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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had been replaced by plate glass and videos.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.

© Copyright David Selzer
4 Responses
  • Ashen Venema
    October 29, 2021

    Irony indeed! Oh, these Arnolds where are they?

  • Sizwe Vilakazi
    November 2, 2021

    Beautiful moments we had! I feel special to have a poem dedicated me. I can’t thank you enough, Mr Selzer.

    • David Selzer
      November 2, 2021

      This, as you know Mr Vilakazi, was one of many epiphanies I experienced in South Africa during my visits to your extraordinary country. I dedicated it to you for a number of reasons not least our shared appreciation of irony! Also I remember your telling me when we were down in the caves that your sister had been a school trip to the site and lost her school cardigan somewhere in the dark. Unfortunately, I didn’t see how I could include that anecdote in this particular poem! Perhaps I should write a sequel…

  • Mary Clark
    November 7, 2021

    Wow, the different views! Now I think of a visit to a coal mine where they turned off the lights to show how dark it was, and wish I had the perception to realize the need for light, the desire for it, that probably grew in that dark space. And how we needed artificial light to take the resources from deep underground.

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