Francis Carey Slater was born near Alice in 1876, the grandson of an 1820 settler. He received some of his schooling at Lovedale College, a seminary about 13 kilometres from Alice that had been created as early as 1841 to educate black children but which did at times enrol the occasional white child. Carey's formative years in the Alice area were at a time of great hardship for the rural community. The young poet was therefore deeply immersed in the tragedy of disease and drought -- the theme of his poem 'Lament for a dead cow'. Upon leaving the college, he took up work with the Standard Bank -- a pre-eminent institution in the Eastern Cape -- where he rose eventually to the position of manager at the Grahamstown branch. Upon taking early retirement, he moved to Cape Town but maintained his link with the Eastern Cape as his source of inspiration while he continued to perfect his poetic skills. Slater is regarded as the first English-speaking South African to write real poetry rather than simple verse. He grew up with the African people, and wrote of them "as he knew them, with familiarity and conviction". His poetry has been described as having "real inventiveness" and "a sensual awareness of his subjects that lead to the coining of fresh images". It is said that he often evoked "a uniquely South African experience by image and rhythm". He died in 1958 at the age of 82.
(Chant by Xhosa family on the death of Wetu, their only cow)
Siyalila, siyalila, inkomo yetu ifile!
Beautiful was Wetu as a blue shadow
That nests on the grey rocks
About a sunbaked hilltop:
Her coat was black and shiny
Like an isipingo-berry;
Her horns were as sharp as the horns of the new moon
That tosses aloft the evening star;
Her round eyes were as clear and soft
As a mountain pool,
Where shadows dive from the high rocks.
No more will Wetu banish teasing flies
With her whistling tail;
No more will she face yapping curs
With lowered horns and bewildered eyes;
No more will her slow shadow
Comfort the sunburnt veld, and her sweet lowing
Delight the hills in the evening.
The fountain that filled our calabashes
Has been drained by a thirsty sun;
The black cloud that brought us white rain
Has vanished – the sky is empty;
Our kraal is desolate;
Our calabashes are dry:
And we weep.