Yesterday I gave a Masterclass to grade ten students at St Cyprian’s School in Cape Town who had studied my novel, Skyline.
Taking them ‘backstage’ I showed how I had manipulated the urban landscape of Long Street in Cape Town to create the fictitious milieu in which the story unfolds.
I shared how I had used Skyline to explore the many voices of the city – voice of traffic, voice of wind, voice of Bergies, of street children, of ex-combatants, of a country newly released from the confines of apartheid, of the fledgling democracy of the 1990s.
Skyline, narrated by a teenage girl, also reveals the hesitant voices of immigrants and refugees who enter South Africa, some legally and others not, from countries destabilised by war and economic ruin, from countries bled dry by the greed of despots and engorged ruling elites.
It is a book about xenophobia and the awakening of compassion. Its deep centre, its profound voice, speaks for child victims of war and their parents.
This poem is about a mother who used to sit under the trees of Deerpark Drive, and sometimes outside Spar in Derry Street before ‘disappearing’ into the depths and background of our city where her voice mingles with the many others.
The Angolan Madonna
Vredehoek, Cape Town 1999
Day in and day out she knelt there beneath the trees
alone with her blankets wrapped down to her knees
and we other mothers drove past taking children to school
sometimes glancing at her, perhaps thinking her a poor fool.
She had extra blankets about her and bundles of rags
empty Coke bottles and gatherings tied in plastic bags.
We other mothers noticed her war-ravaged face
the softness gone from it with horror in its place.
Sometimes we’d notice a wildness in her eyes
or sometimes a sadness there as when a child sighs.
We would see her stand up and shout into the air
at nothing we could see, though she saw soldiers there.
And we’d watch her plunge down with her imaginary panga
into the sordid hearts of generals and their governing death-mongers.
And once we heard her howl like a rabid dog dying
but we turned our hearts away lest her baying be crying.
Some of us wondered if we should reach into her world
though none of us did, fearing what we might unfurl.
So we left her there with her blankets and belongings
knowing that she was just one of many war-mothers thronging
away from the pitiless and plundered fields of war,
searching for their children, though they would find them no more.
The Angolan Madonna
From The Unknown Child – poems of war, love and longing
Patricia Schonstein Pinnock
African Sun Press
English edition available from African Sun Press Afpress@iafrica.com
Swedish edition from Bokforlager Tranan firstname.lastname@example.org
Endorsed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and J.M. Coetzee