Elijah is our guide, Michael our mentor –
Mandla and Mbuzeni – old enough
to have needed ‘white’ names.
“They are not tourists”, Mbuzeni explains,
as we meet healers, dancers, wedding guests.
He is politely disbelieved.
The expensive camera appears to betray us.
‘‘They are big people,” begins Mandla –
an old woman interrupts, speaking to me:
“Hey, Mister Man, what do you want?”
I explain, try to reassure. “I have worked
in the gold mines, Mister Man. I know you.”
Legend has it renegades from Shaka Zulu
hid in the valley, became cannibal.
In the not so long ago past,
male children had their cheeks scored,
as infants, to drain the bad blood.
Mandla stops a friend on horseback,
who willingly shows us the three
horizontal scars on each cheek.
We stay at Mbuzeni’s house. Through the night
there is distant drumming. We wake early
to a loudspeaker moving through the valley,
electioneering. This is Inkhata country.
We can see from his house a thick belt of alien
poplar trees far beyond the high grass
at the foot of a slope – a screen for an alpine-type resort.
We eat there – Mbuzeni, Mandla, the only black guests.
A friend and neighbour from the valley serves us.
The other guests stare. We become angry.
“What is now law is not yet lore!” says Mandla, laughing.
“We are where we are, guys,” says Mbuzeni, softly.