Song of My Land

In the winter of 2004 I embarked on a journey round the edge of South Africa, tracing the outline of the country. Driving along the N14 to Pofadder, after nearly two months alone on the road, I found my mind floating free, unhinged from the journey itself. Despite reservations concerning my place in South Africa, this was a moment of pure affirmation.

Out there in the Namaqua sea, I began thinking of South Africa as an island. Like Robinson Crusoe, I was walking its perimeter, noting the extent of my domain, checking for cannibals, finding fresh water. Sure, there were 47 million others who might make such a claim, but theirs were no more valid than mine, only similar. Beating my drum, singing the land, I proclaimed it mine from coast to coast:

This ochre soil, this blue water: Mine.

I am not black or white, coloured or Indian. I’m not Capey or Vaalie, Inkatha or Independent, not Congressional or Christian. I am not old blood or kwerekwere, not Porra or Greek, not Chiefs or Pirates. I am neither Bafana, nor Springbok; neither settler, nor native.

I am all of these and none of them. I am the land.

I am friend and enemy, sister and brother, like father to son. I am comrade and boer, hijacker and slain, car guard and thief. My home is a Khayelitsha shack and a Sandton mansion; I work at the stock exchange and moonlight on the mines; I’m a heart surgeon, a maid. I’m both reaper and sower, Venda and Tswana, mealie farmer and dock worker. I’m at home on the Agulhas Bank or tracking gemsbok in the dunes. The Cape’s rain is as pleasing to me as Durban’s sticky heat. I beat the goema, rattle my cocoon legs, hammer the marimba and blow the cow horn. I am as honest and corrupt as everyman. I am Zuma and Terreblanche, a 26 gangster and a 28, both drug lord and mining baron. I have Aids and TB and malaria: I am as healthy as the soil.

I am the ear of my country, listening to the growl of traffic, the crash of waves, the murmur of discontent. I hear the sound of the moon on a cold highveld night, the swish of a fishing owl’s wings. Mine is the cry of a nightjar – fiery-necked and lighting the night. I hear the babble of toddlers in a township crèche and the bark of commands at an army parade. I listen for the clatter of trains and the crack of AKs, crave the orchestra and the penny-whistle. I hear them all and am all of them.

Fox I am: both bat-eared and Cape. I am kudu and warthog, puffadder and eagle. My howl pierces the night, my shadow darkens the deep. I am a flock of queleas thrilling the air, a shoal of goldies igniting the reef. I am hunter and hunted, fang and flesh. My speed is cheetah-like, my dignity elephantine, my beauty surpasses the bee-eater. I am the black-maned lion king. My burrows are deep, my armour strong, my horns are like corkscrews. My hide is striped and spotted, my hooves are dainty and my paws, ah, they are as big as saucepans. I am cuddly and ferocious. I am a humpback breaching for joy.

I am Outeniqua yellowwood, my millennial head poking above the canopy; I am a baobab with roots for branches. My kelp fronds sway to a West Coast beat, my palm fronds nod to the breath of the trades. I am the blossoming of a trillion Namaqualand daisies. I am as much red disa as invading rooikrans. My leaves are as succulent as my bark is hoary. I am ranked plantation of Ozzie gum and the last endemic on a strandveld shore. I am both monstrous mashatu and microscopic lichen. I am all things green and beautiful.

My body is as old as Barberton rock. My flesh is of soil and granite, my veins of kimberlite and gold. In me is forest and veld, beach and mountain. I contain quartz and diamond, swamp and sewer. In me are the fossils of dinosaurs and the origin of my species. My body is washed by Atlantic and Indian, hemmed by Kalahari and Namib, skirted by Limpopo and Orange. My sturdy frame is the end and the beginning of Africa. I am contained, happy. I am South. I could ask for no better home.

Take nothing from me. Take everything from me. I am full of it; I know my place.

My singing has not the weight of an imbongi, not the lyricism of Langenhoven. My Nkosi Sikeleli is just a journey from stem to stern, from flank to flank, tramping out the song of the edge. From here I can see the blood and bones of the land, its tears running to the sea. From the edge I can see everything. Come sing, come drive.

My whip splits the air with leathery crack. Ja, swaer. Amandla. Voorwaarts.

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