, in a rather circuitous way, to teach English at Trafs in the
third term of 1970.
The young Baartman family stayed for the funeral and the reading
of the will, and then travelled sadly back to Brandon Street, where
they found their home had been well cared for by their neighbours.
It was decision time.
Falk’s aunt had placed the balance of the family fortune in trust to be
administered by Stephanie, who could benefit from the proceeds of
the investment but not touch the capital. Tess had made the same
stipulation for inheritance as she had for the children of Falk; it could
only be paid out once apartheid was defeated.
Tess left a letter for Falk; a message from the grave;
My dear Falk,
No doubt you will be disappointed in my stipulations for your
inheritance, although I know you never wanted to benefit from my
death, nor have you ever been one to believe you are entitled to
something you have not earned.
I do this to deny you funds for a campaign against the Nationalists,
because that is what you would have found to be the best use of the
money. It’s terrible that I’m doing this and not giving you the choice
but I fear for your life and I will not do anything which further
endangers you.
Please accept, dear Falk, that I have your best interests at heart. I
love you as I would have loved a natural son had I been blessed with
one. You are the one I planned and plotted for and loved very dearly.
Your development was my labour of love and I was never
disappointed.
Try to stay out of trouble, Falk. You now have a most delightful and
clever wife, two wonderful children and another on the way. Do a
little living with them before you dive into your next exercise of
passion.
Tess.
He showed the letter to Jessie the first evening they were back in
their own home.
“What a remarkable woman she was. You were blessed to have her
in your life, Falk. Will you take her advice?”
“I don’t know. It’s tempting to lay low, but how can I? I can’t be
silenced, but I’ll be more selective, Jessie, pick my fights, maybe get
into print overseas. But much more pressing is earning a living. The
money I got for the sale of my store is more than half gone.”
“There’s the maintenance money.”
“I hate the thought of having him come into our lives every month.”
“We have to be sensible, Falk. That’s not our money, it’s for Sarah
and he has a responsibility for her.”
“I know that, but it still irks.”
“Let’s change the subject. It depresses me to think about it. So, my
husband, what are you going to do?”
“Well, there are two options that I know of. The Argus were once
interested in employing me. I don’t know if that’s changed, but
working as a journalist will certainly be high risk. The other thing I
could do is teach; they’ll take me with two years towards my degree.
What do you think of that?”
“I think you’d enjoy teaching. You told me how you and your friend
taught in the school in the valley and how much you liked it. But the
choice is yours, Falk. I’ll support you in whatever decision you make.
I’m going to register next year to complete my BA in Law; it’s a good
year for me, because I’ll have to be home with our new baby. If all
goes well, I could be employed in eighteen months.”
He went to Richard Rives first.
“I think you’ll make a good teacher, Falk, but Hewat College would
not take you.”
“Why not?”
“It’s a government institution. They don’t dare rock the boat.”
“But most of the schools are government owned. Will they all refuse
to employ me because they have to toe the line?”
“Most will, yes, but there are a few who have the guts to be
independent. Have you heard of Trafalgar?”
“It’s a high school in District Six, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I went there. And so did your old coach, Arendse, as a matter of
interest. It’s a great school, certainly the best Coloured high school,
and they are fiercely independent; they get into trouble with the
state all the time.”
“Would they hire me?”
“I think they’d love to have someone of your calibre. I’ll set up an
appointment for you with the Principal. His name is Goosain
Emeran.”
Emeran’s office was tucked away on a separate wing on the north
side of the main building. Falk had to climb a short flight of stairs
from the playground, and then another flight where he first
presented himself in the general office. He stood at the counter that
separated him from the office staff while one of them went to see if
the Principal was ready for him.
The Principal’s office was modest, as was the furnishing, displaying
no ambition to be anything but utilitarian as evidenced by the
exposed electric conduits running up the walls. The Principal, though,
was somewhat different, a neat man immaculately dressed in a dark
suit, white shirt and striped red and black tie. A fez sat on his head to
show his cultural and religious orientation.
He was also scrupulously formal, but the eyes were warm and
welcoming.
“Please sit down, Meneer Baartman. Richard has told me much of
you.”
“Thank you, sir, and thank you for agreeing to see me.”
“Oh, that was always going to happen after I heard all of the
shenanigans you’ve been up to.”
Falk did not know what had been said about him and chose to
remain silent.
“You don’t want to know what I’ve heard?”
“I assume it’s about the banning order against me and being expelled
from UWC.”
“Yes, among other things. So why should we hire someone with such
a record, Meneer Baartman?”
The interview was not going according to the preconception Falk had
had, but he had prepared arguments of defence if the two events
were brought up. “I was banned, Meneer Emeran, because I wrote a
fictional short story of love across the colour lines. Only in the
twisted minds of our government could such a story warrant a
penalty like that. What the security police really wanted to know was
what I had got up to at the SASO conference at Pietersburg that year
and then, once they got nothing from me, they chose to ban me as a
lesson.
“As for being expelled, they found an excuse to get rid of me, an
administrative error on my application form. They really wanted Alan
Steed out, and I happened to be caught in the crossfire.”
“You don’t need to tell me about being expelled. Alan Steed has told
me about that.”
“You spoke to Alan as well?”
“Of course. If you are to be a teacher at this school I need to know
everything about you. So now we have disposed of the negatives, tell
me the positives, Meneer Baartman. What will make you a good
teacher?”
Falk spoke of Trevor Weiss and the experience at the school in the
valley, and of his love of literature and his good marks and of his
intention to complete his degree, and his love of rugby and
willingness to coach.
Emeran was a good listener and waited for the young man to finish
before questioning him further. “And will you bring politics into your
classroom?”
Falk searched for the trick in that question, and then decided to
answer as honestly as he could. “I’m opposed to this government
and their race policies and I’m myself a victim of their laws. In my
private life, I will continue to write and publish stories that show my
abhorrence of such laws. In the classroom, Meneer Emeran, I will not
hide my views but will attempt to give the children moral guidance
on these issues through the work of others, particularly the work of
great authors. I will show them the benefit of reading to open their
minds. In particular, I will try to give them hope that these conditions
will change, that they must never accept the judgment of others that
they are inferior in any way.”
Emeran was nodding as Falk made each point and he knew his
answer was acceptable. The Principal had another question. “Do you
know that the security police have pupils who spy for them, tell them
what our teachers are saying?”
“No, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
“So, will that modify your approach?”
“No, sir.”
“Okay, Meneer Baartman, I’ve heard enough. I will consult with my
Vice-Principal and other senior teachers and get back to you. Do you
know that your neighbour is a cousin of mine?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well you might end up with Emerans as both a neighbour and a
superior. We’ll see.”
Jessie gave birth to a girl in February 1971. The little girl was born in
their Brandon Street home with a midwife and Jessie’s mother in
attendance and Falk a nervous father having the odd sip of brandy
with Callie Hendricks; Meisie recognised the men were not fit to look
after the children and happily played that role. Jessie was a healthy
and strong woman, and the birth passed with no hitches.
When everything was shipshape, the mother recovered and the baby
bathed, they left the bedroom and allowed the father to enter. Falk
was understandably sentimental, and his wife bemused by his antics,
for she would have forgiven him anything at that moment, after she
had seen the product of their love. For both of them, this new child
was surrounded by an aura of the love they felt for each other, and
maybe a conception that was both romantic and a link with the past.
They had not discussed names, a superstitious reaction to not
knowing the sex of the child.
“Have you thought of a name for our girl, Jessie?”
“Yes. There can be only one name. We must call her Tess. We owe it
to your aunt, and we owe it to our history.”
That sealed his euphoria for the day, as she had known it would.
The birth of their third child was another island of happiness in the
sea of turmoil that was the lot of people of colour in the South Africa
of the 1970’s.
Falk was enjoying his fledging teaching career. When he’d started the
previous year they’d given him the standard 6s and 7s. The classes
were not large, for English was not the mother tongue, and he had
several free periods each day so was able to be well prepared. He
had an easy manner with the pupils and soon many more wanted to
be taught by him so that when the following school year started he
had both more classes to teach and the numbers in each class had
grown.
The only negative to teaching at Trafalgar in 1971 was the
destruction taking place alongside the school. It was the end game
for District Six, and the peace of the classroom was punctuated by
the noise of bulldozers and front end loaders and the crash of
masonry.
Trafalgar was no longer the school of predominantly District Six and
BoKaap children. The people had been relocated to the Cape Flats
and children had to commute vast distances to attend school. These
changes to the landscape affected both pupils and teachers and were
the constant topic of conversation, making all in the school highly
politicised.
Falk was amazed and heartened at the courage of their headmaster
and the majority of the teachers, some of whom had even
undergone banning orders at some time in their teaching careers.
Falk found that they were happily welcomed back at the end of the
period of the ban, their jobs held for them and the other teachers
prepared to work additional hours to cover for those absent without
choice.
As well as his teaching duties, Falk was studying to complete his
degree and also working on his first novel, writing in the night when
the house was quiet, doors to the bedrooms closed against the
clacking of the typewriter.
The house was getting too small for them. The baby slept with her
parents, but would soon be moved to the room with the other two
children; the dining room and lounge were filled with the clutter of
books and study material.
The two adults tried to balance their multiple duties and
commitments. Jessie was the more successful, and passed all of the
subjects to complete her BA Juris at the end of 1971, obtaining upper
seconds for three of her subjects and a first for the remaining
subject. It was an impressive performance, which Falk did not match
as he had dropped one of his majors when he found he could not
balance all of his commitments. Nevertheless, he passed that
subject, History, with distinction and would carry on to pass the
other major in 1972, also obtaining his bachelor’s degree.
Jessie began her articles with a Coloured law firm in 1972 and, with
the additional money coming in, they took a chance and moved to a
four-bedroomed house in Carrington Avenue, just off Jan Smuts
Drive. It was just more than a hundred metres from their old house,
which allowed them to stay in touch with their previous neighbours.
The bigger house also allowed them to move Jessie’s widowed
mother Laurel in with them, so that she could look after the children
during the day.
Even with the two salaries and Laurel’s contribution, they could
barely cover the rent and their living expenses, and they continued
to dig into Falk’s savings from the sale of his store. They estimated
that, with Falk getting his degree at the end of that year and moving
to a higher pay scale and Jessie becoming qualified, by 1974 they
would be able to make do.
But they were becoming dangerously dependent on future
developments and they should have known better.
Falk finished his novel in 1974 and he had Ernie Steenveld and
Richard Rives read the manuscript. Ernie was a fellow English teacher
and Vice Principal at the school, a man of rare language ability and
an extraordinarily retentive memory.
The three met to discuss it. Rives led the discussion. “It’s a
marvellous book, Falk, but it’s going to get you into trouble.”
“Why?”
“Come on, boy, you surely know; sexual relations across the colour
bar.”
“It’s a South African story, Richard. It’s an historical novel, and you
can’t deny that history. These are facts of life here.”
“Yes, hidden facts of life, not to be exposed to delicate white
sensitivities.”
“What do you think, Ernie?”
“I’m afraid Richard’s right, Falk. You’d have re-write it not to have it
banned; make both main characters Coloured, and tone down the
sex.”
“But the book will completely lose whatever edge it has.”
Rives spoke again. “Falk, we’re just giving you sage advice. You have
a family now. I don’t know your financial circumstances but I can
imagine you’re not rolling in money. The book’s really good and
toning it down will damage it. My advice is to get it published
overseas, or put it aside.”
“Can I get an overseas publisher? Surely the subject matter won’t be
of interest to overseas readers.”
“You’d be surprised. The anti-apartheid movement is gathering
momentum in England, especially in the universities, and you’ll find
both a publisher and an audience. I’ll give you some names.”
9.
As the Boeing 727 banked over Tafelsig and lined up for Cape Town
airport, Falk caught sight of the mountain. It had been a month since
he last saw it and despite all that had happened to him in that time
he still thrilled to the view.
He reflected on all he had done in that month, all the new
impressions: his first ever aircraft flight from Cape Town to
Johannesburg; the cavernous interior of the Boeing 747 of the newlynamed British Airways, which he took from Jan Smuts to London; his
first view of Kilimanjaro with its snow-capped peaks shining in the
early morning light as they descended towards Nairobi; the many
wonderful and encouraging people he’d met at his publishing house
and the launch venues in bookstores in London, Manchester and
Liverpool; traveling on the tube, with its dark tunnels out of which
came the thundering machine with a rush of displaced air; the talk he
gave to nearly two hundred students at the London School of
Economics; the green woods of an English summer, so different to
the Cape winter he had left.
So many new experiences that he had hardly slept in the first week in
case he missed something, walking the streets of London in the early
hours of the morning. He was grateful his publisher had given him
the opportunity to involve himself in the launch; in fact they had
insisted upon his presence and had paid all expenses.
As interesting and new as his adventures had been, he had
eventually pined for his home country and his family and the last
week had dragged. He was sure they would all be there to meet him
in the arrivals hall, his ever-young and beautiful wife and the
children, Sarah now seven, Haytham six and baby Tess three, all
transported there by his ancient but reliable Borgward.
He fretted at the time taken for the luggage to spill down to the
carousel and then he was through the empty customs counters and
out through the doors, seeing the many faces. And then he saw
them, standing to the side: Sarah with a shy smile, Haytham giving a
big wave. Then a familiar and unwelcome figure stepped into his
path and blocked his way to his family.
They arrested him at the last moment possible, knowing the cruelty
of being so close to his family and the ignominy of his children and
wife witnessing his helplessness and despair. They were well
schooled in such methods of humiliation.
Jessie was not to be denied access to her husband. She pushed the
men aside and they did not resist, for they had not anticipated her
boldness and she stood before Falk and placed her arms around his
neck and kissed him softly, slowing the moment.
The policemen recovered and pushed her back and she shouted to
her husband, “I love you, Falk. We all love you. Don’t worry, we’ll get
you out. We will darling, we’ll get you out.”
That was the last he was to see of her for four days, her and his
children whom he watched over his shoulder, standing forlornly
alone, looking confused, watching the big men muscle their father
out of their sight, out into the sunlight and into their government
car.
At first Falk was in shock, the rude interruption of his much
anticipated reunion with his family confusing his thought processes.
He felt helpless and disorientated. One minute he was seeing his
family, and the next he was being forcefully removed from them and
thrust into this car for a destination unknown, sitting awkwardly with
his hands handcuffed behind his back, out of the reach of anyone
who cared for his wellbeing.
Then the anger took over and he kicked against the car seat before
him. Colonel Van der Spuy, he remembered the name, and the
driver, Hans, the same two as before. He kicked again.
“Stop it, jong.”
“Fuck you, Colonel. How can you do that in front of my children?
Don’t you have children? Imagine what that meant to them, their
father belittled. Why do you people think you can act like God? What
gave you that right?”
“Listen, you fucking communist hot’not, we ask the questions, you
answer. You’re already in shit, behave yourself.”
He kicked against the seat again, higher up, jerking the policeman’s
head forward. “I can’t take more of this shit. Let’s go to Athlone
Hans, pull in at the back and we’ll teach this fucker some manners.
We can go to Central later.”
Falk knew the Athlone Police Station well from sight, for it was on
the corner of Klipfontein and Jan Smuts, less than half a kilometre
from his house. He had never been in there, and did not know that
the backyard was secluded.
Hans drove fast, off the N2 and onto Jan Smuts. Falk kicked twice
more, his only method of rattling them, his meagre payback for the
monumental abuse of his freedom and their indifference to the
innocence of his children, a callous detachment which bordered on
the inhuman. He would never forgive them the look on his children’s
faces.
They parked the car against a wall and pulled him out on that
partially secluded side. He saw there were other policemen in the
yard; some stopped to watch, but most ignored what was
happening. Then the first blows landed and his world was reduced to
the three of them in a crazy dance as they thudded their fists into
him and he tried to avoid them and at the same time use his feet to
hurt back.
He landed some telling kicks, but the odds were stacked against him
with his hands cuffed behind his back and eventually the combined
blows drove him to the ground and they started to use their feet,
kicking his torso. He rolled into a ball to protect his groin.
Finally it stopped and they opened the car door and threw him onto
the back seat. Falk lay with his face against the vinyl, panting with
the efforts he had made, feeling the pain spreading through his
body. He was beyond rational thought, he just wanted to hurt these
people who had taken the innocence of his children and forever
embedded in their mind the harsh realities of this abnormal world.
Eventually he managed to roll to a seating position. They were on De
Waal Drive, descending into the city. Through the pain he drew his
feet up and kicked against Van der Spuy’s seat.
“Oh, you fucker, you’re going to die,” said the policeman.
The Central Police Station on the corner of Buitenkant and Albertus
Streets had a section for the interrogation and isolation of political
detainees. Despite Van der Spuy’s chilling threat, they did nothing
further to him that afternoon. He was placed in an isolation cell, a
high room, maybe three metres square, he estimated. In the cell was
a concrete bunk and a toilet bowl with no seat. When the iron door
closed he was pitched into stygian darkness, for there were no
windows on the walls nor the door. Eventually his eyes adjusted as
there was some light seeping weakly under the door.
He tried to take stock of his position, tried to work out what they
would do and what his response should be, what was best. But his
brain was mush, the physical pain protruding and distracting him.
Nevertheless, he worked at it doggedly.
What had provoked their extreme action? He discounted the beating
he had taken; that he had brought upon himself by challenging them.
There was the book and its contents. They would ban it, no doubt,
but he had always known that, even before Rives and Steenveld told
him. But he didn’t think it was the book alone; many Black and
Coloured writers had had their works banned but they were not
necessarily arrested and imprisoned.
It had to be their fear that he had met with the anti-apartheid forces
in England. It had to be political, it always came down to that. He had
been naïve to have been seduced by the possibility of addressing the
students at the London School of Economics. That had to be their
main concern, for the Westminster university was widely regarded as
a hotbed of communist thought and mobilisation, a consequence of
the university’s social and political science teaching and research
programmes. Van der Spuy had called him a communist, which had
not happened the first time he was interrogated.
So, if they wanted information about his meeting with the ANC or
other banned political organisations, should he tell them the truth,
that he had not met with any such organisation, that he was a writer
of fiction and of little interest to them? They wouldn’t believe him.
So should he make up a story, feed them what they wanted to hear?
But what was the benefit of doing that? It would not garner him any
favours, these people were ruthless.
Forget about that, he was doing himself no favours dwelling on it. He
needed to fill his head with happy memories, not give in to the
despair that lurked in every corner of that dark cell. He remembered
the kiss, Jessie’s soft lips on his. What a girl she was, what bravery to
push the feared men aside. Her promise was remembered too: she
would get him out. Even now she would be mobilising: the press, her
law firm, his school, all recruited to the cause of getting him out of
there.
And so his mind drifted, backwards and forwards through his life,
trying his best to get comfortable physically, not thinking of the pain
nor the terror of the immediate future, nor the threat of death. In his
exhaustion he dozed and was harshly awakened when they switched
on the light in his cell.
There were three men interrogating him: Van der Spuy and the one
called Hans, and a new member of their unholy sect, a smaller man,
dark visaged, maybe in his mid-forties. He got the name early on;
Karel.
They wanted to know his every movement in England, and he gave
them chapter and verse, each contact point, who was there, what
was discussed. He was ahead of them for those first hours, knowing
what they wanted and able to tell them the truth, for it was not
harmful to either him or the people whose names he was disclosing.
Falk strung out the telling, hoping to bore them, knowing once he
stopped they would get to the parts they did not believe and then it
would get nasty. They listened and were probably surprised that the
man who had been a raging bull earlier in the day was now so
composed. The small dark man, Karel, made notes to supplement
their recording devices.
Eventually Van der Spuy stopped the monologue. “Okay, hot’not,
that’s enough. You’ve been speaking kak and we’ll sort it all out
tomorrow. I’m going home now, to my nice warm home where my
children will give me my first beer and my wife will be cooking me a
nice juicy steak.
