Little White Crosses

In 2006 I was traveling through South Africa with the Silver Ring Thing team. A pastor from Soweto took the team to visit a cemetery. The landscape that we saw was filled with white crosses marking graves that stood testament to the lives of the victims of AIDS and political violence. The crosses were white but the vast majority of the bodies beneath them had been black. I didn’t know what to make of it and I didn’t know what to do about it but I remember thinking that generations of South Africans had been cheated and lied to and here was the proof. In response I wrote this poem. I stumbled across it while digging through some old journals.


Little White Crosses – Tim Pepper, 2006

Cover the hills with little white crosses

row by row by row by row.

Cover the flats, cover the vlei;

A que of crosses breaks each new day.

The green and gold of a rustic nation

Is eroding, fading, wasting, changing

Into the red of ribbons and the white of crosses

But nothing changes; No one pauses.

Bloody ribbons, anaemic crosses;

The legacy of a cheated generation;

The lies passed on from father to son

Are crosses on the landscape over-run.

A sleeve to plaster; a pill to swallow;

Dressings for the wound of a cancerous lie.

Still the marching crosses march

Like so many soldiers, suited and starched.

Let go the culture, reject status quo

Or cover the hills with little white crosses

row by row by row by row.

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