Tag Archives: South Africa

Fallen Heroes

Hansie Cronje

Hansie Cronje (1969 – 2002) was elected as the South African Protea cricket captain at the age of 24, and held that position from 1994 to 2000.  In his day, Hansie was considered as the best cricket captain in the world, especially in one-day matches.  He was known as a gentleman.

On 7 April 2000, Delhi police charged Hansie with fixing South Africa’s one-day-international against India and released transcripts of an alleged conversation between Cronje and a bookie.  The conversation centred around who would be playing and who not, who is in on the deal and how much would be paid to Hansie and his team-mates Pieter Strydom, Nicky Boje and Herschelle Gibbs.  Hansie denied any involvement in the matter and all of South Africa rallied behind him.

On 11 April 2000, Hansie called a meeting with Dr. Ali Bacher, the MD of the SA cricket board and confessed to being dishonest in India.  He said that he received $10,000 to $15,000 for providing information and forecasts but that he had never fixed a match in India.  He was sacked.  In a controversial investigation, other international cricket players were found guilty of match-fixing but they all denied it.  In October he was banned from cricket for life by the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

Hansie died in George on 1 June 2002 when the light aircraft he was in crashed into the Outeniekwa mountains in George.  He was 32 years old.  He will be remembered by some as the only cricket player in the world to confess to taking money from match-fixing, and as a gentleman.  By others he will be remembered as that “Christian that sinned”.

Joost van der Westhuizen

Joost van der Westhuizen was born in 1971 and retired as the most capped Springbok rugby player of all times.  At that time, he held the record for the most test tries scored by a South African rugby player.  He was regarded as one of the greatest half-backs of all time.

In February 2009 two newspapers broke a story claiming that they had a video of Joost engaging in sexual play with an unidentified woman and snorting a white substance.  Joost initially vehemently denied that he was the man on the video but in November confessed that it was him.  In that time another woman came forward claiming that she had an affair with Joost while he was married.

On 12 May 2011 it was made public that Joost suffers from a form of motor neurone disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and only has another two to five years to live.  The disease is incurable.


The stories of Hansie Cronje and Joost van der Westhuizen are similarly fascinating.  Both confessed their Christian faith throughout their sporting careers and achieved the highest accolades possible in their fields.  Yet, both succumbed to ‘sin’, were greatly humiliated and either died unexpectedly like Hansie, or became gravely ill with very little time to live, like Joost.

In a world where religious tolerance is oh-so part of being politically correct, it somehow does not extend itself to Christianity.  Anyone professing to be a Christian is frowned upon, slighted and considered somewhat of an idiot.  And so it was with glee that the fall of these two men were received.  They were sneered at, humiliated, slandered, mocked and castigated.  Oh God, there but by your grace go I.  How they must have suffered.

But this is what happens when we put mere mortals on pedestals, we pave the way for their fall.  We line them up for stumbling.  No man should be treated as a god.  We make them, and when they displease us, or we find that their feet are made of clay just like ours, we break them.

What they did was wrong, but no more so than the wrongs I commit each day.  I however do not find myself on the world’s stage where everyone can boo or throw stones at me.  I have to ask for forgiveness from few.  An idol from many.  And forgiveness is not something freely parted with because we love to judge, we love to hold grudges and we love to hate.  When someone like Hansie is publicly humiliated, it makes us look and feel more righteous.  And so we can be armchair judges, criticizing how others chose to live their lives and severely punishing those who, as decided by ourselves, were not allowed to transgress in the first place.

How are the mighty fallen

How much lower though,the throwers of stones

“The past truly no longer matters to me. I am no longer the arrogant rugby player who needs the accolades from the crowd or the man with the incessant need to impress society. I am me and I am a father, and that is more than enough right now.”


Love parted

They were sixteen when they fell in love.  They graduated together.

They couldn’t keep their hands off one another and did not go out much.  Preferring to stay home to watch movies and cuddle.  Doing everything together, as young love does.

Someone drew a cartoon of everyone who matriculated that year.  They were the only two depicted as one.

Her dream was to study at a prestigious acting school in Los Angeles.  She was selected, and left.  He remained behind to pursue his studies.

All the parents watched.  And sighed.

Now it is their third year apart and he still has three years of studying ahead of him.

Both mothers’ hearts break for their children.  But they do not interfere.  How do you give advice on something you have no understanding of?  Courting over Skype in spite of an eleven hour time difference.  Touching physically for a little while only twice a year.

