Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ringing with lost songs

Eli Weinberg

This poem is dedicated to Eli Weinberg. He and his wife, Violet, lived two houses from us, when I was growing up in Plantation Road, Gardens, Johannesburg. I remember the Special Branch sitting all night, every night long, in a car, parked opposite our house, watching their house. I remember how Violet needed to go to report to the police station every morning (and maybe every evening as well - I don't remember). Eli used to "chat" to my mother across the fence. She found it strange that a communist would give us a Christmas card every year. I remember their son, Mark, who eventually killed himself, having to read the newspaper under the streetlamp, because the regime had turned off the electricity in their house.


By Hugh Lewin

After evening lock-up at the Fort
the bandiete would shout "Wagon -wheels, Mr Weinberg!"
and Eli, communist and kantor, would pause
between the Internationale and Nkosi
to sing, schul like,
Wagon-wheels, wagon-wheels
Wagon-wheels carry me home
Wagon-wheels carry me home

And if you stopped a moment
on your way up Hospital Hill
into the rising hum of Hillbrow
you'd have heard it -
only an echo perhaps
behind the walls and the double doors
hiding the nation's underbelly

Waggon-wheels, Mr Weinberg

You won't hear it now.
Forty years on the Fort still squat on Hospital Hill
where I'm propelled past by the evening traffic
passed the door which spewed me into unimprisonment

and I can't help thinking of symbols
and the perpetuation of walls which stand still
with lost songs.

(Printed in The Big Issue 2011 collector's edition)


  1. Hi, I now live in the Weinberg house and have done a great deal of research on the area. Part of this will be included in a tour this Sunday exploring the Jewish contribution to the Struggle. Thanks for a fantastic blog. Brett

    1. Hello Brett. I somehow missed your comment when you posted it. That house must hold the most astonishing memories. I suspect that some of the pictures of Mandela were taken there, but have never had the chance to prove it.

  2. Amazing. I'm researching Eli Weinberg at the moment. Any chance I could contact you to find out more about your memories of him and Violet?

  3. Hello Liv. Contact me on mewlop@gmail.com