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Extract: Rage and Love

Book Extract
Chris Waldburger

Rage and Love: A Memoir of White South Africa in an Age of Destruction

The snake is primordial fear. This creature of cylindrical muscle, with no arms and legs, is an emblem of our first reckoning with the terrors that live in nature. As a child, our Zulu housekeeper, Emmarentia, once rushed into the house, pale with fright. She told us she had seen a snake bigger than her arm at the bottom of our garden. We had always thought pythons lived there.

The sacredness of games in the ancient world was connected to the story of Apollo slaying a python to protect his prophetess, his oracle. The Greek games were a tribute to this act of struggle against the dark, constricting heaviness of the snake. Physical struggle was a way of imitating and honouring the god of light. The fight was good. The python was somehow necessary.

I was once convinced by a friend, upon a visit to a theme park in Johannesburg, to ride a rollercoaster named the Anaconda, probably because of the fear it was meant to induce with its twisting path. He persuaded me by saying it was not that bad. After we were locked into our seats, as we inched to the take-off point, high up in the air, our legs dangling, he turned to me and apologised, saying, in fact, the ride was going to be terrifying. I do not like heights. I do not like adrenaline experiences. I quickly formulated a strategy. I told myself the ride would end. All I had to do was hold steady, retreat within myself, and see it out to the end…

By 2012, my family had moved house about six times, lived in three provinces, changed jobs several times, had two kids, changed career and just in general experienced the flux of change that many young adults undergo, a flux which is so exacerbated in post-Boomer society. Looking back now, all I wished for was a career that had the sense of future endeavour, with a concomitant ability to live with a family in a house like that which my parents had been able to afford. We were told as young people about an exciting new future of reinventing yourself, of changing careers, and of harnessing new technologies and ways of life. This was all a ruse to distract us from a new chaos in which living in one place, working at one job, finding your own sense of place, was no longer possible or appropriate for the great new society. And forget about surviving on a single salary.

At this stage in my life, I was teaching at a school in Irene, Pretoria, near my wife’s parents. I enjoyed the teaching and my colleagues. It was, and is, a good school. The school was about forty percent black. Many of the students had parents who were judges, politicians, or big businessmen, often connected with the executive branch of the government which was centred in Pretoria. (Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa.) The school was one of the top-performing schools in the country in terms of academic results. The mornings were icy there, but so that my wife could use our small Toyota during the day, I would run to work in the mornings, and swim in the pool and get changed into shirt and tie in the sports change-rooms.

The school ran an interesting outreach programme on the weekends. Students from poorer schools in the area would come to the school on a Saturday, receive two good meals, and be taught substantial lessons in English, Maths, Science, and Biology, to help them catch up ahead of their final examinations.

I was involved and I vividly recall a large class of students arriving for my lesson, superbly attentive, eager to learn. Each week I would ask them what they had done in class recently. Each week their answer was the same—nothing. Their teacher had missed most of the lessons.

This is not unusual in South Africa. The teachers in the government sector are notorious for their absenteeism and being poorly qualified. There are stories of teachers arriving to mark leaver exams, being asked to write the exam to show capability, and then failing the exam they were then about to grade. Teachers can’t be fired because their union is so powerful, and is an important ally of the ANC.

Many schools go without textbooks or even toilets. This is despite South Africa spending vast amounts of money on education. Most agree corruption is to blame. I would say bland incompetence is probably more of a factor.

One task I set for these students was to write an essay on their future goals. This was heart-breaking. Almost all of the students wrote about escaping poverty and being able to provide for their mothers. Not their fathers. Yet they had hardly any help to get there. Most would not achieve this goal, I feared.

I pause to discuss my experience at this school because years after I had moved on, the school would be at the centre of a national ‘scandal’ that betrays some of the rot at the heart of South African education and society.

This supposed scandal concerned student allegations of racism against some teachers at the school. Students and parents staged protests. I read the stories closely trying to see what the problem was. The worst I could find was that a teacher had apparently told a black girl her hair was messy, and she should apply a straightener to it.

Of course, if true, this was insensitive, and the student would be within her rights to ask for an apology and some kind of commitment from the teacher to be more sensitive in the future. At other schools where I taught, black teachers would manage black hair policy for this reason and would usually be stricter than a white teacher would be.

A similar controversy with the hair issue at the centre of it occurred at another high school in Pretoria, perhaps one of the most prestigious government schools in the country, where my wife had gone to school.

