My daughter and I hit the road to Cradock for Hoër Landbouskool Marlow's rugby derby. It is four o'clock on Saturday morning. It's been a rough week, with a huge dose of unexpected sadness. I embrace the silence and focus on the metronomic rhythm of the white lines disappearing beneath the car. Ilke sleeps.
Just after Queenstown, the landscape slowly begins to take shape in the first light; a watercolour painting of bleached grass and yellow poplar trees.
Marlow's lovely redbrick campus lies just outside Cradock, set amongst mielie lands and big sheds. The annual derby between Grens, Tarkastad, Marlow and Lilyfontein is accompanied by a “junior" farmers' day and agricultural show. Tractors and ploughs and monster threshing machines are on display between the rugby fields. Fires are burning. Ricus Nel's “Ploeg jy?" blasts from the speakers.
It's freezing. We join the coffee queue. Ahead of us are two Marlow boys. One is called Skottel, the other Vink. The pancake auntie explains that at Marlow, you are given a nickname in Grade 8, and “it then stays with you for the rest of your life". Ooookay.
My daughter is in matric, and I have made a conscious decision to this year immerse myself in the rhythms and rituals of school life. Our little gaptoothed girl with her long blonde braids is now an Amazon who will attend her matric farewell next week. The end of an era is in sight, and I have to hold my heart a little bit.
When we moved to the Eastern Cape 10 years ago, it was supposed to be a short interlude. But then we stayed, mainly because we discovered Lilyfontein, and I had always dreamed about giving my daughter the same gentle, honest rural upbringing as I had had. I wanted her to grow up in real South Africa.
Over the years, I often wondered if I made the right decision. Would a big city school or an elite private one not have offered my child better opportunities? In the past few weeks, I realised again that I made the right decision. She may not have had the privilege of singing in a world-class choir as her sisters did at Stellenberg in Cape Town, but what she did receive was an extraordinary education in life. And much of that has to do with the uniqueness of where we live and how people here get on with life and each other.
Ilke and I sit on the grandstand and watch Marlow decimate Lilyfontein's second team. It's not much of a surprise, she says. Marlow's farm boys are tough, and they mos start playing rugby before they even start crawling.
For someone like me who grew up in the total abnormality of white, verkrampte apartheid South Africa of the '80s, I notice things my daughter's generation no longer sees (or is even remotely interested in). I see the relaxed and normalised race relations between our children, the sports teams and gatherings where often, there is now only a sprinkling of white faces. I see black coaches and black referees. This, for me, remains a wonder and fills me with deep gratitude. It always reminds me of how far we have come in this country. We should never forget that.
Sometimes, I am reminded of this in the most unexpected places, like here at Marlow, where schoolboys still doff their caps when they greet you, and the old scholars crowd around the rugby fields dressed in their hunting jackets and Boerboel farmwear. In a country where so much is falling apart, there is a truth that requires acknowledging. Farmers form the backbone of much of what still works in South Africa. After the game, I wander through the agricultural show – Dormer ewes in small enclosures and displays of solar panel-powered water pumps and other “solutions" for a country that desperately needs any help it can get.
I recently attended an awards ceremony at Lilyfontein.
There is nothing fancy about the Lilyfontein. It might be over 100 years old, but when Ilke started here, the big hall did not yet have a stage. When Ilke went to receive her colours last week, it was to an actual stage with curtains. We also built two other rugby and cricket fields in the past decade, with school fees. And we added more classrooms and an IT centre. Piece by piece, Lilyfontein has become a bigger and better version of itself, including a more diverse and representative staff complement.
There were two musical performances at the awards ceremony. Axolile Hoza, the director of the music department, accompanies the scholars on the piano. Cumisa Witbooi gives a soulful rendition of Zahara's Loliwe and Lamila Gcam-Gcam a goosebump-inducing version of “Jantjie kom huistoe". The hall explodes with applause and whistles. (I chat with Axolile Hoza afterwards. Like me, he is an ex-Matie and trilingual. On his mother's side, he is Afrikaans and on his father's side Xhosa. A diversity of languages comes naturally to him, he says.)
The event concludes with the singing of the school anthem, an adaptation of “Uitspan op Mooifontein" in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa.
I say it again. We must never forget how far we have come in the last three decades. And the effort it takes to build an inclusive environment like at Lilyfontein proactively. I am deeply grateful Ilke was able to grow up here. In a school where a black child leads the first rugby team onto the field and a white head boy speaks fluent Xhosa. And that our children do not even notice how exceptional that is given our history, that in itself is a sign of how far we have come.
If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things
your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side
while a side is there
– M.S. Erwin
(Uit: From The Rain in the Trees, 1988)
My spens is op die oomblik ’n bietjie leeg. Ek sal in die komende week weer die internet verken vir lekker nuwe aanbevelings. Vir nou volstaan ek met hierdie paartjies.
Anton Goosen sing “Jantjie”.
Virginia Lee sing “Uitspan op Mooifontein”.
'n Paar lukrake gedagtes oor die lewe, geskryf deur James Clear: Random Ideas About Life
Lees oor eet
Die onverwagse plesier van vroeë aandete.