Wesley Pepper – portrait of an engaged artist

I believe in people, art, poetry, music, creativity and love … my art is an interaction between me and my surroundings.” – Wesley Pepper

What is the meaning of art in the South Africa of the 21st Century? Wesley Pepper is answering that question by doing art, not theorising about it.

The Johannesburg-based artist was born in Kimberley in the Northern Cape

“Dark skin” – a drawing by Wesley Pepper which was included in a collection of poetry by local writers

Province of South Africa in July 1978. He studied art, majoring in oil painting and drawing, at the Free State Technicon in neighbouring Bloemfontein before moving to Port Elizabeth where he studied computer graphics at a Further Education and Training (FET) college, before moving on to Cape Town.

After a short stay back in Kimberley where he was active in an arts-and-crafts collective Pepper moved to Johannesburg in 2002.

I sold a piece within five hours of arriving here,” he says with characteristic enthusiasm.

A concern that Pepper expresses is about the commercialisation of art: “People look at the price tag before they look at the work.”

He would like with his art to challenge the conservative world-views of many South African communities with regard to art, the conservatism of blue suits and ties!

“We are a beautiful concept” – drawing by Wesley Pepper

The challenge Pepper makes is through his engagement, through postering and workshopping, through involvement with other artists, musicians and writers.

“I call my art ‘open spaces’ coz exactly of that, I involve myself in various spaces and my art is about what I experience,” says Pepper.

Together with local writers Pepper has produced three collections of poetry for which he has provided art works. He has also facilitated creativity workshops and been involved with artists’ collectives.

“I love organising people,” he says.

The collective with which he is currently involved is planning a large exhibition for 2013 – which he says will take art out of the gallery and into the street.

I asked Pepper about his views on what constitutes art, on what an artist is. His

“Hair” – drawing by Wesley Pepper

reply: “An artist (according to me) is someone who is conscious about their creativity and has the talent to ‘make art’ and make a living off it.”

“As an artist you are measured by your work and hopefully my work made a statement and that’s what defines me.”

 

 

Of miscegenation, race and redemption – two South African novels

“Miscegenation – n. The inter-breeding of people of different races. – Origin C19: formed irregularly from L. miscere ‘to mix’ + genus ‘race’ + -ation (Concise Oxford English Dictionary)”

“Unrestrained sexual intercourse between the black and the white races is … a crime of great magnitude, for it is the self-murder of a white nation whose mission it should be to maintain a supremacy of highest civilisation throughout the world.” – from Of European Descent by Mary Frances Whalley and A. Eames Perkins (Juta, 1909)

“Race has no basic biological reality, the human species simply does not come packaged that way.” – Professor Jonathan Marx of Yale University.

“I know perfectly well … that in a scientific sense there is no such thing as race, but I as a politician need a concept which enables the order which has hitherto existed on historic bases to be abolished and an entirely new and antihistoric order enforced and given an intellectual basis …” – Adolf Hitler

The fictional concept of race has overshadowed South Africa for centuries, and the shadow fell heaviest during the 20th Century, when the policy of crude segregation pursued by the white colonists since the founding of the first white settlement at the Cape in the mid-17th Century became “intellectualised” in the ideology of apartheid almost exactly 300 years later.

Much has been written, both fictional and journalistic, about the place of race in South African society and politics – some justificatory and some condemnatory.

Modern South African literature can be said to have started with Olive Schreiner’s great novel The Story of an African Farm (published in 1883 under the pseudonym ‘Ralph Iron’) from which the race question was almost entirely absent.

Turbott Wolfe – mirror held to a dirty face

Race took stage front and centre with the publication in 1926 of William Plomer’s Turbott Wolfe which rudely and roughly tore down the curtains of evasion and etiquette which had hitherto hidden the realities of racial injustice from the vast majority of white South Africans.

These whites were not at all pleased at having their comfort disturbed, at having their role in the injustices based on the fiction of race so vividly brought to their attention. Indeed the book caused an uproar unlike anything literary had caused in the country before.

One letter writer to a local newspaper even complained that the novel was “not cricket”! It wasn’t meant to be.

As Plomer’s friend and fellow-South African writer Roy Campbell wrote in his satirical poem The Wayzgoose:

Plomer, ’twas you who, though a boy in age,

Awoke a sleepy continent to rage,

Who dared alone to thrash a craven race

And hold a mirror to its dirty face.

