Charlene and Francois at the launch of the Simon van der Stel book at Cape Town Castle
Signing his page in the book
Review of Kinderverseboek pdf
Francois with book and cat Author's Cats
Photo In Riana's garden
Articles: A nation divided - or just slightly mixed up
In creative company - Riana Scheepers's writing course at De Compagnie.
Click photos to enlarge
Francois P Verster
Painter and author of books and e-books
Francois P. Verster was born 24 January 1962 at Bellville and grew up in Parow.
He studied at Stellenbosch University (from 1980), taught school to Bushmen in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia) during military service, worked as a teacher
at different schools until 1990, joined National Archives Services in 1991,
where he was Principal Archivist in charge of outreach projects at Cape Town
Die Groot Drie laat 'n mens met die gevoel dat die hartklop van 'n gemeenskap, hul sosiale omstandighede en politieke ingesteldheid, kwalik beter vasgevang kan word as in hierdie joernalistieke kunsvorm.
Met die elmboë op die tafel: twee groot geeste (Read the article pdf)
Bun Booyens and Pieter W. Grobbelaar
by Francois Verster, February 2013
Illustration: Title: All cats are grey in the dark ... no matter which hat they wear
In the preceding article I promised to write about the legacy of the French
Huguenots. But first I need to clarify something: the intention of this column
is not to glorify the European settlers. It was to narrate the origins of the
towns of Bolander's distribution area, starting with Stellenbosch, moving to
the Helderberg area, then Franschhoek, Paarl and Wellington - and then start
the circuit anew, but to also move to recent times, when towns like Pniël and suburbs like Idas Valley developed.
Now for the reason for my brief sojourn from the planned route: criticism from well-meaning readers was that one should acknowledge the fact that the history of this country did not start with the arrival of white settlers. Perhaps one could argue that the history of South Africa as it is known today did start with the addition of European ingredients to the base mix of our (later) nation - the First Peoples; the San and Khoi groups.
The history of our nation began long before the 1600's (Dutch arrival) or even the 1400's, when the Portuguese skirted our coasts. In any event, the time any group populates the planet is relatively short, according to archaeology. I am no archaeologist, which is why I prefer to stick to written history (admittedly imperfect, since it was written by people, not God). However, I have now resolved to at least research chronicles housed in the Western Cape Archives to include whatever I can find about the so-called indigenous peoples - as soon as we have completed our route, we will indeed begin a new circuit; in fact step back further in time from where we "visiting" now, the early colonial period, if you will.
We also should remember that most of us are blood relations - no matter what we consider ourselves to be; black, white or whatever. It is ironic that the people most connected to the "first people" of the Cape are also the bridge between those of us representing the outer poles of the nation's racial make-up. Many people are uncertain of their identities in Post-apartheid South Africa - even many of those who were proud and certain of their cultures a mere decade ago now share an undecided self-image and tentative self-esteem. Fact is; we share a common history, even if it is only a part of a much bigger whole, even though we differ in our concepts of just how big that whole may be.
It is the mission of the historian and colleagues from other disciplines (like archaeology) to present an account of the past that is as true and objective as is humanly possible. To this end the social scientist and the journalist share common goals; an objective and meticulously-researched report of why we are where we are today. In this knowledge I am comfortable in my own (white?) skin, even though I sometimes wear two hats.
In creative company - Riana Scheepers's writing course at De Compagnie.
When I drove down the long lane to the main house of the farm De Compagnie, the beauty and tranquillity of the exceedingly neat surroundings convinced me
that I have indeed arrived at Wellington's Shangri La for writers and poets -
or rather those who dream of becoming creators of publishable prose.
The others nine learners arrived in drips and drabs, clearly bursting to acquire knowledge, but just as clearly quite uncertain of what this knowledge would be. And what the verdict will be concerning their writing abilities. We gathered around in the imposing voorkamer of the old Cape Dutch house, peeking at the study - or is it the dream factory - of the accomplished Dr Riana Scheepers. Many books on shelves that stretch up to the high ceiling, a brace of desks and a couple of paintings pretty much completes the picture. I recognise a Jan Visser - an abstract nude and later learn that the model for this painting is indeed one of my fellow learners, none other than the fascinating Maria with her wayward red locks and disarming way of being offhand and exuberant at the same time. Maria, a painter herself, shares a sensual outlook on literature and creativity with Scheepers, which come to no surprise to me, having met and being thoroughly impressed by the good doctor before.
