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CRADOCK – OLIVE SCHREINER : Karoo Writers Festival

 <img src="Cradock.jpg" alt="Cradock" width="300" height="168">

In Cradock for the love of letters

An absence of soul

Three foreign companies have been given licences to destroy the Karoo. The inhabitants are depressed. They know that they will not be the ones getting the labour this prospecting horror claims it will provide. Tourism, wildlife/ the eco system and agriculture/food security are equally threatened. There is too little water as it is, and hydraulic fracturing for shale gas requires and will pollute lots. Trucking and exploration will have many consequences, from the spread of HIV Aids to earthquakes.

But greed rules the day.

Places along the way

Despair is palpable in Nieu Bethesda. The Owl House and the lonely, terrible, wonderful creative impulse that ruled the woman who lived there, the glittering world she created and ultimately her suicide speaks of a loneliness of heroic proportion. Generous and original homemade fare (….the privilege of eating agave buds nearly wiped me out) and varied artistic endeavour make a visit to this beautiful valley a must, even if one should be unable to discern the glorious landscape.

In Willowmore Sophie’s Antique shop, pumpkin cheesecake and sense of humour came as a lovely surprise. Pagel House in Aberdeen is an astonishing piece of architecture and the interior a wealth of meticulously collected objects.

The value of memory

In Cradock we stay in one of the restored Tuishuise adjacent to Victoria Manor, where the proprietors receive guests in fine style: erudite conversation, an abundant table, roaring fires, gracious assistance. Their knowledge of their heritage, dedication to this event and the rich cloak of hospitality enfold us warmly. Amos Nteta is concierge and also guide to Lingelihle. Our history, substance and shadow, is honoured even as we enjoy the hearth – Amos knew the Cradock Four.

Curator of the Schreiner House, Brian Wilmot leads a Walking Tour. Bisho Jarsa, Neville Alexander’s grandmother, spoke the language from a childhood before she was captured by slavers. Buildings and trees, words and mountains, music and letters; these are elements that make up memory. Culture is not something defined by ethnic, religious or political parameters; nor is it something bestowed by some external authority. It is the inner landscape that enriches the soul.

The World’s Great question

Olive Schreiner’s South African Letters are published by The Van Riebeeck Society. What I find marvellous about this monumental scholarly publication is that there is overwhelming interest in the material. Ms Schreiner was an astute political essayist and corresponded with Jan Smuts, Lloyd George and John Merriman. She shared periods of her life with Havelock Ellis and Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl Marx). She overturned conventions and declared her convictions, calling Cecil John Rhodes a man who deliberately chose evil. She wrote novels that challenged received truth and asked questions about what propelled human beings towards creating societies that promote race hatred. She challenged the subtlest of inclinations towards the justification of war, of gender discrimination, of oppression in the march of capitalism. She did all this while battling ill health, scouring pots, and living with a husband who ruthlessly edited her writings. She also saw the natural life of the Karoo with clear eyes and the appreciation of a visionary.

Freedom of speech (and reading)

The festival presentations ranged far and wide: Deon Meyer’s crime fiction, Niel Stemmet’s heritage food, Randall Wicomb’s twinning of poetry and music, Lucy Graham’s paper on Lauretta Ngcobo’s response to Schreiner writings, the inimitable Jeremy Fogg and Paul Walters and their easy acquaintance with their subject matter, Anthony Osler’s brand of Zen, Dorothy Driver whose delicate handling of Olive Schreiner is distinctive, and (….sadly skipping many marvellous slots) all the way to the particular pleasure of Toast Coetzer’s performance – immortal poems that are not quite rap and almost Dylan, slightly Leonard Cohen, nearly Gerard Manley Hopkins, … and then not like anything else at all.

I shall return to Cradock. Mark my words and honour theirs.


Author: Suenel Bruwer Holloway

Bio: Suenel Holloway is a playwright, poet, translator and editor as well as a guest writer. She specializes in satirical social commentary, the arts and literature.

Contact e-mail: florabundu@lando.co.za 

Contact Suenel for Guest Posts at the provided e-mail address.