In Shadow of the Dragon

Photo:  Farm in the Southern Drakensberg - Eastern Cape.  WW Schwim 2008
Photo: Farm in the Southern Drakensberg – Eastern Cape. WW Schwim 2008


Cast in dragon shadow, sombre with morning dew, low lichen splattered sandstone walls of an empty sheepfold wait patiently for the warmth of sunshine creeping slowly across the valley.

Optimistic willows, new against tawny grasslands form scattered strings of bottle beads to mark the spruit that presses deep rippling folds into a quilted landscape. Trilling calls of unseen guinea fowl soften the silence of this Eastern Cape valley basking beneath a crisp a sky, lost in another time – forgotten.

Spaced with military precision, rows of sentinel poplars stand erect and tall, dressing the fallow fields and lining gravel roads scraped over dark once fertile soil. A tiny whitewashed farmhouse, tucks up against the bare vastness of a mountain. Red flaking roof and lifeless windows agape, it hides embarrassed, behind a blanket of sheltering greenery.

Ripped by storm, the once painted ironclad shed stands apart like an ostracized servant with missing metal sheets and clanking door – rooster less. Beneath a gangly arthritic windpump, crippled by wind and time, stone fence posts remain – askew, freed from barbed wire bondage, they mark an erstwhile vegetable garden of which only dusty grass grown mounds testify its past. Huddled around in faded livery, an untidy collection of worn out farm implements; discarded – rusting. The old Vaaljaapie tractor, (Massey Fergusson) squats  where it eventually stopped, grey hood raised – in eternal hope. Tyres flat and grass bound with neglect, it stares dejectedly at weed ridden fields.This microscopic oasis in a vast arid wilderness looks up imploringly to unsympathetic hills. Dark granite crosses engraved with flaking white script: Between the names and dates speak a living story of faith, courage and hope – betrayed.

Out of sight (for now), a blight, the unstoppable black locust of “progress” pauses for its next leap.


© WW Schwim

Author’s Note

May I present little background for perspective:

These farms were established soon after the 1820 settler arrived in the Eastern Cape. Their speciffic role was to establish a buffer zone between the Cape colony and the Xhosa  warlords. Not only that, bushmen raiders from the mountains stole livestock and lawless Griqua gangs ruthlessly plundered whatever they could. There was only token support from the cash strapped British administration so coupled with natural hazards like sickness and wild animals, the early settlers had a hard life.

In spite of that they prospered and many of these farms have remained run by the same families for many generations. In recent times however, economic and social pressures have forced people from the land. Children migrate to cities where life is easier so when the elders pass on there is no-one to carry on.

Worse, however is the ever growing threat of land grabs, violent crime and urban sprawl. Precious resources are simply not enough to go around. Vacant farms are invaded and vandalized making conditions even worse for neighbors and conglomerates buy up farms for commercial use.

A sad state indeed and too common for comfort not only in Africa but worldwide .Food producers are under pressure and the old style family farm will soon be a thing of the past.

My script attempts to sketch a scene deeper than that which the photograph depicts.

© WW Schwim


And you succeeded in doing just that.   The words paint a vivid picture even without the photo — it’s rich with alliteration, resonance, and imagery.  The shed standing apart like an ostracized servant. the gangly arthritic windpump, and the fenceposts freed from barbed wire bondage all contribute to a lonely mood — desperate yet dauntless — and your supplemental background information adds poignancy to this evocative scene.

Thank you for it.

Mary Boren