While so young and restless.

What everyone does understand is that if this relationship makes it, they would have earned it.  The usual issues that crop up and are dealt with over time has to be sorted out quickly.  Like jealousy and trust.  All of us might have time to fight it, or fight about it.  They don’t.  You cannot distrust the other at night when you are alone in your bed, and make it work.  Trust for them is a decision, not a feeling.

Everyone who knows them, roots for them.  Because they deserve it.

They take it one day at a time, with the optimism of their youth.  Not looking too far into the future.  Not sweating the small stuff.  They simply love, and believe that they are loved.  Trusting that this love will be rewarded.

I know that they will both be richer for having had one another, no matter what.  I also understand that to pass this test, they need character, and strength, and endurance, and faith.  Which the passage of time, and the separation itself provides.

These two stones rub against one another, sanding hard.  The pain released builds character which will be its own reward in time to come.

You are so faithful and brave my little children that my heart aches when I look at you, when my thoughts touch upon you.

I pray God’s favour over you.  May He give you all the desires of your hearts till there is room for no more.   And keep you strong and content, and faithful, and pure.

I have so much I want to ask for you, but rest in asking that His will be done.  Because I don’t know what is best for you, nor do I know what the future holds for you.

And it is not for me to decide.

A quiet, hot Christmas day

We are in Scottburgh, on the South Coast of South Africa.  It has been hot and humid, and yesterday was no different.

My eldest is spending his Christmas holidays in Kunjata Bay, Mozambique with his buddy Donut.  A whole group of friends went down and it sounds like they are having a ball.  He tells me that the little kids faces are starting to scar from the sun.

My husband and I, and Kyle and his buddy James, spent Christmas day by ourselves.  There were only about 9 gifts under the tree and opening them was quick.  I made bacon and eggs for brunch and in the evening we had a braai (barbecue).  It was tranquil and nice.  No tables laden with food, overeating and long naps to sleep it off.  Last night we took Cinnamon for a stroll on the beach.

Twice we tried having Christmas lunch at a restaurant and it was disastrous.  The service was bad, food took long and it just seemed gloomy, spending Christmas with strangers in a strange place.  I won’t do that soon again.  Just us, at home, is good.

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is different from the North.  A white Christmas is an experience.  It looks, tastes and smells different.  I love the way people Christmafy their houses.  Lights and nativity scenes on a wintry, snowy landscape at night is something to behold.  And unlike the North, our December holiday is long with schools closing for about six weeks and most adults taking their annual leave to stream down to the coastal towns of SA.  Generally, decorations are kept down to a Christmas tree and some tinsel around the house.  Nothing fancy.

Turkey is not big here.  Christmas lunches would include gammon, chicken, pork and lamb roasts with potato and other salads.  And brandy pudding, Christmas cake and trifle.  If it is really hot, the meats will be served cold.

Today, the 26th of December, is as yesterday.  Hot.  Later we will make our way down to a beach, hoping that some of the crowds have gone home.

Long, lazy summer days are the hallmark of South African Christmas holidays.

On Travel

We have family in the USA and have been there several times.  During one trip we travelled by car from Vermont (near the Canadian border), all the way to Miami (very south) and back up to Boston.  A journey of almost 6,000 miles.  In another we did the West Coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, then on to North Carolina and Tennessee as well as Pensacola.

I like the US, everything is convenient.  It is our McDonald’s holiday because when you spend so much time on the road, you land up eating junk.  Travelling is easy, for example interstates running from north to south are numbered odd and from east to west, even.

I loved stopping at the convenience stores along the way for different flavoured coffees.  Pumpkin coffee, English Toffee, French Vanilla and in Boston we even had Reese’s Peanut butter Coffee.  Yum.  It is no weight-loss solution though.

I find the Americans friendly.  The Southerners have a harder time with the South African accent but in New York a guy recognized it immediately.

Imagine my surprise when one night, while clubbing away in Charleston, the lights suddenly went on at 2am and the bouncers started shouting:  “Go home!  Come on, go home!”   Hahahahaha, we were  in the Bible-belt and that is normal time for the clubs and bars to close on Saturday nights.  Presumably so that the people can still get to church in the morning.

In one trip we hopped from the US to Cancun, Mexico.  Cancun is a big hotel strip and one loooong party.  I would not take small kids.  You can stay in a 4 or 5 star hotel, full-board, giving you around 7 or 8 restaurants to choose from and all drinks free, at an affordable rate.  Definitely a good party holiday option if you stay on the main strip.