Riana Scheepers is indeed one of those ladies who seem to light up a room with her mere presence and then bowl you over completely with her sharp intellect and a capacity to express herself in a perfectly rational, but colourful way. Who better then to have as a mentor for a whole week in this luscious milieu of antiques (hers) and antics (ours) - who indeed?
For the next two days we found ourselves sipping Port or Cognac from a striking array of glasses, each uniquely different in colour, shape and size. We learn about the art of writing short stories and are required to try creating such stories ourselves - as 'homework'; up to a dozen assignments each day and reading our best efforts to the class at the end of each two hour session.
The first day sped past while I was still looking around for parking space, so to speak. By the second day I felt rather flat, weighed down by the sense of suffering from a kind of none to exotic impotency. My best efforts made no discernable impression, but I decided to stick to my initial strategy of writing spontaneously with the minimum editing. In other words, not trying to make an impression, but rather to be assessed on honest, original work.
By day three, Dr Scheepers informed me that I could make it as a writer of short stories and essays. Apart from one satirical poem, she was not too impressed with my attempts at that particular genre. I also was no serious contender for one of the daily prizes for best work (did not think so myself, but must confess, I rather fancied the beautiful rose that René Greyling, the pick of our bunch, no pun intended, won for her deep, intense poems, heavily laden with raw and cryptic emotion).
However, the constant exercise of one's normally lazy right (side of the) brain made for mostly a euphoric mood while at the farm. Sampling the products of De Compagnie in those stunning glasses undoubtedly contributed, but still... Two of the many high points of this unforgettable week were the sessions in the wine cellar and, with exactly the opposite atmosphere, but equally thrilling, the session under a couple of gnarled oaks in a place so romantic and poetic I visualized a scene from Alice in Wonderland (see illustration).
When the last day (Friday 6 October) arrived like a very unwelcome guest, we were still on a collective high, only occasionally troubled by twinges of sadness. I suppose we all knew that after the farewell banquet, we would be summarily kicked out of this cosy nest of creative interactivity. The question looming large in our still reeling minds were: will we be able to take the next step on our own? And do the Johnnie Walker thing - keep on walking? Walking, writing, and struggling: that seems to be the lonely lot of the artist. We decided to at lest counteract this apparently inevitable seclusion from society by forming a support system and even resolved to publish our weeks work as a collection of mostly poems, sketches and short stories.
With the scrumptious flavour of Riana and Katryn's waterblommetjies lingering on my utterly bewildered palate, I also linger a while longer with fellow disciples former opera singer Rianné Potgieter and the enigmatic Maria at the beautifully restored Jonkershuis just a hundred yards from the main house. We vow to do our best to fan the flame that Riana Scheepers kindled in our bosoms - each will pursue the unspoken Quest: write a novel.
When I finally walk to my car, Riana appears on her stoep. We wave and she turns away, her part of the mission completed. Whether it was successful will be determined by each of us.
In the interim I salute you nine brave souls, Rianné, René, Maria, Johan, Carien, Wilna, Anita, Helena and Eileen.
Move on, the way is clear!
I am a historian. This is the subject I have studied for what seems to be all my life. And many times I have been asked: why? Why do you keep on studying? Why history? For history is dead - it is about dead people. It is about things done, which cannot be changed.
Dust onto dust ...
Only the insane act without reason. But is this reason suspect or just? In our society of suspicion and hate and fear, of each other and even ourselves, everything must harbour an agenda. Hidden, if not blatantly obvious.
In the rainbow nation there is little light, and transparency is scarce.
