Searching for the spirit of the great heart

The story of South Africa could be a heroic one. One that could turn out well and defy the odds and the law of averages. Instead, it is on very unsteady legs right now, with skin color prejudice being one of the main crippling issues. Heartbreaking stuff.

As former American president Barack Obama said in Johannesburg yesterday, “we’re living in strange and uncertain times”. He made the remark while delivering the annual Nelson Mandela lecture which this year commemorates what would have been the icon’s 100th birthday.

Nelson Mandela’s greatness of spirit in opting for reconciliation and progress – taking on a ‘Live and Let Live’ attitude and rising above bitterness, vengefulness and pettiness – is increasingly being criticized and his stature as a statesmen with vision beyond the immediate being minimized. And surprisingly, the harsh criticism emanates mostly from youthful ranks within South Africa! This is infinitely sad, as my mother would have said.

A weekend newspaper article by Stellenbosch academic Dr Leslie van Rooi, the university’s Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, posed the question of whether the icon’s legacy was open to criticism. An opening blurb quoted him suggesting that although South Africans were free to be critical of the former president, who would today, on 18 July, have celebrated his centenary, they should first ask themselves a few incisive questions.


“How would I have decided differently about the political and economic dispensation that was made possible by 1994? And what would the consequences have been?” (1994 was when South Africa’s democracy was born.)

What would my thoughts about nation-building in the 90’s have been and what alternatives would I have put on the table?

These are two of the questions Van Rooi suggests we pose ourselves.

What I would urge those to do who are reluctant to see South Africa now rising to true greatness like a phoenix from the ashes of shame, is to track the history of the former president. Step by step. Putting themselves in his shoes. Going through the entire agonizing story of a man who sacrificed everything for the ideal of liberation.

He was not a wannabe politician aiming wildly for heroism and greatness. He was a young and vibrant, successful professional on whose shoulders the cloak of crucial political leadership fell at a time in his personal and career life that could have been seen to be unbearably inopportune. Yet he rose to the challenge. As the song ‘The Impossible Dream’ from ‘Man of La Mancha’ suggests – “without question or pause”.

It would appear that a large portion of the crowd of cynics and critics who would have preferred things to have turned out differently after Mandela took over power, are privileged young black people who either find themselves on university campuses or are carving for themselves successful careers in the market place.


Whatever their reasons might be, perhaps they should be reminded by the older generation that, as Mama Leah Tutu, wife of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said in her address at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, Mandela’s greatness was primarily in his humaneness.

He chose a road of forgiveness and greatness. He fixed his gaze on a better tomorrow for ALL South Africans… and he lived this conviction admirably until the very end.

I can safely assume that emulating him as a statesman, given the circumstances that he had been faced with, would be an almost impossible act to follow.

I am grateful for, and remain amazed about the rainbow he saw and invited us all – regardless of color or creed – to see and reach for too. And as his widow, Graca Machel said: people should be inspired by the anniversary events to become part of a tapestry of good against evil.

Rainbows do fade. Disappear. But they always return when you least expect them and they have the potential to be breathtakingly brilliant…










The Camino Portugués 2017… Take 1: ‘Passports & Certificates’


This image is in fact of a ‘last page’ – with a final stamp.

It tells of the closing chapter and the final stages of my Camino Portugués, which was concluded at the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela at midday on the 28th of September this year. The coveted ‘last stamp’ I however only collected on the following day (as the date indicates), after queuing for more than an hour on tired legs and aching feet with scores of other pilgrims from all across the world. You definitely do not turn away from your experience and head home without that piece of paper with your Latinised name handwritten on it – certifying that you completed your pilgrimage…

Certificate issued by the official pilgrimage office of the Camino Santiago, stating that you (by Latin equivalent of your name) have completed the pilgrimage


Actually the little pilgrim’s passport book that you carry with you all the way, keeping it handy at all times, tells the story in the end and threads together all the places where you put your backpack down to take a rest, enjoy a beer, savour a coffee, find a toilet, overnight and – ultimately – to collect a stamp! Of course it also verifies your status as a pilgrim… It makes you eligible for a bed for the night in one of the pilgrims’ albergue’s which, however rustic and basic they may be, are like oases and havens after a day’s travel on foot with a pack on your back.

