Two Sides of the Story
What a bizarre sense of relief! No more being on the run, no more
watching the rear view mirror, no more moving house every third or
I look around to swallow my environment. I
do so meticulously, as if I'm presenting an inventory to an arrogant
Floor-cracks, dark grey cracks in grey cement floors, mottled with
blotches of dark shades of grey dirt. Beige gloss painted wall,
and again light and darker blotches of dirt and where obscenities
have probably been scrubbed off. Probably also phallocentric comments.
Gosh, if the worst have been scrubbed off...
Faint light from the centre of the ceiling,
covered with chequered wire. "Fokken manjiesligte" a fellow
prisoner had shouted a few days ago probably as he too did his inventory
on arrival. Small barred openings for windows, covered on either
side with dust-veneered wire on either side of the bars blocking
any bit of pale winter sun. I'll sit here on the cement block alongside
the wall. At least I'm out of view from the 24-hour a day guard.
And it's so cold. Just my luck to be detained this time of the year.
And the toilet, ja ne, deliberately dehumanizing us prisoners. Imagine
the toilet opposite the barred doorway, and that bloody guard sitting
there smirking at me all the time because I'm an 'artickel neen-en-twintig'...
Are you safe, my love? Did they arrest you later?
18 May 1987
They arrested Sandra at 5 this morning. We didn't even have a chance
to say goodbye. What brutality! What intimidation, with all their
big guns and big boere bodies! Oh, I just have a headache thinking
of it! But what about you, Sandra? Where are you? What are they
doing to you? But why didn't they detain me? Is this their strategy
to unnerve me? To detain you first and then me, much later? To confront
me with things you supposedly had admitted? And then give each of
us the impression that the one had informed on the other? Divide
and triumph over us lovers? Keep strong, my love. Try to have a
good night's sleepyou'll need it for interrogation tomorrow,
that's if they're not interrogating you now. What a day, lawyers,
priests, comrades, changing all plans, venues, going through what
we'd say if one is arrested. Going through the 'Know Your Rights
' Are you suffering, my love? I don't want to think of
what you're going through. Good night, Pumpkin.
Thanks Dear Diary for the solace you give
So many empty hours. Well at least I can have a rest here, whatever
rest means in a prison cell. Outside I would have been going from
one meeting to another, doing one task after the other. Up early
for the 6am pamphleteering stint at Salt River Station, dash to
work, back again for a lunchtime picket...oh I really should stop
crying. I can hear the keys. Wipe your tears. Don't let the enemy
see that they're getting the better of you. Ah, medication time...
Gosh, I never thought this would happen to
me. Even though we prepared ourselves for it. I remember that Silvermines
picnic cum 'Know Your Rights Workshop'. Even the UDF wasn't allowed
to meet then; how our Area Committee came up with then idea of going
to restaurant-meetings, an expensive undertaking. You really had
to order something to eat after five cups of coffee and three hours
I remember how remote all the issues seemed
at the 'Know Your Rights Workshop'. We didn't actually take it too
seriously, but well, just in case:
DON'T ANSWER ANYTHING FOR 24 HOURS!
Not bad, Sandra, it has been ten days now.
Listen to the questions, analyze them. Work out what they pretend
to know. That's an old strategy. So glad our other comrades informed
us about this when they got out. Make certain admissions to obvious
things only. Pretend you're co-operating if the torture becomes
Ah exercise time. Not anyone can boast a private
exercise yard with wired mesh on top!
12 June 1987
For the third successive morning I parked
outside Loop Street Security Headquarters from 6 to 8am and no sign
of her. According to Joann's sister, she's being brought here for
interrogation. Oh, just to see her and know that she's well. I should
get a hold
of myself. I drive around aimlessly for hours. Maybe it's a solace
to be alone, so that I don't have to answer so many phone calls,
to comfort her family. And to listen to those macho brothers of
hers, before her detention deriding her for spending so much time
and energy on 'kaffirs', "Are those people worth it?"
they'd ask. Oh those hypocrites made me sick! And those parents
of hers! They're the pits! First the divorce and now it's politics,
politics, politics! And then there's that woman friend of hers.
"It isn't normal, you know. We're a decent family. God-fearing
and respectable coloured people. We know our place in society. God
knows best. "Mens wik maar God beskik!"
As for those sisters of hers. "You really
should look after your hair. You're so lucky, you've got the straightest
hair out of all of us. But you don't even blow-dry it. And no make-up.
If you wore make-up you could pass for white." And here I am.
Her lover for ten years, longer than her marriage lastedunnoticed,
unacknowledged, unsupported. Well, at least this anger gives me
strength. How are you, my sweets? Keep strong and well, my love.
Have faith, Sandy, they can't keep you here for more than six months.
Yes, THEY CAN! THEY CAN RENEW THE SECTION 29!