Or so we believe. We are in a bad place on a planet that is depleted, polluted, corroded. By the acid of us. Caused by us. Us. Our negativity is distorting the balance nature is teaching us not to. This lesson she has been repeating for memory immemorial - not time immemorial - because we have not always been here. And always is a long time (Too many zeros for us to comprehend).
But the memory exists.
With memory comes interpretation. And subjectivity, the enemy of truth. How so? Because of time. And space. And the need to change, to adapt, to move on. These compulsions have results - changes in our appearance and our ways - we ignore or misconstrue.
Humankind harbours a great diversity - diversity in thought and manner. We call it culture ... vaguely. But it is, not only, but basically, ultimately, the manifestation of thought, of patterns of processes. We buy into such patterns, such systems, which are mostly closed. Like an electrical circuit, a maze of sparks and currents we get lost in. We lose ourselves, mostly willingly. Other systems are alien. We do not know them and therefore we distrust, despise and fear them. Religion, politics ... the holy, and its supposed opposite pole does not have a planet between them like the one we inhabit and love, or infest and devour.
And there are many stories about this; fact and fiction merges. Like Twain said: the difference is only that fiction must seem credible.
We all love stories. Does this story have a happy ending? The answer has been told and foretold many times. History is the ultimate story, with an open end, the final destination. We have been given the key to that ending. It is known as freedom.
Sometimes it is best not to change. History - for instance the history of science, tells us: should the planets leave their orbits (which also have changed over the millennia), destruction will follow. This is an ancient pattern we do not get to change, should not attempt to change. But there are many smaller ones we can, and should.
History repeats itself, as the fatalistic (counter [r]evolutionary) saying goes. Is God responsible? Or us? Does God represent evil? The answer is obvious. But we still keep on repeating our mistakes. And blame it on others. Even God. Or history.
Is the Devil responsible? Or are we the Devil? The answer is there for all to see. In history. In the pattern. In the story.
And you ask me why I study? I ask you: Is knowledge arbitrary? Or worthless? Only if you are content. To plod along, to refuse to see, to ask, to learn, to improve, to adapt. To survive. If you insist to be arrogant in your ignorance and ignorant of your arrogance, survival is in the open end of the story. They say God help those who help themselves. Is this a truism? Do we have carte blanche? Ask yourself: what is the alternative? Therein lies the answer.
Why does one study history? I would have thought you know by now.
Maybe you do, or maybe you still struggle to escape the grasp of habit and the fear of excommunication. For we are pack animals and we define ourselves by those around us. Unfortunately, tragically, not always by those who came before us. We refuse, adamantly, sometimes fanatically, to see, even the devout ones. Perhaps especially them. Because we choose the straight line, the easiest route, the shortest distance between start and finish. And forget the lessons along the journey, the lessons that is the journey.
Why do I choose history? To live in it? To banish reality? No. To learn, to see, and to understand. To be able to move on.
The alternative is to be caught in a pattern which is a maze and has no future. That is the alternative to knowing. Knowing that power corrupts, that evil people crave power, that they are the parasites that kill off the body, the group, countries, civilizations. That they are the enemies of knowledge. Because knowledge will expose them.
Do we deserve to be led to our doom and that of the entire planet? Only if we ignore the signs and choose that option. We do not have to. We have a choice. We have the freedom to choose freedom.
Like the apple that once fell in order to switch on a million lights, which would defy gravity in a thousand ways, and to propel science into cyberspace, we can learn. And how does one learn? By following the dictates of others? No, we do not. We can read the signs, by going to the very source. The primary source which is history.
Perhaps one day when we have destroyed all possible manifestations of power, natural or otherwise and its sources, when the lights science has offered are snuffed out, we will again dig deep and rediscover.
And some wise person will name this discovery History.
So. See it. It is here! Already, always - or as far as the flashbacks in the story reveal. For like a novelist, the Great Storyteller shows us what happens now, to entice us to want to know what happened before. And to keep on turning the pages to the end.
Curiosity may kill a cat, but many other things will for sure. And we are not cats. We have one life each. And one planet. Learn to manage.
Read the damn manual.
www.StellenboschWriters.com © Rosemarie Breuer