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Thursday, March 17, 2005


On Saturday, I found myself dressed in black and watching Kagiso's coffin being lowered into the pale dirt of Roodepoort cemetery in Dobsonville, Soweto. A fearsome sun sucked the ground dry as Kagiso's family--to the sounds of a choir singing--walked up to the grave, grabbed a handful of petals and then dropped them into the hole.

When Kagiso's girlfriend, carrying his nine month-old son, walked up to the grave, the look of utter sorrow and despair on her face finished me. From then on, it was a struggle to keep my composure.

Yet that wasn't the moment that'll stand out like a light in dark when the memories fade. That was when the grave was filled. As is custom, Kagiso's friends and relatives filled in the hole with shovels (and even, in one case, bare hands). The Dandelion of Soweto attacked the pile of dirt as if the world depended on him filling the grave within minutes. Clouds of yellow dust filled the air, surrounding me. The same dust that comes from the mine dumps surrounding the township. Gigantic, towering flattops of old tailings from the gold mines that built Johannesburg. Tailings choked with cyanide, lead, arsenic, sulfur, mercury. Each gust of wind picks up some of the tailing and deposits them (as dust fines) down on the township.

As I watched them fill the grave and then plant a cross at its head (many of the adjacent graves had only numbers for headstones), I thought, "Born in dust, lived in dust, buried in dust."

So, come here Mr. Elliot, and I will show you terror and hopelessness in a handful of Dobsonville dust.


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