The hotel staff in Cancun impressed me to no end.  The entertainment staff, good-looking boys and girls in their early 20’s, would start at the pool at around 9 in the morning, playing games and doing all sorts of activities with the hotel guests for the day.  After supper, we would encounter them on-stage in a hotel production and at about 11pm, they would take the guests that wanted to, clubbing.  There they would have to baby-sit until the last one went home, which could be absolutely anytime.  Only to be back at the pool at 9am sharp, fresh and sharp.

The other staff was friendly too.  The head waiter dubbed husband Mr. Depardieu because he reminded him of the actor.  Full-board means that you can have any drink you like, any time, all day and all night.  Those without drinking brakes could find themselves in amusing situations.  We saw an English couple, in their late 50’s, sit in the pool’s wet bar until they were so plastered they could not get out.  The staff must have been quite used to it because within no time a wheelchair arrived and the woman was up-loaded from the pool and off-loaded in her bed.  After which they returned for the husband.

My dream for my fortieth birthday was to see a live performance of The Proclaimers.  As it turned out, they were in their own country, performing in the Edinburgh Castle.  I loved it!

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and so is most of Scotland.  I was on the greens of St. Andrew’s when I heard that my son had scored the winning try for his rugby team back home.

We travelled by road to Ireland, from Belfast to Dublin.  I found Belfast depressing.  It could have had something to do with their difficult history which we took time to explore.

We spent a bit of time in and travelling through the north of England.  The old castles and churches were historically lovely.  The UK was expensive though and we hardly bought a thing.

Phuket is for tanning and shopping.  If I ever go again, I won’t even take a suitcase because it is not called a floating market for nothing.  Hundreds and hundreds of stalls with good brand rip-offs at ridiculous prices.  You can have suits, shirts, evening wear etc made up by tailors too.

We went during their summer so the heat was intense.  You get up late, laze next to the pool, take a siesta in the afternoon and at around 5 o’clock, hit the streets and markets.

The Thai people are friendly and eager to please but there is poverty.   Food is affordable and you can buy beer on the streets to drink as you walk.  It was interesting talking to the locals about the affect the tsunami had on them.

Africa I love.  Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Zanzibar islands in Tanzania.  I don’t know if anything beats an African holiday for its peaceful pace and beauty.  The crime is petty but you do have to deal with bureaucracy and red tape.

Poverty is extreme but you know that you are contributing to their economies.  The people are generally friendly.  Malaria medication is recommended for most of Africa.  I would still love to visit Namibia.

South Africa and Mozambique have some of the most awesome recreational diving spots.  Ponta do Ouro in Moz and Sodwana on South Africa’s South Coast have beautiful reefs teeming with sea-life.  In Zanzibar some reefs runs at an angle so that you don’t have to do a safety stop because the ascent is slow and measured.

My family loved Malawi.  The white beaches around Lake Malawi look like tropical islands with its palm trees.  Diving the lake is different because you don’t need a buoy line.  The boat just follows the bubbles.  And fresh fish is a must.

Another dream come true was Russia.  It is an intense experience and well worth it.  However, do not atempt it if you don’t have a Russian speaking person with you or if you are not in a tour group.  Most Russians do not speak English and everything is written in their language.  You will be unable to order from a menu or find your way around by bus or train.  It is a bit scary but one does get used to it.

I found the Russian people to be abrupt and almost rude, but taking their history into consideration, it was hardly surprising.  In order to visit Russia, you need an invitation from a hotel or the person you are staying with and the visa will only be issued as per the dates of your flights, not a day longer.  Once there, you also have to check in at the nearest Police Station but if you are staying in a hotel, they will take care of that paperwork for you.

The food was affordable and delicious.  Of course, caviar and fish roe is everywhere, and cheap.  From a cultural and historical perspective, Russia is breath-taking, St. Petersburg in specific.  The country is clean and St. Petersburg is receiving a complete restoration of all the old buildings, block by block.

I don’t know if any holiday will be long enough to really take in all the palaces and works of art.  The Hermitage holds an art collection that almost rivals the Louvre.  It is mind-boggling.  We took a high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back.  It takes only about 4 hours and travels at a speed of 240kms per hour.  Souvenirs were definitely affordable.

Two other countries that I would like to visit is Cuba and Italy.

