Monday, 27 October 2008


27 / 10 / 8

On to Johannesburg…..
David & I took the overnight 26 hour train from Cape Town to Jo’burg on Friday and arrived on Saturday afternoon where we were belatedly picked up by a driver to take us to Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in Orlando West. It is so good to finally stay at a backpackers in Soweto. It was needed. Other places that I have stayed in Jo burg mean that you are locked up behind cement blocks & barbed wire and you are stuck unless you want to go to different areas around the town..

Now, there are the blocks & wire here as well, I guess, but at least we can get out & walk around and explore the place. It doesn’t feel as isolated as the other places, maybe that is a better way of putting it. Plus it is much closer to my friend Masie’s home where yesterday we celebrated his wedding. It was the second day of the celebrations, the first day taking place in his wife’s village and Sunday at his home. It was good to see it again and to meet his family and hers as well.

We arrived and ate, had a beer, then ate, had another beer, chatting with family, friends & neighbours who were invited or otherwise – many were attracted by the excellent food and ‘Castle-Lite’ (I cant believe that I am drinking Castle Lite……) beer and were none of the above. But all were made to feel welcome and to celebrate the wedding.

It was good to see Masie again. I hadn’t seen his since my last trip to South Africa in 2005. He looks a bit older, but still has a magnetic smile and a tireless work ethic.

We will meet up later today to catch up on the project. This will be the first time that we have spoken face to face in almost 3 years of working on it. He has done so much leg work for it and knows so much about the men and their latest developments, that it is absolutely necessary to talk today. It will be fun to compare notes about it and start to work as a team. It is my hope to steal him away for a few hours or days to help with the interviews as I know that he would be excellent. Plus, he holds the greatest respect for the men with whom we want to speak.

At the most basic level, we need to compare notes on who we need to interview. There is one gentleman, Theo Cholo, who lives in Pretoria who is next on my list. There is also Michael Dingake, who lives in Botswana, who is also someone with whom we need to speak. Then it is down to Durban & Port Elizabeth before heading back to CT. Masie seems to have a good grasp on where in the world these men are, so today’s meeting with him is essential.

On a sad note, we found out late last week that Comrade Billy Nair passed away. He was an Indian trade unionist who was imprisoned on Robben Island for his role in Umkhonto We Sizwe. Nair was born in 1930 and studied bookkeeping. He became politically active during the 1952 Defiance Campaign and afterwards was elected to the provincial executive committee of the Natal Indian Congress. He became a trade union organiser, serving as secretary of several Natal unions. He was a member of the national executive committee of the South African Congress of Trade Unions and SACTU's regional secretary for Natal. He was one of the 156 accused in the Treason Trial and remained a defendant until late 1958. He was also imprisoned during the 1960 emergency. Detained in 1963 under the 90-day detention law, he was accused of sabotage and of being a Natal leader of Umkhonto. He was convicted in 1964 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. After his release he once again became active in community issues, particularly in the United Democratic Front.
After the 1994 elections Nair became a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly.

From the ‘bible,’ he had chosen The Tempest:

Act 1, Scene 2 Lines 331-336:

Caliban: ‘I must eat my dinner. This Island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which though tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first,
Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me
Watwr with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I lov’d thee,’

I feel a sense of urgency along with a sense of helplessness when I think about these men and wanting to speak with them about their experiences in the liberation movement. This sense of urgency is also felt by the many with whom we have spoken about this project. Although a lot has been written about these men, there is so much more to discover and for us to emulate. ‘It is in our hands,’ but I am not sure if I am ready for that responsibility that has been so ably handled in their hands.

Tomorrow, we are meeting with Verne Harris of the Mandela Centre for Memory. He has agreed to look through their archives of his writing to see if that could contribute in any way to our project. I spoke to him on our second day in Cape Town and arranged to meet him whilst we were in Johannesburg.

We also should be able to solidify the time & date of the presentation / performance at the Market Laboratory Theatre in late November, either through a phone call or to meet up in person. But the priority is on meeting with Mr. Harris.

Having attempted to work on the internet today at a Café, I know see that we were quite spoiled in Cape Town with our wireless connection. I disappointedly showed my Achilles heel there, as my wife will know, about my frustration with computers. Needless to say, I will not be making any non-work related emails / internet forays in the near future.