post-traumatic township memories

“They’re burning him. They’re burning him. Oh my god. O my god.”

My hand is blackened by the dry soil i am trying to pick up to throw on the burning man. It is an automatic response. I had once read about how sand could stop a fire.

In South Africa they call it ‘necklacing’. It was the 90s, the last days of apartheid South Africa, and necklacing was a buzzword.

A car tyre is placed around the body of a person, it is filled with petrol and they are set on fire.

“He’s burning. He’s burning. O my god O my god.”

I think the man was suspected of being an informant, or perhaps a member of another political group. The crowd is caught up in a kind of a trance. To the left of me I see a photographer with his finger on his trigger. In front of him the burning man, the words “shoot me, shoot me,”  echo through my head (shoot me was a common phrase used in the townships by the youngsters who wanted to be photographed by the press corps).

a man grabs my wrist, my hand full of sand to throw on the burning man. he speaks to me in a language i don’t know, but the way he is forcefully holding my wrist means my hand involuntarily opens and the sand falls out.

The smell of burning flesh. the cries of a man. like a cat meowing in the highest octave.

I’m in my early 20s. tonight I’ll go to my white suburban apartment, to my middle class life, to my I.T. boyfriend and no one will even ask about my day or what is happening to the brothers and sisters in the townships, 30 to 40 minutes from them.

The newspaper’s driver is ready to take me home after deadline. We drive toward my apartment, but when we get there I ask him to turn around. He stops at a nearby pub where some journos are drinking.

I walk in, light a Chesterfield and order my first double tequila for the night.

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5 responses to “post-traumatic township memories

  1. i imagine you have had a number of first double tequilas since that night…how horrendous. sometimes i simply can’t understand humanity – even animals are less cruel to one another as they only hurt each other if they need to eat or mate – cruelty is not just for kicks.

  2. it was a crazy time, we’d just lived through the worst decades of apartheid littered with many cruelties and dehumanising of people, it’s hard to make sense of any of it sometimes.
    re tequila: i think when i still drank it i was personally responsible for the shortage of tequila in mexico 😉

  3. PS. Di thanks for coming by to read this story. It is really very cathartic for me to write about it and it means a lot that you read it x

  4. Awesome! I especially love your use of the words ‘shoot’ and ‘shooting’…brilliant!

    http://www.denwrites.com

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