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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

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


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