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An Open Letter to My Great Granddaughter on Her South African Heritage

Dear Rylie

Africa and specifically South Africa can never be known. You can go there and see the different countries, visit her menagerie of people, and either photograph or hunt her animals on a safari. You can spend a lot of time walking her veldt, climbing mountains, or plowing through her jungles, but that will not allow you to know Africa. To savor and understand Africa you must feel! Feel the thunder of the early afternoon storm as it shakes the earth beneath your feet. Feel the rain drench your shirt and rinse the sweat from the afternoon heat. Feel the fresh air of a land, washed and glistened, in the early setting sun. Feel the throb of its people as they struggle to emerge into the present, with their feet in the future, but their souls in the past.

You do not understand Africa, till you feel the pangs of a roaring lion, which has just missed its kill of a hapless prey. You must feel the agony of a leopard, killing a pregnant kudu, only to realize that she makes a terrible mistake, because she cannot satisfy her hunger as her victim is too big and her ability to defend her quarry, from threatening hyenas, too small. You must feel the pride of such skill and strength as the leopard overcomes tremendous odds for her life sustenance, then at the same time feel the pain and agony that runs though your soul with every escaping drop of the mother kudu’s blood. The agonizing grunt of the kudu rips through you, and yet, you realize, this is nature’s way, and it must be.

These conflicts of the African veldt aren’t subject to negotiation, or softened by the psychologist’s couch. They are raw, glaring and bloody. But that is reality and the struggle of the bush. It is simple! There are no favorites. Either you live, eat and survive, or you die. The rules are easy to follow, and if you do, you find a strength that is matchless, and a beauty that is indescribable. The reward is a contentment that provides you with a satisfaction that you know who you are, and what you can do. You will always face life to the nth degree with satisfied contentment in your heart. There is no mystery here. There are no liars, thieves or murderers. The bush has secrets, but they lie in front of you. If you are willing to open your eyes, your mind and heart, you will feel it breathe as you breathe, and its heart becomes your heart, and the love that you begin to feel is mutual.

You must trek through the warmth of the Kalahari, or shiver on an edge of the escarpment, in the Drakensberg Mountains. You must wade in the cool waters of the Vaal River or paddle down the Orange. Then you must roam through the mists of Table Mountain and explore the golden carpets of Namaqualand in early spring. Later drive through the Garden Route as you feel the salty waves of two oceans, after you have smelled the gardens of Kirstenbosch. Your heritage is rich and beautiful, but when you go, don’t just look, feel, and it will change you forever. It’s all there, just beyond the fingertips of your heart. The throb that it gives is the life of Africa, and that is who you are.

Love you dearly,

Oupa.

Written when she was 1 year old in 2010


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