“Tomorrow we’ll attend to you hot’not.”
They gave Falk neither food, nor water nor a blanket, and it was one
of the longest and coldest and most miserable nights of his short life.
In the morning it turned nasty.
Jessie went first to her law firm and appealed to the senior partner.
Her face was flushed with the passion of her mission, her children
dragged along with her, their tearful confusion a silent admonition to
any who would deny her what she asked.
The senior partner knew he could do little legally for Falk because
the Suppression of Terrorism Act gave the security police the power
to detain suspects indefinitely without charging them. Nevertheless,
he would rattle some cages, speak to some White friends who had
influence, let the security police know the legal community and the
judiciary was watching what they were doing to Falk Baartman.
He sent Jessie off to her next destination, Trafalgar High School. By
then it was near the end of the school day. Jessie went to the office
and asked to speak to Ernie Steenveld, for she had never met the
Principal and wanted Ernie to introduce them. It was mid-class but
she impressed upon the secretary to have Ernie called out of his class
and the secretary obliged, for she was incensed that one of their
favourite teachers had been detained by the infamous Colonel Van
der Spuy.
Ernie also knew how dangerous it was that Falk was undergoing
interrogation by Van der Spuy and he had the Principal dragged out
of a class. The three sat in Mr Emeran’s office while the secretary
looked after the children. The result of their deliberations was an
emergency meeting of all teachers and a plan of action.
They would find out from Coloured policemen where Falk was being
held and the teachers would go the station and hand in a petition
asking for Falk’s release. They would go that afternoon. If Falk was
not released the next morning, the whole school would march to
Cape Town Central Police Station, even if Falk was not being held in
there, for that was the main police station and would attract the
most public and press attention.
They would do that every day until he was released. It meant
sacrificing the first three classes of the day, but all felt it was worth it.
Falk was not only a famous member of their school, who had just had
a book published in England, but he was also extremely well liked,
maybe even well loved, by some of the women teachers.
The final action was the press and Mr Emeran was the one to contact
them. It was too late for the Argus, for it is an afternoon paper, so he
contacted the news editor of the Times, the morning newspaper, and
told him of the arrest of Falk, the recent publication of his book in
England, and the delegation of teachers that would be handing in a
petition at the police station where they were holding Falk. The
editor promised to have a reporter and photographer present and he
would also use his contacts to find out which police station was
holding Falk.
Emeran then phoned the news editor of the Argus and told him of
the intended march of the whole school to Cape Town Central Police
Station the next morning; that would provide a much more
spectacular story for the afternoon papers, with pictures of school
children and their teachers marching through District Six and into the
centre of town, disrupting the early morning traffic.
In retrospect, one would say that the media coverage and the public
outcry following the morning march of the school increased the
cruelty meted out to Falk, for Van der Spuy and his impious cohorts
knew they were under time pressure.
They did all they knew to get him to admit his culpability in supposed
treasonous activity while in England. They beat him with hosepipes,
placed a bag over his head while they administered electric shocks,
kept him hungry and cold. Falk knew nothing of the intense activity
in the world outside. His world was a bare cell and an interrogation
room with three hateful men whose deeds he would remember
forever. He had nothing to give them except his magnificent
defiance.
Eventually the orders came from Pretoria to release Falk, release him
but also gag him with a one year banning order, restricting him to his
neighbourhood, denying him the right to speak to the press, address
an audience or to publish anything.
They took him to his home in the night and dropped him in the street
and drove off quickly. Falk was barely able to walk to his front door.
Jessie opened the door. “Oh, my dear God, what have they done to
you?”
The young family had to remodel their lives because of their
changed financial circumstances. It meant a move to Hazendal, a
poorer suburb, sandwiched between Athlone and the N2 and
adjacent to the sewerage works. Laurel regretfully went back to the
retirement home in Elsies River. She had come to love Falk and the
children, but there was no room for her now and she would not be
needed, not with the father forced to remain at home.
Jessie was the breadwinner, and she was also required to do all the
other things which Falk could no longer do because of his banning
order. Within months they regretted their hasty move, for Jessie was
beginning to excel at her job. She had a talent as a trial lawyer, her
quick wit and intelligence winning her cases, at first minor, but her
skill was noted and her salary increased to prevent her being
headhunted by another firm.
Once those early money fears were allayed and Falk got over his
shame that his wife was keeping the roof over the family’s head, he
began to discover the joy of being with the children, all day with Tess
and most of the day with the older two. Sarah and Haytham would
say in later life that the first year their father was banned was
possibly the happiest of their childhood; the card games, the reading,
and the horseplay among their treasured memories.
And once his body had healed, the intimacy with his wife also
became a thing of joy and anticipation. He did every household
chore: cleaning, washing, ironing and cooking. Jessie was not allowed
to do a single household thing once she entered the house in the
evening.
Falk returned to Trafalgar High School in August 1975 but by mutual
consent they stayed on in the Hazendal home; it might be small and
cheek by jowl with the neighbours, but it had been a happy home, a
place where they’d recovered, and they did not want to tempt fate.
They had also learnt not to place too much value on material things
over which they had no control; their wealth was in the love and
unity of their family.
10.
There were many events that led to the demise of Apartheid but
some were clear bookmarks.
One of them was in a township in the Vaal Basin called Sharpeville,
where, on March 21, 1960, police opened fire on a crowd protesting
the pass laws, killing sixty-nine of them according to official records.
In an ironic twist of fate, it was extremism by rival Black
organisations that contributed to the tragedy: the PAC wanted to
jump the gun on a national protest which the ANC was organising for
the end of that month.
Sharpeville led to the banning of both the PAC and the ANC, and was
a catalyst for the formation of the armed resistance movements in
both organisations.
It was to be sixteen years before South Africa caught fire in quite that
way again, and it happened on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, the South
Western Townships, the sprawling Black city south of Johannesburg.
Black school pupils, rightly incensed, were protesting at the
mandated use of Afrikaans as the medium of teaching of certain
subjects, including mathematics.
Their march began peacefully enough, and at the first blockage of
their path by police barricades they turned away and sought another
route. A White police colonel fired the first shot, drawing his pistol
and firing into the air. Chaos ensued and eventually the police were
firing directly at the children. The official government death figure
was twenty-three, but it was far, far greater; most commentators
agree to a figure of over 170 on that day and the next two.
There is an adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In
Vietnam that picture was of a young Vietnamese girl fleeing down a
rural road, screaming in terror, her clothes burnt from her by a
napalm bomb.
In Soweto, it was a picture of mortally wounded thirteem-year-old,
Hector Pieterson, being carried at a run in the arms of a comrade.
Hector’s sister, Antoinette Sithole, is pictured running besides them.
The defiance of the schoolchildren in Soweto became a contagion,
spreading to the whole country.
Surprisingly, it took two months before the Coloured children of the
Cape reacted. This was possibly because their tuition had always
been in Afrikaans, and the imposition of the language was not so
keenly felt by them. Nevertheless, they had other issues in common
regarding their loathing of apartheid and they joined the countrywide protests in August.
Thirty-three died in the riots and protests in the Western Cape in
August and September 1976, every one a tragedy, including the
death of Jessie Baartman.
There was nothing extraordinary about the day it happened, the
weather overcast but warm, and with little wind. Smoke drifted lazily
into the air from a few places east of Hazendal, evidence of the
clashes the previous day, barricades with burning tyres being set up
by the protesters, many of them along Klipfontein Road, the major
east/west route after the N2.
Jessie was taking Sarah and Haytham to their school, Walmer Estate
Primary in Cambridge Street. Normally Falk took them to school, as it
was close to Trafalgar, and Jessie caught the train to her offices in
Woodstock, but the Secondary school was closed, the children
boycotting classes. Falk was walking Tess around the corner to the
nursery school and then taking the opportunity to work at home.
The journey in the morning was without incident. The school ran an
afternoon nursery, but that was closed during the troubles and Jessie
needed to be back to collect the children at 2pm.
She turned into Victoria Road and had not gone far when she
became enmeshed in a traffic jam. She could not see the stoppage,
and got out of her car to get an elevated view and could see them:
hundreds of school children coming from the numerous Salt River
schools, making their way towards the city centre.
Jessie felt some anxiety about her position but, although boisterous,
the column of children seemed disciplined enough. There were some
adults among the marchers, either teachers or parents. Placards
were being carried by the persons in the front, and she recognised
the messages for they were the much published slogans carried by
the Soweto children three months earlier. Among them was the
slogan that most incensed the police: “Release Mandela, Jail
Vorster.”
Soon the front runners of the march caught up and surrounded the
beached cars. The mood was more jovial than threatening, and many
a young man tried to engage her in conversation.
Suddenly there was the sound of sirens and the march faltered and
stopped. Jessie was looking towards the sound and was one of the
first to see the trucks come into the intersection behind her car,
blocking Victoria Road and access to the city. They were barely fifty
metres away. Policemen stood up in the load beds once the vehicles
stopped and she could see they were armed.
The pupils milled around without leadership.
A policeman with a bullhorn called out to the crowd in Afrikaans.
“This is an unauthorised gathering. It is against the law. You must
break up now and return to your schools.” He repeated the message
several times and each time Jessie could feel the anger swelling in
the crowd; the muttering of those closest to her and a few lone
voices shouting their defiance.
Jessie recognised the danger and made her way back towards her
car, intending to use whatever protection it gave her. At that
moment a few pupils threw stones at the police standing on the
vehicles. They were clear targets, exposed as they were and unable
to duck the missiles, and several were hit. They panicked. The first
shots were isolated, and then came a fusillade of rifle and shotgun
fire.
Pandemonium reigned in the ranks of the schoolchildren and they
ran from the death to their front. A young schoolgirl standing next to
Jessie was hit in the neck. She staggered backwards and caught
herself, her eyes fixed on Jessie, wide in shock. Blood blossomed
from the wound, staining the front of her uniform. Jessie reacted
without thought, grabbing the girl and trying to stem the flow of
blood with her hand. That was when a stray bullet, one of the last
fired that day, hit her in the centre of her back, and ended, at age
twenty-seven, a life that had promised so much.
Falk had the radio on as he worked on some ideas for a new novel
and he heard of the protest and shooting in Woodstock. He
wondered if Jessie had witnessed the incident, but thought no more
about it until his phone rang at 2.25pm. It was the school, reminding
him that Sarah and Haytham were due to have been picked up a half-
an-hour earlier. The voice on the end of the line was annoyed at
having to wait.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mevrou, my wife was due to pick them up and
she’s a stickler for timing. I’ll call you back in a minute.”
He phoned her law firm and got the receptionist, a woman he had
met. “Hello Hentie. Jessie was supposed to pick the children up at
Walmer Estate at 2.00. Did she get away on time?”
“Ja, at about twenty-to. But there was a terrible shooting on Victoria
Road and there are still cars in the road. Maybe she got caught up in
it.”
“How far is it from your office?”
“Not far, just down the road from us.”
“Can you see it from the office?”
“No. Do you want me to go and look, Falk?”
“That would be great, Hentie, thanks. I’ll be waiting for your call.”
He phoned the school and told them what he knew.
There was a panic beginning in his heart, but he calmed himself.
What were the odds that she might have been hurt? He did not have
long to wait, and when Hentie came on the line he knew from the
breathlessness in her first words that something was dreadfully
wrong.
“Your car is still in Victoria Road, Falk. They’ve pushed it onto the
pavement and the key was still in it. I have it. There’s no sign of
Jessie. I’m sorry, Falk, she might have been hurt. I asked around at
the stores there, but nobody could help me.”
He phoned Meisie Hendricks.
“Meisie, I’m afraid Jessie might have been hurt in that shooting down
in Woodstock. She failed to pick up Sarah and Haytham at the school
and our car is still where the shooting took place.” Falk heard the
warm words of consolation but his brain was running ahead of him
and they did not register. “Could you pick our kids up, Meisie, and
Tess at the nursery?”
“Of course, but what will you do?”
“I have to get down there. I’ll take a taxi.”
“No, don’t do that, I’ll pick you up, then we can go to the school and
get the kids and I’ll drop you in Woodstock.”
There was lots of blood on the road, close to where the car had been
moved, and he was now hard pressed not to allow the panic to take
control of his actions. There were other signs of the disaster, shoes
and clothing discarded in the hysteria to get away.
Falk paced in front of the reception desk while Hentie phoned the
hospitals to find out where the casualties had been taken.
There were two hospitals used, and he found no sign of Jessie after a
frustrating wait at both; he was one of many looking for relatives and
loved ones. They finally directed him to the mortuary and as he
drove there he was praying harder than he had ever done in his life,
praying that there was some other explanation for his wife’s
disappearance.
There were only four killed that day, only one an adult, and they took
him directly to her. She was lying on her back on a trolley and he
could see no sign of a wound, which was a blessing and a curse for
she looked like she was sleeping and would wake at any moment. He
insisted they show him the wound and when they turned the body
back to the original position he just stood there looking at that
beloved face, not able to leave until they chased him out.
Meisie came to the gate when he parked in front of their house.
“They killed her Meisie, shot her in the back.”
“Oh no, Falk, not our Jessie.”
She came quickly through the gate and embraced him and he laid his
head on her shoulder but he would not cry.
“You poor, poor man. And those children in there. It’s too horrible.
Are you one hundred percent sure?”
“I saw her.”
“What will you do now?”
“I must think of the children.”
“Why don’t you leave them with us tonight?”
“No. Thanks Meisie, but no. They know something’s wrong. I need to
take them home and tell them.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“No. Thanks again, Meisie, but it’s a job for a father. I was not yet
seven when my father died, the same age as Haytham is now. My
mother had to come to the school and tell me. I still remember how
we comforted one another that night. It’s my turn now. I have the
example of my mother before me. Pray that I will do it as well.”
Falk decided that long night after the children dropped into
exhausted sleep, that he would take them to his mother in Prince
Albert. Stephanie had enough room in her flat behind Warm. It
would not be good for them to be in Cape Town when he did what
he planned to do.
He planned murder, but by the time he came back from Prince Albert
ten days later he no longer thought that way. The words of Van der
Spuy kept playing through his head, those words of goading that his
first beer would be given to him by one of his children and his wife
would cook him a steak. You could not just murder the guilty without
also bringing pain and perhaps deprivation to the innocent.
The target became one of sabotage, the goal to hurt the police by
damaging their infrastructure. There were many impediments: he
knew nothing about explosives or incendiary devices and he had no
accomplices, nor would he recruit any. There were also strengths, his
independence for one, and the lack of preparedness of the police,
arrogant in their supremacy.
Falk made lists of all the police facilities in Cape Town: police
stations, depots, radio masts, training and administration centres. It
was extensive and, when finally compiled, also daunting. He needed
to make a start and chose a vehicle depot in Salt River and he
became a clandestine agent, finding places from which he could
watch the target unseen and accumulate information on the daily
routines. What he found was a soft target, the perimeter defences
easy to breach, vehicles parked next to each other to make it easy to
destroy multiples of them, guards slack or even non-existent at some
times over the weekend.
During all this time of planning and observing, Falk did not even tell
his Principal that he was back in town. He had taken compassionate
leave and had no intention of returning until the first action of his
mission was complete. If he needed to explain his movements, he
was a grieving author with license to stay at home or go out at any
time of the night or day, researching for his writing.
His plan was simple: empty the tanks of the petrol-engined vehicles
and set them alight. He bought a new hosepipe and cut up his old
one into suitable lengths. He reckoned he only had to spill the fuel
from five or six strategically placed vehicles to set a blaze that would
probably consume the fifty to sixty pickups and trucks in that yard.
Falk went in on a Saturday night at 8.30pm, early enough to ensure
there was still regular traffic. He parked his Borgward at a spot he
had previously picked out, only a four hundred metre run from the
depot and near Voortrekker Road so that he could quickly get into
the busy road and become inconspicuous.
He carried with him the half a dozen cut lengths of hosepipe, a
crudely made torch which he could light and throw some distance,
and wire cutters. The depot was eerily quiet, the sodium perimeter
lights casting the vehicles in a yellow filter. As he had found on
previous Saturdays, the guardhouse was shut. If someone was in
there, they were probably asleep.
The cutting of the mesh fence was a simple job and he soon had a
square cut on three sides and could bend it back and step through.
The next bit he did not relish, sucking on the hosepipe stuck in a fuel
tank until the fuel flowed freely and he could leave it to empty on
the ground, the puddle spreading to embrace a few vehicles on
either side. He nearly gagged several times before the task was over,
petrol spreading over the ground and running under nearly all the
parked vehicles. The smell was almost overpowering.
Falk retreated to the cut fence and lit his torch. He waited a moment
until the rags on the top of the stake were burning fiercely and then
lobbed it to the nearest saturated ground. The petrol blew, almost
instantaneously over the whole yard, a funeral pyre of proportions
that Falk had not imagined, searing his face at a distance of over
twenty metres.
The fright gave him wings and he sprinted into the darkness beyond
the fire’s incandescence. He was at his car in under two minutes and
into the light traffic on Voortrekker Road in another minute. Looking
in his rear view mirror he could see the conflagration filling the night
sky behind him, and he felt the first tremor of satisfaction.
He had done it, started the process of fighting back to avenge the
death of his wife, his Persian princess who had taught him so much
about love and whom they had killed without compunction, just a
factor in their process of dehumanising people of colour.
Falk badly underestimated the tenacity of the detective services of
the police. They never got proof but they didn’t need it when they
could detain suspects for prolonged periods without trial. They
determined the motive to be the death of his wife and the
opportunity in the fact that he left his children in Prince Albert so
that he could be a free agent. Together with his history of banning,
that was enough.
Once again he was in the hated cells in Central Police Station and
once again they tortured and abused him and got nothing. This time
there was no wife to mobilise opposition against his imprisonment.
No-one knew he was in there until it was too late, and with all the
protests taking place throughout the city, the press would not have
been much interested, even if they had known.
When they gave up on getting a confession so that they could have a
trial they transferred him to Pollsmoor and placed him in solitary
confinement for a month, before sending him on to Robben Island,
which had become the preferred place of internment for political
prisoners.
Falk was very fortunate that the battle of the political detainees to
not be placed with common criminals had been fought and won in
the 1960s; his physical presence and the renown from being a
Coloured Springbok trialist would have been a challenge to the
gangs, and he would have faced greater danger from them than the
warders could ever offer.
The quality of individuals interned in Robben Island was exceptional;
many had been lawyers, teachers, businessmen and priests. The
Rivonia trialists had already been there for fourteen years and they
set the moral and behavioural norms.
There was a trio of leadership, Mandela, Sisulu and Govan Mbeki,
and it was clear from the start of Falk’s internment that these three,
and particularly Mandela, set the tone for the behaviour of the
prisoners in order to gain some control over the warders and the
conditions on the island.
Falk expected the worst kind of treatment, and was surprised that
there was a fair amount of latitude given by the warders. There were
privileges he’d never expected, such as the library and the ability to
talk fairly freely. Some of the inmates told him about the conditions
in the early 1960s, when there had been no conversing among
prisoners and the food was appalling, and they gave credit to Nelson
Mandela for softening these conditions through a policy of dignified
behaviour, even if it was one of defiance, to earn a measure of
respect.
All of the prisoners were required to do manual labour. It was a
mechanism of control, and also a means of passing the time. Falk
was placed with those prisoners gathering kelp, and eventually he
came to have some enjoyment in it because it was outdoors with the
clean smell of the cold Atlantic waters and the thunder of the surf,
monotonously regular and yet distinctly separate, each crashing
wave different. You had to watch for the occasional dangerous big
one, which could easily take your feet out from under you.
In later years, his writing often contained images relating to the sea;
the endless surge and crash of the breakers, the salt-laden air and
the chill and damp of the mist.
The worst aspect of his time on the island was missing his children. In
the general section of the prison where he was placed, they were
allowed to write and receive one letter every three months and to
have one visitor every six months.
