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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Do Less, Not More

IMG_0001Do less, not more.

Sit back and let the interviewee connect the dots.

It’s not our job to labour under cognitive dissonance.

It’s not our task to protect by discretion.

It’s our job to >

  • Speak our minds.
  • Ask the questions.
  • Seek congruence, clarity, sanity.
  • Feel the weight of our confusion.

Find the people you belong to

My grandfather Jan Harms Steenkamp was a father, patriarch, sheep farmer.

‘’Hy was ‘n streng man, ‘n harde man,’’ my late uncle told me.

My uncle died close to the Misverstand Dam. He’d been playing golf.

My father actually literally died due to a misunderstanding. He’d attended a ceremony in Stellenbosch where he was awarded a golf trophy and on Polkadraai, on the way home, on a street without street lights, my dad tried to overtake a car.

He miscalculated. It didn’t end well.

His last words, according to my uncle in the passenger seat, were, ‘’Oh God, I’ve ……’’ I can’t remember the rest. It was an acknowledgement of the miscalculation of overtaking a car and then facing an oncoming car.

It may be that my entire ancestral line is a misunderstanding.

I have often wondered:

Did Jan Harms Steenkamp actually like sheep?

Did Jan Harms Steenkamp actually love his children?

Again, according to my late uncle, not only were he and his eight siblings beaten daily, but my mother was a prime target for the beatings. At five years old, she was beaten by both her parents. Often.

‘’Het Ouma dan nie vir my ma beskerm nie?’’ I asked.

My uncle laughed and replied:

‘’Nee, kyk, my ouers het nooit gestry oor dissipline nie. As my pa vir ons pak gee, dan hits my ma hom aan. ‘Slaan!’ En as my ma ons slaan, dan se my pa: ‘Slaan!’ My pa het ons aan God opgedra. Hy was ‘n harde man.’’

Folks, as I acknowledge the full extent of my heritage, here in the Northern Cape, I ask myself on a daily basis:

IMG_0008What are my non-negotiables?

Who are my family?

Where do I thrive?

Is it possible that I was born in the wrong tribe?

FRIDGE MAGNET: Find the people you belong to. Keep howling.

Questions crack open the cocoon

The right questions literally (my new word) thrust the psyche into crisis.

If you live a lie (Cognitive Dissonance Central), then questions, your questions, or the questions of others, thrust that cognitive dissonance into a corner.

Keep on asking the questions. Keep on asking for guidance from the Inner GPS for the right questions to appear.

Questions thrust the neural pathways into a new formation.

Questions take the status quo and say Fuck You. I’m not asleep.

FRIDGE MAGNET: Questions. But which ones?


Questions crack open the fairy tale

IMG_0012If you call out abuse, you may feel guilty.


You may feel you’re disloyal to the abuser.


Because you may be trained to keep the peace.

But… why?

Because as a child, keeping the peace kept you safe / alive.


Because the abusers raised you, took you to the beach or park, or took you on outings where they flipped their bush plane around, for ‘’fun.’’

But ….why?

Because they were raised on a sheep farm in Calvinia by parents who beat them daily, who taught them that boys don’t feel, that girls are ‘’nice.’’

But ….. why?

Because the cult they adhered to taught the doctrine above.

Now my blog post could add more But …why’s? But you, reader, get the gist and YOU do the emotional & intellectual labour here, thanks. XXX

FRIDGE MAGNET: Questions crack open the fairy tale.

Elders. A Family of our own.

Almost a decade ago, I drove from Vredehoek, on the slopes of Table Mountain, to Wellington, to visit my Afrikaans uncle and aunt. My uncle was not only my mom’s older brother, he happened to be the last person who saw my dad alive.

My dad died in 1964, in a head-on collision on Polkadraai, in Stellenbosch.

My uncle was in the passenger seat, he only realized my dad was dead when they arrived at the hospital and the ambulance staff asked the hospital staff to collect the body in the vehicle. Not the passenger, but the corpse. ”Die lyk.”

