Whispers from the Hills


THE SEASON was hot, the rains they were near
When my second wife said It's our turn to fetch beer.
And use lots of rapoka - this brew must be good.
We'll kill two of our goats and make plenty of sadza.
Call our friends on the drum, clear the ground with the badza

And so on the third day they started to come
From their lands and their kraals and we sat in the sun -
the men in the middle (for we still have our pride)
While the women brought beer and kept the food near
Old N'govi got drunk and wanted to fight.
He sang and he cried and he started to swear
Then he fell on the ground, then he drank so more beer.
As kraalhead I said Please Mdala, don't weep
'Twould be best for us all if you just went to sleep.
But he wanted to talk of the days long gone by,
To talk of the times when we worked on the mines -
Aiee, times were good then, he said with a sigh.
So we talked for awhile - and then there was quiet.
My ears caught the call, the sound was not right.
Twas the call of the strangers. Keep the girls out of sight.
They came from the hills, they came in the night.
They ordered For Freedom, you must learn to fight.
They had explosives and guns and each of them said,
Attempt to resist us and you all will be dead!
They came from the hills in the dead of the night,
Killed the beasts in the kraal- stayed that day and next night.
They said, Give us beer and give us your food
And we'll rape all your women when we get in the mood.

They danced and sang songs and the pitiful sight
As they raped the young girls and struck us old men
Made the younger ones vomit, hide with the goats in the pen.
They said You're a sellout, old man. As for you, his old Mai,
You will cut off his ears, or tonight you will die.
Gather the children to witness the fun -
And that lad who cries - why, he must be your son.
Come closer. Here. Hurry, and see what we do
To your father, the sell-out. He's no good to you.
They hurt my old Mai, made he mutilate me.
I told her to do it - for my son, don't you see.
And when they were finished and when they were done
They went off to drink beer so I called to my son.
You must make for the hills and fast you must run
There find our friends and tell them to come.

Thus I decided against my own kind
And painfully waited for those who would find
My broken old body and its tired old mind.
We lay in the hills near a footpath that night
In ambush - with claymores, for the moon wasn't bright.
I heard someone coming and peered down my sight -
The sound of fast running - and he came from the right -
He tripped on the wire and the black turned to white.
I grabbed rifle and webbing and pulled back a way,
We bombshelled - then returned at dawn the next day.
What we saw there that morning is something I'd
Never forget - even after I died.

We came down the hills, fast furious for fight,
Came down to avenge a wrong with a right.
We came to the kraal with deadly persistence
Then saw the terrs to the left in the distance.
Quick, see to the wounded - this old kraalhead is done.
Find out who I killed. What! You say it's his son!
During our training they told us Walk tall,
Remember your duty. That day I felt small.
At last we engaged them in a hard running fight.
It was the last one that shot me. Why this fast-fading light?

We walked through he hills, the old kraalhead and I,
And we were joined by his son - and then I knew why
You had said:
Tis your Will God, but take care of me,
A sorrowing widow and our son soon to be.
Combined Operations announces with regret
The death of a member in action...
and yet:
If you walk in those hills in the middle of the night you might see
A young boy, a kraalhead, his old Mai - and me.


reprinted from THE OUTPOST July, 1979