Book review/interview: It’s time to milk the cows by Wandile Anele Rusi

“Milking the cows represents, working hard and chasing my dreams …Take all my chances, create positive opportunities and work towards my dreams.” Wandile Anele Rusi talking about his inspirational and motivational book, It’s time to milk the cows

What: It’s time to milk the cows Writer: Wandile Anele Rusi Publisher:Format: Softcover Price: R150 Postage/delivery: Varies Info:  Facebook: Instagram: @artsrusi Twitter: @ArtsRusi Email:

As we live through the pandemic, the central leitmotif of Wandile Anele Rusi’s It’s time to milk the cows, is that each person is “enough” but in tandem with self-affirmation is that we need to get things done. We need to milk the cows; make-up the beds, wash the dishes; complete a task or job. Rusi: “Milking the cows represents, working hard and chasing my dreams.” More on this powerful image, follows below. The book was put together during lockdown in South Africa and is an inspirational text to reflect on and process our way through the days of strangeness, confusion and uncertainty.

It’s time to milk the cows, is a compilation of poems, personal reflections and inspirational prompts, gleaned from the social media pages of theatre maker, poet and cultural activist, Wandile Anele Rusi. People were encouraged by his words of positivity and his perspectives and asked him to put a book together. He explains: “The people who follow my Facebook page (Rusi Anele Wandile) have been asking me to compile my Facebook statuses/thoughts into a book and did just that. For the book I also included a bit of poetry, real life flashbacks and incorporated all of that into my creative motivational writings.”

Rusi has a robust presence on social media. He is proudly outspoken; a warrior scribe  He muses: “Regarding my social media presence, I have a very loud and colourful presence in Facebook, whereby I use that space and platform to share positive energies. My writings are unapologetically pro Black, however I focus on unity over divisions. I try to spread hope over doubts and fears, on a daily basis I preach kindness, encouragement, supporting one another as human beings, speaking my truth and sharing love and light. It’s these kind of writings that people have been feeding on for quite some time and then they started planting the book thoughts in my head.”

What led him to the daily motivation and positivity posts on social media and how did that develop into a book? “When you post a status on Facebook, it asks you ‘what’s on your mind’. These are exactly the kind of thoughts on my mind, because I believe that we are going through a lot of hard times as a nation, societies, families and individual’s stress, depression and anxiety. I just wanted to be a voice of hope, encouragement and motivation -to take it one day at a time. In the beginning it was all just me thinking of myself and trying to motivate myself, now I now there are many more people who feed from that well of love and light. Once I decided to put the book together, I wanted it to represent many dimensions of my being, which includes stepping on the previously unspoken wounds and painful experiences that contributed into the building of the warrior light I am today.”

Within positivity, is the hard reality of facing personal pain and the constant process of auditing his multiple roles in relation to his family and community: “Dedication to the departed is a chapter I painfully penned hoping to find healing? I have tragically lost some people I was not ready to lose and I have been carrying some of that heavy load with me, even though I have convinced myself that I have accepted and healed, I still have dark days whereby my own heartbeat hurts when I think of the people I lost. With that chapter I am hoping to finally accept and let go of the pain. The journey of writing this book also gave me an opportunity to navigate some of my stubborn memories, the ones that remain so clear in my head. I took the opportunity to share, while hoping to relearn whatever lessons are there as I revisit the highs and lows of my growth, as a young black man, a son, an artist, brother, lover, and later as a father and a spiritual student.”

The lockdown regulations – that he could not go anywhere – provided him with time to focus on this book. “I started ‘listening’ to my thoughts, the voices within as I mentally transferred the images, lessons and memories from internal onto the paper. Most of the short motivational writings were already available in my creative folder. Usually whenever I get a vision whether through a dream or thought, I’d immediately write it down in this folder. So I opened the folder and revisited the ancient thoughts and visions of a warrior of light.” The shaping of the narrative took about four months. “I started in April and I was done by early August.”