Obviously, his correspondent was Stephanie and she made up in
volume what she could not in frequency. Her letters were a mine of
information on the daily lives and achievements of the three, and
from his mother’s letters he learned how she had had no alternative
but to send Sarah and Haytham to Christian boarding schools in Cape
Town which accepted Coloured children; the cost was of no
consequence because the trust left by his aunt paid the fees.
Sometimes Falk would look up from his work on the rocky shore and
gaze towards the mainland, imagining the two children, so close and
yet totally unattainable. At those times he would look too at the base
of Devil’s Peak; in that jumble of buildings which he could see so
indistinctly was the place where Jessie had died. And in those times
the old bitterness would return and the endless, pointless, what-if
scenarios.
He only got to meet Nelson Mandela when he had been on the island
for seven months, and it was to prove a meeting of great future
consequence. They met in the library at the request of Mandela.
“So, Falk, you are a writer and, I hear, a friend of Steve Biko’s.”
Mandela’s knowledge of his writing and the Biko connection was a
surprise, but he was to learn later that the older man always made
the effort to learn something of the person to whom he spoke.
“You are not fully informed, Mister Mandela. I only met Steve once,
at the inaugural conference of SASO.”
“And you made an impression on him; your refusal to play racist
rugby.”
“How did you know that?”
“We get some things here. And you should really not call me Mister.
My name is Nelson.”
Falk acknowledged this with a nod.
“Let’s talk about your writing. I believe it’s mainly fiction, but you
have written some newspaper articles.”
“Yes, but there have not been many articles. I’m really a writer of
fiction and poetry, Nelson.”
“Good, you used the name. Not so hard, was it?”
Falk was marvelling at the warmth and humanity of the man.
“Well, Falk, I wanted to meet you because we will have need of
writers in the future.”
“And what do you see in the future?”
“There will be negotiation in the end. It won’t be soon. I keep telling
the young men who come in here to be prepared for ten or twenty
years. It’s much harder for them to think of such a long time.”
Mandela changed the subject and started to talk about the ANC.
“What do you think of the ANC, Falk?”
“You are the only political party accepting people of all races and I
like that.”
“What else?”
“Nelson, I’m not one for political dogma. I recognise the necessity to
organise people into parties to win elections and maybe it will come
to that in time, in your ten to twenty years. It means a
conglomeration of individual ideals into something that has universal
appeal, or you won’t get the votes and that’s the bit I don’t like, the
compromise to gain popularity.”
Mandela did not answer for a long time. It was another trait of his
that Falk was to learn about; his pauses, almost actor-like, for effect.
“So, you’re a non-conformist.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way. In some areas of life I like discipline and
conformity. I just don’t like compromise when it comes to values.”
“Like what?”
“Like human dignity. And honesty and truth. Bodies of people distort
those things to their own goals of supremacy.”
“Supremacy. Interesting word. You think that’s necessary to
govern?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, Falk, you’re an interesting man. We must talk some more. I
don’t agree with you, but I’ll think about it.”
11.
They released Falk just before Christmas in 1979. He had been on
the island for three years and one month and never during that time
had he been charged with a crime.
Falk walked from the foreshore, up Adderley Street to his bank,
feeling terribly conspicuous. He had lost weight and was lean and
hard looking and deeply tanned and he looked older than his thirtytwo years. He was not a man you would confront.
He took the afternoon train bound for Johannesburg, which stopped
at Prince Albert Road. There was nothing for him in Cape Town; it
was the Christmas break for the schools and his children would be in
Prince Albert. He had provisioned himself for the forty-four kilometre
walk between the two Prince Alberts, expecting to stay out in the
veld for at least two nights. He could have called his mother and
arranged for her to fetch him, but he relished this homecoming,
sleeping in the wide embrace of a Karroo night, getting himself
mentally prepared for the children and the next phase of his life.
It was dusk when the train pulled alongside the simple platform that
was Prince Albert Road and it darkened rapidly as he walked through
the quiet streets of the small town and into the veld, soon leaving
behind the lights and human sounds of the town, alone in the light of
the stars, his footfalls the only sound until he recognised again the
night sounds of that arid land.
He walked for several hours, wanting to get well away from the
town, savouring his first freedom of movement for more than a
thousand days. Water was a consideration, and when he heard the
squeak-clank of a windmill near the road he turned towards it and
dropped his pack over the fence before climbing over himself at one
of the main uprights.
There was a circular concrete reservoir near the windmill. The stars
reflected on the smooth dark surface of the water, shattering into a
thousand pinpricks of light when he dipped his hand into the water
and splashed his face before drinking.
Ironically, that first night of freedom he thought most of the island,
and the friends he had made and the tragedies, the many stories and
rumours of death in detention. The authorities tried to put a lid on
news of the death of Steve Biko, but when it became known it was a
particular blow to Falk, for he remembered well the presence of the
man and his intellect. The official story that Biko had suffered an
accident while in detention was farcical; Falk knew their methods,
that clever brain would have been bashed to the point of death.
It made him fearful, thinking of the power and ruthlessness of the
state and of its slavish servants, willing to commit atrocities in their
unshakeable belief in the right of their supremacy. He must not allow
them to incarcerate him again, to once more have him in their power
for every day and every hour. Even this camping in the veld of a
White farmer was a risk, for it was a trespass and he had no doubt
that would be enough for them to jail him again.
He was walking before sunrise and came to the Gamka River midmorning. He rested there, letting the memories enmesh him, this
river of his youth, so different here on the dry plains but
nevertheless the same river that ran in the canyons and which had
been his constant companion until he’d gone to school in
Oudtshoorn; the same river he had hiked down on the fateful
journey to find his grandfather dead, killed by the leopard.
It was for this reason that he had made the decision to walk to Prince
Albert, to find these memories of an older and innocent time, to
have them as a buffer against the despair at the loss of his loving
companion and the wasted years.
The physical challenge would also help to get his thoughts in order
about the children and his future. The priorities were clear; stay out
of prison and live with and for his children. If he was to stay clear of
the authorities he needed to go underground.
The previous night the thought had come to him that he could write
a series of stories about the island, a series centred on the characters
he had met. It was his first creative idea for longer than he could
remember. Clearly a mere sniff of freedom could work wonders on
the imagination, allowing it to wander widely instead of being
confined by the fear and hate that dominated thought in a prison.
As he had sat there the previous night, with the vault of stars his
horizon, the idea had grown. He would sell the stories to an overseas
newspaper, call them Letters from the Island.
Now, as he recalled the idea, he realised he would have to bury his
identity. He would use a nom de plume, but it called for more than
that. His name had to be untraceable, and how would he do that? A
way would be found, for he could not allow his fear of prison to
muzzle him.
To be with his children, he needed to live close to their schools and
have an occupation that gave him flexibility of time. The following
year, 1980, Sarah would be going to High School and Tess would be
starting her school career, big changes for both. Ironically, there was
plenty of money for the children’s education from his Aunt’s trust,
but his own fund of cash was almost exhausted and that limited his
job opportunities, for he would need capital to start a business.
He wondered how Stephanie had managed with Warm, and whether
it was a success financially and could help him with a loan. More
importantly, how had she managed to keep Tess in a White-zoned
area and have the other children come to stay in the holidays? He
knew she would have fiercely fought any attempts to remove them.
Falk reached Prince Albert late that afternoon, just before nightfall,
and was tempted to go to his mother and children immediately but
decided to rather approach them for the first time in a structured
way. Wait for the next day.
He made his camp across the river in public land and when it was
dark he bathed in the cold waters, refreshing his body, tired with the
unusual activity of hiking from dawn to dusk.
When the music started, and the laughter swelled, he realised that it
was a Friday night and he was just downriver of the Bush Tavern. It
brought back unwanted memories. What had happened to Pauline,
the lover of dancing? Did she ever pine after that life, ever long for
her son and regret abandoning him?
Oh Jessie, he thought, you would never have done that. To his regret,
physical images of his wife were no longer so sharp in his mind. But
her deeds were, and their lovemaking, the way she would tickle his
back to arouse him, so softly, like the wings of a bird. And he
remembered that look of love and pride when she gazed at the
children after they had done something useful or clever.
He was grateful that he had enjoyed the love of such a woman, as
short as their life together had been.
The next morning he walked into the Coloured part of town, seeking
the home of Bianca’s parents. He remembered his former employee
saying she had persuaded her parents to build her a room behind
their house, for she wanted her freedom; she had told him with an
obvious hint that he could come visiting in the dead of the night,
then she laughed when he caught the innuendo and knew he was
thinking about it.
He was directed to one of the more substantial homes in the area,
although still small by the standards of the homes half a kilometre
away, in the White part of town.
The door was opened by Bianca’s mother, an older version than the
woman he remembered, but still with the good looks she had passed
on to her daughter. Maria Haak, he remembered the name.
“Mevrou Haak, ek is Falk Baartman.”
“Shame on you, Meneer Baartman, as if I’d forget the man who
broke my daughter’s heart.” She laughed. “Ag, I joke. What’re you
doing here?”
“I’m looking for a place to rent for a week or two. I remember Bianca
telling me you built an extra room for her and I wondered if it was
empty, if maybe I could rent it?”
“Come in. I’m going to call you Falk. You’re no longer my daughter’s
boss and you’re a Coloured like us now, ne?”
She almost pulled him into the house and he went along willingly,
bemused by her rough good humour.
She called in a loud voice;
“Cornel, come see who’s here.”
He was a huge, barrel-shaped man, the small moustache lost in the
roundness of cheeks and chin, the eyes sharp and full of mischief.
“Falk Baartman, my Here. They’ve let you out, those donners?”
They agreed to rent him Bianca’s old room, the only problem being
that she would be coming home for the Christmas break and would
have to stay in her old room in the main house. Maria promised him
there would be much bantering about that.
He asked after their daughter and learned she had gone to Cape
Town and had qualified as a teacher, was happily teaching but
unhappily married, with no children. The husband would be left
behind to celebrate Christmas with his family, whom she now
loathed. He was told all of this with humour and absolute frankness;
it was clear Cornel and Maria Haak laughed at life’s many roadblocks
and took them in their stride.
Falk walked into town, hoping no-one would recognise him in his
dishevelled state. He bought clothes and shoes at Pep Stores, and
returned to his room where he had his first fresh water shower in
years, dressed in the new clothes and felt like a million bucks,
despite the cheapness of the outfit.
The first thing to surprise him was his old Borgward, parked in the
yard behind Warm. So, his mother had brought the car. He
wondered what else she had recovered. The old car gave him a warm
feeling of belonging.
He knocked on the door of the flat and Sarah opened it. Falk had
worried about this first meeting, but his doubts disappeared as the
loveliest smile, Jessie’s smile, transfixed his step-daughter’s face.
“Daddy, oh Daddy, they’ve let you go.”
She flung the door open and came into his arms and he felt her body
shuddering with her crying.
“Who is it, Sarah?” His mother came into view. “Oh God, Falk.”
And then he had two of them hugging him and crying.
The other two children were drawn by the noise and Haytham was
the first to come into the passage leading to the front door. His
appearance and immediate change of demeanour when he saw his
father were a shock to Falk. The boy had grown to almost his father’s
height, but was still skinny, gangly almost, and with his mother’s
delicate features, round eyes and long eyelashes.
But, as much as his changed appearance was a surprise, more so was
the expression on his face. He had rounded the corner with a look of
expectation but it changed immediately to one of alarm and he
backed up the implications of that look by staying out of the reach of
his father’s outstretched hand.
“Hello, Pa,” was all he ventured.
Fortunately, the awkward moment was broken by the arrival of Tess.
Her change of appearance was even greater, for she had doubled her
age and grown from a round toddler who walked and ran with a
drunken sway, to a lithe young girl, one who was no longer familiar
with her father.
“Is that you, Daddy?” Even the voice was different.
“Yes, it’s me, Tess.”
Her response was one of joy and Falk thanked Stephanie in his heart
for keeping him alive in the mind of his youngest child. Tess joined
the tight ring and threw her arms around her father’s waist. The
tableau lasted for a few moments until Falk, disturbed by his son’s
reaction, broke free and went to the boy and hugged his stiff figure.
“It must be a shock, son, to see me here, but I’m so happy to see
you, so happy to see you so grown up.” The words helped, but the
boy’s demeanour remained distant.
“Thank you, Pa,” he said, but there was no return compliment
offered.
It was sometime later that Falk joined his mother in her office in the
store; she had broken away for Saturday was a big retail day at
Warm and her presence was needed. She had a further motive; she
needed to discuss things privately with her son.
His first concern was for his son.
“What’s wrong with Haytham, Ma?”
“Unfortunately, son, it’s the school he goes to. Bishops is almost all
White. Most of the boys come to school with the prejudice of their
parents and to them you are a terrorist. Haytham defended you
stoutly in the beginning but it became too hard and made him too
unpopular. I did my best to give him perspective, but I think in the
end he needed to put you from his mind as an act of selfpreservation.
“I’m sure you can change that in time, Falk, but it might also need
you to change his school; perhaps you can send him to Trafalgar,
now that he won’t need to be a boarder.”
“That didn’t seem to happen at Sarah’s school.”
“No, the Convent is different, more liberal perhaps, but I don’t really
know. Sarah’s also more assertive than Haytham and more
grounded, for although she lost her mother, it’s not as if her mother
abandoned her as Pauline did to Haytham. I think that’s a major
thing in Haytham’s lack of confidence and the way he rebels
sometimes.”
“Has Pauline ever attempted to make contact?”
“No, never. Look, son, I have something pressing to discuss with you.
But I need to know your plans for the future first. Have you given
consideration to what you want to do?”
“Yes, Ma, of course. Thought of the future was sometimes the only
way to retain my sanity on the island.
“I’m not going to return to teaching. I want to do something to help
Coloured people to a greater appreciation of themselves; a greater
love of themselves and their race. I’m not sure what that will be, for
my capital is nearly exhausted and I have no means to start a
business. Ideally I would do something like this store in Cape Town;
further Coloured literature and art and maybe also have a small
printing press.
“That’s the one side of my ambition, Ma. The other is a desire to be
there for the children and that means an occupation that gives me
freedom of time.”
“Then my first news will help you Falk. I’m selling Warm.”
His immediate reaction was one of sadness. It was hard for him to
accept the loss of his first adult venture.
“Why, Ma?”
“Wait, son, there’s more. I’m giving you half of the proceeds of the
sale.”
He made to protest, but she put her hand up, cutting him short.
“It’s only fair. You started this business. Perhaps even more
importantly, you chose this particular site for the store and it has
become highly desirable now that the village is becoming a
fashionable place to visit.
“There’s even more to it, as I said. It has been hard for me to keep
the children in town. I’ve encountered unbelievable bigotry and have
had to fight off a number of objections; it’s scary what the race thing
does to the normal decency of people.”
“I thought you might have that problem. I’m sorry you had to face it
on your own.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s been well worth it. The joy of having
them here more than compensated me. Little Tess has rejuvenated
my life, Falk. What a wonderful task she has been for me. But there
has always been the threat that I might not be able to keep them
here.”
“And I’m going to take her away.”
“Yes, but she was going anyway. I’ve had the good fortune that the
Headmistress of the local White school is a friend of mine and
allowed Tess to be admitted and she’s spent the last two years there
and done very well, despite the nastiness of some of the children.
But I’ve been told she may not return, the objections have become
overwhelming. So, she would have had to go to boarding school in
Cape Town next year. There’s nothing for her here.
“I have even more news Falk. Heavens I’ve just been unloading on
you. I’m getting married.”
He must have looked startled.
“Don’t look like that. I’ve been on my own for more than twenty
years, and it’s not the Dominee!”
“I’m happy for you, Ma. Who’s the lucky man?”
“His name is Paul Walters. He’s a farmer out towards Klaarstroom, in
the valley just before the pass. You won’t know him because he only
settled here a few years ago. He had a farm near Alexandria in the
Eastern Cape, but when his wife died he found he could not stay
there, that he needed a change, and luckily for me he came here.”
“How did you meet him?”
“He came into the store and loved it. It turns out that his hobby is
painting. I think it’s more of a passion really.
“Paul helped me with the decision to sell the store, because it gave
me somewhere to go with the children. He loves them and they
really like him too and there would be no impediment to them living
on the farm.
“Anyway, that doesn’t matter anymore, for they have their father
back. But you will be careful, won’t you, son? They couldn’t take it if
you went back to jail.”
Falk was overwhelmed by the personal sacrifice and the growth of
his mother. The young woman who had come out of the valley with
work-coarsened hands and strong shoulders had become a
sophisticate. The demands of the job had given her poise and a dress
sense, and the need to defend the right to have her grandchildren
with her had given her strength of character and no doubt a certain
status bordering on notoriety in the village.
“Ma, you are a wonder.”
“Well,” she said, “I had the example of my son before me.”
Falk spent more than two weeks in Prince Albert before returning to
Cape Town to find a place to live and business premises. Most of that
time he spent with his children and the four of them began the
process of bridging the years he had been away. Even Haytham
began to warm to his father. Falk had found the boy fascinated by his
tales of the island and he used that interest to rebuild their
relationship.
There was one awkward moment.
“Did you blow-up those police cars, Pa?”
It was not a question he could answer, not even with his desire to be
completely honest with his son.
“I need you to understand the consequences of me answering that
question, Haytham. The security police tortured me for a week to try
to get me to confess. If they had extracted a confession, they would
have charged and tried me for sabotage and I would most likely have
received a long sentence, more than ten years. As it was, I was never
charged and they released me in just over three years, mostly
because the jail on the island is overcrowded.
“Can you see the difference between knowing and not knowing the
answer to your question? Can you see why I can never answer that
question, even to my son?”
He waited for Haytham to commit to an answer and it took some
time, the boy struggling with his need to have his father trust him
and his understanding of the danger of that knowledge. Eventually
he understood.
“Yes, Pa, I see that.”
“Good, because they are not above questioning children. Now let me
ask you a question, Haytham. How much did you love Jessie?”
The boy’s eyes grew even rounder, giving him a startled look. “With
all my heart, Pa. She became my mother.”
“I’m so glad you saw that. After your Ma and Eric left us and we
married, Jessie and I, we both had the good fortune to gain an extra
child, me with Sarah and Jessie with you. It was wonderful for both
of us, and we hoped you and Sarah could see that.
“So here’s my question for you; what would you have done if you
were me and your wife, who you love so much, who your children
love so much, was killed by the police who just shot into a crowd, not
caring whether they killed innocent women or children?”
The boy made to answer.
“Wait, son, I don’t want you to answer, just to think about it. Think
about how such an act of revenge is not an act of terrorism but an
act of retribution. Do you understand that word, retribution?”
“Not really.”
“Terrorism is to make people fearful, Haytham. In this case, to do
something that makes White people afraid so that they change their
laws. So, it’s an act to make people change. Retribution is getting
your own back for an awful thing they did to you, which needs to be
answered and if it’s not you can’t rest easy for a long time, maybe
forever. Now do you understand it?”
“Yes, Pa, I do.”
“Okay, son. I’m glad you asked me about the police vehicles, because
I believe your classmates say your dad is a terrorist.”
“Did Grandma tell you that?”
“Yes.”
“Yes, they do say that, Pa. But I won’t care anymore. I won’t believe
them anymore.”
“That’s good, Haytham, and when you have to decide which senior
school you want to go to at the end of next year, you can change
schools if you want to. It will be your choice.”
Bianca arrived on the Sunday afternoon, two days before Christmas,
ready for a week with her parents. Falk did not know she had arrived
as he was with his family and only returned to the room after supper.
She did not let him settle before she knocked at his door.
The years had treated her kindly. In fact he had to say that she
looked better for having filled out, it seemed in all the right places.
Her greeting was vintage Bianca. “Well look here. It’s my old boss
sleeping in my room.”
He tried to match her mock bonhomie. “And my old employee, much
changed I see.”
