Gertrude Fester

Gertrude’s Ghazal

What is this dangerous spiralling inside my self?
I am searching for the Stillness of granite, of water, of self

The mountain purples in morning sun, soft sun’s caress on rock
Where is this Stillness of granite, of water, of self?

Inside me is a Samurai sword, piercing pain
I gasp for the Stillness of granite, of water, of self

I am an oak leaf dancing, a pine’s rigid spindle
floating, searching for the Stillness of granite of water of self

I am a gushing river rushing, a meandering stream of melting snow
Confusion abounds still, no Stillness of granite, of water, of self

I’m a swallow merrily singing, a fish eagle swooping on prey
I grope, strive, deprived of Stillness of granite, of water, of self

Yellowwood, elm, fynbos, iris, orchid, protea
Accepting my diversity I reach for the Stillness of granite, of water, of self

The mountain maroons in orange twilight. In the warm embrace of the hazy moon
I celebrate. I am Stillness, granite, water, myself

Gertrude Fester

A newspaper article

In this series we focus on the roles of individuals and what they have done in communities. However, it is not only the extensive work the individual has done that we look at. We pry into the personal and the public political roles of the individual- what makes them do community work and how this affects them personally.

I first met DG at a conference. I was amazed at her eloquence and her obvious passion for community work. Her commitment to the poor, marginalised and oppressed people is evident in all she does.  Throughout our interview she tried to undermine or minimise her contributions. However, when you look at her CV, or when you speak to her comrades, colleagues or the communities where she is involved; she really has, throughout her life, tried to improve the lives of others.  And with success too- if we look at Malibongwe   and Vroue voorentoe! but two of the many projects she has initiated.

DG’s central focus is on social justice.  The kernel of all her activities is her concern about the status and situation of poor women. She has been instrumental in initiating many organisations- all focused on improving the lives of women.

She definitely has a passion for alleviating the hardships of the poor. Yet the last line of her CV was for me the most revealing about DG. She dreams of writing a comic novel. When I asked her about this- when she had first expressed this desire- she could not tell me.  ‘Maybe 5 or 7 years ago,’ she attempted. Then she added:’ I cannot remember’.  I scanned the list of publications in her CV- more than 30 chapters –but all in books written and compiled by others.  Not a single book of her own. We look forward to the day when this ‘community angel’ will accomplish her dream and complete her ‘comic novel’.

A psychology journal article

This patient, DG, suffers from marked insecurity. She constantly requires the approval of others. She does not love herself – in fact she deeply loathes herself. She is not clinically schizophrenic but is behaviourally so. There is no evidence of chemical imbalance and hence she requires no medication. What she does require is a series of deep reflections- getting to know herself and her personal needs. I need to emphasise this: the patient sees to the needs of all the people around her but fails to address her own. She is chronically disposed towards trying to help the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised, the forgotten; the materially and spiritually impoverished. However, she forgets that she too is all of the above. This behaviour could well be symptomatic of transference- helping others whereas she desperately requires help herself.

As therapy I propose that she keeps a daily journal. At the end of each day she must assess all her activities.  She should list what she had done for others and what for herself.  She should also calculate how many hours she has spent doing tasks for others and what she has done for herself. Hereafter she should write a reflective passage in which she analyses and explains her actions to herself.

Gertrude Fester


When I went for the audition for the Cape Town Symphony Choir, Garnier,
the conductor or whatever his name was, told me that I tended ‘to go
flat’. I tended to ‘sing off key’. Sink in… accept… internalize.

Now I understand, after all those years ago in the school choir. There
were a two choir members who never wanted to stand near me. Similarly when
we had our final rehearsal for the Coronation Mass, there were a few
complaints that I ‘confused’ some choir members. It all hit me then. I
tended to sing below the note… go flat…flat… And yet I did nothing about
it. I sing but do not practice enough.

I recall reading about opera singers. They practice for about five hours a
day. No, not me. I sing, then play, then eat, then walk on the beach. I do
not persevere in my singing lessons. I should use this opportunity to
practice singing, maintaining the notes, practicing. practicing and then
perfecting. Then increasing, increasing my repertoire, repertoire … How do
I firstly polish, refine my singing? How do I learn to really perfect my
singing, build up my repertoire? Just like Opera singers do. For Cape
Opera there is a ‘developmental’ choir. They have extra lessons, they
practice and practice, they perfect. Yes and I … I go off key.

Yes, I do not do my voice exercises. I do not warm up my voice. My voice
is raw and cold and not moulded, not warm, rich, velvet. Yes, I need to
see… what else? Yes, I need a big yes of lessons. I do not like
sight-reading. And I need to perfect my sight-reading in order to improve
my singing. I do not manage to get the high C sharp and the low D flat. In
fact- here’s the concern- I do not even know the difference between the
sharp and the flat. My, and that’s so basic. I need regular practice, I
need voice lessons urgently. I need to polish and perfect and maintain a

If not I’m just a fake singer.

Gertrude Fester

The mystery of my herstory

I’m yearning searching, seeking
Answers to the pieces of jigsaw puzzles of Cape Coloured history
I leap blindly, limbs flailing

grabbing some wind-swept leaves of answers

I breathe deeply…

my spirit guides my hand forward
grope, groping greedily
I toss and turn

Up, down, and
Turn around

A series of leaps

Rocks strewn and dangerous
Writing inside never stops

Searching inside never stops.