For Sizwe Vilakazi
An hour’s drive or so from Johannesburg
and Pretoria are limestone caves,
a depository of fossils,
a chance ossuary of hominids,
the so-called Cradle of Humankind, owned
by Witwatersrand University.
Our guide, the first time we visited, was Arnold,
a young man in his twenties, who had lived
all his life near the caves, and whose ambition,
since boyhood, had been to be a guide.
He showed us a pool and its blind reptiles –
which, he said, if brought to the light, would see.
Our second visit, seven years later,
World Cup year, the clapboard visitor centre
had been replaced by plate glass and videos.
A white, nameless, archaeology student
showed us around. In the very depths of the caves,
he turned off the lights – so that we might
“experience the dark our ancestors knew
more than three million years ago”.
And I thought, in that pristine blackness,
for a brief moment before fear took flight,
of a history, a topography,
a geology of ironies.