About Fred Hatman
Fred Hatman (AKA Howard Donaldson) knew he wanted to be newspaper journalist at age 13. He has worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the Daily News and Cape Times, both based in South Africa and Wimbledon News, Today, London Daily News, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, all based in London .
Latest Posts by Fred Hatman
An extraordinary thing has happened at Kleinbegin, the dusty Bredasdorp RDP housing area where Anene Booysen had her life, her dignity and her insides ripped out of her body in February 2013.
She has had a road named after her. In her memory. Not just a road… but the road which takes one along the row of very modest houses between two of which she was murdered.
A large lump lodged itself in my throat when I drove into Kleinbegin and saw this. Somebody somewhere, quite probably at the local municipality, took the decision to pay tribute to Anene Booysen, a daughter of the collective South Africa who was taken so brutally from us.
This greatly moved me. It might seem a rather empty gesture but, as a member of The Gentle Mens Movement, one who has witnessed the trees I planted there disappear, I’m thrilled to see it. And it is permanent. As permanent as anything can be in Kleinbegin.
The place has changed quite dramatically since I first visited a week after Anene’s death. Families have moved into the houses, children play “gangsta games” in the culvert nearby, washing hangs out to dry and dear old Henry’s garden is flourishing in the parched yellow earth.
And the rough wooden cross erected by a women’s rights group in Johannesburg holds up one of the washing lines. There is life. And life goes on. As it does. And life goes on for Bianca, a friend of Anene, who is saddened and frightened. But not too frightened to stand up for herself. And Anene. And the many other teenage girls who are routinely abused by the menfolk, who often have their thinking skewed by drugs and drink.
A film-maker friend accompanied me to Kleinbegin on this visit and Bianca had many horror stories to relate. About Anene. And about, how when she, a friend of Anene’s, had spoken the truth about what happened – and what happens – she was threatened by families whose young boys don’t treat girls right. Whose sons somehow have got it into their heads that the female sex are around for just that. Sex. Any time. Any place. Any scenario. Any time they, the boys, feel like it. Bianca is determined to live by the truth of what she has experienced. She is standing up against the abuse. And she is not at all popular in her community.
I left them to talk and went looking for Ricco, the little boy with the marble eye who had helped me plant a tree or two for Anene and had promised to water them.
He wasn’t around, I was told. He hadn’t been around for my past two visits. His mother was there. She is always there. Lying down. And drunk. I went to see Andrew and, to my amazement, found one of the five “Anene trees” alive and well and living in one of the alleyways. It was the White Pear, the very first tree The Gentle Men’s Movement had planted. There was life. And it had grown leaves. I wanted to thank Andrew for looking after it. But he wasn’t there. I wanted to thank him for giving life to the memory of Anene. For giving life where was none. For giving life after a dreadful death.
Life. It is fragile. And it is not easy to navigate when you are a young woman living at Kleinbegin. Somebody’s brother, a boy who has a mother and quite probably a sister of his own, will want you. Will demand to have his way with you.
Lucille and I thumped over dirt roads at sparrows’ first intestinal grumblings to capture the rising sun… and were cling-wrapped in a mist so dense I half-expected Prince Charles to emerge chirpily from it with smoking gun.
It was mist and mirrors. Mirrors in dams reflection-specked with waking ducks. Burly farmers bouncing their bakkies over bumps the size of Bulls’ props on their way to the fields. Guinea fowl. Mist. Not much else.
Just an eerie landscape. Almost soundless. Then shattered by the hysterical bleating of sheep that burst out of the mist when I disturbed them while climbing over a rickety fence to grab a better shot. Or perhaps it was M Ward crooning Post-War out from the belly of Lucille?
It was all a swirling-white fogscape of mountains and valleys and water and still-life.
Then Tesselaarsdal. Hidden in the folds of the Kleinriviersberge. Klein River Mountains. Klein. Small. About 30 buildings. And a bottle store, of course. And a church. And a school.
And a person groping through the gloaming to work. And two cars. And Henry, who walked up from his house to watch me eating a banana on the steps of the church. With strange bumps on his face.
Henry delivered to me the history of this tiny hamlet. Fascinating. Google it. I goggled at the sun finally burning through our all-enveloping shroud. And I giggled at Tesselaarsdal’s very own “Little Boutique Hotel”. And goggled and giggled. And roared. Rural humour. Priceless.
After four hours of this white-blanketed tranquility, I decided to drive back to Stanford by way of the Hemel en Aarde Valley and stopped at a H&A Village spot for French toast and bacon. And much-gagged-for coffee. And found elderly tourists with deep frowns on their faces descending into a Sauvignon Blanc mist at 10.30am. Crikey.
