11. The Ladies of Limpopo

15cm x 11cm, Silk and cotton embroidery thread, calico, acryllic paint

Lockdown to Local : Local means red dust on my shoes, as opposed to shoes on tar roads, roads leading to airports. My skin parched by the brittle bush winter in Limpopo Province. Local means that the Zingela Ulwazi Trust, the NPO I direct here in South Africa, has had to switch its focus from running business development/permaculture training program for rural South African women to raising funds and distributing food parcels to the impoverished, abandoned community we serve.

My immobilization has meant that the spirit of Africa, the spirits of the land, the ancestors, animals, wildlife, the elements, that formidable Mama Africa, have risen from the earth into my being. I have been stationary enough to meet them.

Memories of childhood surface and open the experience of what it means to be South African – not politically, but as a being imprinted with experience of life on this continent, my DNA overwritten with generations of blundering white experience on sacred lands, a history of an unfamiliar earth made familiar, made home.

Delivering food parcels has meant contact with the women of RDP Village who are part of our training program, with our masks and withheld embraces, flashes of eyes and twinkling gazes, our faces covered and relationships grounded after over a year of togetherness. When we started this work many women wanted nothing to do with white people. We continue to work together to overcome the systemic exclusion they experience as we try to help them connect them into some kind of viable economic.

In these experiences, our classes, our time together is woven with prayer, kongela and song, fluid up and down, seated, dancing, standing planting, digging, speaking, announcing discussing. We’ve spoken about wealth in the midst of systemic injustice, and how cultural wealth cannot be bought or acquired, well perhaps through marriage or initiation, but its not a commodity easily gained. I’ve been with the women radiant in their traditional clothing, these women cut off from their families and communities, some refugees from the Mozambican war, or from the devastated mining communities of Sekhukhuneland or simply from being kicked out of their families once their husbands died. Women cut loose from their familes, hideously vulnerable in a dusty village whose roads get washed away every rainy season, regardless of climate change shifts it to, they remain marooned.

But their cultural heritage is a firm line of belonging, an umbilical cord that can never be cut. Their radiance imprints on me and my banal outer wear, inconceivable to them that one would not have a cultural expression.

Between their multitude of cultures, their very South African array of colour and culture, song and sound, switching language XiTsonga to Sepedi and more, mixing so effortlessly – between the women and the now wintery, brittle land I live on, with her creatures and sallow, quiet plants, I am re-tethered to Africa. Often unwillingly, as it is too complicated, too mangled, too lonely, generous when I least expect it, unaware of the tortuous inner complexity I often wrestle with.

As if by an ancient benevolent parent, I am pulled in and down beneath the earth, surfaced in vast landscapes of mythic dreams and arrested in daylight by giraffe, zebra, antelope, warthogs, wild dogs, who show up at my house. Woken at 3am by the sweetest, looping hyena song, at 4 by sweet lipped jackal song and at 5 by the lions next door.

I am tuned and spiraled through the generous now impatient earth, my heart ragged, insatiable, forever caught in the longing for peace and wholeness that is denied the progeny of the colonizer who feels the plight of the colonised.

The hyena hovers over all, ghostly, misunderstood, regarded as vicious predator, crazy hermaphrodite, falsely accused like women held by men as irrational, crazy, nonsensical. The golden leopard eyes regard all with searing presence, ferocious and unmoved by human complexity, purity of being, purity of purpose that can burn through us humans, should we stand still long enough.