I'm just another statistic. What is it now?
35 women in Section 29? Is there speculation about where I'm being
held? Do they talk about me? Do you miss me, sweets? Maybe I'm mentioned
at support group meetings or at a political rally focusing on women
political detainees? It's quite ironic, my sitting here. How often
have I made
speeches stating: "We demand their unconditional release! Section
29 is a Draconian law. Detainees are held who knows where, cutting
people off from their loved ones and families." (I'II make
a point of saying loved ones!)
Dear God, where is she? Is she well? Or detained?
Why did Old Le Fleur say that I should make my sister power of attorney
and not Madge, he knows how close we were. Where is she Lord? Please
God, keep her safe from these brutes.
The Lord's my Shepherd, I shall not want...
Tho' I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no
ill. I shall fear no ill...I shall fear no ill. Is this your way
of punishing me? You, God of Love I must get out of here. I must.
I cannot stand it. I can't breathe,
I can't breathe!
What a stupid way to have acted! Imagine being shy and hiding the
handcuffs. There I was being escorted, by my two security police.
Passers-by give me casual glances.
But everyone's really too busy with their own lives. What a rat
race! They do not see how eagerly I'm taking in their faces, even
smiling occasionally, and yet, being shy. My track top partially
obscures my handcuffs. And I see a familiar face. Granted I don't
know him very well, having seen him on the other side of the pews
at church. He's walking on the other side of the street. His face
creases into a smile. I return the smile. Why am I shy? Does he
know I'm a detainee? Does he read newspapers? He doesn't know I'm
under Section 29. He probably doesn't even know what it is! That's
the problem with some of these Christian types. Everything's God's
will so that they can ensconce in their political apathy! How does
it go again? Yevtoshenko's 'Telling lies to the young is wrong,
telling them that God's in his heaven and all's well with the world
Let's reschedule the roster for the day. After
exercising there's Poetry Time. I'm quite impressed with myself.
Doing all that in my head. Back to the roster: then I'll wash my
clothes. And then I'II hang my clothes on top of the bed frame instead
of on the bars of the door. Let's see what that old Jantjies has
to say when I obscure her view of me on the fucking toilet! t
1 August 1987
Today I feel even more depressed. I've just
come from a Church Service for the families of detaineesnote
FAMILIES! I feel empty with humiliation and pain. Imagine, I was
questioned by her lawyer why I was lighting the candle for her.
My eyes welled up with tears. He knew about my relationship with
her. Fortunately Jenny overheard this and told me to go ahead. Still,
lighting the candle afterwards meant nothing to me after that. I
need to take a good look at myself. Why can't I operate without
her? Maybe this is a blessing in disguise: I have to fend for myself.
Does it mean that I became too dependent on her, despite our alternative
relationship? I don't even know where to pay the car. I have to
administer business and I'm at a complete loss. Have I allowed myself
to become a 'passive wife'? I who started the youth club, the teenage
magazine, the study aid club, co-ordinator of the women's groups...
Oh, you'd hate me sweetie, but your family's
so bloody selfish, they boss over your things. We had a joint banking
account and you make your sister power of attorney! Fuck you too...
Oh, what the hell. I'm too depressed to write any longer. I must
be getting hooked on these sleeping pills.
This fucking Jantjies really irritates me. She's a bloody arse-creeping
COLOURED! Sycophantic, servile, servant! Probably ingratiating herself
for fucking promotion. I suppose. Of all the guards, she's the only
one who insists that I sit on the bed so that she can see me all
the time. "Hoekom?" vra ek. "Omdat Kaptein so sI!"
I have to sit there and see this sell-out fucking coloured police-woman.
Imagine all the other fucking boere, blue-eyed, blue-eye shadowed
guards simply sit with their one-pearl-one-plain or Rooi Rose which
they hide when their superiors come. I'm sure they must be bored
too. Watching this terrorist all day long. But this fucking coloured
bitch... (sjoe, Sandy, don't use such sexist language, you're always
admonishing others not to speak like that) Yes she's a bitch, BITCH,
bitch, bitch...oh stop all this crying, fucking crying all the time!
Don't let them do this to you! She's a fucking bitch, bitch...Oh
God, where are you? Please be with me and comfort me. Oh God, even
you've left me...I've never been so lonely in all my life. Now I'm
left alone with this bitch, BITCH...
Pull yourself together, man. Come on, say one of your poems or sing
your songs, you're so fond of singing.
I'm so alone and very very cold
What are you doing out there in the sun?
It's part of life this struggle and strife
With me in here and you out there
Winnie and Nelson have been apart long
Irene and Wilson had no nuptial bed
And all their courage and commitment too
Inspires me, so strong I'II be.
I'm so alone and very very cold...
