The mystery of a woman


I once observed a Zulu woman on a sidewalk, selling tomatoes and bananas. On her back was a baby, and clinging to her side a toddler. “There should be a monument to the spirit of a woman who will do whatever it takes to provide for her little ones,” I thought to myself.


And them my mind began to wonder. There is a strength in women that men cannot understand. The weakest of vessels can sometimes be cut from the hardest stone. I was thinking of my great-grandmother, Ruby May Foxcroft. A soft and tender British flower. She was travelling during the Anglo-Boer War when her finger got caught between two trucks as the train was shunted. After a long time when nobody came to her aid, she turned to a British soldier standing nearby.

“Tommy, have you got a knife?” she asked him.

“Yes Madam,” he replied.

“Then cut it off,” she said, beckoning to her finger.

“No Madam!” he gasped in great astonishment.

“Then hand it here,” she said.

Meekly he handed her the knife, at which she neatly cut herself free.

Women were tough in those days.


On the other side of the conflict my great-grandmother Maria Vermaak returned to a burnt-out farmhouse after the war. With great-grandpa still a POW and five little ones to feed, how was she to survive upon the open veld?

“My child,” my grandmother told me, “she caught duiker in snares. She cooked them right down to the smallest toe bone, but she did what it took to feed her babies…”


There’s an arrogant power in mankind that is offensive. But then there is a quiet power of dignity and strength that is beautiful. Just like marble can be hard and soft at the same time. Therein lies the mystery.