She playfully thrust her breasts forward and gave a half-laugh, halfgiggle. “So you noticed, oh goodie.”
“I’m glad to see not everything’s changed.”
“You don’t think they’ve got bigger?”
“Your nature Bianca, I’m referring to your nature.”
“Still serious I see, but that’s me too nowadays, Falk. So, to be
serious, I just wanted to welcome you and tell you how very pleased
I am that you remembered that I had a room and came to ask my
folks if you could rent it.”
Her about face was unexpected.
“Thank you.”
“Oh that’s nothing, Falk. You have no idea how much Joel and I loved
having you as a boss; you treated us as equals and spent hours
teaching us. It was a wonderful first job.”
“And now you’re the teacher.”
“Yes, followed in your footsteps. I’m teaching at a primary school in
Mitchell’s Plain.”
“And enjoying it?”
“Yes, I love the teaching and the younger children, but the
environment around the school is lousy, totally controlled by the
gangs. I drive in and drive straight out when I’m finished, no stopping
there. I feel for those teaching high school where the gangs are in
the classroom.
“Anyway, must go now. To my little girl’s room. I’m so pleased you’re
here Falk.” She touched him on the cheek, then leant forward and
kissed him lightly on the lips and then she was gone before he could
react. He was left with her scent and the memory of her soft lips.
Falk closed the door and switched off the room light and stripped in
the dark and lay down knowing he would not sleep for some time.
He was buzzing with sexual desire, something familiar to him in
relation to Bianca. When he had first hired her, before he’d got
involved with Pauline again, he had always wondered what it would
be like to spend a night with her. She had never hidden her interest
in him, and there had always been innuendo in their conversations,
not dissimilar to what he had just experienced.
When Pauline came along, Bianca backed off and he had been so
wrapped up in his own relationship that he had never considered
what that might have meant to the younger woman. At the time they
were both so young, only a year or two separating them. Of course,
the law was against them. How ironical that was, he thought. I was
White and she was Coloured, what silly distinctions. Also, he had the
early idealism of his first company and his first employees, the rules
of engagement, you did not mess with the staff. Another irony for he
who had slept with his teacher.
There was another impediment now. Bianca was married, although
she had not behaved as if that was an impediment and her mother
had told Falk that it was a bad marriage. Could that have been
deliberate? Did Maria see him as a suitable candidate for her
daughter?
Falk realised he had no intention of falling in love with another
woman; he had loved three and that was enough. Besides, he was a
dangerous partner, wanting to be absorbed in his children to absolve
himself of the guilt he felt at missing three years of their lives, and
dangerous too in that the state could find another reason to
incarcerate him. He could not offer Bianca, or any woman, a longterm relationship.
If things developed between them, he would tell her that, and if she
accepted those terms, well, he would gladly be her friend in all that
meant. It was a good thought to go to sleep on, one of the happiest
thoughts he’d had in many a year.
He did not have to wait long.
Falk spent Christmas Eve with his mother and the children. They had
supper together and retired early, filled with anticipation for the next
day, their first Christmas together as a family for a very long time.
The town was mostly quiet, just a few pockets of laughter and music,
most people reserving their energy for the next day. And it was
warm and still as he walked up Kerk Straat.
Falk marvelled at his change of fortunes. Just four days before he
would have been locked in his cell at that time of the night. It was
not the change of location that he dwelt on, but his state of mind,
the desperation and loneliness of before, not knowing when he
would be released, not knowing how his family was faring.
The Haak home was also locked down for the night, just a solitary
light burning above the garage door, but enough for him to find his
way around the house and let himself into Bianca’s old room. He did
not switch the room light on, the habit of the prison, stripped his
clothes off and went into the bathroom and ran the shower and
entered it without bothering to wait until the water ran warm.
The water cascading over his head disguised the noise of the tapping
at his door until she came to the bathroom window and rapped
harder. He knew it was Bianca, and wrapped a towel around his wet
body before opening the window. She said not a word, merely
gestured to tell him to open the door and when he did she slipped in
quickly and closed it behind her.
They were both standing in the dark. He was wet and semi-naked
and from what he had seen briefly as she entered the room she was
wearing only shorts and a T-shirt and the noises he heard told him
that even that scant clothing was being discarded.
He whispered, “Bianca, we need to talk first.”
“No Falk, no talking. I’m giving you an early Christmas present. It’s
something I’ve wanted to give you ever since that first day I saw you.
Accept it, it comes with no strings attached.”
Then she was in his arms and his towel fell from his waist and his
cold and wet body was touching her warm and dry skin, touching it
everywhere, maximum contact, even their thighs touching and her
breasts squashed against his chest as he bent to find her lips. Passion
took over and more than a decade of longing for her and three years
of celibacy for him made for an energetic and heady mixture, and
when they were both satisfied they lay on their backs side by side
and allowed their bodies to return to a semblance of normality.
His hand found hers. “I wanted to explain.”
“I know what you wanted to explain, Falk. But listen to me. This was
my dream and perhaps not yours. That doesn’t matter, because I
know I can never be your lifetime partner. There was a time when I
thought that was possible, that at least we could become lovers, but
then Pauline came along. I so wished I could warn you against her,
for she was not the woman for you. That’s why I stayed on at Warm,
for I knew your relationship with Pauline would end and I wanted to
be there when it did.
“Then I heard you’d married Jessie, but still I had hope. That stopped
when you brought her to Prince Albert, after you were expelled from
UWC. I don’t know if you were aware, but during that time you
stayed at Rooikrantz, when your Aunt Tess was dying, Jessie came
into the store to see your mother several times and we talked. That’s
when I knew my hopes could never be realised Falk. She was an
awesome lady, and I’m so sorry for your loss.”
He said nothing.
“Long speech, hey?”
“Yes, long speech. I don’t know what to say, Bianca. I never knew you
felt quite like that.” There was nothing more he could think to say so
he changed the subject. “Tell me about your husband.”
“Oh Daan. No I don’t think I’ll tell you much. We’re married, we live
together, but there’s not much more to tell. Except that Daan’s not
much of a man for sex. You’d call it asexual maybe. I don’t know
exactly what that means, but it seems to fit Daan.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a lawyer, but now you’re jumping my story Falk. I have more of
my long story to tell you. The bit about the future.”
“There’s a future in this story?”
“There’s always a future. In our case, I see us getting together at
times in Cape Town. As lovers of course. It was fun wasn’t it?”
“An understatement.”
“Yes, so we can be modern and become lovers. I hope so. But that’s
also not my story.
“Do you remember a girl called Isa Erasmus, Falk? I served her once
at Warm, more than ten years ago, wasn’t it?”
Hearing the name was a shock, especially the quarter from which it
came.
“I can feel from the way you squeezed my hand that you remember
well.”
“What do you know of her?”
“She works in the same law firm as Daan. They both do pro bona
work for an NGO called Justice For All, a kind of watchdog group that
tries to help underprivileged people who do not receive a fair trial.”
“Isa does that?”
“Oh yes, she’s quite a woman our Isa.”
“Why are you telling me this Bianca?”
“Because she still carries a flame for you.”
He could not help the wonderful warm feeling those words gave him,
but he discarded the notion almost immediately.
“Bianca, don’t play with this subject. I haven’t seen or heard of Isa
for, as you say, more than ten years. The last time she saw me she
urged me to see Pauline again, to carry through with what Pauline
and I had started.”
“Clever girl.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that she understood that Pauline would not last long, and
that you also needed to get her out of your system.”
“Okay Bianca, you know something, so tell me.”
“Isa is a very special person Falk and that’s why I’m going to tell you
this because it’s dumb to say the least to tell you positive things
about a rival. But that lady has got under my skin.
“Most times when Daan and Isa have to work on a special case they
do so after hours, because it doesn’t benefit the firm. I’ve been along
to Isa’s flat in Tamboerskloof sometimes and she also comes to our
house. She remembered me from Warm and we had something in
common. That was you.
“I could never tell her the way I felt, because Daan was there, but she
could talk freely. She kept in touch with your movements, Falk, even
watched you play rugby once. After you were declared Coloured, I
think she realised there was no hope for you two, but she never
stopped following your life.
“She tried to move on and even got married, but it didn’t work out. It
lasted only two years and then they divorced, it seems amicably.”
“Why do you want me to know this Bianca?”
“I’m not really sure myself. When I think of you and Isa, I see two
people who are really special. She’s a terrific lawyer and a caring
person who is trying her best to correct the wrongs in this sometimes
lousy country, and you, Falk, well you could be a great writer. The
two of you were meant for each other. The stories she told me of the
way you helped each other in Die Hel and also at Oudtshoorn really
got to me. Against that, what am I? Just a girl who knows both of
you. Your sometimes lover, maybe.”
ROCKLANDS.
For all that Africans talk of colonialism having torn them from
their roots, it is only the Coloured minority in the Western Cape
that suffers collective amnesia; where their past used to be, there is
only insult.
Jonny Steinberg. “The Number”.
1.
The community hall in Rocklands is a very ordinary place. Visit it
today and you will be hard pressed to see the historical context that
should make it special. It has a small parking lot in front of it. Across
the street there is more parking, a patch of tar lost in a vast, empty
tract of sand, void of vegetation, one of those urban spaces that have
no function. The building itself stands on a raised brick plinth, but has
no stature, long and low is the style, with ugly iron bars protecting
the windows and entrance areas.
There is a library alongside, but even in that utility you will have
difficulty finding a celebration of the event that put Rocklands on the
political map of South Africa. If asked, the librarian will bring out a
small folder with a scant history. It’s disappointing.
And there is a monument, a thing constructed of steel and concrete,
a sort of spire to tell you that this is where the United Democratic
Front was formed. It looks like one of those ugly workers’ memorials
that you can find in former Soviet Bloc countries, idealised pictures
of the proletariat marching with purpose, surrounded by relics of the
struggle.
You can’t help wondering if the historical context has been buried
deliberately to downplay the important role the UDF played in
bringing down Apartheid. After all, you can’t confuse the new
proletariat. There can only be one victor.
Much was to happen to the Baartman family before August 20, 1983,
the day the internal fight against the Nationalist regime gained new
momentum.
The Cape Town Falk returned to in January 1980 was much changed,
growth and development everywhere, but not for the Coloured
community. The areas where they lived had spread across the flats,
but in no significant way was it better.
He went first to his friends, Callie and Meisie Hendricks. They still
lived in their house in Brandon Street, but their circumstances were
much eased as three of their children had left the home. It was not
possible for him to stay with them for any length of time, but they
would not let him leave that first evening and he ended up sleeping
on a couch on the verandah, not eight metres from his old car parked
on the pavement.
It had been a monumental reunion and the early summer sun was
not welcome that morning.
Falk’s first consideration was a home for his family. Haytham would
spend at least another year at Bishops and Tess would join Sarah at
Springfield Convent. Bishops was close to his old home in Athlone
but Springfield Convent was in upper Wynberg; perhaps the two girls
could be dropped off at Rondebosch Station on the Simonstown line
and could travel to the station closest to the school; it would not
entail too long a walk from there.
He wanted to stay close to their previous homes, not only for the
children but also because he wanted stability in his life; the
familiarity of place would give him ease. But he also needed to put
some distance between himself and the Athlone Police Station; every
time he drove by he remembered the yard and the beating he had
received.
In the end he wandered not too far, to Crawford, a suburb south of
Athlone, and there he found a very run down, four-bedroom home
opposite the park on Burwood Street, three blocks south and four
streets east of Crawford Station on the Cape Flats line.
Next was the business; he needed a shop in a high-density shopping
area, an area where Coloured people could legally trade. He figured
he needed more than two hundred square metres if it was to contain
the retail shopping elements, a gallery, and a workshop for the
printing press.
That search was much harder. He ran the old Borgward ragged, up
and down the main thoroughfares in the Cape Flats: Klipfontein,
Thornton, Kromboom and Turf Hall Roads. In the end the logical
place was Woodstock; it had the traffic but, perhaps even more
importantly, it had the historical link to the Coloured areas of old,
the areas in the city under the brooding presence of the mountain.
The business premises comprised an old Superette on a corner site
on Victoria Road. The beauty of it was the attached residential
premises, both above and behind the shop, ample room to have
retail spaces, offices, workshop and store rooms.
In a funny way, he felt closer to Jessie in that place, less than two
hundred metres from where she had died; it would be a reminder of
her and of the unfinished work still to be done to heal the inequality
in the country.
It was also the right place for a business that was to celebrate the
uniqueness and humanity of the Coloured people.
The money from the sale of Warm had not yet come through so
many promises were made. To his surprise he was known to the
owners of both premises he wanted to purchase, and his activist
status and internment on Robben Island was an added incentive for
them to trust him and show patience.
Falk threw his energy into the house first, cleaning and scraping,
removing old, cracked linoleum floors and painting, plenty of
painting. He started with the children’s rooms and, by the time he
fetched them towards the end of January, their rooms were finished
and furnished.
For the week before the children started school, he had three extra
pairs of hands, and the house became a family project. It was a time
for building unity, the first time they had been under the same roof
as their father in nearly four years. When school started it was a
wrench but they all had new things to do and they got on with their
lives.
Falk’s new business was eventually to take three months to open. To
keep costs down he did most of the refurbishing himself and he
needed time to find second hand equipment. He was in no hurry,
happy to spend the time with his children in the afternoons and
weekends.
In mid-February, Bianca visited him at the business premises. He had
not seen her since their nights together in Prince Albert, and would
not seek her out, respecting her marriage. It would always be her
choice.
She called from the front door, the words echoing in the gutted
shop. Falk was in the room above but heard clearly and quickly came
down the stairs into the shop. She was still standing at the opened
doorway, silhouetted against the light behind her, so that he could
not see her properly until she stepped further into the room.
Bianca was dressed in a floral summer dress, cut short above her
knees so that her slim legs gave her a girlish look, an entirely
different impression to the low cut bodice which revealed the swell
of her breasts. There was a big smile on her face.
“My, my, look who’s here. Bunking school?”
“School’s out, the kids are boycotting classes again. And hello to you,
too.”
“Oh jeez, not again. I don’t think I could ever encourage that as a
protest action.”
“Yes, it’s crazy. And much of the motivation is pure self-indulgence.
The gangs have a field day, recruiting new members, selling drugs to
bored kids. Horrible.
“Anyway, how’s my old boss.”
He shrugged his shoulders and showed the paint daubed hands and
arms.
“As you see me. Working to get this store opened before Easter.”
“Would you like some help?”
“Of course. Temporary or permanent.”
“We’ll see. Let’s do it day by day for now.”
“You can’t work in that nice dress. I can lend you an overall. It’ll be
big but you can roll the sleeves and pants up.”
“No problem, I can work in my bra and pants.”
“That will result in very little work being done.”
“You think so. Let’s check it out.”
Bianca went back to the front door and closed and locked it. Then
she stripped off her dress and did not stop there.
Falk watched as that perfect body was revealed. It was not his job to
protest, but he tried feebly.
“I’m full of paint.”
“To hell with that. I’ve been waiting for more than a month.”
And so they christened the floor of the empty store and it became
the first of the many rooms they would christen before the store was
ready for opening.
When the class protest was over, Bianca went back to the school but
by then they both knew that the new store was to be a joint venture.
Bianca brought many new ideas and a woman’s intuition to
decorating the retail store and the gallery, which was to be a section
of the ground floor, partitioned off, and another gallery in the room
above, with skylights to provide natural light. The upstairs room was
also to become a place for artists to launch their work.
But the biggest idea Bianca introduced was that they should become
experts at arranging cultural events. He knew that she had the
personality and organising skill to pull it off, and it would put them in
the centre of the many anti-apartheid movements.
Bianca went back to school to resign and see out her notice period.
Falk spent days in deliberation for a name for his business. He was
emotionally attached to the name Warm, but knew it would not
work in a large market the size of Cape Town’s. He needed a name
that was memorable and descriptive. In the end he could not get
away from the use of the word Mecca and even thought it might
have greater appeal to the many Muslim artists and customers for
whom it had the connotation of the Haj. One thing he would not do
was use a racially defining word in the title.
Eventually he settled on Woodstock Artists’ Mecca and the subheadline for print media advertising; Celebrating Original Cape Art
and Literature. He would launch the book and stationery store and
the gallery first, then follow with the printing business once he broke
even. That portion of his business would be marketed under another
name when he got to it, hopefully within a year.
The Baartman family had plenty to discuss around the dinner table,
Tess bubbly about her school, Sarah becoming the cool one now that
she was in high school, Haytham still introspective, but beginning to
enjoy the camaraderie now that they were together, and he was
starting to have success on the athletic fields. The children loved the
stories of the developing store, and Falk took them into Woodstock
periodically to show them developments on the ground.
Bianca felt most keenly her absence from the progress in the store,
but she was in daily telephone contact with Falk, counting down the
days, and they began to spend some time at the business on the
weekends so that she could provide input. Sometimes the children
were there, but when they were not the two invariably made love
first. They were still in the thrall of sexual desire, something that
eventually diminished and was replaced by their business
relationship. But the love making never disappeared during the first
few years. Periods of heightened emotion, whether positive or
negative, always had the effect of either one or both of them
wanting the comfort of the other’s body.
They became good friends and worked well together, and they both
sometimes wondered how the sex thing could fit so easily into their
business relationship. Yet, somehow it worked and for that they
could count themselves fortunate that there was such a depth of
liking for one another.
The launch of the Woodstock Artist’s Mecca took place on Friday,
March 28, the weekend before Easter. Falk and Bianca had worked
hard to get the most prominent artists and writers to attend and
exhibit their work. They visited each person, salved egos and
eventually assembled an amazing group. Falk had his literary friends
Richard Rive and Alan Steed, who came down from Johannesburg,
and he visited James Mathews and was delighted that he was
prepared to come and to do a reading from his latest book of poetry,
No Time For Dreams. Mathews was said to have a flair for disrupting
the propriety of gatherings, and Falk hoped he would be at his most
outrageous.
Bianca tackled the artists and was successful in persuading Peter
Clarke to exhibit; his was to be the premier exhibition in the upper
gallery, and he brought some interesting works for display, including
paintings titled Rusty Cranes and Fisherman and a number of
landscapes of the Overberg. Willie Bester was to bring one of his
collages, a big piece which would be placed just inside the main door.
The idea was to have the launch on the Friday evening, a closed
event for invitees only. This comprised a select group of artists and
writers and prominent persons involved in the arts: critics, teachers
and collectors. Even Cecil Skotnes, who was teaching at the
Community Arts Project in a disused church in Woodstock, agreed to
attend. The press fell over themselves to send reporters and
photographers when they read the list of attendees.
The next day, the store and gallery would be opened to the public,
and they hoped there would be good press coverage to draw the
customers for that week and the Easter weekend that followed.
It proved to be a party of note, worth every Rand spent on snacks
and wine. Falk did the welcoming, and Bianca wooed the crowds. But
after Mathews refused to read from his most recent book of poetry,
but read instead from his banned book Cry Rage, and then
serenaded them on his penny whistle, everyone wanted to do a
reading or tell a story and the two hosts could only watch with deep
satisfaction as their guests outdid one another.
The commercial success showed itself the next day with the
Weekend Argus covering the launch with pictures on page two. All of
the other media gave them prominent and positive coverage in the
following days.
It was to be nearly a year before Falk placed himself in danger again.
He threw all of his energy into the lives of his children and the
fledgling business and tried to ignore the constant discrimination he
faced in everyday life.
During that time he satisfied his discontent and frustration with
writing the articles he had envisaged on that far off night in the Great
Karroo, the articles he had tentatively labelled Letters From The
Island. So far, he had written six of them and it was time to find a
publication that would accept them and hide his identity.
The spur to action also came from the many activists he was meeting
through the business and particularly the venture Bianca headed of
organising cultural and sporting events, mostly at the City Park
Stadium near his home in Crawford. The venue was headquarters to
the City and Suburban Rugby Football Union, and they favoured Falk
with preferential treatment because of his background in the sport.
