The Spirit Cannot Be Caged
THIS IS THE REALITY
I have been forcibly removed out of my cozy and cushioned cocoon
To a group area reserved for Terrorists- Solitary confinement
I have been endorsed out of my community environment
Into the Homeland of my cell
Where everything is dark and grey
And where even a smile is scarce.
For 24 hours a day I am watched, perused, in case of some wrong move.
Whatever or whenever I eat, sit, shit, stand or sleep, this is recorded and telephoned to who knows whom.
I immediately think of the so-called Africans in my country
When they walk into a supermarket or shop
The floorwalkers are on guard
“These are the people who steal!”
Their every turn is watched
So too am I watched
My every twist and turn
But for a wee while.
Thousands, millions drudgingly eke out this existence every day of their lives
Without a pass to humanity
But not for long!
THE SPIRIT SHALL NOT BE CAGED - POLLSMOOR PRISON
This is a celebration to LIFE
To LOVE to the CREATOR of us all
To the BEAUTY of LIFE
I want to sing
teasing the sunlight
my spirit effervesces champagne
in finely cut chrystal glass
mineral waters bubbling,
sparkling out of the bowels of the brown earth
glowing of the moon on azure seas
I cavort on hills, frolicking like young lambs
I stretch my arms out wide
I grow tall as trees
I take a deep breath of beauty
I embrace the whole world wantonly
becoming one with it-
mingling my mind
midst morning dews
As the spirit shall not be caged
They can imprison my body but not my soul; my ideas my commitment to freedom together with millions of others
I draw a deep breath of beauty
His booming voice bellows out instructions
Bullying you into instant servitude.
Deursoek haar sell!
You move robot-like;
The correct buttons have been pressed.
He shouts again:
Deursoek haar cell. Search her cell
Kom nou, deeglike, deeglik!
One of you gives him a subtle glance
(Is it conspiratorial or contemptuous?)
I cannot see as I stand, stock-still
Surveying busy woman’s hands scrutinizing woman victim’s property)
Trek haar uit! Deursoek haar!
The orders blast again
I don’t wait for you to peel off my humanity once again, my dignity
I hastily strip, defiantly scattering my clothes
All over the dark damp cell
You watch me
While your fingers expertly feel
Every fold, every seam
Of my clothes.
Your months hang slightly open.
You two are pawns in this pecking order
Pawns to him in his male arrogance and omnipotence
‘Deursoek haar beddegoed!’
Search her bedding!
You strip the bed lazily, languidly.
‘Haal af die kussingsloop!’
You raise your head slowly,
Staring him straight in the face.
‘Daar is geen kussingsloop nie!’
I look at you knowing that there is a pillowcase.
You stare back at me
And for one moment,
A split second
There is a sense of camaraderie between us…
Dare I hope?
Dare I dream?
MOCKING BIRDS II
I run up; I run down
I touch this toe; I touch that toe;
I bend and stretch; bend and stretch.
I swing this leg, then that leg.
And you all sit in a straight line,
A black jagged line against the grey blue sky -
Gleefully watching me
An extended family’s outing to the zoo
Watching the monkey doing her antics.
It’s a pity you didn’t bring along a banana
It would’ve made a welcome change to my sparse section 29 prison diet.
MOCKING BIRDS I
Why do you mock me, mocking birds?
Cheerfully perching on the bars of my cage
Chirp-chirp conversing with your mates
While I jog around my
30 minutes, 5 by 2 freedom for the day?
You frivolously flirt with your mates
Beaks gently caressing
While I pant around another round.
You flamboyantly flaunt your freedom
Flitting from bar to bar
While I huff and puff one last desperate round-
My greatest challenge for the day
Full of nothingness.
Then you stretch out your wings and fly up
into the open sky
And I -
I stop jogging
and try not to cry.
Your office is impeccable.
Book selves lined with great revolutionaries,
Karl Marx to Kim Il Son
You apologise flippantly for the girlie calendar on your door
Hang your coat over it in deference for the feminist prisoner
You’re full of self-importance
Proud that you’ve got you degree in Police Science cum laude
Some lame excuse why you couldn’t do your honours
Was it because your prisoner has her Master’s degree?
You’ve even taken down the photograph of PW and replaced it with your UNISA
You -Promoted to major after this last scoop of terrorists, us
I do not confess
I do not sing away my acts of terror
You wish me to create
I- A danger to the state
Arrested under internal Security Act
And you expect me to endorse this fact?
You’ve dropped your veneer of gentleman
You’ve forgotten how you’ve tried to impress me with your gabble about Radio Pulpit –
What a good Christian you are
Quoting from your bible
You now sweat profusely,
You loosen your tie
Your hair is disheveled
And now you
You hover over me
Your sweat drizzling on me
Your hot rancid breath on my face
Your threats deafen me
How when you’re done with me, the arthritic pains will not be the only ones that I’ll have
How you will break my bones
You have the power to keep me locked up for as long as you want to
Ten years are nothing
How I will rot in prison
For ever…for ever
I believe you
I cringe further into my chair
You turn away
Straightening you tie
Dab your wet brow
Then you pull straight your clothes and
Try to compose your self
I shrink in my fear and pain
Eyes greedily yearning
To gulp up some distraction
Focus away this vulnerability
And there on your shining desk
Next to your nuclear family photo smiling with white South African confidence into the friendly sky
A shabbily hand made pencil holder, edges of glued paper peeling off
And with a child’s scrawny handwriting
The words boldly and proudly announce:
“THE WORLD’S BEST DAD!”
Gertrude Fester-Wicomb is a rather privileged descendent of Indigenous and Slave communities compared to the average black woman. Her studies BA UCT, Higher Education Diploma- UNISA, Master’s in Development & Women’s Studies-Institute for Social Studies, The Hague, PhD, London School of Economics). She has an honorary professorship at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town. Some other positions include First Wynona Lipman Chair, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University, professor extraordinaire (Women and Gender Studies), University of Western Cape, professor in Transitional Justice at the Gender Centre, University of Rwanda and recipient of various awards including American Council of Learned Societies African Humanities Programme. She publishes both fiction and non-fiction mostly on marginal people. Gertrude received the Hammet-Hellman Human Rights Prize for Writers (1997). Her play, Look alike Terrorist, was one of 4 best new plays for 2019 as nominated by ArtsCape, South Africa. Her book, South African Women's Apartheid and Post-Apartheid Struggles: 1980-2014, documents her feminist political struggles in grassroots women’s structures. Post-1994 she had several political portfolios including MP (National Assembly) and Commissioner on Gender Equality. During the 1980s she established and was key in various grassroots women’s organisations. She was part of the Women’s National Coalition which advocated the negotiations to include gender issues in the new constitution.