Rick Andrew (1947 - ) was born in Johannesburg, and moved to KwaZulu Natal in 1966 and has lived there ever since. Rick introduces himself thus: "From 1977 to 1995 I painted, using the medium of Acrylic on canvas, and I concentrated on the landscape. I held several one man exhibitions in Durban and Johannesburg. My interest in the landscape was to record its uniqueness, and personally, to find some sense of belonging or identity. In 1996 I stopped painting and concentrated on writing since I was involved in an M. Tech. thesis. To offset the objectivity required by the masters, and partly as a kind of therapy, I wrote an account of my experiences in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1976. I was surprised and pleased that it was published by Penguin in 2001, under the title of Buried In The Sky, and has been reprinted twice. For the last three years I have been writing a movie script set in Durban with a focus on the lives of three students. Recently, however, I have begun to realise just how big a difference there is between literature and a movie script."
From Buried in the Sky (2001)
Leaving Pietermaritzburg in December of 1975 I was pursuing a dream. I saw myself as a minstrel in a green jacket. My hair was long, touching my shoulders, and I was standing under the night sky of the Wild Coast, my guitar in my hand.
It was time to break free.
As art teacher at Maritzburg College, a wide gap had been forming between the restrictions of the job and the needs of my soul. I was tired of working to the background music of cadet bugles and the cane flapping the backsides of boys in grey flannels. I had had three major disagreements with the headmaster, who was a mathematician. After our short, formal, and rather strained encounters, each time I was left feeling that he did not believe the study of art to be a worthy academic pursuit. I believed that art was life itself. However, he was the headmaster, confident and composed, though I noticed a momentary tremor in his eyes when he saw the small ruby earring in my left earlobe. I was turning into an alien right there - in the corridors of those sacred rugby precincts.
I resigned, fitted out a Combi, and hit the road with my wife and small daughter.
We left in the rain about a week before Christmas, and headed south, performing at various hotels along the coast. I have memories of thick, muddy flood waters powering to the sea beneath the bridge at Port St Johns, moonlight on the waves at Coffee Bay, and halls packed with Christmas dancers at Kei Mouth and Morgan's Bay.
In the ablution blocks of campsites along the way I would invariably catch the news on someone's portable radio. It was not good. The South African army had penetrated deep into Angola. In some of the newspapers there were pictures of armoured convoys in an empty landscape. Something serious was going on, but press restrictions limited our knowledge and made it difficult to build up a picture of the situation. However, it seemed like war - the real thing - on the international chess board of power.
Like a dark rolling cloud, this news pursued us on our journey.
For the month of February we worked in East London at the Sportsman's Bar in the Queen's Hotel. Food and accommodation were supplied. We used to play the cocktail hour and the evening slot from eight to twelve, with a fifteen minute break in each hour. Gill and I both played guitar and sang, some cover versions and some of our own compositions.
On slow nights a few travelling salesmen sat watching us, sipping their drinks. At the end of a set we might receive a note with a request, or the offer of a drink. We'd look across the room and our latest patron would wave us over to his table. Usually he would feast his eyes on the singer - my wife - hardly pretending any interest in me.
[ ... ]
I was reading a paperback of the letters of Vincent van Gogh, and there was a passage in one of his letters to his brother Theo that I pored over continually. I wrote it out in my sketch book. It put into words the kind of vision that I found inspiring, but was unable to articulate at the time. Van Gogh was quoting from Philosophe sous les Toits by Souvestre.
... Your own country ... is everything that surrounds you, everything that has brought you up and nourished you, everything you have loved - those fields that you see, those houses, those trees, those young girls that laugh as they pass, that is your country! The laws that protect you, the bread with which your labour is repaid, the words you speak, the joy and the sorrow that come to you from the people and the things among which you live, that is your country! The little room where you used to see your mother, the memories which she has left you, the earth in which she reposes, that is your country! You see it, you breathe it everywhere! Figure to yourself the rights and the duties, the affections and the needs, the memories and the gratitude, gather all that under one name, and that name will be your country.
I was always disturbed by the phrase 'The laws that protect you'. Apartheid put a fence between me and the others - those excluded by the Whites Only signs. It kept me in a kind of exile. This was my country? Was this my country?
[ ... ]
The small print on my call-up papers stated quite matter-of-factly that failure to report for duty would render the addressee liable for six years' imprisonment.
My situation became an interesting case study at the Hard Rock late night discussions. A young hippie couple whose father (on the girl's side) was paying for their passage to England said that I had no choice but to leave South Africa. To stay would mean prison. To go to the border with the SADF would be to side with the racist regime and to go against all that was moral and right.
However, it wasn't easy for me to leave the country. I had a wife and child to support and very little ready cash. Besides, I didn't want to leave my country. I wanted to live in it. Learn about it first hand. I wanted to play music. Find the stories and tunes to express the truth of our experiences. Despite the evil in the land, people were living here, and neither hope nor acts of human kindness ever ceased. I wanted to see change and beauty. I wanted to see my country bloom.
I didn't know then that the seed of the future was germinating in silent determination on Robben Island - some three kilometres away. Staring beyond the bars of his little cell. Staring through the mountain ... A deadly and unflinching vision for justice ... Nelson.
2001. Buried in the Sky. London: Penguin Books.