One such activist and organiser was Johnny Issel. Falk had known of
Issel at UWC, and the two would have undoubtedly become friends
and co-conspirators if Falk had not been expelled. Ironically, Issel was
denied the right to study for an honours degree and also expelled
three years later. Falk had learnt of Issel’s numerous bannings and of
the torture he had suffered in Pretoria Central prison when he was
detained in 1974.
They met to discuss the printing of the newly formed Grassroots
monthly newspaper, for which Issel was the chief organiser. The
security police were harassing the civic, youth and women’s
organisations involved with the newspaper, and one outcome of
their bullying tactics was that no White firm would print the
newspaper.
For Falk, it was a boon to his printing business, only three months old
at the time, and struggling to get commissions which offered decent
print runs.
Issel was a vibrant man. You could feel the energy and his desire to
lead, and the spiritual presence was backed up by a large head with
unruly, bushy hair and full moustache.
“Hey, Falk, I remember you. You were a hero in those days.”
Falk could not help himself. “And today?”
“Hey, man, you and I’ve been around the block. But you had it good.
Pollsmoor for a few days, then the kindergarten on the island. Me I
was a guest of the boere in Pollsmoor, Victor Verster, Athlone,
Kensington and that shithole in Pretoria.”
“I know. You’ve had a tough time, Johnny.”
“Ja, man, but we soldier on. We’re going to win this war. What’s a
sacrifice here or there?”
Falk found Issel’s optimism infectious. He looked forward to getting
to know him better and working with him.
“So, show me around, Falk. And introduce me to that glorious lady
over there.”
Bianca heard the conversation, had been listening in, and came over.
“Hello, Johnny. I’m Bianca Raubenheimer, Falk’s partner.”
“Ja, I’ve heard of you. They tell me you did a super job of that Volk
festival at the City.”
“Thank you.”
Falk watched bemused as the two sparked off each other. Johnny
had a reputation as a man for the ladies, and he could see why. He
was the sort of person people found attractive and wanted to be
associated with. But Falk knew Bianca would not take it further; she
had a strong sense of loyalty to the two men in her life, both of
whom she admired and one of whom was her friend and lover.
The meeting resulted in a contract to print Grassroots and brought
Wynand van der Spuy, head of the Security Branch of the Western
Cape, back into Falk’s life.
Unfortunately, Van der Spuy chose to terrorise Falk’s children at the
same time and came to his house one evening so that they could
witness the arrest.
Falk answered the door.
“Ja, Hot’not, up to your tricks again.”
Van der Spuy was a big man, but Falk was bigger and he moved
forward to stand chest to chest with him.
“What do you want, policeman?”
“You come with us, jong.”
Falk noticed the other two men with Van der Spuy and by then he
also felt the presence of his children standing behind him in the
passage. He turned to them.
“I might be away for a while, guys. Sarah you know what to do.
Phone Bianca.”
“I will Dad. Don’t worry about us.”
They were brave words, but he could see the emotion and fear in her
eyes.
“Good girl. Haytham, be strong for her, son.”
The boy could only nod, his eyes brimming with tears.
They took him to Athlone and played their old tricks, leaving him for
several hours before they interrogated him. He tried to remain
optimistic; this was just harassment over the printing of Grassroots.
But it was not that easy to maintain that attitude. This was the
Station where they had beaten him up and these were the police
who had tortured him and could seemingly flaunt the law without
repercussion.
Fortunately, it was only to harass. They interviewed and humiliated
him for several hours and then released him. This time there was noone waiting for him, and he walked the several kilometres back to his
house where he found Bianca and her husband with the children.
Once again the unnecessary and extreme behaviour of the
authorities was to incite him to action. He would write to his English
publishers and get the Island articles into print. And he would seek
every opportunity to help the many anti-apartheid organisations,
become one of their main printers, and help with the organisation of
protests.
There was another unintended action that was to arise from that
night; Haytham made the decision to move from Bishops. He could
no longer attend a White school which represented the society that
allowed the police to threaten his father. He would go to Trafalgar
the following year.
2.
They were such simple words. Not even the man who uttered them
could have predicted the reaction to them. All he asked for was a
united front against the proposed Tricameral Parliament.
The event was a conference in Johannesburg to organise resistance
to the government-proposed constitutional changes which would
allow the ruling Nationalist Party to change parliament. The
Tricameral Parliament they advocated would add two additional
houses to represent the Coloured and Indian populations. A
referendum was to be held amongst White voters later that year.
The date was the 23rd of January 1983, and the speaker was Dr Allan
Boesak. He suggested a united front should be formed to pull
together all of the anti-apartheid groups: churches, civic associations,
trade unions, student organisations and sporting bodies to oppose
what they called the sham apartheid constitutional proposals.
The reaction was electric and spontaneous. They formed a
committee to discuss the idea and report back the next day. The
deliberations of that committee were stormy, but there was
sufficient common ground to agree some general principles.
It had to be a non-racial movement and it would not allow groups
working with government to join; these included homeland
structures and bodies that broke sport and cultural boycotts. It was
those general principles that captivated Falk when Johnny Issel came
to visit him to discuss the fledgling movement and his ambition to
have the Cape host the inaugural conference.
Falk’s first reaction was amazement that the often conflicting antiapartheid groups were prepared to amalgamate. “Didn’t some of the
groups balk against it?” he asked.
“Ja, there was quite a lot of buggering around in the beginning. But
we got it done, man. In the end I think everyone realised we had no
chance unless we stood together.”
“Do you think it’ll hold?”
“Ja, I think so, but we have to move quickly. Let’s talk about a plan of
action.”
Falk still had too many questions.
“Sorry, Johnny, but if we are to keep it going I’d like to know where
you think the resistance might come from. Where are the cracks?”
“Ja, there are cracks, but not so much really. At first there was a
concern that it would seem like the churches were leading the drive.
That was just the normal turf fight bullshit. When it came down to
real issues, it was maybe the trade union guys who had the most
concern. They thought the movement would compromise their main
task of worker betterment. But I think they’ll be okay. They know we
need to defeat apartheid first.
“And we need them badly. They’ve got more than a million members
and they know how to organise.
“Look Falk, I need your help. The first thing we’ve got to do is
organise a regional committee. I’m going to use the Grassroots
structures as the base, because most of the civic associations and
some of the church and sporting groups are already in there.”
“Are you sure? It seems to me Grassroots is mostly concerned with
bread and butter issues. The Black groups could feel left out. Also
maybe the trade unions.”
“Ja, that’s why I want you, man. We need to persuade them. Can you
write something for us? Something that explains the objectives. Why
it’s so important for us to do this together. Maybe a couple of pages,
just the important stuff. If we print that up we can get it to all the
groups before the meeting so that they’re prepared.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
“And print it? Maybe two thousand of them.”
“Yes. But I need to spend more time with you to get your ideas.”
“That’s okay but I can’t do it now. Can you come to my place tonight
around six, bring Bianca with you, and some idea of the cost.”
“The cost will be nothing Johnny. We all need to play our part. This is
my small bit.”
“Good, we’re going to need plenty of sponsors, specially if we can
persuade them to let us have the inaugural meeting. Tell Bianca
that’s why we need her tonight. Start the ideas rolling for the
launch.”
The Western Cape regional committee was the last to be formed
and just in time for the national meeting to be held in July to decide
on the launch. Johnny Issel and Trevor Manuel were elected to
represent the Province.
On the third day after the contingent left by plane for Johannesburg,
Johnny phoned Falk at four thirty in the morning. His voice was
hoarse but triumphant. “The game’s on my boy.”
“Yes?”
“Is that all you can say? Yes?”
“I’m hardly awake here, Johnny.”
“Well wake up then, there’s work to be done. We’ve won, Falk.
We’ve got the launch in Cape Town.”
That got Falk’s attention. “You’re kidding. You persuaded them,
despite them telling us it would never happen here because of our
disunity.”
Johnny could not help bragging a little. “I kept them going until the
early hours of the morning. Most of them fell asleep, including
Trevor. But I got them to see reason. The other venues are too
contentious. The Black Consciousness movement was seen as too
elitist and the general feeling was that the Indian Congress is a racist
structure. So that left us. I promised to personally work full time on
the launch.”
“Congratulations, Johnny. When is the launch?”
“Twentieth of August.”
“You’re joking. This year?”
“Ja, of course. We decided we have to do it before the constitutional
referendum.”
“That gives us a month, Johnny. We’ve got to choose a venue,
publicise it, choose speakers, thousands of things.”
“That’s why I’m phoning you, Falk. We need to get moving. I’m
phoning some of the Grassroots groups, and they’ll call our first
organising committee. I want you and Bianca on it, Falk. You guys
know about venues and by-laws and those things. I also need to get
all the groups into the organising committee. We need their buy-in.
That pamphlet of yours worked well, and you got to know some of
the Black and White groups. Can you start calling them?”
“I met some of the Black groups, Johnny. I don’t know about the
White groups.”
“Do what you can. I must phone others now. Do your best, Falk, this
is important.”
He rang off without a goodbye.
Falk phoned Bianca’s number and Daan answered.
“Good news, Daan. The UDF launch is to be held here, in Cape Town.
Can I speak to Bianca?”
“That’s terrific news, Falk, but are you sure you want to incur
Bianca’s wrath, waking her now?”
Falk laughed. Bianca’s dislike of being woken early was well known to
both men. Falk had a guilty moment, remembering some of the
times that Daan knew nothing about; his admiration for Bianca’s
husband had been working on him lately, and he and his partner had
not made love for months.
“I’ll take a chance.”
Bianca was even more blunt than predicted. “This better be fucking
good, Falk.”
“My, my, such words for a lady.”
“I become a lady at ten in the morning. Right now I’m the fucking
witch. What’s up?”
“We got the launch, Bianca.”
“Shit. You’re kidding.”
“No.”
“Wow. That’s amazing. Okay, what next.”
“The Grassroots people are getting together everyone we need to
form an organising committee. We’ll be part of it, you and I. Did you
complete that list of potential venues?”
“Of course. When is the event planned for?”
“August twenty.”
“Bullshit, Falk. You can’t be serious.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“They have no idea what needs to be done. Bloody idealists. Well I’m
ready for that first meeting.”
“Good. One other thing. Johnny wants to get as many Black and
White groups on the organising committee as we can. It’s important
that they feel a part of it. I don’t know many of the White groups.
Can Daan help?”
“I’m sure he’d be delighted to. Justice For All has entre to many of
the White groups. I’m sure Isa will throw her weight into it.”
When he put the phone down, Falk went through into the lounge
and stared at the mountain, just receiving the first rays of light.
What if Isa came to that first meeting?
The organising committee meeting was held in a school hall in
Belgravia. Falk arrived early to distribute a paper with suggestions he
and Bianca had worked on regarding launch venues and publicity.
Already deal tables had been put out and a high table erected on the
stage. Behind it was a colourful red, orange and black UDF banner
with the slogan they had decided in Johannesburg, to be ratified at
the inaugural meeting:
UDF UNITES, APARTHEID DIVIDES.
There was a manic mood in the hall, activists not knowing what to do
once the basics for the meeting were completed, talking loudly to
one another with many hand gestures. It did nothing for Falk’s
attempt to stay calm, knowing that he might see Isa that night.
He had not seen her for sixteen years, not since they were both in
their twentieth year.
Falk sat at a side table from where he could see the main door. She
came early, with Bianca and Daan Raubenheimer. From afar, she
looked the same and he stood and they saw him and made their way
towards him through the many tables.
Closer, he could see the changes wrought by time. If anything, she
was slimmer than before. Her hair was cut short and still shone like
spun gold. She wore jeans and a black jersey, quite chic. Her face had
fine lines around the eyes and mouth now, smile lines he decided. It
seemed as if no time had passed; that beautiful intelligent face was
as he remembered. So too was the weak feeling he had in his core.
She stopped a metre from him. “It’s been sixteen years, Falkie.”
“Four months short of sixteen, Isa.”
“So we’re arguing already?”
She said it with her first smile and he had been right, they were smile
lines.
Falk felt extremely awkward with Bianca and her husband present.
He was in the company of the woman he had loved since that day at
the little school in the valley, when Frans Malherbe had told him Isa
was beautiful and his feelings had crystallised; in the company of
both the woman he loved and the woman who was his business and
sex partner and his best friend.
Bianca recognised his predicament. “Excuse us, I need to check on
the arrangements.”
They were alone. Neither spoke for a long moment. She broke the
impasse. “You’re looking good, Falkie. No sign of the horrible time
you must have had on the island.”
“It’s been over three years since that time Isa, and my children keep
me young. Let me return the compliment; time has passed you by
with remarkable ease. Maturity suits you; still beautiful.”
“The wordsmith has been practising.”
He laughed.
“Since the time I realised you might be at this meeting I’ve been in a
sweat to think of the right things to say.”
“Don’t sweat it. Now that we’ve met again, we have lots of time.”
He tried to think of the implication of those words.
“I’ve been following your progress Falk.”
“I know, Bianca told me.”
“That was extremely generous of her. She loves you, you know.”
“Yes, and she also loves her husband.”
Isa was about to say something, and then changed her mind. He saw
it. “You can say it Isa.”
“Alright, I will. Would it make a difference if she did not love her
husband?”
“No. We’re friends Bianca and I, friends and partners. We decided
early on that we would keep our relationship on that plane.”
“I think it was you who decided, Falk.”
“Maybe. I heard you were married for a while.”
“Yes, a brief while.”
The return of Bianca and Daan put a stop to their awkward first
conversation. Bianca spoke. “The meeting’s about to start. Johnny’s
not here, Falk. He’s afraid they will imprison him after he broke his
banning order to go to Jo’burg. Trevor will run the meeting. Anyway,
shall we all sit together here?”
Falk hardly took in the proceedings of the meeting. Sitting next to
him, her arms almost touching his on the table, was the first woman
he had ever loved, and he was acutely conscious of her aura and the
faint scent of the perfume she used.
They decided many things that night: two venues were to be
considered, Good Hope Centre and the Rocklands community hall,
the types of publicity needed, heavy emphasis on graffiti, the
principal members of the organising committee, and accommodation
for the incoming delegates.
Someone even came up with a marvellous idea for radio publicity; a
local station would announce the date and venue with Bob Marley’s
song Buffalo Soldier as background music. The song was popular at
the time, and seen as a struggle song:
There was a buffalo soldier, in the heart of America
Stolen from Africa, brought to America
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival
When they left it was almost midnight. There was so much to be
said, but the time was not right. Isa had the last word. “Let’s keep in
touch, Falkie.”
He had no intention of doing anything other than that. In a sane
society he would have invited her for a drink, or to his home, but
both knew that they would be special targets for the police, hoping
to catch high profile activists committing an offence under the
Immorality Act.
They met on three further occasions before the historic inaugural
meeting, each time with others present. The desire from both to
have the privacy to explore their relationship was palpable.
3.
There was an air of expectancy on that cold Saturday morning, the
day of the inaugural meeting of the UDF. Members of the organising
committee were there before dawn, applying the finishing touches.
The marquee had been erected the previous day and the video and
audio feeds were now being installed, the faint tones of Buffalo
Soldier evidence of the presence of the technicians.
Falk came early too, his task to organise the marshalling of the
expected multitude. It was to be a military-style operation, no illdiscipline allowed in this showpiece of opposition; the eyes of the
world would be upon them, expecting a rabble. It was a chance to
prove them wrong.
The preparation had been brutal, including a last minute scare
regarding permission to erect the huge tent. The local council only
agreed at the eleventh hour, thus avoiding the likelihood of the
meeting being shut down by the police, who would have gleefully
invoked the law that no mass political rallies could be held in the
open.
Falk climbed the steps to the level of the hall and stopped then,
gazing back at the huge tent and, beyond it, flat land with islands of
vegetated dunes. He thought of the event that was to take place that
day. Delegates from hundreds of organisations throughout the
country were descending on Mitchel’s Plain, more than five hundred
of them, most already affiliated to the new movement.
They had been coming for days by car and bus down the N1 from the
north and along the N2 from the coastal provinces. And some had
come by rail and plane. Along the main highways, Citizen Band clubs
from Heideveld and Kensington had posted themselves to help out of
town delegates with directions.
For weeks, radio broadcasts had announced the meeting until Bob
Marley’s song was on everyone’s lips. Along the main thoroughfares
in the Coloured and Black areas graffiti colourfully daubed precast
concrete walls, slogans of the UDF, date and venue of the meeting.
Thousands of pamphlets had been distributed in stores and at road
intersections and taxi parking ranks.
Despite all the difficulties, and the days of working late into the
night, they were ready. Now it needed the people and the inspiration
of the speakers.
Falk set up his control centre in the library, where there were
telephones. He was to be the principal contact with the outside
world, mainly with Johnny Issel, who again could not attend because
of his banning order, but who was monitoring the movement of the
police with the help of informers.
Falk’s army began drifting in to receive their identifying T-shirts and
last minute instructions. Falk had recruited his men, sixty of them,
from the rugby clubs. They were to be stationed in pairs around the
main square and in force around the hall; others were to act as
traffic regulators on the main streets leading to the venue, while still
others would be in the hall and the marque. Their instructions were
to remove troublemakers and identified police informers; to keep it
cheerful but controlled. Their work would be cut out for them later
that afternoon and evening when the serious drinkers came by for
entertainment.
He was so embroiled in his tasks that he did not notice the passing of
time. Bianca stuck her head into his office and told him the
conference of delegates was about to begin, and he went and stood
outside the hall so that he could hear the opening speech on the
loud speaker system.
Isa came past, hurrying to get into the hall before it started, but she
stopped when she saw him and came to greet him.
“It’s finally arrived, Falkie. You must be so proud.”
“Me?”
“Yes, you.”
“I’m just the policeman here, Isa.”
“You’re the power behind the throne, Falkie. You should hear how
highly people speak of you. You are very much admired.”
With those few words she hurried off and had only just disappeared
into the hall when the serious voice of Frank Chikane came over the
loudspeakers, opening the conference of delegates.
Almost immediately there was a crisis. Johnny Issel was on the
phone. The police were going to dispute the approval for the tent
and break up the meeting on the basis that it was an illegal
gathering. A convoy of police vehicles was on the way.
Falk pushed roughly into the hall and saw where Bianca was sitting.
People were startled by his rude passage through the audience to
her side.
“The boere are coming, Bianca, a whole convoy. Get Daan to gather
as many lawyers as he can and the documents of approval for the
marque. Meet me outside.”
Daan brought seven lawyers, including Isa. Falk told them what he
knew and then led them to the outside of the square where the
police convoy would have to enter and where he had stationed the
bulk of his men, telling them to control their anger, to be disciplined
and strong. He was not happy to have Isa at the forefront of the
receiving committee, but knew her presence and the colour of her
skin would be an effective foil.
Falk stood before his small delegation and it was he who waved the
first vehicle down. A police captain alighted his vehicle and came
forward.
“More Kaptein, kan ons u hulp?”
The words were so commonplace and polite, greeting in his
language, asking if they could help, that the policeman was taken
aback. But he recovered.
“This is an illegal gathering.”
“Why so, Captain?”
“It is illegal to have a political gathering in the open.”
“But it’s not in the open, as you can see for yourself.”
“You do not have permission to erect that tent.”
“You are misinformed, Captain. I have here the lawyers who
obtained the permission.”
He called forward Daan and Isa, who had been the ones who had
negotiated with the local authorities and had finally received written
permission to erect the marque.
Falk could see that the police captain was uncomfortable negotiating
with a beautiful and intelligent White woman. He was required to
show restraint and consider the evidence, but he clearly had his
orders and would not accept the documents at face value. He went
back to his vehicle to talk to his superiors on the radio; it would not
be his decision.