William Plomer

Plomer was 22 when he wrote the novel which was to bring him such notoriety in his then home country and such fame in the rest of the world. Plomer was born in 1903 in the city of Polokwane (then called Pietersburg) in the province of Limpopo (though it was then still in the Northern Transvaal) and spent his early years moving between South Africa and the United Kingdom, though he lived fully in South Africa from 1918 to 1926.

Plomer wrote Turbott Wolfe while living at Entumeni in Zululand, disguised as “Ovuzane” and “Lembuland” in the novel. In his autobiography Double Lives (Jonathan Cape, 1943) Plower described the writing of the novel as “an outburst of poetic frenzy”. An outburst it certainly was.

The novel opens in a dingy room in an unnamed English town where Turbott Wolfe lies dying and tells his story to the author, a school friend from the not too distant past. The “ridiculous room” is a figure of the racist mind: “The room itself was so tawdry as to be grotesque.”

The room is decorated with a sort of faded gentility, with “Patterns of flowers, sewn or painted or printed in smudgy colours…” to the extent that the author feels “obscured by all these scentless bouquets” though Turbott Wolfe himself “seemed so little obscured that he might have purposely designed those enormous bistre-and-green roses that were tousled and garlanded up and down the coverlet on the bed; and the wall behind his head, with its bouquets of brown marguerites, its pomegranates and bows of ribbon and forget-me-nots, …”

Wolfe tells his story to the author, how he was ill after leaving school and went to Africa, like so many others, to attempt a cure for his unnamed illness. He goes to Lembuland to run a trading store there in a “native” reserve.

He is licensed to run the store Ovuzane where he passes his time “between trace and flok-lore and painting and writing and music, between sculpture and religion and handicrafts.”

Very soon, though, Wolfe begins to learn “the hard lesson that in Lembuland it is considered a crime to regard the native as anything even so high as a made wild animal.” Appalled by this attitude on the part of the whites in the area Wolfe sets himself to “seek with keenness for information about the relations between blacks and whites in those parts.”

Wolfe’s neighbours are portrayed in most unflattering ways, and he sees them as “unclean” people with whom he would not choose to “breathe the same air”.

Then one day a young black woman came into the store and “took my breath away.”

“An aboriginal, perfectly clean and perfectly beautiful. I have never seen such consummate dignity.”

The young woman, Nhliziyombi, was in complete contrast to the meanness of Wolfe’s white neighbours, “She was an ambassadress of all that beauty (it might be called holiness), that intensity of the old wonderful unknown primitive African life – outside history, outside time, outside science.”

This was Plomer’s first crime in the eyes of white South Africa – to find beauty, indeed to be attracted by the beauty, in a black person, and particularly a black woman.

As Laurens van der Post wrote in the introduction to the 1985 Oxford edition of Turbott Wolfe, “That, of course, roused an even angrier reaction from the white South Africans. One of the cardinal principles of the popular attitude was that it was impossible for a decent, civilised white man to be attracted by black women.”

But the novel went even further – some of the characters in it were openly and actively in favour of that horror of horrors, miscegenation.

The newly-arrived missionary Rupert Friston says, “I do not assert yet that miscegenation should be actually encouraged, but I believe that it is the missionary’s work now, and the work of any white man in Africa worth his salt, to prepare the way for the ultimate end.”

Another character, Mabel van der Horst, who herself marries a black man in the story, says to Wolfe, “What the hell is the native question? You take away the black man’s country, and, shirking the future consequences of your action, you blindly affix a label to what you know (and fear) the black man is thinking of you – ‘the native question.’ Native question, indeed! My good man, there is no native question. It isn’t a question. It’s an answer.”

This was written a mere 16 years after South Africa had been unified with a blatantly and explicitly racist constitution, a country which was ruled by a minority who believed totally that the country was a “white man’s country”.

It was written a mere 13 years since the passage of the Land Act of which Solomon Tshekeisho Plaatje wrote in his Native Life in South Africa: “Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

Van der Post in his introduction writes: “Art, to me, is a magic mirror wherein are made visible aspects of reality hitherto invisible, and thus Turbott Wolfe was for me and some of my generation in South Africa.”

No wonder the whites did not like having its “dirty face” reflected in the mirror of this fine novel.

The forlorn crying of the titihoya

Another novel of race which came out of the pre-apartheid era in South Africa opens in way deeply different from the beginning of Turbott Wolfe: where Turbott Wolfe is lying dying in a dingy room in England, author Alan Paton opens Cry the Beloved Country (first published by Jonathan Cape in 1948) with an elegiac, beautiful paragraph about the wide open landscape of southern kwaZulu-Natal, in what is in my view the most beautiful passage in South African literature:

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the tithoya, one of the birds of the veld.”

