These people have been exposed to the gas chambers of power and are forever altered. Their eyes tell of a loss, immense, pervasive, profound, where hope was sacrificed on the altar of political power.

In a confluence of evil, power and quite possibly greed, hundreds of lives were irrevocably scorched in Nomzamo this week. I walked among the shatter shards of these broken lives today, their pain profoundly evident in the soft, grey noise of the community hall - devoid of exhuberance, of childrens' laughter, of the sound of chatter and friendship. A pseudo-congregation of shared grief, they sat in neat rows, quiet, waiting on a preacher to tell them it was all a nightmarish hallucination and cure his congregation of their demented dreams.

Toddlers and elders, parents and scholars sat there, a midst this profound lack of noise. The low rumble in the hall felt foreign to the effervescent exuberance so typical of Nomzamo’s streets. Many hundreds of broken lives lay scattered in the mud and rain, but the greatest horror in all this is undoubtedly the desolation and resign in the eyes and quiet voices of those I spoke to. They shared with me in whispers the story of their Monday and Tuesday.

Many were out at work on Monday and returned to ruins where once they had built a life. Matric students shielded their eyes, as they recounted how almost none of their books were saved, none of their notes or textbooks. These are simply not a priority I suppose when you only have a few minutes to get out - if you have the luxury of choice at all!

Two women whispered their hell. They'd been out to work all Monday only to return as night was falling. Their home lay shattered among tear gas canisters and rubber bullet casings, behind a barbed wire border. Nothing is left of a once safe nest.

In another chair I found a mama with a shoeless smiling toddler. In her red hood she saw me snapping away and tugged at my sleeve, smiling her request. In her eyes lay an brave mix of childlike faith and the reality of fear. As I blew kisses over my lens she cracked a grin, and cracked my heart. What does this little one take into life? A memory of bulldozers rioting over the only safety nest she ever knew? The police shooting at people? Her mother's cheeks glistening in the cold as she watched their home crumble, their precious belongings strewn in the mud and dirt; all that they had worked for and provided for her?

Some men shouldered past me. I was taken by surprise with the force of their movement. My eyes trailed their path as I saw them leaning against the food table. Their hunger captured in a moment of physical contact. Later I found them visibly calmer, eating their meal - turning for a quick photo, only long enough to get back to the business of hunger busting.

My teaching background and life in churches could not ever prepare me for the silence of the children. I walked further down the displaced congregation to find the children. They sat on sacks, matresses, big plastic balls, their bright colours an inappropriate companion to the pain in the room. In every other hall I had ever been in the children would run playing tag, catch, enjoying the echoey tones of their voices off the walls. Their silence was deafening. You could shatter the soft dull noise with a scraping chair! It took a couple of waves over my lens to elicit any response, and tucking my head turtle style up and down to find a smile in their eyes. School seemed an all but distant memory as they grappled with the immense life changing moments they had witnessed just days before. How could they ever take a home, safety, security as a natural part of a family, of their lives?

An elder from the community appeared at my right. His words etched into my being. "Ons hart is stukkend." Along with their courage to stand up against the abuse of power, to rebel against evil overlords. These people have been exposed to the gas chambers of power and are forever altered. The senseless abuse of power has robbed them of bravery, of determination to overcome and carry on the fight to survive. Their eyes tell of a loss, immense, pervasive, profound, where hope was sacrificed on the altar of political power.

Isabel Tarling

5 June 2014

1 comment:

  1. A very accurate account of the devastating impact of human would expect this after a war or a natural disaster! We as a civil society need to put people before corporations and political powers. The state should be our guardian, our protector and not a persecutor that has no empathy and complete disregard for men, woman and children who's only crime is poverty. These people are victims of capitalism and a state gone wrong. Capitalism at all cost is what this is? After they destroy these peoples lives now they give them some building materials and new land to build flimsy shacks, but what about retribution? What about compensation? The damage caused is huge well every one tries to justify they deserved this? I say NO enough is enough the state needs to be the guardian and protect society against capitalist terrorists like SANRAL


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