I could not find any other specific charges, which did surprise me, as the protest was significant enough to make headlines and the politician in charge of all education in the province attended the protest himself. I later read that the governor of the Reserve Bank had also attended as he was a parent at the school.

I managed to locate some student interviews on the internet, and in one of these interviews given prominence by the media, a black student spoke about the chief issue of teachers not being aware of the fine line between ‘comments and micro-aggressions that are discriminatory—that is where it starts, not understanding the fine line’.

Was this newsworthy? Did such a story justify the school making headlines and being dragged through the mud on a national scale?

When I was at the school, I remember the chief cultural collision at the school not being between white and black South African culture, but rather between the traditional school culture and a vague kind of American culture which had seeped into the school. I remember being very unsure what to make of black students using the word ‘nigger’, or hearing ‘rap battles’ outside my classroom.

I had a kind of middle management role, so I did deal with some disciplinary issues. I never recall having any difficulties with a black student. I also remember the head boy being black whilst I was there. This was not seen as unusual, and I recall him being very comfortable in his role, speaking to the school at all assemblies (far more than the executive head did), and using his platform to promote his passion for the scouting movement.

I also remember a shooting incident at the school gates, and at the shopping centre down the road. Wealthy places are not immune to violence, and it is not as though the school was living in a bubble.

Interestingly, the school is named for the British regiment that camped on the school’s site during the Boer war. Down the road from the school is an old concentration camp where the British allowed tens of thousands of Afrikaner women and children to die in terrible conditions to demoralise the Afrikaners into surrendering their successful guerrilla campaign against British imperialism. Thus, were concentration camps established as war policy by Western countries. Nevertheless, most teachers were Afrikaans, and the name was never mentioned as an issue.

On the same day as the protest was in the headlines, statistics were released about unemployment in South Africa. The most shocking piece of data was the fact that 75% of youth are unemployed. But this was not in any headlines I saw.

Instead of education ministers and Reserve Bank governors rushing to crisis meetings to address this overwhelming social disaster, they found time to criticise a school whose students have basically won South Africa’s lottery. These students were receiving a world class education on an island of excellence surrounded by an ocean of failure and despair.

The education minister who attended the protest had been in his role for nearly a decade, by the way.

The Reserve Bank governor stated the following at the protest: ‘The school has got to consciously go out and look for black teachers to give our children pride to actually look and know that there are black people who are excelling in the education sphere.’

The liberal think tank, The Institute of Race Relations, polled the country a few years previously and found that only 3 percent of people listed racism as a serious problem:


The report found that only 3% of South Africans see racism as a serious unresolved problem in the country. In comparison, 40% cited unemployment as a serious issue, while poor service delivery (34%) and inadequate housing (18%) rounded up the top three biggest worries.


In such a state of disaster, it is obvious why politicians choose to focus on such minor issues instead, minor issues in which they can pose as great moral crusaders. I am sure the school, like any, has serious flaws that should be resolved. Bu the fact is, no student fails high school there. That is why the Reserve Bank governor sends his child there, and not to a school run by his own government.

I was fortunate that such drama did not occur whilst I was teaching there. But despite enjoying my job, life was not always that easy. Living on one teacher’s salary is difficult, especially with a growing family. I would walk home from work in the afternoons, along dusty paths. Hawkers and weavers would try to sell their wares to me as I passed by. Of course, their lives were harder than mine. But that did not negate the fact I was barely hanging on to middle class life and was relying on a credit card to stay afloat. Yes, I had a safety net in family and in education, but I wondered how soon I would have to move in with our parents.

I also recall some strange things about life on the security state in which we lived, things which revealed aspects of South African life to me that I had not experienced before. After we moved in, a gardener approached us offering his services. He worked for our neighbours. Later I find out this neighbour was in fact his brother, who lived in a house probably double our size. His brother was at the upper echelons of the middle to upper class, whilst he was working a semi-casual manual labour job.

Once we had moved in, we decided to convert our electricity to a pay-as-you-go system, to avoid relying on municipal electricity meter estimates and inspections. We paid the fee and technicians arrived to install the console for this. But as they opened the electricity box outside, they discovered that we had an illegal connection which we had inherited from the previous owners, who were attorneys with a boat in their driveway. The problem was that these technicians could not disconnect that line—other technicians would need to come, and then they would need to come again, to move the line to the new pay-as-you-go system.