Uilenkraalsmond’s alienscape is near Franskraal in South Africa. It is a place where the houses were patently built by thick-set architects with Seventies sideburns and unironic moustaches. While wearing safari suits and smoking pipes. Which, judging by the plainly weird houses which carbuncle the seafront, must have been filled with Mandrax.
It is a place where men drive bakkies with a hairy forearm hanging out of the window to catch the cooling sea breezes. Or to lovingly grasp a cold Castle Lager.
And where, in the pub, not altogether lissome locals squint at strangers in the way portrayed in that scene in the Yorkshire pub in American Werewolf in London. Like you might have crawled out of the cheese, kept in the galley of the alien spaceship that just docked at Uilenkraalsmond.
Which, if you have ever succumbed to the splendour around the psychedelic waters which flow into the ocean there, where the Black Oystercatchers pluck up gems and hold them to the magical light… is entirely feasible.
In Uilenkraalsmond, it seems entirely feasible that you may, indeed, have fallen on to a new planet. A far-away galaxy place where very little of your previous life is to be found. Except for the warmest glow of the very best day you ever experienced as a child.
Allow the light to dance a sexy cha-cha across your eyes. Walk east to the bridge which locks in the early-morning mist and gather in the sunrise seeping saucily over the dunes. Walk west at golden hour and marvel at the free-style painting of the pre-dusk fire sky. Plunge into the bracing estuarine waters and allow the tide to drift you any which way, gulls swooping and shrieking their approval of your letting go.
Let it go. Let go of you. And just press-play. Child’s play.
I love birthdays. There is nothing untoward about making a right royal fuss of somebody on their birthday, I say. Especially when it’s mine.
So, when I was asked by Lovely One (LO) what I would like to do on my birthday, there was little hesitation in demanding an around-the-world cruise.
When her eyes had unglazed themselves, LO pointed out that, even in these modern times, very few maritime circumnavigations of the globe are achieved in one day.
Yes, I’m that old. So we went to the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Cape Town City Ballet production of Les Sylphides and The Firebird instead.
This was huge for me. I don’t know about other Stanfordians but I tend to avoid the Big Mummy City like the plague. All that concrete. And those cars. Trendy people. With over-groomed beards. In a hurry. Yikes.
So I had nearly managed a full year of Cape Townlessness, a record of which I was becoming increasingly proud. It was deep-breath time.
And I certainly had to draw breath very deeply while entranced by the multitude of strange and absurdly colourful marine creatures which swam dutifully around the tanks for me on my birthday. The seahorses, jellyfish and those giant crabs with the facial markings of Samurai Warriors on their undersides particularly had me gasping like a kid who was turning seven on the day.
A crab with a sense of humour
Then, unfortunately, it was time to act my age. On to Maynardville for the ballet. In the open-air theatre in the middle of a park. It was astoundingly magnificent. Spoiled only by the oversized numptie in a black suit who found it worth all the trouble to trundle down the aisle to tell me I was not allowed to take photographs of the ballet. “It’s my birthday,” I said nicely, “and I’ve come all the way from Stanford.”
“I don’t care if you’ve come all the way from Buckingham Palace,” he retorted with irritating wit, his face menacingly contorted in the light of the moon. How rude.
LO emitted a just audible sigh. I behaved. And relaxed into The Firebird, an explosion of athleticism, grace, colour and mesmerising movement under the stars. And the inevitable mating ritual.
Call me a country bumpkin but is it not the case that all ballet, as with movies, theatre and most other performance art, is really about getting it on? Art imitating life and all that. And nature.
Because the sumptuously sexy dance theme of my birthday was yet to end. Homesick after eight hours in the urban sprawl, we decided against staying over and drove determinedly towards the mountain. And through the night, our path home to Stanford guided by the glorious illumination of the moon.
Upon waking the next morning at Hatman Mansions on Blue Moon, the first sound I heard was the mystical “grottling” of our resident pair of Blue Crane, swooping down for their daily posing aside the rainwater lake that remains steadfastly pooled on the fields.
I drank coffee and summoned again into my mind’s eye the beauty of The Firebird. Just then, the male Blue Crane extended his wings, dropped his head and minced over towards his beautiful “bokkie”, preening and prancing suggestively before her. She gave him the beady eye, swirled away in mock horror and looked skywards, eyelashes fluttering while she ascertained whether she felt a migraine coming on or not. They then stood stock-still and checked each other out for what seemed an interminable time before the mating dance began again.
It was just like the ballet of the night before. Blue Crane in tights. And it was just as beautiful.
After attending a two-hour service and being enriched among the green spires at my Forest Church at Platbos Forest Reserve in South Africa, eating lunch with Niel and Gabi at Baardskeerdersbos — and buying a Niel Jonker painting of Central Park — it was almost an afterthought to motor towards the ocean for a sniff of precious ozone.
