Planting Trees in South Africa Can Bring Miracles

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The Gentle Men’s Movement (that’s Tim O’Hagan and I for this day) went to plant more trees for Anene Booysen on Women’s Day. I am overwhelmed. By what I see as miracles. Little miracles, perhaps, but still they overwhelm me.

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I go to Platbos Forest early on Women’s Day to buy two trees to plant in what I’m calling “Anene Row” at the Kleinbegin RDP area near Bredasdorp. Yes, the place where she was brutalised, raped and murdered on February 2 this year.

I take R100, donated to The Gentle Men’s Movement by Beatrice Pook of Stanford, and Platbos owners Melissa and Francois suggest two Karoo acacias, which will be hardy enough to withstand the harshness of the conditions and life at Kleinbegin. To stand near to the White Pear we planted on Mandela Day.

I pay with the R100, Melissa doesn’t have the R20 change and I tell her not to worry, that the R100 was meant to go into the trees which will bring healing to Anene’s community. Francois says: “Well, take another tree.” And produces a beautiful Cape Ash sapling…

When I meet Tim outside Mozart’s coffee shop in Bredasdorp, he has brought a tree too. And some pincushion flowers to place at the foot of the tree. This is beautiful. But the best is still to come…

My heart is in my mouth as we drive out to Kleinbegin. To continue our “small beginning”. Because I’m wondering if the White Pear has survived the three weeks or so since I was last here. I’m wondering if little Rocco, the boy who had his eye pecked out by “a mad rooster” when he was much younger, has been watering the tree. And telling the other children not to break its branches, not to pull it out of the ground, not to dishonour the memory of Anene.

It has. It is. It is there. Flourishing. Leafy. Growing. Rocco has been watering The Anene Tree. And here he is, beside me. Left home alone by his mother and the other children. Rocco doesn’t talk. Traumatised, I think. And he doesn’t smile much. Or show any emotion. But there is a glimmer of a smile when I thank him profusely for taking good care of the White Pear.

I tell him we have come to plant more trees. He nods. I ask him to fill the big bucket with water and he disappears. Tim and I start digging holes for the four trees we will place in the gaps between the five houses in Anene Row. But Tim has to get back to Franskraal by a certain time so, once we have planted his tree, which produces purple flowers all year round, and one of the acacias and the Cape Ash, he sets off home.

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Tim O’Hagan gets his chakra colours flowing.

Rocco, all the while, has been standing nearby and watching solemnly, silently, unsmilingly, unemotionally. Only moving when asked to fetch more water.

With Tim gone, I plant the last Karoo acacia in the gap between Rocco’s mother’s house and another owned by an old man called Henry, who grew tired of dogs and children killing his lambs as they grazed alongside the nearby culvert and now keeps his new lamb inside an enclosure behind his matchbox house, where he feeds it by hand.

With each of the four trees already planted, I’ve been talking to Rocco, telling him how deep and wide to make the hole, how much compost to put in, how to mix it with the soil, how to place the sapling in the hole, how to build a little dam wall around the trunk. He has watched silently, solemnly… and has never shown any interest in helping. He seems to understand that his job is to water the trees after I have gone.

 

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Rocco Phaff. A beautiful boy who has humbled me.

I’m chattering away to him as I begin to build the “klein dammetjie” around the last acacia. “This is how you do it, Rocco,” I say to him. “This is what you need to…”

He drops to his knees beside me, silently. And begins to make a mound around the tree. With me. With the soil clasped firmly in his small hands, he is building. Helping. Giving.

And when I look up to thank him, he is smiling back at me, the eye that is not “n’ alabaster” (a marble eye or a glass eye) twinkling a little.

I am not sorry to say this to you. I wanted to cry floods of tears right there and then. Enough tears to water Anene’s trees for an eternity.

So I allowed myself one big tear, one big, fat, really swollen guy that wobbled drunkenly down my cheek and fell into the strangely yellow earth. Where Anene’s 17-year-old body, raped and mutilated, lay bleeding to death six-and-a-bit months ago.

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 The Kleinbegin Crew. We plant trees. And we rock.