In the meantime, the police had left their vehicles and stood
ominously with their weapons at the alert. Falk watched his people,
proud to see that they remained calm and stood in a solid phalanx,
big men, their faces and demeanour serious.
The captain came back.
“This paper is a farce. We have it on good authority that the approval
was not given. Whose signature is this?”
Isa answered. “She is the designated signatory for this local authority
Captain.”
Falk interjected. “She’s here, at the meeting. I saw her earlier. We’ll
fetch her.”
He singled out one of his men and told him to tell Bianca to find the
woman councillor and bring her. There was an awkward wait. The
policeman more uncomfortable than Falk and his entourage of
lawyers. He, after all, had been told to break up the meeting by
whatever means, and he was being side-tracked.
Eventually, with the aid of the woman councillor and numerous radio
calls to his superiors, the policeman admitted defeat and the convoy
returned to the city. When the lawyers and the woman councillor
returned to the hall, Falk heard the great cheer as the delegates
were obviously told of the cessation of the threat.
From that moment forward, the gathering became the motivating
force they had all hoped for, cementing ideals and objectives,
inspiring all with the hope of progress towards the demise of
apartheid. Outside the hall, the crowds gathered until they estimated
there were more than ten thousand.
For many who were not activists, it was amazing to hear their leaders
speak out so publicly against the hated regime and the laws that
made their everyday existence so difficult and demeaning.
Falk was as inspired as any in the audience, his dream of a nation
which regarded all people as equals being spoken of by speaker after
speaker. The organisers had cleverly decided that Johnny Issel’s six
year old daughter would speak for him, and she made a huge
impression, the innocence of a child in some ways more telling than
the clever words of an adult.
Allan Boesak was the keynote speaker and Falk stationed himself just
inside the doors of the hall, keen to see as well as hear. Boesak was
passionate, using memorable phrases. “The fear of the gun is always
overcome by the longing for freedom,” he proclaimed.
Much of his speech was taken up with providing arguments against
positions taken by some of the groups, for example the argument
that Whites should not be included in the movement as they were
the oppressors. Boesak spoke of the courage to the point of death
that many Whites had shown against the regime, and he thanked
and praised those Whites in the audience, enjoining all to remain
allies, despite the bigotry of some.
“So, for the sake of the country and our children, whether you be
White or Black, resist these people, whether they are White or
Black.”
Boesak’s last words were about the struggle anthem, Nkosi Silelel’
iAfrika and his hope that one day it would be the anthem of all in the
nation, not just the oppressed.
“We shall sing it on the day when our children shall no longer be
judged by the colour of their skin but by the humanness of their
character.”
In the early evening Isa found Falk. “It’s a time of renewal, Falk.
Should it not be a time of renewal for us?”
He knew exactly what she meant for he had been wondering how to
approach her, his only restraint an old, but not forgotten, memory.
“Do you remember that time when we sat on the park bench in
Oudtshoorn and I kissed you on the breast?”
“Of course. I regretted my reaction for many days. Longer than that
really, until today, I suppose. Did my rejection mean so much?”
“I chastised myself for abusing your trust. I didn’t understand your
reaction.”
“Do you understand it today?”
“Help me.”
“I did not have the family you had in the valley, Falk. I hated my
circumstances there, and decided I would never return. There was a
big obstacle to that: my feelings for you. I was afraid that if I allowed
those feelings to be seen by you, it would be the end of my
independence.”
He could not help wondering what might have happened had her
reaction been different. All the subsequent events: the affair with
Pauline, being expelled, the years in Prince Albert. It was too much to
think fate could have dealt him a completely different hand. Then he
thought of his children, and Jessie, and his equilibrium was restored.
It was finished, and now there was this promise, the promise of
today.
She had been watching him closely.
He verbalised his thoughts. “It’s in the past, Isa. We have to deal with
what we have today. No regrets. I never stopped loving you.”
“Nor I you.”
There were tears in the eyes of both and they stood like statues as
others thronged around them. “We need to be go somewhere, just
the two of us” he said.
“Yes.”
The place was a hotel at the bottom of De Waal Drive, near the
entrance to the gardens. He phoned and made a booking for the
night under an assumed name. She would go to her flat in
Tamboerskloof and come to him when he had booked in and had a
room number for her.
They both regretted the clandestine nature of the tryst, but there
was no other way they could do it safely, both of their homes likely
targets for surveillance. And the regret was relegated to a very
distant second in the breathless anticipation.
Falk went to his home first, to apologise to his children that he would
be out for the rest of the night. They were disappointed, wanting him
to tell the story of the day. He promised them that the next day,
Sunday, they would have the day together, braai in the back yard
and he would tell them all. He packed a small bag and took a bottle
of dry white wine from the fridge.
When he phoned her from the hotel room she was hesitant. “Is this
the right thing Falk?”
“I’m here Isa, you must answer that question yourself.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I want this more than the world, but the penalty
of being caught appals me. It would be the end of my life.”
He wanted to persuade her, but did not want to apply pressure. He
wanted to tell her that she was no longer alone, that it would be
something they would both fight if it came to prosecution, but he
knew that there was no societal stigma for him, only for her, the
White woman who had all to lose: her reputation, her personal
persona, and her profession.
Eventually he had to say something, he had to declare himself. “Isa, I
love you. I have done so since we were children in the valley. This
thing standing between us and the fulfilment of our promise is manmade, not a thing of God, not to be ashamed of. I won’t say more. I
will sleep here tonight. If you can join me, it will be the start of
something new. No, let me correct that. It would not be something
new, it would be the completion of something we started nearly
thirty years ago.”
She came within the hour, gave a strong knock at the door and let
herself boldly into the room when he opened it.
“That was so silly of me. I’ve wanted this forever. Let’s just make
love, Falkie. We can talk all night after that.”
They kissed for the first time and it was strangely familiar, as if their
desires had anticipated the touch of the lips, the soft fullness of the
kiss. He undressed her first, his fingers not expert, and she helped
him when he stumbled, and then she was naked before him and he
was astounded at the emotion he felt when he looked on that body
for the first time. There was much more at work than lust, a lifetime
of dreams exposed.
His disrobing was much quicker, only two items, and their behaviour
was strange as they stood apart looking at each other trying not to
be rude but enjoying all they saw.
“You’ve kept your body, Falkie, quite a man.”
He did not want to talk and he moved forward and held her
shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes, became lost in them as
their bodies responded and they touched and explored those most
intimate places that they had only imagined.
They were no longer children in the valley, or teenagers at high
school, but the love making was as if they were back in those far-off
days, starting afresh, and the fervour of their orgasms was not just of
the flesh, but an emotional act of confirmation of the importance of
their union, more profound than any custom of betrothal.
The Ezulweni valley in Swaziland is among the most beautiful places
in southern Africa and there are three hotels there, a cluster around
the Spa, that deserve the designation of resort.
It was March of 1984, and Isa and Falk had found two weeks to
spend with each other without the fear of discovery and the furtive
nights of deception. It took fully three days before it sunk in that
they could be themselves. They went for long walks through the
equestrian centre alongside their hotel and around the golf course
across the road, and they loafed around the pool and they made love
in their room at all times of the day and night.
Apart from the lovemaking, which remained almost soulful in its
intensity, the best part of the holiday was the anonymity they felt
when they visited shops in Mbabane and went to restaurants and
nightclubs.
When he drove her to Matsapha Airport for her flight to
Johannesburg and onwards to Cape Town, they had a feeling of loss
that left them bereft of the words of farewell. Both wondered when,
if ever, they would again enjoy the freedom of movement and the
sheer joy of living and loving together.
There was a consequence of the holiday in Swaziland and Isa came
to the store on a Tuesday morning two months later to tell him. It
seemed she cared not who heard or that they were together in a
public place, as there were a number of customers and Bianca in the
downstairs store. He had never seen her so excited.
“Oh, Falkie, I’m pregnant. I never thought I’d have a child, I thought
my chances had gone, but they haven’t. I’m pregnant with our child.”
He was glad when he reflected on his reaction later that it had also
been one of joy. He could easily have thought of some of the
negative consequences, the difficult of bringing up a Coloured child,
the cost, the effect on their relationship. Instead, he had thought
only of the wonder of it; he and his childhood sweetheart with the
chance to have a child together in their late thirties.
He embraced her, kissing her hair, feeling jubilant and young. He was
not foolish enough to announce the news to all who could hear, but
he nearly did when he saw the smile on Bianca’s lips.
He took Isa to the office he shared with his partner, and he asked the
inevitable question. “So what do we do?”
“I don’t care, Falkie. I so wanted to fulfil my life with a child that I
almost turned to a man I did not love. This is so different, so
wonderful, that I’ve found love again and now I’m pregnant. The
child will be born out of love.
“Okay, I know I’m gushing. Your question’s legitimate and I’ve
thought about some of the difficulties, and they don’t matter. But
let’s for the moment discuss them. Our child will be born in
December, the Christmas month. I’ll have to stop working before
then and I’ll take time off, maybe six months. I can work from home.
It might be the best half year of my life.
“I know, I know, I’m not talking about us. I think your children should
know, but we can’t be together until they repeal the Immorality Act.
And don’t despair of that, it’s going to happen. There is much talk
about it in legal circles, some liberal Afrikaners feel guilt at the
treatment of the Coloured people and want to rectify the situation. It
will happen, Falk, but until it does we will have to live separate lives.
The alternative is to leave the country, and I don’t think you want
that, not with your commitment to the UDF.”
“No, I don’t want that, but I do want my children to meet you and
get a chance to know you before the baby is born. Why don’t we do
that this weekend?”
They agreed to meet on the Greenpoint Commonage on that Sunday
morning.
Falk told his children that night. He told them almost the whole
story, and it was the first time they’d heard intimate details about
the valley and schooling at Oudtshoorn and his academic and
sporting achievements. He left out the parts that could hurt
Haytham, but his story was mostly about a girl called Isa Erasmus, so
that by the time he had finished they were enchanted by the story
and hoped one day to meet her.
And then he told them about the marvel of meeting Isa again and the
love they had for one another and that she had fallen pregnant.
The girls were enthralled, Haytham sceptical and full of questions.
“So that’s where you went for two weeks. You told us it was
business.”
“Yes, I did son, and I’m sorry I lied to you. If it wasn’t for this
pregnancy, I still wouldn’t tell you about Isa. You know what we’re
doing is illegal in this country. I had no right to put her in danger by
talking about it.”
“So what’s changed, Dad?”
“The wonder of the child, Haytham. They can’t prove it’s my child,
and Isa and I will have to live apart so they can’t prosecute us as
they’ll have no proof. But their law is unjust, son, and they’re now
even talking about scrapping it. I decided to tell the three of you
because in a natural world you would want to know all about it,
would want to know a woman I love and would want to know that
you might have a new brother or sister.
“Am I right?”
They all nodded sombrely, quite taken with the drama of the
moment.
“So we have a family secret and we must keep it that way. Would
you like to meet Isa this Sunday?”
4.
The mid-decade year 1985 started so well that they could be
forgiven for believing a new and more just world was within their
grasp.
The good news started in December of the year before, with the
birth of a son to Isa and Falk, whom they named Isaac, a name that
resonated in the Baartman family and was a play on the mother’s
name. Falk could not be present at the nursing home, but his
representative was none other than his mother Stephanie, who had
been so delighted to hear of the impending birth to her son and her
favourite girl, her daughter almost, that she had talked her husband
Paul into letting her go to Cape Town for the entire month of
December to stay with Isa. They did not inform Isa’s remaining
parent, her father, who was said to be so drunk by ten in the
morning that he could no longer be relied upon to make alcohol that
would not kill you.
Isa and Isaac left the nursing home two days later and returned to
the flat in Tamboerskloof, where Falk clandestinely visited them in
the early hours of the morning. Stephanie stayed on to help where
she could, and the two of them and the baby took a taxi to the house
in Burwood Street on Christmas day, there to be met by a home
bedecked with Christmas decorations and three siblings wildly
excited about the new addition to the family. And there was another
surprise: Stephanie’s husband Paul, who had been telephoned by
Falk and invited to drive through in time for the lunch and to stay the
night.
The news that filled 1985 with such promise came in a telephone call
to Falk at his store in the third week of January.
“Falkie, I have such wonderful news for us.”
“What?”
“No, I can’t tell you on the phone. You must come to the flat.”
“In broad daylight.”
“Yes, yes, that’s part of it.”
“No hint, Isa.”
“Come, Falkie, come quickly.”
It was strange to walk through the security gates at the block of flats
in the daylight, to be potentially seen by residents of that place from
the windows of the ground floor apartments and the balconies on
the second and third floors. His previous visits, so few of them, had
been under the cloak of darkness. When she let him in, tense with
her news, he stopped her.
“Let me see our son first.”
He picked the little boy up, still awkward with the action of cradling
his head, and gazed into the blue round eyes, which in turn gazed
back at him with the innocence of a soul still to be filled with the
wonders of the world. As always, he felt the profound love he had
for this small child, the fulfilment of his own childhood ambitions.
“Okay, I’m ready for this news which is so great that you’ve thrown
caution to the wind.”
“We can live as man and wife,” she said simply, no more drama in
her voice as she had been humbled and made patient by the scene
she had just witnessed: father and son connecting without words.
“What on earth do you mean?”
“They’re going to repeal parts of the Immorality and Mixed
Marriages Act, Falkie. They’re tabling the amendments this
parliamentary session.”
“Good God, Isa. It’s starting to happen! How wonderful.”
“Yes, it’s the start. It means they are responding to the pressure.”
“Will this repeal be passed?”
“Oh yes, everyone’s sure.”
“And when will it go through, when can we be free to be together?”
“It will probably become law by the middle of the year, but we don’t
need to wait. They’re not going to prosecute any more, Falkie.
They’ve given instructions to the prosecuting authority to halt all
prosecutions under the act and to not accept any new cases.”
“That sounds fantastic, but isn’t there still a risk?”
“You can always have a rogue policeman, Falk. You know what some
of them are like. But they’ll get no support; they might harass, but
we can handle that.”
It was the most unexpected and wonderful news. He could not even
fully grasp what it would mean to them. She interrupted his reverie.
“So what do you need to ask me now, Falkie?”
The change of direction confused him. “I don’t know. What?”
“Isn’t this where you ask me to marry you and come to live with
you?”
The Baartman household became complete. To Sarah, starting her
first year at the University of Cape Town, studying law like her
mother before her, and to Tess, now in her second year of high
school, having Isaac in the house was a joy that they embraced with
all of the wonder and practice of trainee mothers. Tess would
eventually have to share her room with Isaac, but she welcomed the
move, which would take place once the boy started sleeping through
the night.
Haytham was relieved of the burden of being the only son, expected
by his father to measure up to what he, Haytham, believed to be
impossibly high standards. He was also smitten with Isa, who became
his protector.
All three of the older children believed that Isa would save their
father from a further sentence in jail. They had worried at the
fervour of the way their father had embraced the aims of the UDF
and become a key supplier and organiser. Falk had never accepted a
position of leadership in the organisation, preferring not to accept
the prominence it entailed out of both inclination and a sense of
responsibility towards his children. The children knew that their
father behaved in a manner which took them into consideration, but
felt Isa would further strengthen his resolve to stay out of the
limelight.
Haytham had no such sentiments about his own behaviour. The night
the Security Police had taken his father away had never been
forgotten. He believed he had been deprived of his mother because
of her reclassification; it was the excuse he gave her for abandoning
him. All of these repressed feelings of hatred for the regime came to
the fore in the political hothouse that was Trafalgar School.
They knew for weeks that the repeal of the sections of the
Immorality and Mixed Marriages Act which referred to interracial sex
and marriage was going to be ratified in Parliament on Monday, the
17th of June, and would come into force two days later, on the
Wednesday, and they wanted to get married on that date, as a form
of protest. It would go by without much notice in the community,
but it meant a lot to them, required as they had been to behave like
criminals to be with one another.
There was a Methodist Church in Barcombe Street, just down the
road from where Falk had lived in Brandon, and which he knew from
the outside because he had often walked that way with Haytham
when the boy was still a toddler. Callie and Meisie Hendricks
occasionally attended the church, and they introduced Falk and Isa
to the pastor, who was delighted to be able to cock a snoot at the
government and marry them on the day they became legal.
The ceremony was small. Apart from the family, only the Hendricks,
Raubenheimer and Stephanie and Paul were invited.
Small as the wedding was, it was the highpoint of their year and
things began to go downhill rapidly after that.
By the middle of 1985, some of the more radical groups affiliated to
the UDF, particularly the student and youth groups, were becoming
frustrated at the slow pace of action. They wanted more than the
consumer boycotts. They wanted to live the objective of making the
townships ungovernable.
Incidents of the stoning of government vehicles became the norm in
the townships, mainly by schoolchildren on a completely random
basis. Council buildings and the persons who occupied them, either
elected or permanent, became soft targets. Anger and frustration led
to persons seen to be collaborating with the government being
beaten and even killed, some with the hated necklace method of
placing a tyre around the person’s neck, filling it with petrol, and
setting it alight.
The violence was not just against pro-government targets. There was
also sectarian violence, particularly in Natal, where the Inkatha
Freedom Party, which embraced the homeland policy, turned against
the UDF/ANC structures, creating an opportunity for the security
police to further incite Black on Black murder and mayhem.
The government of State President P.W. Botha declared a state of
emergency in many magisterial districts in the Eastern Cape and the
Pretoria, Johannesburg and Vereeniging areas in June 1985, giving
themselves the licence to act with impunity by detaining antiapartheid leaders, stopping protests with maximum violence and
muzzling the press.
The state of emergency was extended to the Western Cape three
months later, but even without official sanction, the mind-set of the
police and defence forces had already become locked into aggressive
and brutal action without consideration for human rights. Fight fire
with fire was the mentality of the leadership and the troops on the
ground.
In July 1985, Botha offered to free Nelson Mandela if he agreed to
renounce the use of violence. He refused.
The conditional terms of the offer incensed the Western Cape UDF
leadership, and Allan Boesak organised a march from Athlone
Stadium to Pollsmoor Prison to demand the unconditional release of
Mandela. It was planned as a peaceful march, to take place on
Wednesday, the 28th of August.
Two days before the march, Haytham raised the subject at dinner.
“Dad, our whole class is going to join the march on Wednesday.”
“On a school day?”
“Yes, Dad, our teachers are also joining. They say we have to support
the cause to free Nelson.”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea, son.”
“Why, Dad?”
“The police are very nervous and aggressive at the moment. I think
they are close to extending the State of Emergency to the Western
Cape because of all the stoning of vehicles and burning of municipal
buildings taking place. I’m pretty sure they’ll block the march. There
could be violence.”
Haytham was not to be deterred.
“What do you think, Isa?”
“Your dad might be right. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to take a
chance.”
“But that’s hypocritical,” argued Haytham. “Are we saying others can
take a chance, but not us, like we’re something special?”
Falk had to concede that his son had a point. Allan Boesak would be
leading the march, as well as many other clerics and anti-apartheid
leaders. He knew he should also be there, in the vanguard, leading by
example.
“Yes, you have a point, Haytham. You can go on one condition: you
march with me.”
“That’s a deal, Dad. I’d like to march with you.”
“What about us?” asked Tess.
Falk looked at Isa, a silent plea for her to get involved in declining the
request.
“Let’s let the men take this one, Tess.”
Sarah supported Isa.
“I don’t want to go. Dad’s right, there will be violence. I’m afraid for
him and Haytham. Why did you raise it, Hay? What will you say if
Dad is hurt?”
The matter was decided: the men would represent the family.
The crowds started gathering early at Athlone Stadium that
Wednesday morning. Falk was dismayed to see the huge police
presence on the streets around the stadium. It looked like they
would try to stop the march before it gathered momentum.
There were many older people among the hundreds in the stadium,
but it was mostly made up of younger people, boys and girls, a
volatile mix. And there was an air of nervousness and anger; they
had seen the armoured vehicles and riot police. Most of the
marchers were carrying provisions. It was a long way to Tokai, where
Pollsmoor Prison was located.
