THE BEGINNING AND THE END
The start of the war.
Freedom Day, 27 April 1994.
The day of my wakening.
President Nelson Mandela rose from his chair and rainbow flags danced in the April breeze. His view was of his new country and he braced himself for its challenge, the beautiful and dreaded challenge that was the destruction of the chains. But as he opened his mouth to speak, the sky bleached white.
Summon the demons. Summon the souls of our angry past, of our ancestors, black and white – dead and red.
Long Live South Africa.
Death was how death should be at the heart of a nuclear attack. For those on the ground, white and black, it was a mere and sudden slip into nothingness. No anticipation. No fear. There, the soul’s elimination was without decay, instantly wiped from the surface of Earth like a smudge from a windscreen, blood to dust, flesh to vapour, utter obliteration – humans pieces left to wonder as the bits between air.
Those were the lucky few indeed – the millions in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Across that immensity, the bomb wiped the surface clean for a fresh start; it castrated the country before its birth and in one foul swoop, everything there was erased. Those were the lucky few indeed.
The destruction at the Cape was slower, met defiantly by Umkhonto we Sizwe. There, the war of colour, the war between blacks and whites, was spewed in slow-motion red and each died for their own – by pangas and bullets – falling to the floor in black-skin screams and slashes of khaki murder. The KBB fought with the pride of their ancestors; the MK with the revenge promised to their own.
In Natal, Van X’s gunnery was met by the stocky Zulu who, like their fathers, filtered the Afrikaner soldiers into buffalo horns and slaughtered them. Black on white. White on black. Hundreds dead, then thousands, then millions until soon white and black bodies lay about in the stench of their same coloured blood, murdered by men that were never meant to kill, men that were meant to live in a country that exists now only in a parallel world, one where I succeeded and you are alive.
For this was the war that was never meant to be, the world that was never meant to unfold. The universe that I had failed to prevent.
In the months that followed, a dull, golden blanket of the bomb’s radiation – the dust of Joburg’s mine dumps scattered – spread across South Africa and killed everyone remaining from centre to coast – a poisoned, yellow mist of suffocation. South Africa breathed one last breath and died.
Nothing was left.
Everything was dead.
Everyone was dead.
Everyone except me.
BEFORE VAN RIEBEECK
A thousand years before my wakening.
My name is Victor Vilikazi and I am alive.
I cannot be sure to when I have travelled but there is no place called Cape Town, only untouched fynbos here beneath the shadow of the table. It could be years, perhaps thousands, until Van Riebeeck arrives. There is truly no way of knowing.
I have considered moving eastwards to find the amaXhosa, if indeed their people have arrived in this part of Africa, or perhaps inwards to find the Khoikhoi as I can see none here — but if I am successful, I fear that my language will mean nothing to them anyway, its urgency left hollow as I pass it along. So, I must be careful. Because these words are our last hope, I must leave them safely here instead for a future who can understand them. Any future of mine, of ours, of this place that will one day be filled with Mandela Men, South Africans like you and me.
Something went desperately wrong. I suspect the radiation from the fallout disturbed my genetics sending me here instead and, as you will learn, there are no second chances. My state of wake is over and I am caged here now, no longer a traveller, dead in my first life. So here, now, years before any of it happens, I leave these words to you.
Before I begin, it is important to know that these words were not meant for you. They were meant for Nelson Mandela. But, as my final journey has failed to find him, I have no choice but to leave them now for you. As they are my duty to share, they will become your duty to resolve. So, I ask with kindness: Will you take these words and use them to change the future? Will you take these words and use them to defeat the horror that will come? Yes, the fate of this place is literally in your hands as you are the last person who can end the war, the war that destroys South Africa — the race war between blacks and whites. I have seen our end and I have died trying to prevent it but as you will learn this conclusion is not set. This end can be changed and you can change it. History is at your time-altering mercy.