I fell upon Uilenkraalsmond, an estuary, river mouth and beach and dunes and light and magic, of which I had hitherto had no experience. Unfathomably.
I would be well advised to simply let the pictures roll before your eyes at this point but I want to add a little bit more. When I parked Lucille on the bridge and scrambled down to the dunes to start a pioneering perambulation of the estuary’s edge, it came to me that perhaps I had stumbled across Mars or Jupiter. Or some as yet unnamed planet.
I have visited many breathtakingly beautiful places in South Africa… but, here, in this wild and and slightly edgy, even harsh place, there was magic in the air. There was salty seaspray, a skin-goldening gentle light, yellow dunes, black oystercatchers, red-rust and canola-yellow ripples and no humanoids in sight.
I mused that it was I who had been delivered by the Starship Lucille to a strange beachscape of rainbow hues and slowly shifting sands as an ebullient rain-swollen river burst forth into the sea, collapsing sand on either side of it.
I was entranced. And all I could do was to wander there, wonder at it all and capture what I could on camera for the humanoids back home.
Please come to roll with me in a glorious embrace of nature’s magic…
Time to fly home.
After four years, I returned to Bodhi Khaya Retreat, a place that gave me the time and space to recover from a broken marriage, a broken business, a broken connection with my dead mother… and, yes, a broken heart. Bodhi Khaya saved me. It challenged me. And it rebuilt me. A very nice lady allowed me to live there for three months. In return, I was expected to feed the chickens and tend to the plants in the circular organic vegetable garden and among the labyrinth. And pull out weeds. So I did.
But I spent most of the time drinking humungous mugs of tea, smoking and staring at the mountains. And pulling out the dead and blackened and alien invaders that had occupied my heart. Clearing. I learned to meditate. And realised I had been doing it all my life. While sipping cold tea. Cleansing…
I also learned to take off all my clothes and roll naked in the mud at the magnificent little waterfall that was hidden off one of the many paths leading up the mountain. Liberating. I stood outside the kitchen at night, after being the last to leave and switching off the lights. I stood in the blackness of the Overberg night, under the ancient tree…and didn’t flinch when the bat flew so close to my face that I felt its wings brush my face.
I sneaked my little CD player into the retreat and lay awake, listening to the frogs croak a million different notes…and the baboons argue over the best place in which to sleep in the blue gums, while Neil Young comforted me.
Not very Buddhist. But still replenishing.
And then I would creep up through the dark grass, hoping I would not step on a snake, up to the reservoir and swim silently in the cool water on a hot summer’s night.
While the water rocked against the walls and lapped over my floating body as I watched the stars.
With sufficient moonlight to see the dead frog fraying and decaying on the bottom…
And wishing I was “skinny dipping” with the Woodstock artist with the perfect body and fragile eyes.
But we were dead too. So I touched her perfect body with my mind. And got cold.
And warm. When I met a wise man. From Hawaii. Who filled my head with Rumi. And helped me find room in my heart…
to start again.
Bodhi Khaya is situated on Baviaans Fonteyn Farm, the oldest in the area. In 1791 the farm was granted to Dirk Cloete, son of Hendrick Cloete, owner of Groot Constantia and one of the Cape’s largest landowners at the time. The land has been divided, changed and re-shaped since then, but the present owner, Georgina Hamilton, has carefully created a sanctuary for those who wish to explore the thoroughfares of the heart and mind. Today Bodhi Khaya is an open and welcoming spiritual home for all.
Bodhi Khaya blends Buddhism with South African culture. ‘Bodhi’ means ‘awareness’ in Sanskrit and refers to the Buddha’s knowledge when he attained enlightenment 2500 years ago, while ‘khaya’ goes beyond its better-known meaning of ‘home’ to express a sense of belonging and a spiritual base. Building on the traditions of our physical and spiritual ancestors, Bodhi Khaya is a spiritual haven for those on their journey to awakening.
There are a plethora of reasons why we Stanfordians have been drawn to live in this little, old village in South Africa. I have a plethora all of my own.
One, one that I have grown to hugely appreciate and cherish over the past three and a bit years, is simplicity.
This is never more beautifully apparent than when I sit at my kitchen window in the mornings and look out over what I call “my back garden sanctuary”… and beyond that to the fields, where rainwater lakes have formed, and where Howard’s horses graze along with a group of fallow deer and guinea fowl and geese and ducks. And whatever else blew in overnight.
Beyond all of this are the magnificent trees that line the river. And the river, flowing purposefully towards the lagoon, now an estuary blissfully married to the ocean.
