To 13-year-old Carol Carol Bouwer is a self-made mogul: she’s the CEO of Carol Bouwer Productions, founder of luxury brand CB Bags, a special advocate for Unicef SA, a member of Unicef’s Influential Women’s Circle, honorary trustee of the Norval Foundation and a brand partner for Lancome. But at 13, she was a young girl with big dreams living in Soweto, in a country filled with violence, hatred — and hope.
Dear Carol, Savour this moment. Savour this second, this minute, this hour. Breathe. It will all return as a distant yet longed-for memory. Somehow, your yesterdays will acquire a rose tint as your tomorrows reveal your mettle. Was it always wondrous? It wasn’t. But you have chosen to heal. I see you, angel; I see the wonder – as wide-eyed today as you were then, curiosity intact. You consume books, music, art and space with curiosity so apt for this ninth life, clutching that bag so tightly so you don’t lose your schoolbooks. Even though you know there is not much schooling going on, as these same armed forces will return tomorrow, sure to dispel any hopes of learning. You have long since stopped crying over the inequalities, the glaring injustice!
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You now weep over the audacity: to interrupt your sleep four nights in a row with machine guns disguised as tools for the attainment of law and order. But what about peace? Yesterday you ran towards the taxi, fearful that the man’s bullets would pelt your young body. You took your seat, relieved, but opened your eyes to realise it was not over: the faces of your brethren in the taxi scared you just the same. The dance began. You greeted the one close to you as if to ask the time – what you really needed was to let his demeanour tell you who he was. When he said ‘moradi’ [‘daughter’], you realised how you had apportioned brutality to all you saw.
Fear had gripped your heart so tightly that you’d missed the gentle eyes he had set upon your face. You hummed banned Miriam Makeba songs so that the neighbours didn’t hear you break the law. Little did you realise, their own children have gone to train for your liberation. Yes, Carol, they managed to silence them. They stopped the beating of their hearts, but know that their spirits will roam free, because many will live to ensure none of it is forgotten. It is going to be okay. They will not manage to kill you all. They will not manage to silence you all. And what’s beautiful is that you will look back at this time and remember the Sunday lunches too. You will remember the music and the laughs. If there’s something to learn from this, it is to never sweat the mindless.
Love always trumps hate – you will discover this to be true. You will witness an opportunity to build a new nation, and you will find ways to participate. Will it be easy? Not at all. But as you get older you will know that the tears you cry today over the inequalities you see around you will turn into something more tangible, an action that makes you glad you never tried to silence your discomfort. You will serve on networks that allow you to play some part in rebuilding. You will speak on international platforms and bring light to injustice when you see it. You will contribute in material ways and make the burden lighter for others. That will be cathartic. You will create credible platforms for women and children’s issues to be voiced, and that will be your pride and joy. The same mothers that shielded you as you ran home will know you have not forgotten the need for a haven for all. Hold on tight to yourself, kid!