Trying to assemble these two teams at the box at the same time proved to be a bureaucratic impossibility. I visited our local municipal offices several times to no avail. I went to the head office in the middle of Pretoria, which was an experience in itself. The building was dimly lit. There was no place for visitors. I just wandered into an office of administrators and began chatting to them. It was July but the dark office still had Christmas decorations up. They too could not help. I began to worry I could get arrested or taken to court for benefitting from this illegal line. I would never be able to sell the house with this connection. The story ended strangely. Eventually a municipal technician arrived on his own. He was an Irish immigrant, and he fixed the problem himself in five minutes. I asked about the free electricity I had received. He stated that there was simply no way the issue could be retroactively resolved. He left and that was that.

I continued to feel the pressures of life in the country’s capital. We struggled to make ends meet. Our children became ill in a bad flu season, the so-called swine flu. One of my wife’s friends lost her baby in this dry, dusty, and cold winter. The world never stopped, or locked down, however. I tried to earn extra money through my writing. I wrote four columns for a Durban newspaper but lost that job when the media group was bought by an ANC and Chinese investment partnership.

I wrote for other local magazines. I remember once driving into Pretoria to interview the Minister of Transport for one business magazine. I was amazed at how shoddy the offices were, and the fact that the minister, whilst being very kind and friendly, was a famous communist poet.

The pay for such work was not great. One enjoys a middle-class life, but there is an anxiety to hang onto it, as crime rises all around you, as you feel pressure squeeze you, like a bandage tightly wound around your head.

The sense of struggle and conflict came to a head one night.
It was the beginning of the season of thunderstorms. A few nights previously I had awoken to a cat lying in my infant son’s crib next to our bed. It then raced away down the passage.
That week, my wife and I had also been perturbed when garden services had left an item of clothing behind on an external windowsill. The next day it disappeared, meaning that unbeknownst to us, somebody had entered our property to retrieve it.
On this night, my wife woke me to inform me she had heard strange noises down the passage. She thought it was the cat again.
Looking back, I am surprised that I didn’t stay put and just wait to hear it myself. Instead, I wandered down the passage to see three intruders coming towards me. They burst into our room, turned on the lights, pointed a gun at us, forced me to the ground and began to gag me and tie me up with my belts and ties.
The night hit rock bottom when I heard my elder two-year-old son wake up and cry in his room down the passage. One of the intruders went and picked him up and put him in the bed next to my wife, who had begun to breastfeed our younger two-month-old son to try to keep him quiet. She then tried to hide our elder son under the sheets so he would not see what was happening.
I distinctly remember the feelings I experienced as I lay on the floor. The python squeezed the air out of my lungs. The anaconda was in the room with us. As I lay there gagged on the floor, I thought about how vulnerable my wife was. I thought about how vulnerable my sons were. And I knew, deeper than any rational thought, that I was completely powerless. That anything could now happen to my entire world and there was nothing I could do. It could all be destroyed, right now, in front of my eyes.
I don’t care to recount the next six hours in too much detail, but we were left unharmed physically. Eventually the invaders left, we freed ourselves, and summoned the neighbours. One neighbour arrived the next morning, a wealthy one, with a wad of cash and an apologetic and sympathetic manner, expressing real sorrow in a thick Afrikaans accent. I think about him still.

All of this was made worse by the strange news I received that same day, that my grandmother in Switzerland had committed suicide by means of the legal procedure of euthanasia within Swiss law. She had not been in any pain, or ill in any way, but had followed her ‘partner’ in the process. This to me is the ultimate symbol of Western decadence, and I remember my thoroughly South African father, her son, who had long rejected the narrow, cramped order of the country of his fathers, being angry more than sad. The rest of our family were more understanding.

I believe we were psychologically harmed by the trauma counselling that followed soon after. It is conventional wisdom that you need to talk out your problems, to process them, to come to terms with them. I am yet to see any proof that mental health and suicide rates have improved with the enactment of this wisdom. When I retold our story to the counsellor, the fight or flight adrenaline simply re-soaked my body. Later I would read up on this phenomenon.

