Cruel, cruel man

Solly Ariefdien, Lansdowne

Much as this is a moment of celebration, it does open for many of us sad memories of days gone by, particularly for those from District Six for whom the Tatler has always had a soft spot and time for.

It is with that in mind that I wish to submit the following experience that has lived with me for many a long year, the submission of which will help so much in softening one of a similar sort of blows others also suffered under apartheid: the rape of my beloved plum.

I decided not to witness the destruction of my hunting ground of 33 years for fear that tears would show.

And there were many from District Six who shared that feeling with me.

Did I cry as many of them did? Of course I cried.

Afterwards I cried, many tears; for every time I thought of my wild plum friend, my heart was deeply cut.

And every time I wondered what had eventually happened with her.

Cut too?

That beautiful tall tree in our front garden was upended rather unceremoniously, root and all, in a foul felling act that no doubt must have hurt excruciatingly.

Yes, did it cry; as did I?

I often wondered whether trees could cry.

And I wondered what eventually happened with it. Segmented and splintered and used for the benefit of some barbecue freak and his friends?

Or was it stolen and sold for a song, to adorn some rich mogul’s estate?

Somehow I wished the latter rather to have been the case – unhappy, nonetheless, for its rapacious abduction.

They had no right over her for she was ours, she was mine!

None of my family wanted to witness our house’s inevitable forced disintegration: its front garden with the wild plum and the guava, the angeliere (carnations) and the sin-free stink Afrikaners (marigolds) and the morning glory that adorned the front of our high-set stoep; the garden in the back with its two fig trees and the orange tree.

And what of the sensuous scent of the honeysuckle, the close encounters of which we so much enjoyed whenever the bees gave us our chance!

But a neighbour, whose house was yet to be mowed down, had seen it all: told me all that he had seen.

In his account of the wild plum’s demise he could sense how the pomegranate tree in their own front garden, that perforce had to witness the infliction of man’s cruelty on my beloved tree, winced with every yank of execution, fearful of its own impending end?

A steel cable, he told me, was wound midway around the wild plum’s 12- inch diameter, the other end of which was attached to a bulldozer which huffed, puffed and chugged for all its worth to get the better of a tree totally at its mercy.

I could only sense how the cable must have cut deep into her bark, in the process incapacitating the capillary pulse that, for at least a century of years had provided strength and sustenance of life to a beautiful innocent creation of nature.

Then, allowing comparison to have its way, compare its beauty to the ugly face that was apartheid.

More than once, I was told, the cable came unstuck and how the juggernaut’s violent yank every time forced the tree’s branches into whiplashing rebounds.

And with each whip of each branch the red berries would come falling to the ground like tears of blood spilled by the tree, an account that made me wonder no more; for then I perceived that trees can cry, my wild plum perhaps more than did I.

Then there came the final sickening fall to the ground, the dragging along the tarmac of the Canterbury Street we once knew, that must have scrunched those berries that earlier had fought so valiantly against being torn away and spilt like red symbolic tears.

My once-upon-a-time neighbour had seen enough, saved himself the disgusting abhorrence of having to also witness the execution of the fruit trees and the honeysuckle in our yard.

I doubted if the wild plum could have survived its injuries for they must have been too severe to even contemplate.

And with that doubt in my mind my other question was rhetorically answered: inevitably, my beloved plum was cremated in the form of chopped up braai wood shapes, its ashes blown away like wisps of nothingness.

And in the very end the bees, too, were the losers for their days of the creeping honeysuckle were no more.

Cruel, cruel man!

Cruel, cruel apartheid.