“I was 19 years old when Hector P died”- a poem (Youth Day Reflections Part 2)

For part 1 of Youth Day Refections go here.

If I could have breakfast with any two people in South Africa, it would be Desmond Tutu and Jonathan Jansen (throw in some Miroslav Volf and I literally would be in heaven, scribbling down every word that any of them uttered, except Volf is not South African).

I just finished “Knowledge in the Blood” by Jansen. So. Much. Respect that it boarders on silliness. The first black dean of education at the University of Pretoria, (a historical bastion of hard-core Afrikaner nationalism), and current vice chancellor at University of the Free State, Jansen is known in South Africa for winning people over with his common-sense views on education, corruption, and South Africa’s social situation. He has won over two rather hostile/hesitant university student populations with his servant leadership and open-door policies. He takes a hard line against stubborn racism, and yet what always makes me cry in reading his stories is the way he opens himself up so willingly, how he risks and is vulnerable–gambling on the chance that it will lead to reconciliation and embrace. Whether it’s literally washing the feet of people across the spectrum of leadership roles at UP, or sharing with a group of Afrikaans highschool students on camp about his own fears and prejudices, Jansen shares picture after picture of what reconciliation and transformation actually look like. I want to be like that when I grow up. 

This poem was brought to my attention in his book Knowledge in the Blood. It’s lyrics from a song by the Afrikaans singer Amanda Strydom. I’m sharing it, not only because it’s beautiful and thought-provoking, but because it’s an example of the kind of story I wish was told more often.  These are the stories I need to hear.

hector P

Hector P (Soweto 1976)

Ek was neëntien jaar oud toe Hector gesterf het (I was nineteen years old when Hector died)
.

Hy was dertien jaar oud met ‘n koeël deur sy lyf (He was thirteen years old with a bullet through his body)


Dit was koud in ons voorhuis – op die sestiende Junie
(It was cold in our sitting room on the sixteenth of June)

En die wind het geruk aan die vlag by die hek

 (And the wind tugged on the flag at the gate).

En my pa het gesê “draai tog jou serp om“
(And my father said, “please put on your scarf”)

Uit die sitkamer voor ons nuwe TV
(From the lounge in front of our new TV)

En dis toe wat ek sien hoe jy val langs jou suster
(It was then that I saw how you fell alongside your sister).

En my ma sê “kom eet die bobotie word koud”

 (And my mother said “come and eat: the bobotie [mince dish] is getting cold”)

Hector Peterson -
Kind met die glimlag
(Hector Peterson- child with the smile)

Kind van die struggle
(Child of the struggle)

Kind van ons grond

 (Child of our land)

Ek was neëntien jaar oud toe ek sien wat hier aangaan
(I was nineteen years old when I saw what was happening here)

Hy was dertien jaar oud en het lankal geweet
(He was thirteen years old and had known for a long time).

En my pa skud sy kop vir Soweto se kinders
(And my father shook his head at Sowetos children)

Wat mars teen die taal wat hy jare lank praat. (Who marched against the language he spoke for years)

Hector Peterson -
Kind met die glimlag
(Hector Peterson—child with the smile)

Kind van die struggle
(child of the struggle)

Kind van ons grond

 (Child of our land)

Ek was neëntien jaar oud en Hector skaars dertien
(I was nineteen years old and Hector barely thirteen)

Ek was veilig verskans teen die skreeuende waarheid
(I was safely protected from the burning truth)

In die naam van die Heer en die swakheid van vaders
(In the name of the Lord and the weakness of fathers)

Wat niks aan die sirkus van waansin wou doen

(Who would do nothing to the mockery of truth)

Dis weer sestien Junie en ek sien Hector se foto
 (It’s June 16th again and I saw Hector’s photo)

Op voorblaaie dwarsoor die land
(on the front pages across the country)

Hy lê so stil in die arms van Nbuyisa Mukhubu
(He lay so still in the arms of Nbuyisa Mukhubu)

Sy vlerke geknip sodat ander kan vlieg

(His wings clipped so that others can fly)

Hector Peterson -
Kind met die glimlag
(Hector Peterson—child with the smile)

Kind van die struggle
(child of the struggle)

Kind van ons grond

 (Child of our land)

Grynslag geword het – dis rooi om jou mond
(It’s become a grin—it’s red in your mouth)

Dis rooi om jou mond dis rooi… (It’s red in your mouth its red)

 

 

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