The walk from Johannesburg had all but broken Anton’s spirit. Leaving the city was difficult in and of itself, but watching the others fall to the Afrikaner Corps’ weapons had almost destroyed his willingness to keep going.
He walked along deserted dirt roads, away from the main ones that lead into the cities, and made a game of counting the pieces of trash and debris he found along the way. It was more of a way to distract himself from thinking about what had happened just a few days ago.
After the crackdown they lost two day laborers trying to get out of Soweto. The NP’s police were scouring the streets, shooting at anyone out past curfew. He blamed himself for that.
The others had insisted on waiting until the days following the riots to slip out of the city and make the trek to Hoop. But Anton was convinced that if they didn’t make an attempt to get out of the city soon, they would all get rounded up eventually following one raid or another. For him it was only a matter of time.
Looking at the crumpled rusted cans lining the side of the path, Anton was reminded of the bodies he saw strewn by the wayside when he and his family had first made the trip to Johannesburg.
The bus was packed to near capacity, forcing his family to sit or stand in different areas apart from one another. By the grace of a stranger’s kindness, Anton and his father were offered the opportunity to sit with one another. Anton excitedly sat next to the window and looked out for the majority of the trip. He slept through most of it, until the reports of gunfire ahead woke him from his sleep.
When the bodies began to come into view, his father, a survivor of Sophiatown, placed his calloused hands over little Anton’s eyes, trying to shield him from the sight. But Anton never closed his eyes. Instead, he gently pulled on his father’s hand and peeked through a gap in his fingers, catching sight of fire, blood and the unmistakable Afrikaner Corps uniforms. A hush fell over the entire bus as everyone realized that they weren’t looking at someone else’s unfortunate fate as much as they were looking at their own possible futures.
Anton closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory. His body exhausted, his mind began to wander as he continued to march. The thunderous scream of a tortured man forced him to snap open his eyes and spring to attention. When he looked around, however, he saw or heard nothing.
Another waking dream, he thought. Am I losing my mind out here?
He ultimately decided that he was becoming somewhat delirious, having walked for a day without food. He stopped to urinate when he spotted a bent, broken and rusted metal drum near a cloister of bushes and weeds. Feeling the need to rest, he pulled a tattered rag he found among the debris and laid on it behind the bushes. Laying in the shadows, Anton tried to busy his thoughts by thinking about reaching Hoop.
To the English, Hoop sounded like a silly name for a town until they understood that the word meant hope in Afrikaans and that it was one of the only places where colored people were allowed to govern themselves in South Africa. Of course, when the National Party granted Hoop that sort of autonomy they also stripped anyone living there of their South African citizenship.
This didn’t change anything for Anton, who grew up never feeling like he belonged in his own country. To him, there was still hope to be had in Hoop, since it was also where Anton and his allies were receiving support for their actions in Johannesburg.
He thought about the others. Made up of street urchins, trade union laborers and farmers–most of them kids–the fourteen had gotten it in their heads that they could fight the NP at their own game. They would unite at the heart of South Africa and they would create a resistance so fierce that no one would be able to ignore them or their message ever again. Moved by their courage and recognizing their struggle as his own, Anton joined them almost immediately.
Leading up to the recent riots in Soweto, the rumor from Hoop had been that something big was going to happen. Talk of thousands of marchers taking up arms against the NP in the areas west of Johannesburg was the boldest rhetoric he had heard since Mandela’s assassination. He believed, along with many others, that this was a necessary action they needed to take in order to triumph over apartheid.
He thought about the others and how they would have wanted to be part of something like that. Anton would do this for them. He would survive the trip to Hoop, alone if he had to, and start a fire for the cause.