The contrast with the opening of Turbott Wolfe is indeed dramatic and is indicative of the wide differences between the two books. Plomer is, in spite of clear preference for a liberal point of view, a realist, while Paton is a romantic.

Indeed, despite the fact that Paton’s book has been hugely popular in many parts of the world, and has been the source of much of the world’s popular knowledge about South Africa, Plomer’s novel is perhaps a better, though far less well-known, work of art.

Both of these books are passionate works of art; Plomer’s work is passionate about art and literature and the issue of race is dealt with in that context. Paton’s work, on the other hand, is passionate about justice, about morality, and the issue of race is dealt with in that context.

Indeed Geoffrey Hutchings, writing in the excellent compendium Perspectives on South African English Literature (Ad Donker, 1992) could call Paton a “Puritan”: “He can be seen within a tradition of English Puritanism whose great figures include Sir Thomas More, John Milton, John Bunyan, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Florence Nightingale, W.E. Gladstone, D.H. Lawrence and F.R. Leavis – not, in other respects, a group with very much in common.” (Interestingly, Geoffrey Haresnape, writing on Plomer in Perspectives on South African English Literature, lists Turgenev, Conrad and E.M. Forster among Plomer’s literary forebears.)

Alan Paton

Yet he could write a few sentences earlier, “My story, begun in Norway and Sweden, was becoming a cry of protest against the injustices of my own country.”

(I find it interesting that these two novels also had such different births – Turbott Wolfe was conceived and born on a lonely trading station in rural kwaZulu-Natal of a 22-year-old; while Cry the Beloved was conceived and born in Europe and the United States of a 40-year-old on a study tour of penal institutions for juveniles. Both were also first novels for their respective authors.)

Cry the Beloved, in contrast to the almost exclusively white perspective of Turbott Wolfe, is written almost entirely from the perspective of a black Anglican parson, Steven Kumalo. However, the polemical nature of the writing does not encourage any depth of psychological insight, though such insight is not entirely lacking.

As Hutchings notes, “South Africa recognised itself reluctantly in his (Paton’s) portrait, and within a few years other writers had followed Paton, often in more horrifying detail.”

The “magic mirror” was held up to South Africans again, and again they did not like it too much.

Paton tells of sitting next to Mrs Malan, wife of the Nationalist Party Prime Minister Dr D.F. Malan, at the screening of the first movie made of the book. She said to him, “Surely, Mr Paton, you don’t really think things are like that.” To which he replied, “Madam, I lived in that world for thirteen years.” He writes that he did not add, “and you, madam, have never seen anything of it at all.”

Towards the Mountain

Both books end with images of mountains and valleys. Turbott Wolfe is on the train heading to the coast and back to England and death, and from the train window sees “the moonlight on the deserted barren mountains. They are turning and turning like roundabouts as the train turns round and about.”

And then he quotes a stanza of a poem:

Into the night, into the blanket of night,

Into the night rain gods, the night luck gods,

Overland goes the overland passenger train.”

Paton’s book ends with the priest looking out over the mountains and valleys where the story had started, and watching the sunrise, the sunrise which would be the last day of his son’s life, as the son was to be executed for murder that morning. And Steven Kumalo reflects on the experiences of the last weeks. At the moment when he thinks his son will die, he stands, removes his hat, and prays. As he does so the dawn finally breaks over the rim of the valley.

But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”

The Magic Mirror

In his introduction to Turbott Wolfe Laurens van der Post tells of how as children he and his friends would put a mirror in front of baboons they had caught. The baboons would be convinced that the image in the mirror was another baboon and they would search frantically for the other baboon, never accepting that the image in the mirror was their own.

In their highly neurotic and intelligent way they were convinced that a dirty trick was being played on them, and the exercise would end with them picking up the mirror and smashing it to pieces.”

Van der Post concluded, “This has always seemed to me a precise rendering of South Africa’s reaction to Turbott Wolfe.” One might add, to Cry the Beloved Country too.

Works cited

Chapman, Michael; Gardiner, Colin; and Mphahlele, Es’kia (eds) (1992): Perspectives on South African English Literature. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.