Issued in my and Nadia’s cases to us by the #Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa (#CSJofSA) before our departure from South Africa, the so-called passport states on the cover page that it is a ‘Pilgrim Record’ (Credencial del Peregrino), and goes on to say the following inside:

“This Pilgrim Record is issued by the Confraternity of St James of South Africa on the understanding that it is to be used only by pilgrims making their way to Santiago de compostela on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, and that it is their desire to make the pilgrimage in the spirit of spiritual discovery and renewal. The purpose of the Pilgrim Record is to identify the pilgrim. It gives no rights, but serves two objectives:

“(1) Access to the refuges that offer Christian hospitality of The Way. These refuges are not free. It is proper to leave a contribution, even to those who ask for nothing.

“(2) Submission for the Compostela issued by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is the authentication of the completion of the pilgrimage. It is only obtainable from the Pilgrim Office of the Cathedral authorities in Santiago de Compostela. Minimum Requirements: Pilgrims on foot or horseback must have complete at least the last 100km and cyclists the last 200km, in one stretch, to qualify. Two stamps per day are required.

Pilgrims who start their journey outside Galicia require one stamp per day.”

We are proud to have completed the Camino from Porto to Santiago on foot, which covers a distance of around 240 kilometres, within 14 days.

At times it was arduous. At times it was exhilarating. Always and throughout it was amazing. Enlightening. Enriching. Life-changing. Rewarding. Unforgettable.

The lilting bird songs that accompanied me on my way – be it in forests or alongside streams, crossing ancient Roman-built bridges or passing one of the many farms with their vines and orchards – not only sustained me when fatigue and foot-ache called for rest; but they also reminded me that St James himself and pilgrims through the centuries heard those very same sounds and were more than likely also uplifted and cheered on by them…

Roomwit rose vir stukkende harte

Dis weelderig-winters, ironies blou en sonnig en stralend vir ‘n Kaapklimaat, met hemelse klavierklanke wat uit die cd-spelertjie in die slaapkamer teen die trap afgewentel kom. My binneste jubel saggies. Soos dit hoort. Want vreugde lê nie en wag in die ontvouende geskiedenis rondom my nie, en Paulus het dit toentertyd al geweet. En dit gesê, waarskynlik oorspronklik in Grieks. Maar saam met die blywees wat uit ongekende fonteine opwel, lê daar vlak reeds dae lank ‘n stuk deernis wat aan seer grens. Die vroue na wie my hart uitreik en vir wie dit huil, kon ek gewees het. So maklik.

In die naweek het ek hoopvol en hooploos saam met tientalle ander oor rotse geklouter teenaan die hoogwaterbranders wat selfs met die laagwater bruis en dawer: turende en soekende in die sloepe en selfs in die deinings – na énigiets waaraan klein Louise Fowler geëien sou kon word. Sedert sy Vrydagmiddag in die skuimende water verdwyn het, is net een of twee kledingstukkies gevind. Vandag is Maandag… Die soektog duur voort. Maar die vraag wat spook en spook, is hóé die lewe hoegenaamd intussen kan voortgaan vir ‘n ma en ‘n pa en ‘n sussie wat dáár was toe die see haar ingetrek het? Dit is ondenkbaar en onsêbaar.

Hóé moet ‘n mens opstaan en voortstrompel? Die een oomblik is jy sorgvry en uitgelate saam met jou drie kosbaarstes op die rotse voor die karaktervolle strandhuis teenaan die see; en die volgende oomblik word jou hart uit jou borskas geruk met ‘n geweld waarvoor die woordeskat ontbreek. O, diepste van alle dieptes! Donkerste van alle donkertes!

Eie krag sal nooit werk nie, dit wéét ek; want ek ken moederskap intiem. Soos Kim Fowler. Soos Christa Venter. Soos elke vrou wat ‘n kind onder haar hart gedra het.

