The Man with my Name

The man with my name stands on the plinth.

The little square in the town with his name looks smarter now. There are blue and white agapanthus in the raised beds that surround it.

I sit on the low wall.

He was sent to terrify a tribe into “good behaviour”. Bands of a pastoral people had crossed a great river into land rented to European farmers. There were incidents: cattle stolen, herdsmen killed. From the “frontier” he reported: “A treaty with these horrid savages is out of the question”.

A lot of killing. A thousand agonies.

He was proud of a job well done and not entirely without compassion, but he was not preferred later and his career did not proceed as he had hoped.

I walk to the School of Journalism where I once lectured to a group of new graduates.

Our institutions are built on piles of corpses.

That evening we go to dinner at a house I have visited intermittently over many years.

The lady of the house, impeccable as ever, meets us, wearing a heavy brocaded gown.

Her son, my cousin, and his wife are with us.

In the garden, in the twilight, banks of white roses loom in the beds alongside the sloping lawn. The miniature poodle called Jewel runs joyful circles around us.

She is 93 now. Still a commanding presence, though she asks me three times for the names of my children.

Arranged on the mahogany sideboard are 50 or 60 black and white photographs, all in silver frames. This is her tribe, my tribe. Women who are caring mothers, devoted to their children. Men who are in mining, insurance, finance. They have helped to make this Africa’s most successful economy.

We go in to dinner.

The coloured maid shuffles around the table, serving us. “That was delicious, Mary”, says my cousin’s wife.

We talk a little politics. “We were so fortunate in Madiba”. The way he says that name is a little self-conscious but there is no irony in it. “But as for the new man, who knows?”

This is Africa.

The same question. Always.

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