It turns out that Nietzsche was right to some extent when he wrote, ‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy’. Your brain reaches out to your entire body via the nerves, particularly the gut. Your limbs can move milliseconds before neurons fire in the brain. We have largely misunderstood the Greeks, who taught that the anima, or soul, was not naturally separate from the body, as well as the classical Christian teaching that even in the afterlife, the physical body will be reunited to the soul, because we are not spirits but material beings with a soul which belongs with the body and still transcends it. The soul is substantial but because it is a human soul, it belongs with the human flesh. One way of visualising this, albeit imperfectly, is to imagine the soul as not being within the body, but as encompassing the body. Nietzsche’s view surprisingly corresponds, in my opinion, with the Greek idea that the soul is the form of the body and depends on the body. We must listen to it.

Nietzsche is, of course, famous for his apparent rejection of the Christian idea of the soul, but I am sceptical that he truly does oppose the concept of the soul, at its core. I think he hearkens back to the classical idea of the soul, as the self of the body, as the genius at the heart of all our drives and instincts: ‘Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage—whose name is self…’ That self he would later identify with spirit: ‘That commanding something which the people call “spirit” wants to be master within itself and around itself and to feel itself master: out of multiplicity it has the will to simplicity.’

The self wants to be master within itself and around itself… You can read such words as a reference to burgeoning tyranny. But that is not what is truly intended here. To master yourself and your surroundings is rather the call to coherence—to have ownership of yourself in space.

We see how animals, after escaping danger from humans or predators, instinctively run, roll, and move, to burn through the adrenaline coursing through your body. Adrenaline is good in moments of danger, but if it remains in your body, the heightened awareness and energy drains you and makes you sick and tired. It gets in your soul. I wish I knew that then. I would have lifted weights, swum in a cold pool, and taken a sleeping pill—instead I had a drink, told the story over and over, did not sleep, and soaked myself in stress. I would jump at any noises in the night, remaining hyper-vigilant for years.

Something in my personality made me more susceptible to this stress than others. It is a sad truth that most South Africans have had this same experience, with many having a far worse ending. Farm murders, for example, are real in South Africa and in areas where I have lived, there have been beheadings, torture, and people hacked to death with machetes. Statistically, the South African murder rate is around five times higher than the global average. But for a white South African farmer, his chances of being murdered are 15 times greater.

If you bring up this violent rage against white South Africans, you are simply accused of being fragile and having a victim mentality. Never mind that many of the ANC politicians have been singing songs about killing the Boers and having one bullet for each ‘settler’—including Mandela. Of course, we are all settlers in South Africa, with the San people, or Bushmen, being the oldest settlers, and the Bantu people having moved from West Africa centuries later—which is why you can still find similar words in Zulu and Swahili.

As for the common experience of traumatic crime, when I taught at a very wealthy South African school, majority-white, but with significant African numbers (who were given favoured admission), when I set essays for the students or chatted about their lives, the number of them who had had similar experiences, or had seen people shot, or who knew of people being murdered, was shocking.

One boy under my care arrived one week after having suffered such an experience that weekend. I was able to tell him to get into the gym, to get outside, rather than to brood. Telling the story should come later.
The day after the robbery set the tone for these years. I grew tired. Utterly exhausted. I looked for some relief in our next move. I wanted to escape the hot and dry tension of Gauteng, the province of South Africa dominated by the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, their highways, their townships, and their masses of people trying to survive joblessness, crime, and icy winters.

We moved down to the green Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, nearer to my own family. I had found a job at one of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools. The school’s green grounds and beautiful architecture offered a new beginning for us. It was here that my third child, a daughter, was born. This was to be the kind of life I had planned for myself when teaching had beckoned to me during university. But in South Africa, in the world, there is no real escape from the traffic of modern life, from the heat of highways.

When our third child was born, after we had moved into a new house on the school grounds, which needed a lot of work, I fell ill, and stayed ill for about a year. This was years before covid, so when people complained about long covid, I would often explain that chronic illness was not new. (Intriguingly, as we moved into the house, a massive snake had crept across the driveway just a few metres in front of me.)

It was as though the fatigue would naturally drip into a puddle of fevers. I remember thinking, as I woke up, as I walked to work (I was very lucky to be able to do that), how on earth am I going to make it through another day? It felt as though each cell in my body was sick and tired.
On my son’s third birthday, I remember breaking down amid a bad fever and sheer emotional emptiness. I was being suffocated slowly. It seemed like I was always one long day away from the ‘flu.
On the weekends, things like weeds in the lawn or dirty dishes would drive me insane. Minor irritations of life would become crises. The weeds, however, would prove to be a revelation—literally.