My dogter was ook in háár kindwees teer en broos, glimlaggend en ontvanklik soos die sewejarige Louise in haar skooldrag op die foto’tjie.

Vreesloos broos

Dis soos gister. Sy is steeds kwesbaar en fyn, dog sterk en oortuig in haar skoene as joernalis wat weë baan. Soos Suna Venter was, en so oud soos sy was.

‘n Jong vrou wat saam met talle vasstaners in die mediadomein haar sê bly sê het, met ‘n ander soort visie en oortuiging as dié wat dit nie kon verdra nie en met die wil om dit tot elke prys nie te versaak nie, het ‘n verskriklike prys betaal.

Soos my dogter my fyngoudskat is, so was sy Christa s’n. Die pyl wat uit haar boog geskiet is, wat ver en sekuur getrek het. Wat siklone en orkane getrotseer het… tot verby breekpunt.

Al wat ek vandag vir jou het, Christa – en vir jou, Kim – is die allerfynste wit rosies wat hier voor my in ‘n glashouer staan. Ragfyn, rein, sterk, regop, wondermooi… die versinnebeelding van verganklikheid, maar ook van ewigheidswaarde.

Want nou bly geloof, hoop en liefde – hierdie drie. Die grootste is maar liefde.

Roomwit rose





Is the Kruger Park compromising on standards?

The race to preserve South Africa’s wildlife for posterity and to share and showcase it responsibly with the world is fast being lost. Our hope is in trusted institutions like the Kruger National Park to perpetuate this ideal, and to observe it with all the care it deserves. Does the slogan ‘Proudly South African’ still underpin the dream?

Fynbos Letters


FOR close on 50 years it has been a personal joy that keeps reappearing on my bucket list, to visit the Kruger National Park: undoubtedly one of South Africa’s flagship tourist destinations. Arguably one of the top two!

Most recently, in January 2017 – at the peak of the summer season, it was the same for me again.

Or… was it? Well, mostly; but not all of it brought undiluted joy all of the time.

It had rained abundantly and all things natural were exceptionally picturesque, jubilant, revived, refreshed and vibrant. My companions and I reveled in the sheer enjoyment thereof. So did all of nature – and our privilege was to be not only silent and awe-inspired observers, but also partakers thereof.

Spotting animals in the wild, having the patience to pursue this activity and making the most of it have over many years and three generations been and become…

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die pers en wit van mymering

(vir Pappa – op 21 November 2015, die 84ste herdenking van sy geboortedag)

gister, vandag & more…

die driekleur-fyngeur van pers onthou en wit behou

by ’n venster van ’n huis

vol harte en hande en heimwee:

kinderstemme soos in ’n droom

kersliggies, die towergeur van ’n denneboom

die varsgeur van bloekomboom op bloekomboom

die skietpyn van ’n by wat skuil in ’n pers blom…

nee, ’n towertapyt van pers blom op pers blom

gestort van die ruwe takke van ’n uitlandse boom

in die middel van die edentuin aan die soom

van die dorpie van drome

daar ver in eens-op-’n-tyd se transvaal.

te ver nou, vir ons, vir my en jou

maar nie vir pers en wit onthou en behou

van lagtye  saamtye  huiltye  tuistye  toertye  onstye  singtye  speeltye…

van die kennelik klinkklare hartsnaarklank

van ons kerkklok hoog bo die plataanboomsoom

en die ossewa-onthouplek

knus langs die stoer-trots sandsteengestalte

in die hart van ons dorp: destyds nog genoem na ’n held

van die Trek…

sonbesiesomers en naguilnagte; tarentaalskemeraande en rooivlagtreinoggende

die piet-my-vrou: koning van kleintyd-klanke

die gerunnik van perde en die kraak van saals

die kletterklop en blêr en bulk

van bees en skaap wat trek

’n sweep wat klap en keer

zulustem wat fluit en beheer

die feesmaalvolheid van gesinwees

in ons tombana-eden met uitbundige bloeiselboom in die hoek…

terras met die bloureën-persreënlint

wat ons en voorouers bind

koejawelboom digby die ewige rots

vensters wat blink en varslug verslind

omgee en liefde en wysheid en waarheid

so na die hart van kind op kind…

oorvloedig! Here, hoe blymoedig maak U my die hart!

