Breaking a bone or two in the name of love

One of my teachers told the story of a "good, racist farmer who so loved his blacks" he thought he was their god.

One of my teachers told the story of a "good, racist farmer who so loved his blacks" he thought he was their god.

He thought he owned them in much the same way he owned his farm, animals and furniture.

One day he beat up one of his workers so badly that the man ended up in hospital with a few broken limbs.

The case ended up in court where the bemused farmer pleaded innocence. He agreed that he had beaten up the black man, but could not understand the chutzpah of the police, who had decided to drag him to court. As far as he was concerned, he had done nothing wrong.

"Of course I did it. It was on my farm, my kierie ... and my kaffir."

On another occasion, a neighbouring farmer beat up one of his workers, and our farmer saw red. He confronted his neighbour and threatened to shoot his head off.

"Niemand slaan my kaffirs nie," he barked.

That's how much he "loved" his workers, and they in turn thought he was a loving, protective baas. If he beat you up, it was obviously because you deserved it. It was for your own good.

The stories, true or not, left an indelible mark on my young mind. I grew up extremely suspicious of whites who "loved" us blacks. When I saw white folks adopting black children as soon as the laws allowed it, I thought they probably did so because their landlords would not allow pets on their properties. It was also a problem taking a chihuahua into several supermarkets - so a black child was a workable compromise.

Back to "owning" people.

I was at the wedding of my cousin Jerry Mosieleng the other day, and listening to the advice the young couple got from both families' elders, it dawned on me that the era of people "owning" others is probably gone.

In years past, the emphasis from the elders - most often the grannies - was that the bride must persevere, come what may. The bride could flee to her home, blue and swollen from a thorough beating, and her own family would throw her out because they had "no right" to keep someone else's wife - their own child for goodness sake.

I was once in the company of a couple known to fight almost daily. The fights were one-sided - the man was a toughie who was known to beat up other men as well.

Looking at his knuckles, I could imagine the bone-crushing clank of his fists exploding into the poor woman's face.

After hacking her with a panga several times, turning what was a pretty woman into a phuza-faced s'botho, the man ran out of ideas to humiliate his live-in lover. He somehow got a new kick out of calling her names in public. His favourite was "Satan".

He would say (after a couple of drinks, of course): "Satan!"

The woman, giggling stupidly, would respond: "I know I am Satan. Hee-hee-hee. I am your Satan. You feed me. You love me!"

A part of me thought she deserved it for allowing herself to be his doormat. The other part of me thought she saw him as her owner.