One of the often-forgotten parables of Christ features weeds:


The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed weeds among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the weeds. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it weeds? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the weeds, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the weeds, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.


Suffer both to grow until the harvest…

When you weed, it is difficult to stop spreading the weeds. If you poison the weeds, you often poison soil, animals, and the grass. Yes, in the parable, the enemy plants the weeds, but the weeds create the drama of the story. In the same way we are told that in some cosmic sense, Jesus was already crucified at the foundation of the world, because the drama of the possibility of evil was present in the mind of God.

To ask for purity in your surrounds too soon, this side of eternity, will only be destructive. You must allow life to outgrow the weeds; you must suffer the enemy’s work around you for now, just as the anaconda rears it heads from the watery depths in your life from time to time. Without facing weeds and monsters, decadence and complacency grow. There is no discipline of the spirit. This was the story of white South Africa to some extent. Material gains from the fresh, green land, had led to a loss of that discipline and identity which sustains all cultural endeavour. Without this sense of endeavour and discipline, when the weeds and pythons emerge, we lack the weapons and drive and will to face the chaos as Apollo did, and so our connection with the sacred, his oracle, is lost.

Another snake was soon to lash out, this time from beneath the hot tarmac of our chaotic South African roads.

Our roads are dominated by diabetic taxi and truck drivers. We have no reliable rail. It has all fallen apart. These drivers work for big corporations or fleets of taxis owned by politically powerful owners. Taxi drivers feed on energy drinks and packets of chips as they either drive down long highways or dart through towns, looking to keep their vehicles full. A corrupt and incompetent government battles to maintain the roads; furious and heavy traffic only makes the issue worse. It is just one more point of intense stress in South Africa.

One morning, I awoke to the news that a last-minute football fixture had been organised at my school as a rare afternoon event. This was rare because to travel far on a weekday was not common, due to traffic and the lack of time. The fixture was organised because that group of boys were missing a set of matches on the upcoming weekend as they were going to spend two weeks hiking, cycling and paddling on rivers in the nearby hills, valleys, and mountains in a kind of ‘rite of passage’ journey. The idea that they thus needed to make up the fixtures is a function of the strange idea in modern education that time must all be eaten up and filled with constant organisation. (The word ‘school’ is ironically derived from the Greek word for leisure—a place to walk, to think, to discuss, and to offer sacrifice—rather than simply work. How different from the schools of today.)

I was chatting with two colleagues as we travelled down our busy local highway, which is almost always taken up by masses of trucking. Suddenly we heard an explosion. I remember shouting, ‘No!’, and then there was a period of blackness for which I have no memory. Looking back, I felt that same dip into blackness, into pure chaos, where no activity is possible, but only waiting.

I came to with a scorching pain in my left arm. I was relieved that I was otherwise intact. In robotic fashion, I unclipped my belt, and without thinking about the fact that the bus was now on its side, facing oncoming traffic on one of Africa’s busiest highways, I climbed through the windscreen, onto the road, wandered to the side, and collapsed over a barricade and lay there. I saw the white of my bone as I tried to glance at the source of the pain. I quickly looked away.

Gradually faces appeared around me, arriving then fading away. One of the other teachers came to check on me, blood spurting out from above his eye. I saw one boy in horror, looking around in disbelief. I noted a mother from the school there, looking so alone and helpless. She had just happened to be passing by.

Bystanders appeared looking to help. Somebody tied my arm in a tourniquet. Paramedics arrived. I asked if everybody was alive, if everybody was ok. I kept being told yes, I was the worst, not to worry. I was asked in turn whether the boys could be taken to private hospitals…

In South Africa there are two tiers of healthcare. Government healthcare and its hospitals are, with exception, notorious for scarce resources and lack of care. I did not know whether all the boys had private insurance, allowing them to go to expensive but world-class private hospitals. I told the paramedics to take us there anyway. It would turn out later that one of the boys, one of the most badly injured, did not have insurance. His bill would run into the millions, but I believe wealthy parents or board members at the school would settle this for his family.

Eventually the paramedics started loading me onto a stretcher. Another teacher, not on the bus, appeared. He was checking boys onto ambulances. He later told me he could not recognise many of the boys. Some of the white skin had even turned black in the tar and dirt.

In the ambulance, I heard other people talking. I remember a drip. I remember being told I was being given morphine. It did nothing, though. We headed down the hill leading to the hot and sweaty city of Pietermaritzburg, going through the decrepit city centre, to a hospital named St Anne’s.