hoe vrymoedig die hardloop met arms uitgestrek

na ’n vaderland van blousaffiere

’n brokkelplekkie in die son

’n ‘onthou-Pa?’-plek

Die gryp na die soom

van ’n ‘favourite things’ vir altyd-droom…

Vuyo Mbuli: A professional to the core

The death of Vuyo Mbuli leaves a tangible void in the media world.

Shocking and sad, it jerks you back to the painful reality of brevity, mortality, dispensability…

As a journalist by trade myself, my tribute to Vuyo Mbuli is this: The levels of professionalism and finesse maintained by him at all times, created a benchmark of rare dimensions. Hypercritical as I am of the conduct and performance of individuals who claim to be journalists or media practitioners – including myself – I salute him for being the best.

The loss is great and will be felt.

All sympathy to his loved ones – especially his precious children.

Hamba kahle, Vuyo Mbuli…

Najaar tussen berg en see

Dis nie dat verkleurende en vallende blare my aandag getrek het nie. Daarvan sien ons maar min.

Nee. Dit het hier iewers in my binneste begin. Soos elke jaar. Dan vroetel ek onwillekeurig tussen my cd’s op soek na die musiek van Dvorak en Grieg en Vivaldi… en my hart trek alkante toe: seer, vol, half eensaam.

Hierdie wye wasigheid is so bekend. So onmiskenbaar. Dis so mooi, maar so hartseer. En dan wonder ek of dit Vrydagnag kil en wasig en deinserig was daar waar Doepie se seun op die R43 gesterf het. Ek deel met julle, sy geliefdes wat agtergebly het, Pietro Mascagni se Intermezzo of “Cavalleria Rusticana” en my hart huil saam…

Ek weet nie hoe dit moet wees om ‘n kind op die diepste tyd van ‘n herfsnag te verloor nie. Die gedagte is ondraaglik.

Alles omheen is so mooi, so bo-menslik mooi. Streepwolke, klossiewolke, ylblou gewelf, groen – baie groen, lang, sedige skaduwees wat bergaf sluip. En blink blare, want die son kom skuins: retireer so half oor die ruwe riwwe van die Kogelberge terwyl hy (is die son manlik?) beduie ‘moenie ontsteld wees nie, dis tydelik’. Altyd tydelik. Dis ritmies, soos net die skepping kan ritmies wees. So klokslag en betroubaar, soos geen enkele mens wat ek ken of van weet nie.

Reelmatig ook, want dit is deel van die patroon en die kringloop waarmee ons alle menslike siklussen en seisoene vergelyk, waaraan ons dit meet en weet dat ons inpas en dat dit werk, maar dat ons nooit ten volle sal verstaan nie. Nie hier en nou nie.

Die see smelt vandag saam met die lug bo haar (is die see vroulik?): alles is staalblougrys, stil en subtiel. Die fynbos is geil soos altyd. Blombos en tolbos en fyn bessieblom-erica wat ek so kindergraag wil pluk maar nie mag nie…

Ja, die najaar is nooit luid nie. Dis sag en werk sagkens, maar ferm en beslis. Die somer is verby. (Soos Koos du Plessis ook met towerwoorde beduie in ‘Najaarsdroom’.)Somber is dit nie, daarvoor heeltemal te aanskoulik. Tog, hoekom lê hartseer so vlak? Waarom prik trane so maklik en so gereeld?

Dis waarlik herfs. Teen skemer soek tone en kuite en blaaie skuiling wanneer die gretige gees na bo en buite reik om soveel van die skoonheid as moontlik te oes…

Heeltemal te gou wyk son en lig, maar doen dit so dawerend lieflik dat jy maar liggies sug en langerwordende nagte gelate aanvaar. Want geen twee nagte is ooit ewe lank en ewe donker en ewe diep nie.

