The play had finished. There were a hundred
or so children of Orange Farm township –
a large, informal city of mostly
shacks, few paved roads, limited clean water.
These seven, eight, nine year olds lucky enough
to be in school had shrieked with fearful delight,
laughed with wonder, their imaginations
transforming the double classroom’s bare,
austere walls into Dumisani’s
journey through English, Sotho, Venda
Xhosa, Zulu so he could play his drum.
To thank us, their teacher asked them to sing
a hymn, ‘Waiting at the Gate’. I expected,
as at home, unsteady voices reaching
for monophony but no, here, each child
sang the harmonious line that suited
her or him, an infinite polyphony.
I can see them still – serious, confident,
as if what really mattered to them then
was the eternity beyond heaven’s gate
the words long for – and hear them now, their
culture’s joyful, heartbreaking harmony,
that commonwealth of sound.
Note: UBUNTU has been posted on June 16th – Youth Day in South Africa.