Cuba before it changes.  I want to sit in old bars, smoke Cuban cigars and watch retro cars drive by.

In Italy I will start in Caprese, Michelangelo’s birth town.  Then follow his long-gone footsteps through the cities he worked in.  From Florence where he was trained by the house of Medici, onto Bologna and Rome.

But, as anyone can tell you that has been here, South Africa is still my wonderfully, beautiful land.

Today is ‘The Day of the Vow’ for my people

On 16 December 1838, a group of around 470 Boer people (Afrikaners) were besieged by more than 10,000 Zulu warriors on the banks of the Blood River in Natal, South Africa.  This led to one of the bloodiest and memorable battles in our nation’s history.

The Boer’s struggle for independence started in 1835 after the Cape Colony and Natal were invaded by the British.  The Boer was not willing to serve under the English and moved inland, a movement known as The Great Trek.  The almost 10,000 Boers who participated in the Trek were called Voortrekkers.

Commander Piet Retief chose to travel to Natal where he petitioned the King of the Zulus, Dingane, for a piece of land between the Tugela and Umzimvubu rivers up to the Drakensberg Mountains.

On the 4th of February 1838 Dingane signed the treaty which awarded the land to Boers.  He invited the Retief-group to a Zulu dance on the 6th of February.  During the ceremony, Dingane suddenly called out:  “Bulalani abathakati!”  (kill the magicians).  The Boers were tied up and dragged outside the village where they were beaten to death with knopkieries.   The remaining Boers were attacked in their laager, causing the deaths of a further 282 people.

The Natal Voortrekkers sent for and chose Commander Andries Pretorius from the Eastern Cape as their leader.  He immediately put together a Commando of 470 men with 64 wagons to return to Zululand.  The families that stayed behind had become impoverished and did not have enough wagons to return back over the Drakensberg Mountains, so it was of the utmost importance that their men returned.

A lay-preacher by the name of Sarel Cilliers suggested that they make a vow with God.  In return for victory in the battle, they would build a church, always honour the day and tell their children so that future generations would honour the vow they had made.

The Boer Commando pushed deeper into Natal and on the 15th of December drew a laager on the banks of the Ncome River, today known as Blood River.  Pretorius chose a strategic spot for the laager which forced the Zulus to attack mainly from a north-westerly direction.

The Zulu leaders, Ndlela and Tambuza, decided that the first Zulu regiment to attack would be the Abafana (boys) with their black shields.

Sunday the 16th of December was a bright sunny day.  The first attack started just after sunrise but neither the Black Shields, nor the White Shields could push through the defences.  The 470 Boer shooters had a wide range whereas the area narrowed for the approaching Zulus.

By 12 o’clock in the afternoon, the battle was over.  The laager was surrounded by dead and dying bodies.  Many of the wounded fled into the river which caused the water to turn red, giving it the name, Blood River.


Today is The Day of the Vow.  I am a descendant of those Boer people and I have the choice to honour it or not.  My children are English-speaking South Africans and identify themselves in that manner.  I do however, on the 16th of December, tell them the story of Blood River, for them to do with as they please.

She died from AIDS

I see the coffin being lowered into the ground by pallbearers dressed in black. I hear the wailing and screeching, sniffs and sobs. I feel the chill in the air. Lettie’s tears streaming down her raisin cheeks onto her new dark dress. The smell of freshly dug wet earth covering Susan’s body. Her footsteps eternally erased from the soil she walked on. All that will be left is the smell of her, for a while. On her clothes, her bed, her things. And the imprint of her in our hearts.

With a trembling hand Donald reads the letter I wrote. The one in which I tried to explain my love for Susan.  Agnes is nodding her head. She is the only one sitting down, her shortened polio leg unable to bear her enormous weight. Edith stands with her head bowed, clasping her thin hands in front of her.

“Susan always worked hard. Her smile graced my home every day. I will always remember her laughter and the fact that she didn’t get angry. People came for advice because she was wise. She loved her mother Lettie and her family”.

Cousin Donald’s voice rings out over the crowd. Today is about remembrance. We are reminiscing together even though I’m not there.

