First published July 2005
Every day in our life dance is important. Some prove to be more significant than others. Memories, lessons etched deeper into our consciousness. Upon waking we are unaware of what will unfold over the hours to come. No matter how well our day may be mapped out the hand of destiny is always poised, pen ready, waiting to edit. To change our lives beyond our imagining.
South Africa. Mid-winter on the Highveld, the Transvaal at its finest. The air so clear I could reach out and touch the heavens if I tried. The early morning sun cast a soft, silvery-golden light over the world and a gentle, cool breeze carried on its back the honey-sweet smell of winter flowers in the garden. The land itself was glowing, happy to be alive, and so was I. As I walked from the house to my car I looked around me, breathing in deeply, absorbing the beauty of the morning into my body and soul.
My usual route to work was along a highway. Easy, quick, boring. I decided to cut across country, a little longer but through stunning, expansive landscape. A journey that would take me past a township wracked with violence and murder. I put that to the back of my mind as I imagined how beautiful the endless vistas of the bush would look on this magnificent morning. It was a decision that was to change my life forever.
I set off with joy in my heart, feeling free as a bird, living and loving every moment of this wonderful start to the day. The road stretched ahead of me like a straight black ribbon. Either side the golden yellow earth of the Transvaal marched into the horizon, crowned with an endless span of cloudless, cerulean sky. There was space and infinity in every direction. I drove without thinking, my soul out playing with the spirits of the land, dancing to the heartbeat of Africa.
My attention was brought back to reality about 45 minutes into my journey. In the distance, close to the township, I could see a large gathering of people by the roadside. I looked in my rear view mirror. There was nothing behind me. No traffic approaching either. Just me.
A ripple of fear passed through my body. A falling feeling in the pit of my stomach. Tensions were running high in the Republic at that time. Animosity between peoples of all colours. Between people of the same colour. This was the time of brutal necklace murders. Of unspeakable atrocities.
I drove on, scared. Despite the still-shining sun darkness was beginning to descend on my day. For several years friends had been begging me to carry a gun. I refused. A peace lover at heart I was devout in my belief in the goodness of human nature. I didn’t even have a baseball bat in my car like most people I knew. I had no weapons at all. Save my words and my smile. Deep in my heart, as I neared the crowd, I knew they would be of no use whatsoever.
My head told me to do a U-turn; my heart told me to drive on ... to have belief, to have courage, to not run away from what crosses my path. I locked the doors and began to 'pray', to talk to whomever was listening.
In the blink of an eye my car was surrounded. I know not how many people were in that raging, angry mass of humanity. Through the protective shell of the car I could hear their shouting, their chanting. In Sotho, a language I couldn’t understand but the intent was very clear. They wanted me out. They wanted my blood. I am white, I am blonde therefore no matter my beliefs, I was the icon of the oppressor.
Blows from sjamboks, long wooden clubs, began raining down on the bonnet and roof. One struck the windscreen and split the glass like a spider’s web. The car rocked from side to side. Time standing still. A lifetime passing by.
Fright, fight, flight. Adrenaline surged through my veins. The animal we all are rose like a phoenix into my awareness. Ancient ancestral autopilot. I crunched the car into first gear, pushed the throttle flat to the floor and lifted the clutch. It wheel spun against the heaving wall of life in front of me. I drove through the mob without looking back, fuelled by the powerful animal energy that inhabits us all.
To this day I do not know how many I hurt, if any. In the face of certain death I did what we all would do. I fought to save my life. No conscious thought to the process. I was driven from deep within. From that part of ourselves that we know exists but few of us ever witness.
Life changed beyond imagining.
To this day I am so very glad I listened to my heart and not to my head on that morning so long ago. It was the first time I faced death, eyeball to eyeball. It was not to be the last. I have looked into the abyss of my own demise five more times since then. The experience I had on that beautiful highveld day gave me courage and the strength to never give up no matter how huge the obstacle, no matter how dire the circumstances might be.
It taught me that regardless of the colour of the skin that houses it, life should be honoured and differences respected.
It taught me that to judge a book by its cover is very short-sighted because the cover merely identifies what we are; that which resides inside us defines who we are.
And lastly it taught me that every experience we have can be a positive one if we choose to view it with compassion and open mind.