As I arrived, I asked again whether all the boys were alright. I was told then there had been one death. I cannot quite express the sadness that fell over me. For the boy, for his family, for a world that had turned into chaos around me again.

I was wheeled into theatre, my bloody clothes cut off me. I saw a school mother as I was wheeled across a hall. She had been asked to go to the hospital by a teacher to try find out which boys were in which hospital. I remember her face. She was a warm and happy lady. But that only meant that she was feeling the pain even more. She looked crestfallen, and quickly said some kind words.

The next few days involved multiple operations, a feeling of despair, a re-reading of the entire works of Jane Austen to cheer myself up, plus a re-reading of perhaps my favourite English novel, Sword of Honour, by Evelyn Waugh.

The final instalment of the triptych is titled ‘Unconditional Surrender’. The protagonist, Guy Crouchback, of an ancient British Catholic family, had left a life of ennui and distraction in Italy to join the Allied effort, despite being too old to fight, the day he heard of the Pact between the Soviets and the Nazis. Here was an apparently righteous struggle to bring clarity and direction to his life: a battle against the Modern Age in Arms. Soon, the Soviets cease to be enemies, war is only declared against Germany, even though both invade Poland (and the Soviets eat up the Baltic nations). A confused Crouchback is told by a politician that this is pure expediency to satisfy the communist sympathisers at home. Fittingly, the eponymous sword of honour, initially referring to a knight’s sword as Crouchback goes to war, later refers to a sword presented by the English king to Stalin.

By the end, the protagonist finds himself clearing the way for anti-Christian communists to come to power in Croatia and the rest of the Balkans. There is a poignant moment near the end when, as he sets out to Croatia, Crouchback visits a priest to confess his utter despair:


Guy had no preparations to make for this journey except to prepare himself. He walked to the old town, where he found a dilapidated Romanesque church where a priest was hearing confessions. Guy waited, took his turn and at length said: ‘Father, I wish to die.’

‘Yes. How many times?’

‘Almost all the time.’

The obscure figure behind the grill leant nearer. ‘What was it you wished to do?’

‘To die.’

‘Yes. You have attempted suicide?’


‘Of what, then, are you accusing yourself? To wish to die is quite usual today. It may even be a very good disposition. You do not accuse yourself of despair?’

‘No, Father; presumption. I am not fit to die.’

There is no sin there. This is a mere scruple. Make an act of contrition for all the unrepented sins of your past life.’

After the Absolution he said: ‘You are a foreigner?’


‘Can you spare a few cigarettes?’


I sympathised with the character, with Waugh’s own sense of horror at the modern world. The search for holiness and heavenly purity, alongside the prosaic and comical, struck me daily too.


To wish to die is quite usual today. It may even be a very good disposition.


When covid madness emerged, and with the onslaught of left-wing culture in education, among my friends, and the greater West, as I found my life and the life of my children dominated by masks, social distancing, female crones barking orders at us for our safety, I admit I would return to these words many times.

The great reset would be a war on life and history. Seminars on ‘LGBTQ’ are as close an approximation to hell as I can imagine on earth. But at this stage, I did not feel this sense of despair in an overwhelming fashion. That would come later. For now, I felt it on the outskirts of my consciousness.

I missed the funeral of the boy who had died in the crash. I was still in hospital. The boy was a black South African. Not for one moment did that affect the school’s response, which was majority white. Everybody grieved together. In a tight-knit, young community, the death of a boy, so suddenly, was truly shocking for us.

As a teacher, I often think about that phone call the school made to his parents. Apparently, his housemaster could not do it. He handed the phone over to the deputy head. How do you say those words, knowing the effect they will have? The headmaster would that afternoon take his father to the morgue to identify the body of his son. I recall my colleague on the bus telling me he spoke to the boy before he died, just as he spoke to me. From the shape and spray of his body, he told me it was perhaps best he died. He was asking for his mother as he passed.

Later, when I met his mother for the first time since his death, she told me that the final letter she had ever received from her son was one I had asked him to write in an English lesson. I always liked to set simple composition tasks for my students. Write a letter of thanks. Imagine your future in an essay. Who is to blame for Macbeth’s downfall? Why is Hamlet a tragic hero? And this simple task would mean a lot for this mother.

Time soon passed. We moved on. Only his parents and brother had to carry on with the pain. For me, a new kind of chaos was to arrive.


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