Prepare for Landing

The plane banks, straightens, banks. The captain’s voice:
‘…a lovely day in Cape Town. On your right
Is Table Mountain, and below us here
A view of Robben Island in the bay.
We have enjoyed your company, and bid
You all a proud South African farewell.’

How many years did planes bank, straighten, bank
And pass the dreadful place with nothing said?
‘…a lovely day in Cape Town. On your right
Is Table Mountain, and below us here
A view of Robben Island in the bay.
You can just glimpse our future president,
Whom one day we shall always have admired.
We’ve done our best to break him and his kind.
He’s at his morning exercise down there,
Surviving, hoping, husbanding his strength.’

The man beside me, flying home, promotes
The island’s ‘fascinating history’.
He has been kind enough to share, all night,
His knowledge of the country: what to see,
Which districts to avoid, what wines to try.
In desperation I was forced to write
And, when he asked me what it was, feign sleep.

Forgive, forget?
Oppressors grant themselves amnesia
By sole permission of the blessed fact
That the oppressed forgive.

Listen to this poem — read by the author