“I am glad because now I know she will never have pain again. Her tears have been dried and she has been filled with joy”. He stops and looks at the funeral goers before carrying on. “My prayer is that Tsepo shall become a big man just like his mother dreamed he would. Tsepo, your mother loved you and she was very proud of you. Always stay on the road that she pointed out so that you may honour her name”. Tsepo’s seven-year-old face reflects the turmoil within. His newphew Johannes is eight and feels that he should comfourt his little cousin so he digs into his pocket and hands Tsepo a mint. Even though he is sad, he is glad to see his father again. Joseph works on the mines and does not often get time off work. His mother lives far away in Rustenburg, but Johannes does not like going there. She is mean and her parents treat him badly. He is always hungry when he visits her. It is much better to stay with Gogo Lettie and Tsepo. .

By means of a little piece of paper I tell them how much richer I am for having known Susan. I know they will soak out of it all the feelings I had poured into it. And afterwards, someone may ask about the person that wrote the letter. And Lettie will tell them about a white woman in Gauteng who became her friend.


If someone asked me, I would tell them that I was only twenty-one with a baby on the way when Lettie found me. She became my housekeeper and my teacher. Whenever I became despondent over baby problems she would say to me: “Nooi (young girl), as long as you can wrap him in a blanket your troubles are small”. How I used to laugh with her. Little did she know then how small that blanket would become when her own kids got older.  Joseph would land up in prison for killing a man in a drunken brawl. Nicholas would develop epilepsy and need permanent care.  Agnes would always be crippled. Hilda’s husband would always beat her. Susan would be in the grave long before her mother.

She only worked for me one or two days a week in the beginning, I forget which.  My husband and I lived in a tiny little house on a huge piece of grass. Everyone laughed because it looked like a doll’s house. Two years later we moved and Lettie followed. She stayed with a woman whose mother she had worked for. She told me that the couple fought all the time.  She was miserable.

Then one day she said: “Nooi, they told me to leave. What am I going to do? I have nowhere else to go and I cannot retire yet”. I was astounded. “Why Lettie, what’s going on?” “I think they are getting divorced”. My husband and I spoke it over before I approached her with my suggestion. “Lettie, you know the zozo? It is not much but if you want to stay there until you find something better, you are welcome”. I saw the worry disappear off her face in that instant. “I will take it nooi”. “Lettie, promise me you’ll look around for something better”. “I will nooi, I will”. By the end of the month she had moved her few belongings and there she stayed. I wanted to build her a proper room but did not have the means to do so. The zozo was made from precast and it was draughty. It got hot in the summer and cold in winter. But whenever I asked she insisted that she was quite comfortable. She never did look for another place to stay.

She spoke about her children often and they dropped in whenever they were in the area.  I got to know them all. Edith, Joseph, Agnes, Susan and Nicholas. Hilda I met later and her daughter would eventually work for my brother. By this time Lettie was well into her fifties and working for me three days a week. The other two she spent at neighbours. She would come home and astound me with stories of how they lived. People who seemed so normal from the outside. She also told me the story of her life. She only had a standard four because she ran away from school. Her mother then found her employment on a farm but she ran away from that too. I think in different times and under different circumstances, Lettie would have been somewhat of a free spirit. But poverty is a chain that nails everything down. She eventually fell in love with a “Boesman” as she called him, a coloured man. She had 6 children before he ran off. She left the children with her mother to find employment in Johannesburg.  Six children did not come cheap.

One day I asked her: “Lettie, did you never fall in love again?” “I did nooi. But it did not work out”. “Why not?” “Because he was from Mozambique and he wanted to go back home. He was a madala (old man) already by then”. “Why did he leave you if he loved you?” It did not understand the cultural differences. “He wanted to take me with him, but I could not leave my children Nooi.”   That ended her only true love. From there on she put men behind her and sought to raise her kids as best she could. To provide for them and see to it that they appreciated what they got.  I saw exactly the same trait in Susan in time to come.

Then Joseph was imprisoned. One night on the mine compound he got into a fight. They had had too much to drink and a man pulled out a knife. So did Joseph. In the ensuing fight, Joseph killed the man and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  I still remember the look of shock on her face during the months it took for Joseph to receive his sentence. The embarrassment. But she did whatever it took to raise the money to pay his expenses and never wavered.  Today Joseph’s imprisonment is but a dim memory.

She always said that at sixty she would retire. We used to laugh at that. “You are still a spring chicken Lettie, you have a long way to go. Anyway, what will you do all day long” I’d ask. “I’ll sit in the sun and I’ll rest. Then the children will look after me like I have looked after them”. I wonder if she knew it would not be the case but hoped for it anyway?  I also never really entertained the thought of her leaving. Somehow I imagined that I would always have her with me. “But when I leave nooi, I will send someone to look after you”. She saw me as a child and never noticed that I had grown up until we were apart. “Who will you send Lettie? No one will be able to look after me the way that you do”. She’d smile wisely and say: “When the time comes, I will know”.