The first person to receive a copy of the book was his mother, Letitia Bhelekazi NoXhanti, at home in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape. This is where Rusi grew up.  “I am a mamma’s boy and one of most deepest fears is losing my mother, I know eventually the time will come and it hurts by just thinking of it, because I will feel like I have done enough for her or even expressed my love and gratitude enough. I think leaving home early in life to stay with relatives and then moving on to varsity then work far from home has contributed into me feeling like I never had enough time with my mother. I know there’s nothing I can do to change this now, so dedicated a chapter to her, hoping it mean something at least to her. My mother deserves more, for everything she has been through for us as a family and society at large. I actually asked her to share some of those events and experiences she has been through, because most happened before I was born or while I was still very young.” The delivery of the book to his mom was made in early August [2020] in King Williams Town. It was his first trip home, since lockdown, from his place of residence in Johannesburg. [Wandile formerly lived in Cape Town but left for Jozi in June 2017].

The lessons from home and his community are distilled on a daily basis by Rusi and the title of the book, It is time to milk the cows is emblematic of his heritage and the core values he learned from his mother- the strong – and hardworking matriarch. As he relates in the book, when he was young she rented a room in town, so that she could work as a nurse and earn money. It was not feasible to travel home each day. Her separation from her beloved family was necessity in order to put food on the table. It was another manifestation of milking the cows for his mother; tough as it was, she did it. 

He cherishes the act of milking the cows – as physical labour which produces food and nourishes people– and also on a metaphorical level: “I come from a farming/agricultural driven family background. The generation before mine passionately invested and believed in stock farming and growing their vegetables and mielies. Every day, the first call would be for the young men and boys to milk the cows. Time to milk the cows is the first call of the day at home. The milk and sour milk (Amasi) would be used for lunch by those who would ploughing the fields or herding the cows. Fast forward to now, me being far from home, facing different new challenges, I constantly remind myself that I am here to ‘milk the cows’. Milking the cows represents, working hard and chasing my dreams. The milk represents a means to provide for me and my sons, to be able to send something back home. Every day I wake up to milk the cows. Take all my chances, create positive opportunities and work towards my dreams.”

It’s time to milk the cows, goes beyond  being a book of inspirational prompts. In these pandemic days, there is no shortage of pithy aphorisms and memes on social media but much of that is all chit-chat and shallow. Undoubtedly, it is whatever resonates with each individual and provides comfort, inspiration and solace. For me, at the start of the pandemic, well-intentioned motivational mantras such as- “we are all in this together”, came across as glib. The assumption was  “we”. We were/are all the ‘same’. We were all able to stay safe at home and manage financially – with income cut off – no worries. We were all in this together. Uhhm, no. This is not the reality of the average South African. Wandile Anele Rusi’s writings are rooted in an authentic experience of the reality of being Black in South Africa and not coming from a background of privilege. He has had to work to get where he is. The powerful image of milking the cows speaks to me of land, home, physical labour, perseverance.

It is not an easy gig to milk a cow. There is an art to milking. No, I have not milked a cow but I have watched cows being milked and it is not simply about pulling a lever. There is an art to milking. There is effort. There is discipline. The image of milking the cows, also speaks to me of emotional attachment, caring and love of and to family and community. It is an image which is evocative of people living in rural settlements, doing their best, with not much support. There is milk as sustenance. We need sustenance in these days. I look at the photo on the cover of  It’s time to Milk the cows (Rusi took the photo) and it spurs me to get cracking with chores that I have neglected – time to milk the cows.

Effort, investment and time went into putting this inspiring book together.  Rusi made it happen. In this time of uncertainty as we live with the pandemic, it is about turning dreams into reality.  Wandile Anele Rusi is leading by example. It’s time to milk the cows is a beautifully produced book. Rusi was distressed that there are some typos in the first edition. I think that these minor typos add to the book. Master craftspeople have traditionally included intentional flaws to balance the beauty of their craft. For me the typos add to the visual impact of reading words on paper – rather than words and emojis on a screen.

It’s time to milk the cows, is a book to treasure with the inspirational and feisty writings by warrior-arts man, Wandile Anele Rusi.

❇ Photo credit of featured image: Wandile Anele Rusi, with his mother, Letitia Bhelekazi NoXhanti Rusi, in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape. The photo was taken in early August (2020). She was the first person to receive a copy of his book, It’s time to milk the cows.

Wandile Anele Rusi in the goat kraal, King Williamstown, Eastern Cape, August 2020. Photo supplied.

Wandile Anele Rusi “treating the cows”, King Williamstown, Eastern Cape, August 2020. Photo supplied.