God sê altyd weer “Laat daar Lig wees.” En dan is daar Lig.


Involuntarily my thoughts fleetingly flit to the song by Mike and the Mechanics “Looking back, over my shoulder”… Undeniably poignant, both tune and lyrics.

Not that it has any bearing on the point I wish to make. However there are some coincidental and semi-relevant parallels.

“….Looking back over my shoulder
With an aching deep in my heart
I wish that we were starting over
Oh instead of drifting so far apart
Looking back over my shoulder
Oh with an aching feeling inside
Cutting me up, deeper and deeper
Fills me with a sadness that I can’t hide…”

27 April 1994 literally brimmed with overwhelming evidence of the new road forward for South Africa. Legally. Legitimately. Irrevocably. There was no turning back. It would simply not be possible, nor desirable.

Our children were toddlers and youngsters. Their eyes were bright, their hearts eager and innocent. There was relief all round – at the end of a relatively short but intense era of severe injustice.

Our children were shaped and moulded into youths and young adults by the forces of a new order. All our children. In Khayelitsha, Macassar, Centurion, Durbanville, Bloemfontein, Mamelodi, Laudium, Lenasia, Langa, Soweto, Mitchell’s Plain, Durban, Muizenberg, Stellenbosch, Upington, Idutywa, Grahamstown….

They are rising to the challenge of making a rainbow after the storm. They have lion hearts. They are on the move… In via… We cannot obstruct them or stand in their way. We must never be found to be piling up obstacles where they need thoroughfare. There is only one way for them and that way is forward. Onward.

Their eyes are set on something beyond the horizon that is clear and visible to young eyes. Unclouded eyes. We cannot see what they see. But also: we may never try and force them to see only what we see. Never. They must never be persuaded to waste time looking over their shoulders.

They are making music, harmonious music that is growing and rising and filling the skies over Africa: a song of hope and freedom. So many are however not able to stay here, in Africa. Where they belong, where their roots have penetrated the African soil for generation upon generation. So many of our precious children have no choice but to pack their bags and seek their fortune much further afield – even in far-flung Korea, taking fresh expertise, buoyant ambition and immeasurable amounts of brain power with them. Leaving behind loved ones who pine for them but wish them well and actually send them off so as not to see their hopes dashed and dwindling.

The mentality of looking back and making desperate endeavours to rekindle the ashes of the past, in order to implicate the innocent carriers of the flame of hope in the so-called collective ‘sins of the fathers’, is not only defeating the object of building a rainbow nation: it is also causing dark clouds of doubt and doom to gather on the horizon.

Don’t dare choke our children with short-sightedness and small-mindedness. With the inability to look forward; to let go (‘and let God’). They have wings like eagles, they are strong and wise, they are the arrows from our bows and they will fly straight and secure if released by resolute archers who believe what they cannot yet see…

Saluting a Woman of Substance and Magnitude

Baroness Margaret Thatcher:

You have departed from this earth. You leave behind a massive legacy.

You rose to the challenge – of being what you were required to be – as best you knew how. Perceptions may vary; but I would challenge any generation to deny and overlook the significance of your role in history. ‘Iron Lady’ is a general description you earned world-wide. Not for being hard and cold, or unfeeling and heartless. Nor rigid and self-righteous. But rather for standing your ground when you were required to. For performing the daunting task of heading up a country. For doing it in style; with flair; confidently but not arrogantly; maybe most of all – with dignity.

Never a hair out of place. Perfect accent. Impeccable self-control. Clothed subtly and suitably – never forgetting your matching handbag. You treated all with an air of reserve and respect; you also held others in regard – not only yourself.

You were an exemplary woman. A leader of stature. A truly great human being.

From the southern tip of Africa I bid you farewell.

Thank you for the clear and unmistakable footprints your court shoes left behind.

I salute you, Maggie Thatcher…