Then she turned sixty.  And she left.  She sent her sister Olga in her place. The rest she longed for turned out to be bringing up grandchildren whose parents were working away from home, carrying water from the communal tap in the village and walking hours every month to collect her meagre pension. All the while dealing with daily life in a dusty town where everybody knew everybody’s business. She kept in contact with me. She even sent Susan or Edith  to visit and update me on their news. We wrote to each other and she visited once, just to see how big my children were.

Olga was with me for little over a year when she died.  She went to a shebeen one night with a friend and an argument errupted.  She ran off, not stopping to look for cars and was knocked over, dying instantly.  The husband soon appeared at my doorstep with family and friends. They sat in her room talking about her and planning her funeral.  He was an alcoholic, dependant on Olga for an income. There was no money for even a modest funeral. The only thing to do was to take care of the arrangements ourselves. My husband and brother made the coffin and we found a helpful mortician to make her look the way we remembered her. He lined the coffin with fabric and placed her in it. He even agreed to rent us a trailer to take her home in.

My sister-in-law and I piled the bakkie high with Olga’s belongings. On top of everything was her two-seater couch and on top of that, her son Ben and Donald. Behind us followed a ‘Martin’s Funeral Parlour’ trailer carrying Olga’s earthly remains. It was a slow six-hour arive, made worse by the starring passers-by and my attempt to stop smoking. We arrived in Jan Kemp Dorp at midnight, wondering who would help us off-load. But to our surprise, all her family and friends were there in their Sunday best, awaiting our arrival. They respectfully removed the coffin and placed it inside her house. Then they silently filed past it to pay their last respects. The only suggestion they made was that in future we should split the coffin lid so that the face only may be viewed.

Afterwards we had tea with Lettie at her house. She proudly showed us the works of her hands and explained the things she still needed to do. The house was warm and friendly and loving. It smelt of cooking and cleaning.  I was glad for the opportunity to have seen her world.

When I spoke to Lettie again she had decided that Susan should come and work for me. Her baby girl. I was reluctant because Susan was capable of so much more. She had completed a basic computer course and had elementary typing skills. Besides for that, she was a vibrant and energetic young woman. I was concerned that housekeeping would stifle her spirit and that she would land up regretting that she did not try other things.  Initially I think Susan agreed only for Lettie’s sake, but as time went on she grew roots. She always assured me that if she found something more suitable to her, she would tell me.  I got to know and love her. We chatted often, about the mistakes of our pasts, the hopes of our futures and everyday life. She told me that she had a relationship with a man when she was in her final year of schooling but only found out that he was married after she fell pregnant. She kept Tsepo but left the man.

Shortly after she came to me she entered the darkest time of her life. She fell in love with a man who cheated on her. Susan was a SeSotho and Thomas a Zulu. Their traditions were worlds apart. He said that he wanted to marry her but that she would have to go live in Kwa-Zulu Natal on their land with his mother. “Mandy, I can never do that. My mother would never allow it. And I’m not sure that I would ever see my family again, KZN is so far”, she said. “If you love him Susan, sort this out before you go any further”, was the only suggestion I could give. She cried. He had no shame. I did not understand, but I did. “Susan, you have to leave Thomas, he is destroying you!” I pleaded. “I know Mandy, but I love him”. “Love is a decision Susan, not a feeling. Move on!”  Her usual sunny face gave way tot perpetual sadness.

During that time a friend of hers contracted AIDS.  The husband, mother and children deserted her. The stigma of the disease was just too much for them to bear so she died alone, and was buried alone.

Susan finally ended the relationship with Thomas but it took a long time for her to heal.  But I was able to complete a goal I had for Lettie. I built Susan a room with a bathroom and the zozo hut was pulled down.

Then suddenly she became ill. “Mandy”, the gynaecologist warned, “this is a pelvic inflammation, but it is unusually high in the abdomen.  She needs to be admitted to hospital so that they can run tests”. “Where would you suggest I tale her Doctor?” I asked.  Susan was not on on a private medical aid and government hospitals were notorious.  Little did I know what lay in store for us. “Joburg Gen is good, but Baragwanath would be better. Get her in there today”. He wrote a letter that I saw as a talisman guaranteeing good treatment. How wrong I was.