Eventually, when it seemed no new protesters were entering the
stadium, a marshal with a bullhorn gave the last instructions. It was
to be a peaceful march: no provoking of the police; no charging a
barrier; other ways would be sought. They were to remain calm and
orderly.
The crowd began to move through the stadium gates and into
Klipfontein Road, the leaders with banners at the front.
Immediately there was a problem. The police were a solid phalanx
across the road, less than a hundred metres away, vehicles and riot
police with weapons at the ready, including the bulbous tear gas
canister launchers.
The leaders turned down a small side street into the suburb of
Belgravia, but the road was so narrow that not more than eight or
nine could walk abreast. It would take hours to travel that route and
the marchers in the second and subsequent ranks found themselves
becalmed in Klipfontein Road.
There was no warning. Suddenly there was the belching sound of the
tear gas launchers, and canisters were arching through the air and
bouncing on the road before them, already hissing with the clouds of
white gas escaping into the air.
Consternation reigned as the marchers tried to escape the clouds of
burning gas, running into clear areas, trying to push their way back
along Klipfontein Road and into the stadium, with no consideration
for the weaker among them.
Falk and Haytham found themselves, by the accident of the
movement of people, in the front row facing the police. Some young
men ran forward to retrieve the canisters and hurl them back
towards the police. In a flash, Haytham left his father’s side and
sprinted forward with the aggressors, determined to brave the
burning gas and hit back at the police. Falk screamed at them to stop
and ran in desperation after his son, intending to tackle him to the
ground.
The deep belching of the tear gas canisters was now interspersed
with the sound of the shotguns and rifles and Falk saw his son
stumble and then fall headlong onto the road. There was a
screaming sound and he realised it was coming from his mouth and
then he was hit, a fearful blow to the lower abdomen, which took his
breath away and spun him around so that he fell forward at speed on
his back, cracking his head on the hard tarmac. For a moment he was
disabled by the pain and dizziness of the blow to the head, and then
he recovered enough to turn on to his stomach and look towards his
son.
Haytham lay not a dozen metres from him. He was not moving. Falk
called out to him and there was no reply. He tried to get up, but he
could not, so he crawled, despite the intense pain in his stomach and
the dry retching which he could not control.
When he got to his son, he looked into the closed eyes and saw the
expression of pain frozen on the boy’s face and he knew he had lost
him. He placed his head on the boy’s chest and began to cry.
Falk became aware of a light, but when he looked closely it
fragmented into shards that eluded his attempt to focus. He closed
his eyes and tried to remember what had happened and where he
was, but his mind was a blank. He opened his eyes and tried again,
and the room gradually floated into form, the light the sole
illumination, high on the end wall. It was a hospital room, a room
with several beds and equipment everywhere. He recognised it as an
ICU unit.
He tried to remember, but the past eluded him and his head hurt
with the concentration and he drifted back into unconsciousness.
When he woke again it was bright with artificial light and there was a
nurse at his bedside. He still had no recollection of the past.
“What happened to me?” His voice seemed distant and she did not
hear. He asked his question again, and this time she heard and
turned to him.
“You’re awake at last.”
He asked his question a third time.
“You were shot in that protest march.”
The tone of her answer was cold, devoid of compassion, and he
noticed she was White.
“Please tell me, I can’t remember.”
“The doctor will be doing his rounds shortly. He’ll tell you.”
He remembered some of it before the doctor came, almost an hour
later. He remembered the tear gas swirling and the act of running
through it, his eyes burning, and Haytham ahead of him, but nothing
more, no matter how he tried to bring it to mind.
The doctor was a man in his forties with an abrupt, authoritative
manner, but with tired eyes of compassion.
“What happened to me Doctor?”
“You were shot in the lower abdomen.”
“Please tell me the circumstances.”
“It was in the attempted march to Pollsmoor. You were shot early
on, just outside Athlone Stadium.”
“And my son?”
He thought the doctor knew, but he would not answer.
“I don’t know. Your wife will be here shortly. We’ve told her you’ve
come out of the coma.”
“How long ago was I shot?”
“Three days ago, on Wednesday. It’s Saturday now. You were in a
critical condition. The bullet passed through the walls of your colon
in several places. We repaired the damage, but there was the danger
of infection; there still is, and we have to keep the wound open for a
few more days.”
“What hospital is this?”
“Groote Schuur. They took you to another hospital first, but your
wife insisted they move you here for the surgery. I would think she
gets her way quite readily,” he said, with the first hint of humour.
He stayed awake until she came, an undefined anxiety making him
nervous and fearful. There was something in the back of his mind
which was too frightening and he was suppressing it. When he saw
Isa he remembered. He was back on Klipfontein Road, his head
resting on his son’s chest and he could detect no sign of life, then he
was crying. That was the last he remembered of that day.
“Oh no, Isa. Its Haytham isn’t it? Has he gone?”
“Yes, my darling. I’m so sorry.”
“Why did I let him go there, Isa? I knew there was a chance for
violence. If only I’d trusted my instincts.”
“He wanted it, Falkie. He wanted to be a part of the revolution. He
was just like you. You could not have stopped him, he would have
disobeyed you.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he would have listened. I’ve only now
remembered what happened. Only now when I saw you, but it’s still
not clear.”
“Try not to think about it, Falkie, wait until you’re out of danger and
then we can mourn your son.”
They moved him into a general ward four days later, but he was
required to stay in the hospital until they were sure the danger had
gone. Isa was with him several times a day, but she did not bring the
girls and his baby son until she was sure he could handle the emotion
of seeing them.
He had an unwelcome visitor before they released him. Fortunately
Isa was with him at the time. The visitor was his old enemy and
tormentor, Wynand van der Spuy.
The policeman was scornful when he saw Isa.
“You must be the White woman who married this hot’not?”
Isa was offended by his bigotry.
“My husband and I grew up in a valley in the Swartberg Mountains,
Colonel. We’ve known each other all our lives. Look at him Colonel,
look at the fair colour of his skin and his blue eyes and his straight
hair.
“And look at yourself, at your dark skin and black eyes and curly hair.
I don’t mind if you’re Coloured, Colonel, I only mind your hatred
which has no basis, and your blatant flaunting of the law you are paid
to uphold.”
The policeman had no answer, and was flustered for a moment, but
recovered and reverted to his security, the bluster of the bully.
“Your husband is very fortunate he was wounded, Madam. We
would have detained him, but we prefer you to pay the hospital bills.
He’s to be banned instead, for a period of at least three years. Here
are the banning orders. You’re a lawyer, I don’t need to explain, but
it’s my delight to do so.
“He’s to be restricted to the suburbs of Crawford and Athlone. Not
more than one visitor, no attendance of meetings, no talking to the
press or publishing anything, and he’s to report to the station
commander at Athlone every Friday.
“See how you like that, Madam lawyer.”
On some days Falk felt a kind of guilt at his relief that he was no
longer subjected to the constant state of anxiety that accompanied
those who fought the state. The banning order provided him with a
release from the reality of the life of a man wanted by the security
police.
For weeks after he returned to his home from the hospital his body
was weak and he felt dizzy at times, the dizziness accompanied by
searing headaches which they said was the result of the severe
concussion he had suffered, but he knew it was also the loss of his
son and his inability to stop blaming himself.
But in time his health returned, and he settled into the routine of
running the household and caring for his young son when the girls
and Isa were out of the home during the week. They were chores he
relished, but there was an emptiness when the chores were finished,
and memories of Haytham returned to haunt him.
Falk was also able to help Bianca, who now ran the business on her
own, doing some of the creative writing for pamphlets and the
slogans on T-shirts and banners. And he took on administrative work,
like controlling the debtors and creditors, things he could do from his
home.
One morning, when the house was quiet, his girls out and his son
asleep after his morning bottle, he sat at his desk in front of his old
typewriter and started to write. He wrote of his son and of Pauline,
of that time in his life, bitter words of truth which took on a kind of
beauty in their intense starkness.
It was the start of the most productive writing period of his life.
5.
Falk’s applications to have his banning orders rescinded were
eventually granted in early 1989, and his first act was to travel to
England to see his publishers.
It was to also be a holiday for him and Isa and their son Isaac, already
four years of age. The two girls could not get leave for the monthlong period they were to be away, Sarah doing her articles with a
Johannesburg law firm and Tess in her first year at Cape Town
University, studying social science.
He took with him two completed manuscripts and the ideas and
notes for a third.
One of the manuscripts was a novel loosely based on what he
perceived to be the tragedy of Pauline. To his surprise, Pauline had
visited him a few months after Haytham’s death. She claimed she
had been ill and therefore could not attend the funeral, but he knew
she had been unable to face her shame at abandoning her son. She
looked ten years older than she should have, which he was sure was
due to an excess of alcohol, and her maudlin self-pity leant emphasis
to the theme of the novel he was then writing.
The second manuscript was a non-fictional political book which used
his Letters from the Island articles as the base, with commentary to
fill in the intervening years. He judged it was nearly time to claim
authorship for the articles.
Falk had been an onlooker to the unfolding of the political and social
changes in the country, his helicopter viewpoint lending objectivity
to his opinions and conclusions.
The year 1988 had seen further repressions and an assault on the
leadership of the UDF to such an extent that they saw fit to break up
the organisation into a new umbrella body which they called the
Mass Democratic Movement, with the trade unions as the backbone.
Despite the crackdown on UDF leaders, perhaps even because of it,
Falk believed the State was at the end of their ability to control the
continued assault on their institutions, the mass boycotts, the
protests in the townships and the effect all these actions had on the
economy.
He was not to know that the State President PW Botha was to
become ill towards the end of 1989, to be replaced by a pragmatic
man who was to escalate the process of engaging with the African
National Congress.
It was not much of a holiday in London. A lingering winter made
outdoor activities unpleasant for Isa and their boy, and Falk was tied
up with the two editors he had been assigned for each of the two
books. At least the two works were completed, and it was decided to
launch the novel in March, simultaneously in Britain and South
Africa, and to launch the political book when the climate in South
Africa was deemed to be receptive, which meant when the danger to
Falk of tying his name to the Letters from the Island articles would
not land him in jail.
It was more satisfying being back in Cape Town and returning to
work at the store, commuting by train, relishing in daily contact with
fellow train travellers and the customers and staff at the store,
enjoying the warmth and calm of a late summer in the Cape, the best
season. He had led a reclusive life and was relieved to realise it was
not a state he aspired to.
Yet there was a passivity about his mood and motivation and he
found it difficult to make the transition back to a full appreciation of
life. Isa tackled him about it one night when they were alone, Isaac in
bed and Tess out with friends. “I’m worried about you, Falkie, you
have lost your zest for life.”
“Is that the way you see it?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question, my husband. I’m sure you
know exactly what I mean.”
He thought about the right way to put, it because he had been
avoiding trying to work it out for himself, hoping he would wake up
one morning and find everything as it previously was.
“Yes, Isa, firstly you are right, I’m having trouble fitting back into the
routines I had before. The years I had at home sheltered me. It
wasn’t real. Fortunately, I had the writing and that was very
satisfying and allowed me to escape from negative thoughts.”
She interrupted.
“About Haytham?”
“Yes, he was a big part of it. Also the theme of the novel was perhaps
a little too close to home and the bad mistakes I had made. And then
I was disappointed with myself for taking the easy way out with the
struggle, not engaging when I could have. There are telephones, they
couldn’t ban them. I could have kept in touch via the telephone.
Instead I relied on material I could read to try and keep up with what
was happening. A coward’s way really.”
Isa came and sat on the arm of his chair and stroked his head.
“Aren’t you being a little tough on yourself?”
“Maybe. I have a habit of doing that. But don’t you agree I could’ve
done more?”
“Yes you could have. But do I think you should have? No, I don’t. You
lost your son, Falkie. On top of that, you were writing a novel in
which he plays a major part. I knew you had to finish that novel and
go through the catharsis of self-confession, because that’s what it
was.
“I think you handled it magnificently. You never once let the children
see the bruising your soul was taking. You were the jovial home
father and the children loved it. I just think of how much mentoring
you were able to give Sarah and Tess. And Isaac was the luckiest little
boy in the neighbourhood, a father who was with him constantly,
playing with him, reading to him, taking him for walks.
“Take a bow, you’ve been great father.
“So now it changes, Falkie. Back to the world and the potential
threats involved with taking the fight to the government again. But
you can do it. You even must do it, because you’re a leader, someone
people look up to. They’re having a tough time, Falk. They need
someone level-headed like you.”
It was a very long speech and he felt something stirring as she so
generously praised him. He was reminded how clever his wife was,
and courageous too, he thought, remembering the way she stood up
to Van der Spuy.
“So, what should I do first?”
“Phone your old friends, Falk. You have a great chance to meet up
with them again with the release of your book. I’m sure you’ll want
to do a launch at the gallery. I think it’s going to be very well received
and that’ll be great, wont it?
“There’s something else I want to discuss with you. This thing came
up weeks ago, but I told them you could only do it when you were
ready.”
“I’m intrigued, what is it?”
“Mr Mandela wants to see you.”
He was astonished that the great mystery man even remembered
him.
“Really? What would he want to talk to me about?”
“I don’t know Falk. The UDF leadership has held several meetings
with him. I don’t think you know that he was transferred to Victor
Verster near Paarl last year. They’ve given him a house in the
grounds, obviously to facilitate talks with him.”
“They’ve gone that far?”
“Oh yes, but it’s all hush hush. The government, or maybe its PW, are
afraid of a right wing reaction, so they’re meeting him in secret.”
“They must be planning to release him.”
“I think so, but he’s not going to do it on any terms but his own. I
believe he is no push-over.”
“Not a chance, I saw that on the island. He has a quiet resolve and
you can’t change his mind once he’s made it up.
“This is wonderful news, Isa. So it’s finally getting close after all these
years. How did you hear about him wanting to talk to me?”
“I was told via a contact who heard of the request from Dullah Omar.
Omar has been doing most of the contact from Mandela to the
outside world.”
“Well, let’s not keep him waiting Isa. Pass the word back.”
They did not hear for months, and in the meantime Falk had the
launch of his new book A Dead Season to plan, and the act of
preparation and re-contacting his former friends in the antiapartheid movement rekindled his spirit and appetite for life.
The new book had a mixed reception, both among literary critics and
in the bookstores. Some found the interracial sex and criticism of the
government offensive, and took their complaints to the Film and
Publications Control Board who reacted by banning the book.
Ironically, the banning was the best thing they could do for sales
overseas, because his publishers used it to advertise the novel. To his
chagrin, they encouraged sales by describing him as a Black writer
and anti-apartheid activist.
Then, in early June, the call came for him to visit Nelson Mandela.
The caller was Dullah Omar, who conveyed Mr Mandela’s wish to see
him, and gave him the name and telephone numbers of the warden,
Major Marais, whom he should phone at Victor Verster Prison to
gain the necessary permission for the visit. He also asked him to
meet with Johnson Phunguza before he visited Mandela, and gave a
contact number. Omar did not give the reason for that strange
request.
Falk phoned Phunguza and was surprised at the animosity he heard
in the voice. Nevertheless, he agreed to meet with Falk but would
not make a date for the meeting, saying instead that he would come
to the shop in Woodstock when it was convenient for him to do so.
Falk was uneasy about the clandestine nature of the contact, and
wondered if Phunguza was not a police informer, and when the man
did appear at the shop a few days later, his manner strengthened
that perception. Falk noticed the tall, thin man enter the shop but he
was busy with other customers and could not help him immediately.
When the customers left the man approached Falk.
“Are you Falk Baartman?”
“Yes, I am. Good morning to you and what can I do for you.”
“I am Johnson Phunguza. You phoned me.”
“Yes, of course. Would you like to come through to the office?”
“No, let’s go into the street.”
It was clear Phunguza was nervous of the potential for their
conversation to be recorded. It annoyed Falk, but he went along with
it and followed the man into the street and fell into step with him as
he walked away from the shop.
“What are you afraid of?” he asked him.
The man bristled. “I’m not afraid of anything.” His tone was
truculent, his manner rude and uncooperative.
Falk took the initiative. “Look Phunguza, what’s this all about?”
“You want to see our leader, Madiba.”
“No, he wants to see me.”
“What does he want to see you about?”
“I don’t know. Look, what the hell’s going on here? I’m asked to see
you, but I don’t know who you are or what authority you have to
screen people who want to see Mr Mandela.”
The challenge seemed to give Phunguza pause and he stopped and
faced Falk. They were of an equal height. “Okay, sorry. I’m a
suspicious man, but I have a job to do.”
Falk was not immediately mollified. “What’s that job?”
“We are unsure of these talks that the boere have started with
Madiba. We don’t trust them and we need to know what’s being
discussed.”
“Who’s we?”
“Let’s just say I represent the external wing of the ANC.”
“So you screen his visitors?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Okay. You obviously don’t know me, or we wouldn’t be having this
talk. So what do you want to know?”
“I know who you are. I just want to make it clear to you that you
must inform us when you see him and that we have the right to ask
you what you discuss. If there are to be any further talks you must
arrange it with me.”
“Does Mr Mandela know about this?”
“Yes, Mr Mandela is a loyal ANC comrade. He understands the
discipline we need to defeat the boere.”
Falk was disturbed by the meeting and the attempt to control Nelson
Mandela, which he was sure would fail.
The process of obtaining approval to visit Victor Verster turned out
to be very simple. The prison is a low security farm jail situated
between Paarl and Franschoek and no doubt it had easier visiting
conditions than most, but Falk gained the impression in his
telephone conversation with the warden that they had instructions
to facilitate the requests of their famous prisoner.
The day Falk went out to Victor Verster, the weather was clear for a
change and he enjoyed the scenery, particularly when the road went
up the valley towards Franschoek with wine farms on either side, the
vine rows marching up the sides of the mountains.
He had not seen Nelson Mandela for ten years, and he wondered
how he had weathered those years, most of them on the island but
also the stint at Pollsmoor. He had heard that Mandela had been in
hospital with respiratory problems. What could he expect of a man
who had been in prison for more than twenty-five years?
The warden himself, Major Marais, came to process Falk through the
gate and take him to Mandela’s house, where he introduced him to
Warrant-Officer Jack Swart, Mandela’s chef and housekeeper.
The first thing he noticed was the grey hair. Mandela was sitting at a
window, reading a newspaper when Swart took him through.
“My friend, Falk. How are you?”
He raised himself from the chair and hugged Falk.
“It is good to see you, Falk.”
“Thank you, Mr Mandela. I’m very pleased to see you too.”
“I see you have forgotten that I asked you to call me Nelson.”
“That was ten years ago.”
“Ah, yes, was it that long ago? Anyway, come and sit. What would
you like to drink?”
“Whatever you are drinking.”
“No, you are the guest. Mr Swart has prepared some cakes for you.
Perhaps some coffee to go with the cakes?”
“That would be fine, thank you.”
“Mr Swart, could you bring us some coffee and your fine cakes,
please?”
Falk was struggling with reality. This was a prison. This was the most
famous political prisoner in the country and the warder was his
butler. What a tale he would have for Isa and his children.
He dragged himself back to the present. Mandela was talking.
“You are very kind to come and visit me Falk.”
“I would go to the end of the world to visit you, Mr Mandela.”
“There you go with the mister again. Never mind. I was very sorry to
hear of the death of your wife and of the death of your son. You have
suffered greatly for the struggle. To lose a son, that is a very hard
thing to do. I thank you that you have made this sacrifice.”
“Thank you.”
“Now tell me about your other children. You have a new young son,
do you not?”
“Yes, I have a son from my second marriage. He is four and a half. I
also have a daughter training to be an attorney, she is doing her
articles in Jo’burg, and I have another daughter at UCT, in her first
year.”
