The art of repairing broken pottery

Helen Zille

I am finally reading Helen Zille’s autobiography Not Without 
a Fight. I bought it in November to read on our seven-
night cruise from Durban to the Islands of Mozambique, but there were too many distractions 
then and afterwards to settle down with her 500-page masterpiece.

Now I am enjoying her remarkable recall of the political shenanigans before and after 1994 as well as her honesty about her life.

Like her German-Jewish background, her mother’s depression, her younger sister’s deafness, starving herself nearly to death and her affairs of the heart before marrying Johannes Maree who, is clearly no “Mr Zille”. He is very much his own man.

From my days in the Cape Times newsroom, I knew of Helen’s reputation for good looks and courageous investigation as the Rand Daily Mail reporter who unravelled the truth about the death of Steve Biko. Yet, I doubt if any of her admirers knew she had started out life named Ota Helene. However, when teachers started writing it “Otter”, her parents promoted and anglicised her second name to Helen.

Coincidentally, Helen is the anglicised version of my Gaelic second name, Eilidh (pronounced Ailie). So when my Rustenburg teachers called me Elijah, like the prophet, I changed that name to Helen.

The real Helen’s book introduced me to kintsukuroi (keen-tsoo-koo-roy), the Japanese word describing the art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer and perceiving that the damaged object is now even more beautiful than before.

The philosophy behind the concept can be applied to anything in life. It requires a shift from a negative to a positive attitude about damaged or imperfect goods, be it a person, a face, country or handicap.

Helen learnt about kintsukuroi from her sister, Carla, who wanted Helen to react differently to her deafness. And Helen admits that had she understood kintsukuroi, she might have handled better the relationship between them.

“I might have asked the right questions at the right times and listened to the answers rather than trying to interpret things from her vantage point through our eyes. As a family, we might have acknowledged her situation, rather than merely accepting it. Acknowledging requires empathetic appreciation of the difficulties a person faces. In our family, we all too often avoided facing these issues masking denial as acceptance. It was all too easy with deafness because it has no visible manifestation.”

Pretty house now an eyesore

For years it was the well-kept home of the late Erica Manning, who in her will generously divided the wealth few knew she had between the arts and animals. Those benefiting included Cape Town Opera, Cape Town City Ballet, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and animal protection societies.

What made Erica’s home so special was that no high walls, gates or hedges hid the attractive white double-storey home with its bright pink shutters and garage doors. From the road you could walk right up to her front door past her wonderfully free-flowering roses. When I once asked her how she achieved this she replied: “Oh, my dear, I don’t do them myself. I have a man who comes in to look after them.”

After her death in 2014, the house stood empty for ages before it was auctioned. Then months passed before the new owners appeared and began renovating.

It was hard to know what they had in mind because the 12 cement-brick pillars built to mark out the front of the garden and enlarging and raising the garage walls didn’t seem either to suit or to beautify the property. However, I hoped for the best, waiting for a good end result. Instead nothing has happened on the site for weeks.

Usually money or planning permission causes building stoppages. I wonder how much longer the neighbours will put up with the eyesore that No 10 has now become before calling for some action.

Holiday season short lived

It’s good to hear that the Cape has enjoyed such a bumper holiday season. Some of my young friends have hardly spent a night in their own homes this summer. They’ve been letting them out under the popular “airbnb” system to make money for the year ahead. Single mums putting children through schools find it an expensive business these days… and it becomes more and more so with every year their sons and daughters progress up the school ladder.

Unfortunately the tourist influx does not last long. I asked a Langebaan shopkeeper how his season had been and he said: “Great but it was all over after the first week in January.”

“What about all the kite surfers charging up and down the lagoon in wild winds?” I asked.

He shook his head expressively. “They come mainly from Europe… and they all ask for discounts. I say, ‘No siree. You have your euros to buy my sunglasses. I have first to pay for them in our feeble rands.’”

Firemen inhale more smoke than smokers

Spare a thought for the lungs of the firemen, professionals or volunteers, who have been trying to contain the fires in appalling conditions of wind and heat. What is so distressing is that some of these fires are acts of arson.

A nursing sister told me that worst cases of smoke inhalation she encountered were not from smokers but firemen. Smokers inhale for fun. Firemen inhale saving our homes and veld.

Face your age

Don’t you hate it when you see an old person and realise you went to school together?