In here, I have shared everything. Every last piece of memory and history that could be gathered, all broken up for you and, with hindsight, carefully written from what I brought back with me — a collection of everything and the truth. Joseph Nkosana, a man you will come to respect as I have, dedicated his life to piecing it all together and now, shared as words as best I can write them, it is a journal written for all South Africans. As a record of our lives here, as a dissection of all history, these words are the true story of us.
It is not only my memory of things, but the truest records of a country now destroyed. For here too are the memories of Joseph Nkosana and the words of a white Rhodesian. Here lies the truth behind the death of Chris Hani, the drowning of Makhanda Nxele, the forces behind Paul Kruger’s gold. Here lies the lost Log of Executions, the destiny of a prodigy, the will of the red berets. Here lies the story of South African lovers. Of mothers. Of brothers. Of enemies. Of blacks and whites that is our truth, that when puzzled together will paint a picture so frightening it will unsettle the depths of your very soul; it will question the truths of your African life here, its misconceptions, all colourful, all black and white and spewed in blood, red across the rainbow. It will un-weave what is real and what has gone and will build it all again, all with sick little pieces of death that is this story. For this story is my story. This story is yours.
Find comfort in knowing that you are not a stranger in this journal. This journal is as much yours as it is mine and the fact that you are reading it now means that you are as much a part of it as it is a part of you and how you react to it will have consequences. Know this: Allowing you to read this journal could kill me before I am born; it may kill every last one of us. But, I have no choice. Death will come to all of us if I do nothing and I cannot live without having tried to save us.
Certainly, these words will confound you. They will urge you to reconsider the very nature of time and how it comes to weave us. Time is more complex than we ever could have imagined and it will beg you for a solution. On its knees and in tears, it will beg from the deepest of your sympathies, from the most thoughtful of your decisions; it will beg you annoyingly like the beggar does, the one you wished would disappear but does not, would vanish but never does. Always and forever, it will stain your brain with the unending guilt of its presence until you solve it. Until you fix us.
Perhaps there is an answer here, buried somewhere deep within these pages. If you find it, change our history and fix us. But be careful, as this journal will reveal playing with time is more treacherous than we ever could have imagined as its very nature has both created and destroyed us. As you will come to learn that in changing history you may indeed save South Africa. But, in changing history, you may destroy us too.
No matter what you choose to do, please, I beg you now like the beggar does: Do not use this knowledge for your own gain. Think wisely about what in South Africa’s past can be changed and what should be. And in doing so, ask yourself this: Will it be better for all of us or will we cease to be?
My name is Victor Vilikazi and I am both dead and alive. I have not found Mandela and I have not ended the war. It will come again unless you stop it.
Save us whoever reads these words. Save us all.
Hillbrow, Joburg. 2019.
48 hours before my wakening.
The city stinks. Its filth is scattered along the edges of its tar, carried in streams of urine to its sewers. It’s clean up time.
A block of brown flats is painted in winter’s dust. Joburg is thick with it, reddish brown like a heavy blanket. Like poverty, relentless here, unending like the screams of murder that have never settled to peace. This is where I met her, where I last saw her alive in the few moments of calm before they stormed the place, before five officers picked through its veins, cable-tying pleading foreigners like stray dogs, prepping them for the violent send back to the parts of Africa they dared leave.
For now, cleaner streets.
The Mozambican vanished and I was left alone with the recycled pieces of the woman I had finally found, all limp and white and used up, like a warm condom.
‘Lelie,’ I shook her, partly to check if she was alive and partly to make sure that indeed it was her, here in this devil’s place. She struggled to answer and used her forehead to drag her eyelids open like an old curtain raiser. She was alive, barely, squashed to the underside of Africa’s golden promise like a malignant stompie, like an oozing cockroach made flat.
In that moment I wondered what she made of me and how then, how in all the hellishness, she knew who I was.
‘They’re coming for you, Victor,’ is what she whispered. ‘Run.’
But before I could I ask from whom or why, and before I could ask all those questions that had been burning inside of me, Lelie slipped from that life into the next, the answers to all of my questions gone with her. Dead.