Thursday, June 4, 2015

The pain, the joy of South Africa

Observer column for MON 25 May 2015
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

With Hubie at the home of Nelson Mandela in Soweto
I am writing this from South Africa, where the media images of decades, pre- and post-apartheid, have sprung to life in tours and first-person accounts.  Oh, the pain of the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto. Oh the joy of hearing courageous leaders express their resolve to build their country, even as we see the scars of their struggle etched by sleepless, ever-watchful nights.
Our guide Richard Thabo Muso was emotional as he showed us the memorials of the 176 children killed during a peaceful demonstration in Soweto in 1976
Born and still living in Soweto, our tour guide Richard Thabo Muso took us to the Hector Pieterson Museum, named for the youngest of the 176 children (some say the number is much higher) shot to death by the police on June 16, 1976 as they marched in a peaceful protest against the government’s plan to use Afrikaans as the language of teaching in schools. Richard was three-years-old when it happened, but his elder siblings remembered the day well.  The account by the sister of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson told of the shock and horror when she saw her brother lying dead.  The children became martyrs for the cause and triggered widespread condemnation, becoming a turning point which eventually led to the end of apartheid.
Metal sculpture of police and dog at murder site in Soweto

Metal sculpture of the children at the site of the massacre
The response of President Nelson Mandela to the Soweto tragedy, after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, was in keeping with the forgiving and visionary character of the great man.  Although the day will forever have the element of mourning, the great Madiba declared June 16 to be Youth Day in South Africa, a day set aside to focus on such issues as education, the prevention of teen pregnancy and nation building.
How special it would be if the day of the Tivoli operation in May 2010 could become Jamaica’s Day of Reconciliation, as we work to heal those bitter memories, and assign garrisons to the graveyard of old-style politics.

The altar at Regina Mundi Catholic Church, the corner shot off by police raiding a meeting of ANC activitists
The hand-less statue of Jesus

We stopped at the Regina Mundi Church where the priest would allow clandestine meetings of Freedom Fighters.  Richard showed us the corner of the alabaster altar, shot off by the police, and a statue of Jesus without hands – one hand shot off, the other chopped off.  They wanted to show the Freedom Fighters that their Jesus was disarmed – how wrong they were!  
South Africa's Black Madonna
Significantly, to the right of the altar hangs a painting of the Black Madonna, cradling a child in her arms, a precious creation to celebrate the freedom of Black South Africans. 
Richard deliberately drove us into a dusty squatter settlement to show us that his people are still struggling to find their way.
Legacy and Inheritance
Soweto was a vivid backdrop to the Conference which took us to Sandton City, in Johannesburg.  The International Women’s Forum (IWF) comprises over 5,000 women leaders from 33 countries.  We meet twice yearly, this time under the theme “Legacy & Inheritance: Journey to the Future”. The IWF South Africa Chapter held a copy-book Conference, fielding powerful and eloquent speakers, who triggered so many “aha moments”, that our Jamaican contingent just kept wishing that our political leadership were in the room. 
The Jamaica Contingent at the IWF Conerstone Conference
Members of our group were Jamaica Chapter President Minna Israel, Immediate Past President Pat Ramsay, Marjan deBruin, Valerie Facey, and Sharon Lake.
Dr Nosazana Dlamani-Zuma, former anti-apartheid activist and Chairperson of the African Commission (AUC).
“Leaders must put their country and their people before themselves,” urged Dr Nosazana Dlamani-Zuma, former anti-apartheid activist and Chairperson of the African Commission (AUC).  Public Protector Thuli Madonsela reminded her audience that “today is far better than yesterday … the dream in the Constitution is a promise to everyone.”
Bridgette Motsepe
Mining trailblazer Bridgette Motsepe, Founder-Chair of Mmakau Mining (Pty) Limited soberly reflected that the country’s economic emancipation was “very much behind”. She called for the building of more factories, giving South Africans the opportunity to earn from the manufacture of finished goods from the country’s natural resources.
Mark Lamberti
White South Africans are very much a part of their country’s development. Mark Lamberti, CEO of Imperial Holdings Limited and Founder of Massmart Holdings Limited has a workforce of 53,000.  He forfeits his salary to a scholarship fund for the children of his employees, and shrugs off this fact.  “The wisdom is to know when you’ve got enough,” he advises.  In fighting corruption, he said it was important for employers to be conscious of “who you hire, who you fire, who you promote.”
Our Soweto guide Richard, had spoken affectionately of Joe Slovo, a White man who was in the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle for half a century. At his funeral on January 15, 1995, President Mandela noted, “When future generations look back on the 1994 breakthrough, they will be justified in saying: Uncle Joe was central in making it happen.” Joe Slovo had asked to be buried with Blacks, the first such recorded in the country.
Every single speaker – Black, White, young, old, expressed their love and admiration for Nelson Mandela.  Poet and Chair of the African Renaissance Institute Mongane Wally Serote recalled that at the first sitting of the democratically elected Parliament, Nelson Mandela crossed the floor and hugged every member of the opposition. We felt in these individuals, a heightened consciousness of the difficult journey and the importance of individual responsibility. 

Poet and playwright Dr Gcina Elsie Mhlophe
The famous author, poet and playwright Dr Gcina Elsie Mhlophe said her father taught her that the most beautiful word in Zulu is “ngiyabonga” which means “thank you”. She was grateful for role models “beyond the grave”, her great grandmother who could not read, yet collected every book she could and kept them in a suitcase.  She said she “woke up the suitcase”, travelling throughout her country to promote literacy.  “The word Love is not a noun, it is a verb,” she declared. “Literacy equals liberation!”
Totsie with Nelson Mandela's Chef Brette - we had a wonderful meal at her home.

At the home of Busisiwe “Totsie” Memela, her elegant surroundings were in contrast  to the 
struggles of her life. Exiled from age 16 to 35, she used disguises to take supplies across the 
border and hitchhiked on Aeroflot from Angola for military training in Cuba.   The ever 
smiling Totsie says she is grateful for the scholarships she had been offered along the way, 
and felt privileged that she could return to her country to contribute. 
With such conscious and focused leaders, and their disciplined, courteous citizens, 
South Africa will no doubt achieve their aim of economic liberation.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful photos and a great update on our beloved South Africa!