I'm sure there were 5 verses. One with other
couples, then the heroines, Dora Timana, Dorothy Zihlangu...Then
the women in prison, Mama Mfacu... If I could be as brave as them.
But they were under Section 3. Section 29's worse! Stop feeling
sorry for yourself...now don't start all that tjanking again!
28 August 1987
I haven't written to you for a long time.
That's because I'm sorting myself out and actually living. I have
moved house and am sharing with a wonderfully kind woman who listens
to me while I rave about my life with Sandra. Sandra, where are
you? Some say you're being kept at Ravensmead. Others say you are
going to be part of a big treason trial. Have you given in to your
interrogators? Sandra, have strength, my sweets! I'll support you
whatever you do. Don't be too hard on yourself. Remember you are
human and fallible, even though you like setting high standards
for yourself. But then again, not only for yourself. For others
too, especially me. And I couldn't always reach your standards.
I remember how intolerant you sometimes were of me. You have-been-overseas-types
are all the same. You get impatient with me if I don't understand
something. We all haven't had the opportunity to study overseas,
like you bourgeois Fairways coloureds. My word. Lil's brought me
Milo and wonderfully fresh-
baked muffins. She's so considerate. I really like her.
Until next time, my sweet!
Yippee! The sun's almost reached the 20th brick. If I stretch enough,
I can almost reach it. How I miss the sun! How I miss life.
Keys, again! Medication time! I'm getting
quite good at pretending to swallow the Voltaren. That makes 30
in my secret hiding place. I'd better find another place, they nearly
were discovered during last time's search. I definitely need them
in case. . .I can't stand it much longer. All I want is to get out
of here. But I can't betray my comrades, there's too much at stake.
They already got half of the cell before I was detained and the
work must go on!
I hear someone coming. Who's that? No, it
can't be you Oupa, you're Dead. Oupa you're dead! I'm seeing things
. . . Madge, is that you? Come let's go for a walk on Camps Bay
beach. You know how I love walking these . . . Mary, Mother of God,
Please intercede on my behalf . . .Hail Mary, full of Grace, the
Lord is with you . . .
30 August 1987
Lil and I are going to a gay club tonight
again. It was wonderful dancing with her. Gone were all my problems.
No state of emergency, no being on the run, no being undermined,
unacknowledged, no Sandra in detention. No Sandra . . .just warm
wonderful feelings. She's a friend in a million. I feel so guilty,
in fact I can't even write it down! Or shouldn't in case it falls
into the wrong hands. I feel whole again. I haven't felt like this
in years. She's really good for my ego and she's in love with me.
Lil respects me. Yes, Sandra, we've had many wonderful years but
they haven't all been roses. I miss you sweetie. I'm lonely here
but I suppose you're worse off inside there. Are you cold? You were
always such a cold person. Love you
5 September 1987
I feel shit guilty. Golly I had such a WONDERFUL
time with Lil, a caring, gentle, wonderful woman! And to think I'm
in love. What must I do? Sandra, how long are you going to be inside
there? The lawyers have confirmed that a 7th accused will join the
trial. They're convinced it's going to be you. Do you know that
it'll be years before you'll get out? Be strong, woman, be brave.
. . Your family has managed to track me down, so I can do them some
favours naturally. They're even better than the security police,
finding me out at my new hideout. Thank goodness for Lil. But why
am I feeling so guilty? I must learn to consider myself for a change.
By the time I get around to considering my needs, I don't have any
energy left. Firstly, it's the struggle, then Sandra, then my family,
then Sandra's, then the school kids, the area committee, the women's
groups, Mama M, Mama H, and so on, and so on . . .What about me,
ME, ME, ME!
From a new assertive
How strange to be back here after the clinical and communicative
Hospital! Gee. I'm glad I survived. Thank you God for letting me
live! Now I have extra energies for those boere! I wonder why the
Major wanted to know whether Barbara and Cass are lesbians? Did
I give him hell! What has that to do with the security of the state?
It's amazing how quickly the tables turned. I had to laugh when
he reminded me that he was the interrogator and not me! That I should
know my place! I am feeling much stronger now. Still a bit weak
on the tummy though. Force yourself to eat woman, you musn't allow
them to break you down again. Do vigorous exercises, both mentally
and physically. My collection of poems is growing. Maybe I'll have
enough for an anthology when. . .
Sweetheart, I am going to make love to you
now. Onto my cement block in the corner, where inquisitive eyes
can't see me. I wonder what she thinks I'm going to do when I fetch
my pillow. Ag, they can imprison my body but not my ideas, they
can rob me of my freedom, but they cannot take away the pleasure
that my body can give me. Come into my arms, my love. Let me fondle
you and hold you.
Gertrude Fester has worked in grassroots
women's organizations most of her life and is a founder member of
WEAVE. Her dream is to take herself seriously as a writer, poet,