Beyond the river is Sillery Estate, the first ranks of houses one sees of Stanford. And, beyond the village, the rolling hills and their eventual horizon, which blends harmoniously with the great Overberg sky, proud purveyor of glorious sunrises and the most ridiculously ornate cloud formations, beguiling in swiftly changing moods.
But I summon you back to my home. And the little sanctuary outside my back door. It belongs to the birds. and the family of Four-striped Field Mice. And anything else that wants to afford me the privilege of visiting or taking up residence here.
Each morning I go out briefly, whistling my signal that the seed and breadcrumbs and, occasionally, leftover bits of cheese have been deposited on the old table and under the milkwood.
Then I sit back with coffee to enjoy the unscripted theatre of creatures small and even smaller. And I wonder. And I think. And I lose myself in the wonder of it all.
And the birds and the mice fly and scuttle. And they eat together. And both are terrorised by the dive-bombing evil that is the supremely irritating Pintail Whydah male. Which I am tempted to trap and post off to a research station on the icy edges of the Arctic.
Him aside, the birds and mice get along beautifully. And, out on the fields, the horses and the geese and the fallow deer and the guinea fowl and the newly-returned blue crane have all found their place — and their food sources — in perfect harmony.
So, I sit and drink this all in and marvel at it — and think and ponder and let my imagination run wild — and I wonder why it is that many Syrians cannot sit and eat at the same table with many other Syrians. And I wonder why Christians cannot stand as one with Muslims. And white with black.
And men who wear luxuriant moustaches and are prone to wearing yellow shirts and purple stovepipes and keep parakeets with those who are bald and completely dig throwing out a red paisley pattern vibe while filtering fish-tanks.
And those who own humungous and shiny SUVs with people who drive battered bakkies with home-made racing stripes. And those who cut fat deals in the corridors of power with those who have little more to cut than a slice of bread.
And I am left to ruminate over this. And to wonder why. And to look at the birds and mice. And to live in the civil harmony of it all.
The church was empty. No people, no people’s paraphernalia. No Sunday hats to show off their religion.
Only my hat. To cover the hairless patch. So the birds, flitting around high up in the roof of my lush cathedral, would not be tempted to take aim with fertiliser bombs.
In the church of my understanding, Platbos Forest, the service is ongoing. No words. Just the wind and the trees, talking in tongue (thank you, Leonard).
And lots of hymn. And him. And the Great Spirit. And her.. The birds, of course. The full panoply of song. And the canopy, alive with the buzzing of a million bees, their high voice as one, harmonised with the budding spring.
I walked into my church, mindful of warning the resident congregation that I came so there was no cause for alarm. The forest floor was damp and scented and musky and rich, the leaves, the bark, the twigs, the moss, the mould, the mulch, the Grandfather’s Beard all creaking and cracking in tune with my footfall. The anthem of the fallen.
The Fallen. This is why I had come back. To talk. To ask them, my family lost, for guidance. To find reassurance. And my truth.
A broken heart is blind (thank you, Dan, Patrick and Brian). And my heart, given to the woman with the hair that fades to grey, is now pulled to pieces. Lying on the greasy, oil-patchy floor of the Heartbreak Garage, waiting to be cleaned, mended and reassembled.
So I walk to my tree, my Family Tree, stopping only to pay respect to the thousand-year-old milkwood, wizened and wise, where my last camera gave up the ghost when a very lost man swooped down to protect his beautiful fruit.
My family are (and this is when I start to struggle to breathe and my feet get cold while writing this and I must stretch to find air for my lungs and go to find socks for my feet) bound up in the branches and stowed in the decaying trunk of a huge fallen milkwood. Lying, magnificent still, and still, on the forest floor off the path to the labyrinth.
Next to this down-to-earth land-art monument grows a much younger milkwood, its trunk straight, it’s many branches draped with grey-green beard and reaching for the light. Me. And, I imagine while sitting on the edge of the split pew in the family tree and looking up to the light, my sister and niece and cousins and their children. And their children’s children. It is painful. Because I am alone. Not lonely. Alone. Alone in this multi-sceptred church, all flying wooden buttresses and gargoyles of sculpted green, gleaming in God-rays.
The Living and the (not quite) Dead.
I talk to them. I thank them. For picking me up. Feeding me. Teaching me. What was right and what was wrong. I feel some Neil Young coming in…
“Let the angels ring the bells
In the holy halls
May they hear the voice that calls to them
For the love of man, who will understand
I know it’s alright
Down the dusty road
In the forest church. Let me wander there
Let me wonder why…”
For The Love of Man, Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young, Reprise Records, 2012.
Thanks again, Neil. You have always talked to me, for 40 years now.