Our first attempt at having her admitted at Baragwanath was when she arrived there at two in the afternoon with Donald.  Shortly before seven o’clock that evening he had to leave to catch the last taxi home. And since they had been there already five hours, there was no reason to suspect that they would not admit her. I was at a business dinner with my husband when I received her “please call-me”. “Mandy, they say that I must go home”. She sounded weak. “Susan, did you show them the letter from your gynaecologist?” I was livid. “Yes Mandy. They say that there is nothing wrong with me and that I must go home”. “Let me speak to the doctor”. He sounded uninterested and insisted that Susan was not ill. “What about the letter from the gynaecologist?” I asked. “Well, I believe that he has misdiagnosed this case. I am prescribing some medication, if she starts vomiting she should come back”. His manner was blunt. “So what you are saying is that she is only ill enough to be admitted if she vomits?” I asked. “Yes”. “Then you will admit her?” I insisted to make sure that I understood. “Yes”. Susan had to wait at the hospital for over an hour as we wangled our way out of our evening.  She had a packet of painkillers and an anti-biotic.

For three days she was too weak to get out of bed and then she started vomiting. Eight o’clock that night we rushed her back to Baragwanath. I was sure that she would be admitted. Seven o’clock the next morning she phoned me and asked me to come fetch her. “Why?” I screamed. “They say I am not ill”. Her voice was toneless. When she got home she told me that the doctor only consented to see her at twelve o’clock that night. That after looking her over and doing a urine test, he again told her that she was acting up and that there was nothing wrong with her. He put her in the men’s mental ward for the night.  She was never really able to tell me what had happened to her that night and God alone knows what damage it did but after that she lost her laughter and I believe, gave up.

Three more times she went back to the hospital but all she got was to stand in a queue for hours for a handful of pills. By the end of October we decided that she should go home to her mother.  There was a doctor in the town of Hartswater who knew the family. We hoped that he would be able to diagnose what was wrong with her.

She saw the family doctor immediately and phoned me from his consulting rooms.  He told me the same old story: “I cannot diagnose this until we run some tests. Susan needs to be hospitalised’.  But as a private doctor, he could not get her admitted. By now we were deep into November and what started as pelvic infection had turned into chronic diarrhoea. She needed constant care and could not keep nothing down.  In February she told me that she had Tuberculosis.  The lights came on for me. “Susan, maybe you should ask the doctor to do an AIDS test”, I suggested. “What do you have to loose? If it is not AIDS that will be wonderful, but if it is, you can at least get proper treatment for it”. “Okay Mandy, I will go”. She was beaten. “And Susan”, “Mandy?” “You don’t have to tell me or anyone else if you are positive. You do understand that?” “Yes Mandy”.

Two weeks later she phoned. “Mandy, I am HIV positive, but the doctor says that I don’t have AIDS yet”. I found that hard to believe.  “How do you feel Susan?” I was concerned about the community’s treatment of her because I knew how they felt about AIDS. “I feel okay. At least I know what is wrong and they gave me an anti-retroviral”.

The TB tablets made her vomit so she could not keep the anti-retroviral down.  She told her family that she was HIVpositive, not feeling the need to hide it from the community. I admired her for that. Other than her trips to the doctor and the hospital, she was bedridden most of the time. Every time we talked there was less of her.  By mid-March she couldn’t get out of bed and did not speak. At the end of April she died.

Lettie took it stoically and took care of the arrangements. “Nooi, Susan will have a headstone”. “Yes Lettie, she will”.

We were left with only memories.  Memories of a laughing woman in her prime. Beloved woman.  I am sad for Lettie who has outlived her baby girl.  I am sad for Tsepo who grows up an orphan. I am sad for me because I lost a friend.


Lettie is getting old but she still has two young boys to raise and water to carry from the communal tap in the village. I guess the RDP has not yet reached Jan Kemp Dorp.

She phoned the other day to tell me that she was coming to visit with Tsepo in June. “I took a video of the funeral nooi. I’ll come show you”. I am looking forward to her visit so that we can talk again like we always did.

My Lettie, your life has been hard but your reward will be great. I always tell you that when you arrive in the hereafter, you have the mansion and I will have the zozo.  You always laugh but a heart so pure and faith so steadfast will not go unrewarded. You say that I must not throw you away and my reply is this: “You have been given to me, and I to you, for always.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”