MAMBHELE’S HARVEST


My grandmother was a guardian,

Tending a kingdom of cabbages.

Leafy, layered planets in constant orbit emasimini.

UmamBhele was a general, rearing

A battalion for survival at 50 cents a head.

In imitation of Genesis,

She could sculpt a field into her image

Before the sun had sobered to rise.



Her husband, uNcotshe, was himself a spade –

Toiling in the tunnels of Jozi – the colon of Gauteng;

Constipated with gold. And the bodies of black men.

Spewing them out on opposite ends:



One to the baas. The other to the grave.


My grandfather was an intercessory prayer

Praying in picks. Penance paid inside a rock –

His sweat would flow from the mines

Like rivers. Like letters. Like sacrifice and provision.

Sometimes like signals of smoke. All the

Way to Keiskammahoek, then funnelled

into grandmother’s veins of steel,

With a back as broad as the mountains of uQoboqobo.

She would midwife a harvest, all … Canaan-like. All …

giant heads and paradise-like.



This cabbage connoisseur

Could craft seven variations of cabbage dishes;

Each layer its own revelation until

There was a testimony between

Those leaves –



Umakhulu noTamkhulu ngabantu bomhlaba.

And my inheritance is in the land under my fingernails.

So when it rains, I crave the soil … three times a day.

Some call it anaemia. But

I know it to be communion.



Mother was born a pillar of soil

With tendrils for fingers, even now the plants at home

gravitate towards her as if

She is the sun.

Setting into the room.



Perhaps they are descendants of cabbages packed solar

system tight

on Saturday mornings

On the back of ibakkie yakwa Mampinga:

Where grandmother’s soldiers

rattled along to town against the backtrack of

an exhaust pipe. Harmonising,

“50 cents! 50 cents amakhaphetshuuuu!

2 for R1!”



At school she must study Agriculture. In Afrikaans.

This mother of mine who swings a hoe in cursive

– with more finesse than a pencil –

Who learned the cradle of land

From the canyons in her parents’ hands,

The daughter of a miner,

And a village farmer.

must learn the only thing she understands, In a language

her tongue

does

not.



1984

Grandfather’s body turns to gold. Six feet deep. He will

not be mined.



1992

John Voster Primere Skool.

The second black in an Afrikaans school

– all dolled up in white and blue –

A definite sign of a South Africa new.

Juffrou reads out the register and non-existent clicks

intimidate her …

Sifokazi Jonas?

Sifo – disease. Kazi – big.

Ladies and gentleman I am now, Big Disease Jonas!

Here ma’am … My father will explain.



1995

White and blue with added red: English schools are the

new means to an end

So we pilgrimage to a multiracial res.

On introduction night our names sit on our tongues like

trays.

– Flashback – “Sifokazi Jonas.”

Maybe a twang is the antidote? Hi, my name is

Siphowkarzy Jonas.

Laughter rolls off the other trays:

She’s trying to be white.


1999

My sister is a new recruit to this post-TRC world where

the search for a better life means

School mornings on the back of Oom Koos’ red

botsotso bakkie. As red

as our school ties.

Nathi singamakhaphetshu. We are also cabbages. Two for

R1!


2001

Grandmother is planted. Six feet deep. She will not be harvested.


Now

My mother is proud of how finely I chop cabbages;

The care I take in disassembling planets.


SIPHOKAZI JONAS