During the visit, almost a decade ago, my aunt and uncle drove me to their son’s farm, also in Wellington. My cousin was not at home, but I met his wife and their son, a dashing young polo player. We’d never met and what I recall was his deferential manner, and the way he addressed me as ”tannie.”

”Tannie” this. ”Tannie” that. He was, I realized in hindsight, surrounded by the family elders: his grandfather, his grandmom, his mother, and me, his dad’s cousin.

Every Afrikaans woman knows that sinking feeling when a gorgeous young Afrikaans male calls you ”tannie,” and you realize, OMG, I’m old.

As the youngest of four children, and on my father’s side of the family, as the youngest of the Townsend cousins (my father was also the youngest of four children), I used to see myself as the ”baby” of the family. My mom called me that till the day she died. After her death, during the week I spent in our family home, helping with the funeral arrangements, the phone kept on ringing and when people heard my name, e.g. the Huisgenoot staff who’d phoned to check up on my mom, the first thing they said was, ”O! Anne! Is jy nou die baba van die gesin?!”

Folks, as the former baby of the family, I’ve renegotiated my status.

Since I reported CSA, since I made it my business to research and report CSA, I graduated to elder. It’s not a position I want. It’s a position I got given.

This blog post is dedicated to all the elders out there. To those of you who’re processing the trauma of CSA, who’re dealing with the retraumatization of the aftermath of the telling, who’re estranged from the told, I dedicate this to you.

Elders. We’re a family of our own. We do the work not because we want to.

We do it because life is short, we live with death on our doorsteps. And elders are the ones to indicate to the young, the traditions of the family.

The traditions of my family, as I learnt them from my aunt and uncle almost a decade ago on that long day in Wellington?

Taboo topics are not forbidden. My dad’s corpse. The death of a family man.

We discussed this as adults, there were tears and silences, and even prayers.

Incest is no longer a taboo topic. This elder has decided it will be spoken.

If you know what week of the lock down it is, I salute you. My lock down has turned out to be productive, dramatic, unpredictable and life shattering. So in the time we have left, to all the elders out there, doing the work, this post is for you. You, and you.


image by anne townsend

Silence? Friend or Foe.

The all-time irony of protecting a family, of enabling a cheater, of bailing out a chaotic friend?

It *diesn’t work.

On the long-term, the dishonesty, lack of integrity, and resentment you feel, will trap you. Not immediately, but some day.

There is no long-term joy from maintaining a (toxic) status quo.

There is no peace from silencing yourself, in order to lie.

If you marvel at a friend’s lifestyle, behaviour, values and misogyny? It’s a lie to remain silent. You’re a fraud.

If you deeply resent the years of silence from family who did not do the bare minimum in supporting your work? Silence protects them, it lies about who you are and where you stand.

Silence lies.

Silence nourishes in some instances. Silent retreats? Life-changing.

Silence is vastly under-rated. But silence can be frankly slimy.

Silence depends on intention. Silences are sublime or sinister.

Silence deserves a nuanced investigation. Silence? Friend, or foe.

*As a long time fan of Freudian slip-typos, I leave the diesn’t as is.

Karoo Bee

image by a townsend


My House My Rules

As I switched on my laptop today, in my spacious internet-free home (psychologically spacious, psychically spacious), I read the following message:

Getting Windows ready
Working on updates
67% complete
Don’t turn off your computer.

Indeed, this is the nature of boundary work. It is on-going.

One deeper understanding and decades of boundary pushing lights up.

Remember, boundary pushers know full well what they’re up to.

Don’t doubt for a second that boundary pushers are about anything but control and power and domination.

Next time a boundary pusher walks into (ponces into) your personal space?

Take control. Be inventive, creative, innovative and be in charge.

My House. My Rules. That is my Fridge Magnet for today.