“Very good. I miss my children very much. They have not had a
father all these years. They have suffered more than me.”
They were interrupted by Swart bringing the coffee and cakes and
they waited while he served them.
Mandela had already impressed Falk with his knowledge of his family
but what he said next astounded him. “I have very much enjoyed
your articles about the people we were with on Robben Island, your
Letters you call them. Very true to life, very interesting anecdotes.”
“How do you know I wrote them?”
Mandela laughed. It was more like a guffaw and it was obvious he
enjoyed hugely the surprise he had given Falk. “We have a loyal
comrade in Britain. He went into exile many years ago and has been
of great assistance to our efforts over there. You know him, he was
your teacher.”
Falk was totally mystified and he could see that the older man was
delighted to draw the tale out.
“Can you guess who he is?”
“No, sir.”
“Okay, I will tell you. It is Trevor Weiss.”
“Oh my God. Trevor. He went into exile?”
“Yes, he was banned and then they gave him a passport and he
went. He and his wife. They are happy there, I think.”
“Did he tell you I wrote the Letters?”
“Yes. He has been sending me the articles from the English
newspaper and he told me he recognised your style of writing. From
your book, he says. He is right, is he not?”
“Yes, he is right. What an amazing coincidence. He was a wonderful
teacher. Both my wife and I were in his class. That was in a valley in
the Swartberg Mountains called Gamkaskloof.”
“It is called Die Hel, I believe. Well, let’s move on Falk. I have a very
big favour to ask of you. They will release me from here one day
soon, perhaps within a year. Their conditions for my release are not
right yet but they will eventually agree.
“When I am released, I will have to speak to the people and that
speech will have to be one of the most important things I do in my
life. It must be perfect. A perfect balance. I must thank our people
who have struggled for all these years, I must give hope to the young
men and women and I must also give White people the message that
we will fight on until our goal is achieved, but that we want them to
stay in the country when it is finished. That they will be welcome in
our democracy. You see what a big job that will be for me?”
Falk could only nod, amazed that words of reconciliation could be
even contemplated by this victim of White oppression.
“Well, Falk, can you help me? Can you help me to write that
speech?”
“I will be honoured to try, Mr Mandela.”
“That is good, thank you. I want you to specially write about the
efforts of the people in the UDF, the way the internal struggle was
organised and the sacrifices so many people made to the cause. Give
me your ideas for the whole speech, but specially give me the words
about the internal struggle. I’m sure you can do that well.”
“I will certainly do my very best.”
“That is good. I knew you would help me.”
Before he left, he asked about Johnson Phunguza.
“Ah Johnson yes. He is very conscientious. But he is also suspicious,
he does this to protect me. It is also his name you know. Sometimes
we are destined to do certain things because of the name our fathers
give us.”
“What’s that?”
“Phunguza, it means the one who looks from side to side. You must
be kind to him, Falk. Let him do his work. They mean well, those who
seek to protect me.”
The more Falk delved into the requirements for the speech the more
he became amazed at the tone Mandela wished to strike. The glove
and the fist. If he had been asked to write the speech without the
benefit of the conversation he had had with the older man it would
have been fire and brimstone.
But he wanted reconciliation. Strong words about the road still to be
finished, no quarters asked until the job was done, but then, you are
forgiven, my oppressor. Extraordinary.
He obtained a copy of the Freedom Charter and studied it. This was
the basis, the credo, decided so long ago but still the ideal to be
striven for. No, not striven for in the case of Mr Mandela, achieved.
He had shown confidence that he would be released, on his own
terms, and that the goal would be achieved. Extraordinary.
Falk wrote three versions before he was satisfied that he had
completed the task the way Mandela wanted it. And he had fulfilled
his assignment to cast light on the role of the many agencies of the
internal struggle. He phoned Phunguza and arranged that the sideto-side-looking man would meet with him at the store.
Once again they walked in the street and Falk told him of the
assignment and said he wanted to visit Mandela to discuss what he
had written.
“It is not possible right now,” said Phunguza.
“Why’s that?”
“The discussions with the boere are at a delicate stage. He is visited
almost daily now by that man Barnard.”
“Who’s he?”
“You do not know of Barnard, Neil Barnard?”
“No.”
“I find that very strange. Barnard is head of the National Intelligence
Agency.”
Falk was impressed with Phunguza ’s knowledge of the goings on at
Victor Verster and of the machinations of the government and that
reassured him that he could trust the man.
“So what do we do? Mr Mandela gave me this assignment and I think
he should receive the speech I have written for him as soon as
possible.”
“I will give him what you have written.”
This was a disappointment for Falk. He had so wanted to debate the
speech with Mandela, to see if he had struck the right tone, that he
had included all of the important information, the praises, the
warnings and ultimately the promise.
“Should we not wait until the way is clear?”
“No, we do not know when the release will come. It could be
tomorrow. We must be ready.”
Reluctantly Falk agreed and they went back to the store where he
handed over the speech, the most important writing assignment he
had ever completed.
6.
It was expected to be just another opening of parliament. There
were very few who knew what a bombshell the new State President,
FW de Klerk, would drop on Parliament that day. For many it would
become one of those days which you forever remember precisely
what you were doing at that moment, like the assassination of John F
Kennedy.
What was expected that Friday, the 2nd of February 1990, was the
release of Nelson Mandela and for the possibility of that major event
the world’s press were camped in Cape Town.
In his opening address to Parliament that day, De Klerk dismantled
over forty years of apartheid legislation. He unbanned
unconditionally the African National Party, Pan African Congress, the
South African Communist Party and another twenty-seven lesser
organisations; he freed political prisoners and made it easy for the
exiles to return; and he suspended the death penalty and lifted the
State of Emergency.
It was an extraordinary thirty minutes from a man who had been at
the helm of government for only four months, a man with three
centuries of Afrikaner tradition in his veins.
He promised South Africans “a totally new and just constitutional
dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights,
treatment and opportunity.”
And he made a plea to the ANC.
“Walk through the open door,” he said, “and take your place at the
negotiating table.”
Falk heard the news on the radio in his store. From almost the first
words De Klerk uttered he knew it was going to be spectacular and
the radio was turned up and everyone, staff and customers, stood
still and listened.
It was like that in many places. People stopped what they were
doing, rushed to television screens, stopped their cars on the side of
the road.
When it was finished, including the promise to release Mr Mandela
within days, not weeks, they looked at one another in Falk and
Bianca’s store and did not know what to say, did not even want to
speak for the euphoria was growing in each of them. A personal
euphoria in which the world had suddenly become a completely
different place.
Falk phoned Isa.
“Did you hear?”
“Yes. Oh yes, Falkie. What an amazing man. No-one saw it in him.”
“Meet me at home, Isa. Let’s celebrate.”
“There’s only one thing I want to do.”
“Yes I know. Me too.”
Falk was concerned that he had not heard from Phunguza since the
day he gave him the speech and he phoned the telephone number
he had been given for the ANC man several times that weekend, but
it was not answered. From what he had heard from Mr Mandela that
day at Victor Verster, he was sure he would want the release to take
place on a weekend to give maximum impact to the event. That
meant the likely release date would be either the next Saturday or
Sunday, February the 10th or 11th.
They heard nothing until the Friday, when Trevor Manuel phoned
Bianca and asked her to see him about arrangements for the release.
She came back with the news; it was to be the Sunday, in the
afternoon, and she was to arrange loud speaking equipment for the
Grand Parade in Cape Town. Mandela would address the crowd from
the balcony on the first landing of the steps in front of the City Hall.
Then the government announced the date of the release, giving the
time Mandela would leave the prison as 3pm, and the airwaves
around South Africa and the world were full of the news and
precipitated a media rush to the city under the mystic mountain.
There had been no pictures published of Mandela for twenty-seven
years, and the biggest scoop was to be those first images. Victor
Verster was besieged that Sunday morning with photographers at
every vantage point, with telephoto lenses the length of assault
rifles. Supporting the impression of a siege, helicopters started
circling the prison compound, flying low, contributing to the scene
with incessant noise and dust swirling from the downdraft of their
blades.
The police did not know how to handle the excesses of joy and
devilment. How could they? Just days before, Mandela had been
regarded as the arch-enemy, the embodiment of the threat of a
Black revolution. Years of keeping a lid on violent protest made them
ill-equipped for a sea change of policy and many of their leaders
were desperately unhappy with the measures announced by De
Klerk.
Both sides showed no restraint and at Cape Town Airport arriving
dignitaries were greeted with scenes of young men waving ANC flags
and taunting the police, like bullfighters in the ring.
Cape Town was pregnant with hope and despair, fear and joy. It all
depended on what side of the divide you sat.
The Baartman family were complete that warm Sunday morning.
Sarah had driven down with friends, wanting to show solidarity with
the man who had raised her after her mother died, and who had
become more father than she could ever hope for.
They had breakfast on the back verandah, their favourite family
gathering point because of the view it afforded of the back of Table
Mountain. The conversation was full of the excitement of the day,
with Falk required to tell the story of his meeting with Mandela again
and again until they had milked every nuance out of it.
They also made him read the speech he had written for the great
man, although he stressed that probably only a few words might be
included, possibly only the things he had written about the internal
struggle. He said those things, but he hoped much of the speech
would be used by Mandela, for it was one of his best pieces of
writing.
Eventually, he had to leave to help Bianca with the setting up of the
loud speaker equipment. It was going to be a long day but being part
of the arrangements would give him the opportunity to be close to
the action on what promised to be one of the most incredible days in
the history of the country. Certainly, it would be the defining day and
biggest victory of the struggle.
Isa would drive into town when she heard that the cars carrying the
Mandela entourage had left Victor Verster, and the girls would stay
to look after Isaac, monitoring the action of the day on the radio.
They knew it would be a crush of people and did not want to risk the
danger to their son.
It seemed like a good plan. They were not to know the extent of the
desire for the people to see Mandela, nor the delays in getting to the
Grand Parade from the prison. If you had told them that Isa would
not see her husband until nearly midnight they would not have
believed you.
Falk started to get a sense of the adulation which the vast majority of
people held for Mandela on the train into the city. It was full and the
mood was celebratory, people who would never make a public
spectacle of themselves quite prepared to join in on the Viva
Mandela, Viva ANC cries which welcomed those joining the train at
every station.
The Grand Parade was, however, still relatively quiet, more
policemen present than the public. It seemed most of the people
coming into the city were taking the opportunity to explore a bit and
shop a bit and eat and drink a bit before they settled into the square.
Bianca was already there, together with the technicians they used for
jobs such as these, very large audiences in the open air. They were
already running cables to distant positions and setting up speakers.
Bianca was radiant with the occasion and even more irreverent than
normal.
“Hello former lover.”
“I’m a married man, Bianca.”
“Yes, a married man who dashed off to sleep with his wife last Friday
because he was so excited at the speech of a boer. Amazing what
turns on some people.”
“Don’t be a witch, Bianca.”
“Just funning, partner. There was a little bit of nostalgia there. In the
old days you would have dragged me upstairs and ravaged me.”
“Well, at least ravaging is the common denominator.”
“Touché. Shall we get boring and talk about what needs to be done
today?”
As usual his partner had efficiently arranged everything and Falk had
little to do, so he mingled with the organisers, mostly activists he’d
known previously, and they shared many an anecdote as if the
struggle was already over.
At midday, some of the party who would be on the balcony with
Mandela started to arrive, including the anti-apartheid clerics Allan
Boesak and Frank Chikane, who would be talking to the crowd and
reassuring them if Mandela was detained for longer than expected.
The midday heat and humidity was stifling and the considerable
crowd that by then was gathering like lemmings was subjected to an
uncomfortable time. But food and water was readily available that
early on, and the mood remained optimistic.
By 3pm, the announced release time, the crowd had grown to an
estimated thirty thousand and they were restless, but the comments
shouted to the people on the balcony were largely fun, rich with the
humour that is unique to the Coloured people of the Western Cape.
Boesak and Chikane took it in turns to give bulletins of the
happenings at Victor Verster, with whom they were in telephone
contact. Their words of reassurance started to wear thin after an
hour. By that time the crowd on the parade was more than fifty
thousand.
Falk spoke to one of the organisers, a woman he knew well from the
Grassroots meetings.
“What’s going on Steph?”
‘You won’t believe it, they’re waiting for Winnie.”
“You’re right, I won’t. She’s late for the release of her husband?”
“So they tell me. Trevor is in charge there. That’s what he said is the
reason for the delay.”
Falk could not feel anger for the wife of Mandela. She had involved
herself with a radicalism that smacked of desperation, and acts that
were unseemly in the eyes of most, even having been charged with
murder, but he had sympathy for the huge pressures that were on
her, the need to live up to the hero-worship her husband elicited in
the non-white population, the barren years of having no man to
share her life and to help her with the children, the banishment to
Winburg, a dry town with a poor Black township in the endless
grassland of the northern Free State.
The news came just before five that Nelson Mandela had walked
through the prison gates at Victor Verster, a free man after twentyseven years of incarceration.
The joy in the Grand Parade was phenomenal. Strangers hugging
each other, grown men and women crying, sections of the crowd
breaking into song.
Three hours later, the joy had turned to discontent and scepticism. It
should not take more than two hours at the most to travel from the
prison to central Cape Town. What had gone wrong? Was the release
a hoax? Had he been assassinated and everyone was too afraid to
tell them?
The sun, which had burned into them relentlessly all afternoon, now
dipped behind Signal Hill, giving some relief, but by then the food
and water had run out and the crowds began to chant angrily and
mischief began; some youths broke a water pipe and others ran into
the city and there was talk of looting. From the neighbouring streets
they heard gunfire as the police tried to control the devilment.
Falk became increasingly desperate that he had not yet seen Isa. She
should have arrived around 4pm, but would have only found parking
many city blocks away, possibly an hour’s walk away, but
nevertheless, she should have arrived at the periphery of the crowd
at 5.30pm at the latest. That was three hours ago.
More desperate hours dragged on and then there was news: he was
close by. There was someone else on the microphone.
“He was in prison for twenty-seven years! Can we not wait another
hour or two?”
Then Mandela was there, on the balcony, smiling, waving at the
crowd and the chant started, a roar of thousands of voices getting
into unison, Viva Mandela, Viva! Viva Mandela, Viva!
Here was the man they had never seen. Greyer than the earlier
pictures they had seen of that younger man, brooding with a slight
beard. This was a tall dignified man with a wonderful smile. Well
dressed in the western style, dark grey suit, white shirt, dark tie with
spots, white handkerchief showing above the suit pocket.
And the chanting went on, Viva Mandela, Viva!
He raised his hand and the crowd started to fall silent and they heard
the voice for the first time, the gravelly voice, each word given
emphasis.
Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.
I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.
I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of
you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it
possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining
years of my life in your hands.
Those first words were inspirational and the crowd remained silent,
hanging on every word. But Falk, standing just below the balcony
could see the strain on Mandela as he slowly - almost robot-like read each word of the prepared speech. It seemed he did not know
the speech well.
How could that be? He had had months to prepare it. But it must
have been an exhausting day, and how could a man who had been in
the confines of a prison for twenty-seven years stand before a crowd
of possibly seventy thousand and give a speech without some strain
in his voice and in his demeanour?
Yet Falk did not believe the speech was Mandela’s own, and certainly
there was nothing of the speech Falk had composed for the occasion.
The internal struggle received one paragraph only and none of its
leaders were singled out,
I salute the United Democratic Front, the National Education Crisis
Committee, the South African Youth Congress, the Transvaal and
Natal Indian Congresses and COSATU and the many other formations
of the Mass Democratic Movement.
That was it.
Am I being churlish, Falk asked himself? There was nothing wrong
with the content of the speech; a litany of thank yous, with isolated
names of individuals heroes, then the conditions, just as he had
discussed with Falk in the lounge of the cottage in Victor Verster:
continuation of the armed struggle and international sanctions;
freeing all political prisoners; and an end to the State of Emergency,
prerequisites to creating a climate where consultation of the people
could take place and negotiations could begin.
There were some surprises. The reference to FW de Klerk as a man of
integrity one of them. Those could only be Mandela’s own words;
no-one else in the ANC would have said such a thing, nor did they
even know De Klerk.
Falk tried to put himself in the place of the average person in that
crowd, listening to their future leader for the first time. There would
be disappointments, the youth for his lack of fiery condemnation of
the oppressors, business for the continued call to arms. But most
would see it as a promise, might even see the tone of reconciliation
as a relief from the violence that faced them without it.
Yet he was disappointed, and he tried to divorce the feelings he had
from the chagrin he felt at his own version being disregarded. It was
possible he was not being objective but was this the reason Mandela
had taken so long to drive a mere eighty to ninety kilometres? Six
hours, four of them excess to requirements. Were they persuading
him to change his approach, make it a consensus thing?
He was drawn back to the moment. Mandela was finishing with his
famous lines, spoken at the Rivonia Trial,
I have fought against White domination and I have fought against
Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free
society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal
opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But
if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Then he was waving to the crowd and the roars of adulation rang out
once again, Viva Mandela Viva, given fresh voice by the things he
had said.
And then he was gone.
Falk had seen Phunguza on the balcony, in the background, and he
went looking for him, found him still there in conversation with some
men he did not know.
“Can I speak to you?”
Phunguza looked annoyed but he withdrew and the two of them
were alone.
“Did you give him my speech?”
Falk saw the answer before it came, the eyes shifting, looking for an
object to focus on, the embarrassment evident.
“No, I didn’t?”
“Why not?”
The embarrassment was replaced with righteous anger.
“It was not my decision. I submitted it to the leadership and they told
me not to give it to Madiba.”
“The leadership overseas?”
“Look Baartman, why all these questions?”
“I want to know.”
“Then know this; we were not going to have history say his first
speech was written by a Coloured.”
“What the hell are you talking about, a Coloured.”
“Grow up, Baartman. This is our country now. The country of the
Black people. You and your types are the product of the European
colonisation of our country. Go back to Europe, we don’t need you.”
The hot words of refutation wanted to rush to his aid but he looked
at the truculent face and saw the future and he stilled his voice and
walked away.
The crowds drained away but still Falk sat on the steps of the City
Hall. Johnson Phunguza was just a pawn, but he had acted on the
instructions of the overseas leadership and in that command Falk
saw the likely developments of the future.
Mandela would keep them at bay. His was a genuine desire for a
country in which all could be equal. But after his term of office?
He saw the resolve diminishing. This generation of leaders, forged in
the prisons and the street battles, would be the last of the selfless
ones. Those that followed would have self-interest uppermost in
their minds. And then would come the alliances to keep power.
Anything to keep power, compromises for the sake of the alliance,
nepotism and favour, and ultimately the needs of the people and of
the nation relegated to a distant second. The alliances would
progressively become racially biased. The majority rule for the
benefit of the majority.
And would that eventually become tribal? Zulu against Xhosa? The
beast escaping from the cage and violence once more ruling in the
land?
It was their country, not his. They would tell him that. He who was
descended from the Khoi people who were here, right where he sat,
on the shores of Table Bay, here before the Black man or the White
man arrived.
He thought of Jessie and Haytham who had died so that he could be
a full citizen of the country, and his bitterness was terrible.
He was still sitting there when Isa found him.
AUTHOR’S NOTE.
This novel is a work of fiction. Yet it is placed in an historical context
which required adherence to time lines and the order of events. The
history was also populated with actual people - writers and
academics, politicians and priests - and many of these people are in
the novel. I have attempted to represent them with fairness
regarding their personality and appearance and this required
considerable research. I trust none of these representations will give
offence.
The first draft of the novel was completed on Monday, December 16,
2013, the public holiday called Reconciliation Day, ten days after the
death of Nelson Mandela. It was a coincidence about which I have
mixed feelings. The last chapter of the novel ends on the day Nelson
Mandela was released from prison, Sunday February 11, 1990. I was
writing the last two chapters of the book in the midst of the grief and
praise for the great man. That is more than a coincidence.