The Druid of Centurion
Dedicated to the memory of Field-marshal Jan C. Smuts, the soldier and the first global citizen. (There is a diplomatic one in all of us.)
I was born on 27 June 1963 in Johannesburg, South Africa. On completing of my secondary education I joined the South African Air Force on 6 January 1982 as an armourer serving operationally with Two Squadron. In 1986 I was transferred to Defence Force Headquarters as a corporal. There I came second in the 13 th annual military essay competition for an essay entitled “A Sociological Perspective of Management in the Military Society”. During 1987 I also became a member of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
I was later promoted to sergeant during which time I was awarded Golden Poet Award for 1989 for the poem “Poetic”. I was also a nominee of the International Society of Poets (ISP) 1993 to 1994. An International Poet of Merit Award Plaque would have been handed to me. Due to the lack of sponsors and the prevailing international cultural boycott against South Africa at the time, I could not physically receive these awards but I received lifelong membership of the ISP. The ISP again nominated me Poet of the year for 2002.
When in 1992 I was transferred to the Chief Directorate Corporate Communications as a photo-journalist for the periodical PARATUS, (later called SALUT and now known as the SA Soldier), I was chosen as one of the top ten in the Barcom Project, a competition for professional military writing for my the paper entitled “Development of a Sub-Saharan Community and Defence Diplomacy 1992 to 2050".
In 1994 I was promoted to flight sergeant and received a commendation for professional photography in the SANDF Photographic Competition. In 1996 I won the first prize for professional photography as well as SANDF Photographer of the Year Award in the same competition. I was awarded the Military Merit Medal for photo-journalist work done for SALUT.
In 1995 I first fell ill and was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. When my condition deteriorated I was medically boarded from the SANDF. In 2000 during self rehabilitation I founded a support group for people with schizophrenia. In 2001 I began to work as a lay counsellor for the Schizophrenia Foundation of South Africa. I also managed a support group called the Phoenix Project with the aim to relocate mentally ill persons back into society.
Since 2002 I am a member of the Bipolar and Related Disorders Association (BARD). I was elected as a service user representative on the EXCO of the Gauteng North Mental Health for 2003, 2004, 2005. In 2004 I was also elected as a service user representative for the SA Federation of Mental Health for the Gauteng provincial EXCO for 2005. In October 2004 I organised and participated in the first “Mindscapes for mental health” art exhibition for people with psychiatric and psychological illnesses.
The cover photograph of this collection of poems is the actual award winning photograph of the above mentioned competition, and was taken from inside one of the SA Navy’s Daphne submarines. It is most ardent wish that this book and photograph will inspire my fellow people with mental illness to conquer their disabilities and will inspire them to achieve success no matter what the circumstances.
As this work evolved throughout the so called Apartheid years to the transition to Democracy and individual freedom, I coined the pseudonym “Druid of Centurion”, denoting communication and religion as found in most of the poems, e.g. “I’m a holistic theist” and “My Creator.” This bilingual work of poetry reflects the language policy of the old SADF.
As an artist I communicate through poetry, prose, painting, wood carving and the spoken word. I often combined these skills to reach my objectives and to strengthen the argument. The poems are primarily satirical and lyrical and written free style. Thirty three poems are in Afrikaans. Although the tone of this work is satirical and emotional, an attempt is also being made to lighten the mood by means of humorous and descriptive poetry. I also included poems about love, individualism, nature, God, personal pain and diplomacy. The book should therefore reach a large variety of readers.
Finally, this work also honours the universal soldier (who served on the extreme boundaries of human endeavour) including the holistic thinking Field-marshal, Jan C Smuts who helped to draft the League of Nations Covenant and assisted in the founding of the United Nations Organization, and the diplomatic soldier, Nelson Mandela, our former State President and Commander in Chief of the SANDF. I am also thinking of the peace loving Mahatma, Mohandas K Gandi and the former Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston LS Churchill, who suffered from depression, a form of mental illness. These people must inspire us all to reach our goals and to overcome our adversities.
I was approached by the author, the Druid of Centurion, to write an introduction to his poetry collection. I gladly respond to his request.
It is in the interest of people like the Druid of Centurion that the often negative and distorted perceptions about mental illness should be de-stigmatized.
Mental illnesses are often viewed with curiosity and even with fear. The world should be made aware of those who managed to pull through the fear, the pain, the disappointment and the alienation of a diagnoses that drastically changed their world, their dreams and their hopes. The poet managed to transcend his emotional and psychic pain and by doing so not only enriched his own life, but he will certainly also enrich the lives of many others through his poetry.
Schizophrenia is a serious and often debilitating illness that not only impacts on the individual concerned, but also influnces their relatives. With the right treatment, support and, above all, perseverance and belief in oneself, it can be understood, managed and even conquered.
Read this collection of expressive writing and allow yourself to sense and understand the depths of emotional pain and despair described. It is by experiencing such emotions that we will appreciate our encounters with joy.
I commend the poet’s commitment and initiative to further a better understanding of schizophrenia. May this collection of poems inspire all those who wish to embrace the passion of being alive.
Dr Annemarie Potgieter
MBChB (UOVS) Mmed Psych (UP)