There is no written law that boundary pushers deserve your hospitality or your friendship, just because they are in your home.

Even more reason, in your personal space, to get these boundary pushers where they belong, outside, in the garden, in the street, or escorted out by security.

Boundary pushers manipulate, they push the limits of your hospitality.

Boundary pushers study you, they know what to do, when & how.

Take charge of your life. Take the lead with every boundary pusher you meet.

Newfound vitality, creativity, life force and prana will flood through your cells.

From a recent convert to Taking the Lead, this you can take to the bank.

Boundary pushing is an art? So is taking charge of the eviction of the BP.


image by anne townsend 

Life is over before you blink

As I now live in a Karoo house, without home internet, and right now there’s load shedding, I type this in bed, swaddled in fleecies and blankets, by candlelight.

My neighbour changed his WIFI password and I no longer have access to the internet from my home, which means, I’m free. Liberated from screen addiction.

My long addicted days of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been replaced by reading books, cooking healthy meals, researching trauma and recovery, and putting my house in order. It’s that simple.

One password change and I got my life back.

I know that addiction requires denial, rationalization, minimization and stealth, and I have those qualities in spades. I also know that my home is begging to be reframed as a healing centre for addicts.

It’s often spooky to live in a historical building, as I did in Barrydale, and now in the Karoo. The building I currently occupy used to house a butcher and a butchery.

Carcasses. Corpses. Animals that became cuisine.

Addiction turns our lives into a graveyard. Addiction is, in a nutshell, a type of death, so what I’d like to share with you, on this windy Karoo night?

Find help. Ask for guidance. If you ask yourself to be your guide?

Denial. Rationalization. Minimization. Stealth.

It often requires an outside intervention such as a password change.

It may require joining a group of screen addicts.

It’s not enough to look around and compare yourself to the people you live and work with. Believe me, they’re addicts too, they’re not the ones to extricate you.

Simplicity is wealth. Candlelight, silence, frugal meals due to lack of funds, reading books we already own, and walking outside in the wind and the rain.

Simplicity beats the buffet of Instagram. Simplicity trumps the smorgasbord on Twitter. Simplicity unfurls in the absence of YouTube clips on mindfulness.

FRIDGE MAGNET FOR JULY: Free yourselves. Life is over before you blink.



images by anne townsend


It will jump straight back out

Ava-Santina@AvaSantina (on Twitter) 

Does anyone have any advice for a bird that’s fallen out it’s nest? It’s a baby robin that sounds very distressed.  I’ve given him bread and water but what’s the rules on touching them?! Help

Wildlife Orphanage@WildlifeOrphan1 (on Twitter)

It’s not fallen out of the nest. It’s a fledgling. Birds cannot smell so if you touch it, it won’t be rejected by its parents, which by the way will know exactly where their youngster is & will still be feeding it. Even if put back in the nest, it will jump straight back out.


Thanks to Twitter, which late on Sunday night provided this little parable, I’d like to add, as a fledgling feminist, and a fledgling human, that when I return to people, places, energies and frequencies that I’ve outgrown, I, too, jump straight back out. It is painful but also nourishing to revisit places and people that remind you of what you used to put up with, that jolt you into understanding how toxic you were, how you plumped up on gossip, on baiting, on canoodling with the very energies that now churn your gut.

I haven’t fallen, I flew. I may have to fly a few times before I get it right.

IMG_0031garden (2)IMG_0031


Do it anyway

IMG_0001The New Existence will render the old life a building site, wreckage, concrete, bits of glass.
The New Existence will push you towards people, places, conversations that would have your old self bewildered, baffled, mute, numb.
There is no New Existence *plus* keeping the old life intact.
There’s no both…. and.
Sorry, but it’s not my job to coddle you, to bullshit my way into lies and denial.
There *is* no New Existence until the old building is demolished. Do it anyway.


images by anne townsend, northern cape, south africa