Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Where does it come from,

 This quest?

 This need to solve life’s mysteries,

When the simplest of questions can simply never be answered?

Why are we here?

What is the soul?

Why do we dream?

Perhaps people are trapped, not looking at all.

Not delving,

Not yearning.

That’s not human nature.

Not the human heart.

That isn’t why we’re here.

But this quest,

This need to solve life’s mysteries,

In the end, what does it matter,

When the human heart can only find meaning in the smallest of moments?

It is here, among us.

In the shadows,

In the light, 


Does it even know yet?

Destiny, following us,

This quest, to chase who we hope to be.

This need to solve life’s mysteries.

We imagine ourselves the agents of our destiny,

We believe we are the tellers of our own fate,

Capable of determining our futures,

But have we truly any choice when we rise, or when we fall?

Or does a force larger than ourselves bid us our direction?

Is it evolution of the human mind that takes us by the hand?

Does science point our way,

Or is it God, who intervenes,

Keeping us safe?


But for all his bluster,

It is the sad province of man that he cannot choose his triumph.

He can only choose how he will stand when the call of destiny comes,

Hoping that he will have the courage to answer.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

My tribute to South African women, my plea to African women.

Today I trade my controversial commentary and cynisicm for admiration and enthusiasm, lined with history and wrapped in many, many layers of sweet South Africa.


Today, I pay tribute to our women.



I want to speak not of oppression but of resistance. I might recall that the African women were the first to carry on large-scale, organised resistance against the obnoxious pass laws, way back in 1913 and that was the first glorious episode in the modern national movement in South Africa.


 In the 1920s and 1930s, for various reasons, the African women were the most militant leaders in the trade union movement which organised a million workers in struggle. On August 9, 1956, the women organised a national, multiracial demonstration in Pretoria against pass laws a historic demonstration which required tremendous organisational capacity. That was one of the greatest demonstrations under very difficult conditions in South African history.


I remember reading of a demonstration of Indian women on United Nations Human Rights Day in 1962. Police sent their dogs to attack and pull their saris, but they stood firm. You know of the great demonstration of African school children in Soweto on June 16, 1976? The children decided to defy the police batons and guns, and many hundreds were killed and wounded. I can think of nothing like that massacre of children in history. But what did their mothers do? Did they stop and scold their children for getting into trouble with the police? No, they stood by their children, in spite of all the pain and anguish, and brought out the adults in support. All of us, all over the world, should bow our heads before them.


You have heard of the young freedom fighters, Solomon Mahlangu and three others who were executed in South Africa? They are heroes. But equally heroic are their mothers who stood by them. They did not tell their children to confess or beg for mercy to save their lives. They declared that they are proud of their children and will carry on the struggle until they meet their children in heaven. They too deserve our humble tribute.


Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for leading the liberation struggle and whose stature in South Africa and the world grows with every passing day. The United Nations once described him as a "prince among political prisoners" and he has, I believe, received more honours than any living person. But we cannot think of him without thinking of his wife during the struggle, Winnie Mandela.


They were married in 1958 and they had hardly three years of normal married life. Winnie Mandela had been restricted almost continuously since 1962, except for a brief spell in 1975. She had been constantly harassed and jailed. In 1970-71, she was detained for more than a year and kept under solitary confinement for many months. Although she had a heart condition, she was cruelly interrogated. At the time of the Soweto uprising, the African children looked up to her when she organised a committee of parents. The Government then banished her to a remote town where she was not allowed to see more than one person at a time. Three white women were even jailed for visiting her. Her bedcovers were confiscated as they had ANC colours. But she remained steadfast as a magnificent symbol of the spirit of liberation, and of African womanhood. She deserves honour, but I am sure that she would be the first to say that there are others who deserve it equally, if not more.


I think of Mrs. Albertina Sisulu, wife of Walter Sisulu, a friend and former prisoner with Nelson Mandela. When the Sisulus were married, Anton Lembede, a leader of the movement, warned the bride:

"You are marrying a man who is already married to the nation."


But Mrs. Sisulu had been married to the nation as much as her husband. She became a women's leader and founder of the Federation of South African Women. She was arrested many times and had been under restriction from 1964 to 1981. Her daughter, Lindiwe, was tortured in prison and escaped from South Africa.


After the restrictions were lifted, Mrs. Sisulu began travelling throughout South Africa and organising the masses against apartheid. At 66, she faced charges of furthering the aims of the ANC, and faced imprisonment. That is the spirit of defiance of this great woman.


I think of Rita Ndzanga, a trade union leader, and wife of another trade union leader, Lawrence. They were both detained for over a year in 1970-71 with Winnie Mandela, and tortured. They were again detained a few years later. Her husband died in prison, presumably of torture. She was not allowed to bid farewell to her husband, and was only released a day after his funeral. But as soon as she came out of jail, Rita returned to organise the new trade unions. Meeting and seeing her now, you could not possibly imagine what she had gone through.


 I think of another trade union leader, Emma Mashinini. She was detained in solitary confinement for several months. She had to be sent from prison to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. She remained sick after her release from prison, and trade unions in Denmark offered her treatment in Copenhagen. After her recovery, she plunged herself back in to the trade union movement. Her spirit was uplifting, as if nothing had happened or as if nothing could ever move her from her struggle.


I think of Shanti Naidoo, detained with Winnie Mandela in 1970. She was a young Johannesburg bookshop assistant of Indian-Tamil origin. Shanti had first been "banned" as a political activist in 1963 for five years. For her involvement in the struggle, she was kept in solitary confinement for six months as a potential witness and deprived of sleep for several days. Following her refusal to give evidence in the trial of her comrades, who included Winnie Mandela and Joyce Sikakane, she was imprisoned for a further six months; 371 days in total. She was finally released in June 1970. Shanti is now in London now and she never asks for sympathy for herself or her family, but only solidarity for struggles around the world.


A remarkable fact about Shanti Naidoo’s family: Her father was the adopted son of Mahatma Gandhi. For three generations, every member of her family had been imprisoned by the South African government for opposing apartheid. Most of them had become, and remain freedom fighters.


I think of my first passion: journalism. I think of the journalists who lost their jobs and who lost their limbs to make the struggle known. I think of a journalist, Ruth First. Her 117 days in solitary detention in 1963 were recorded in a book and in a BBC documentary. After leaving South Africa, she remained a tireless and effective campaigner for liberation. She left as a heroine and grew to write many books. She became a professor in England and then in Mozambique. She was killed by a parcel bomb, but remains a symbol of the struggle, her suffering etched within the brutal memories of Apartheid.


I think of the remarkable people I’ve been privileged to have met. I think of the ones who have inspired me. I think of Mamphela Ramphele, a doctor who set up a self-help clinic for black people in King William's Town in the 1970s. She was banished to an isolated, remote area in 1977, thousands of miles away, and dumped there. She had been the lover of Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement. A few weeks after her banishment, she learned that Biko, the father of her unborn child - the man who will forever remain one of South Africa’s most recognised and inspiring leaders - had been brutally tortured to death. But Dr Ramphele recovered from the tragedy. She set up a day care centre, a clinic, a feeding scheme, a library, a bursary fund, a literacy programme, a crache, and a co-operative to serve the 50,000 people in the impoverished area she was banished to. She was named the woman of 1983 by The Star, the major white newspaper (at the time) of Johannesburg. She has received a number of awards, is now a representative of the South African government, a motivational speaker, and is involved in a number of movements and organisations.


I think of many, many others: Helen Joseph, Mary Moodley, Florence Matomela, Dora Tamana, Frances Baard and so on.


These women were the beacons of hope for South Africa. If they were not black women of South Africa, there would have been outrage in the world. The major Western Governments would have denounced apartheid and imposed sanctions long before they actually took action.


In regard to the current socio-political and economic problems Africa currently faces, we have occasional condemnations but little action.


I have often wondered, have we, who belong to the third world or to the oppressed peoples, done enough? One hears of border problems and other conflicts in Africa, but do they matter at all when the dignity and honour of the African man or woman are at stake? When Winnie Mandela and others were being tortured, did any government warn the South African police against touching a black woman? When commanders rape Congalese women and gauge their eyes out, do we look at them with ours and save their sight? We can retaliate if we are determined.


If only the black people of this continent are angry enough and committed enough not to tolerate the crimes against the black women of Africa, we will be able to see the end of oppression, migrant labour, rape, crime, murder, poverty and suffering. We should pay homage to the heroic women of South Africa. But, above all, we should get angry and demand that all governments, all organisations, all institutions break with the African regimes and unequivocally support the struggle for freedom.


This is my tribute to South African women, and my plea to African women: Remember that you are women; you are Africans before you allow yourselves names. You are of the earth and of the land - protect Africa’s dignity, and protect your dignity.