Paton, Alan (1948): Cry the Beloved Country. London: Jonathan Cape

Paton, Alan (1986): Towards the Mountain. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Plomer, William (1985): Turbott Wolfe. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Van der Post, Laurens (1985): The “Turbott Wolfe” Affair. Introduction to Plomer, William: Turbott Wolfe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

 

St Petersburg comes to the Highveld – the Russian Orthodox Church of St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand

Gleaming golden onion-shaped domes are not common sights on the Highveld – or anywhere else in South Africa, for that matter.

The ones that caught my eye while driving from Pretoria to Johannesburg on the N1 highway one day belong to the parish church of St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, Gauteng, and I could not ignore their call though I had no idea what these strange visions were until I went closer.

I found the church and met the parish priest, Fr Daniel Lugovoi, who told me something of the history of this beautiful church.

The church, which was designed by well-known (in Russian circles at least) St Petersburg architect Yuri Kirs, was completed in 2003 and consecrated for worship on 2 March of that year. It was built by local builders under the supervision of the architect.

It is the only Russian Orthodox church

The bell tower to the west of the church

building in South Africa and serves about 200 people from the Commonwealth of Independent States who now live in the country. It falls under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt.

Fr Daniel Lugovoi

Fr Daniel Lugovoi

The church is dedicated to much-loved St Sergius of Radonezh, a 14th Century saint who did much to reform the monastic tradition in Russia and whose feast day is 25 September.

Fr Lugovoi, who has been the priest in charge since January 2010, trained at a seminary in Moscow, his home town.

Kirs, who has designed churches in

Attention to detail is obvious in every aspect of the building

Russia and the United Arab Emirates and supervised the refurbishment of many churches in and around St Petersburg, designed this church to include homage to both the culture and history of the Russian Orthodox Church and this particular church’s home in South Africa. His design of this church won him the Order of St. Daniel of Moscow.

The east wall of the church

The church has a character of simplicity in its white walls and yet with great attention to detail in the many artistic features such as the mosaic icons on the exterior walls and the calligraphy decorating the exterior vaulting. The nod to South Africa’s history is found in the Cape-Dutch-style “gables” just above the roof line of the vaults.

Inside the church seems much more spacious than one expects, due to the light and airy space created by the central dome and the light pouring in through the windows in the tower above it. At the top of this lantern tower is the icon of Christ Pantokrator – the Creator of everything.

Every wall is covered with icons and other decorations, all created by artists from the academy in St

The central lantern tower with the icon of Christ Pantokrator

Petersburg, who also created the external mosaics and calligraphy. The gold leaf which tops each slender Byzantine column, the domes

The nave with its brightly-coloured murals

and other details, was also created by Russian craftsmen.

The iconostasis or templon

Dominating the interior is the dark imbuia iconostasis with its many bright icons and beautiful carved details. The contrast between the dark wood and the brilliant colours of the icons creates a rich texture which itself contrasts with the overall simplicity of the building.

In the centre of the iconostasis (also called the templon) is the double door known as the “beautiful gate” through which only clergy may pass into or out of the sanctuary which is behind the iconostasis in the eastern arm of the cruciform building. Doors at each end of the iconostasis are known as angel or deacon’s doors and allow acolytes and deacons access to the sanctuary.

Fr Daniel beside the “beautiful gate” in the iconostasis

The choir loft

Viewed from the nave the icon to the right of the beautiful gate is of Jesus and the icon to the left is of the Theotokos or Mother of God (the Virgin Mary) holding the infant Jesus.

Surrounding the church are well-kept gardens and a building which houses a church hall and bell tower to the west of the church.

Altogether this church is an embodiment of harmony between art, culture and spirituality, every element designed in detail to contribute to an uplifting experience for the church-goer.

A gallery more oif of my photos of this lovely church can be found here.

Anglican Cathedral to Presbyterian Church – the fascinating journey of a church with a history

Main door of St Saviour’s, Randjesfontein, 2012

Echoes of a Victorian theological controversy which played out in the British Natal colony are heard in the Presbyterian Church of St Saviour’s in Midrand, Gauteng.

In 1853 Anglican divine and mathematician John William Colenso was appointed Bishop of Natal by the then Metropolitan Bishop of Cape Town, the Right Reverend Robert Gray. Colenso came to his new bishopric, centred on St Peter’s Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg, in 1854 and was quite soon involved in controversy around two issues – the first was his liberal interpretation of certain Biblical texts and the second was his, for the times, radical approach to the black people of the colony, the amaZulu of King Cetewayo kaMpanda.

Bishop Colenso’s views on these matters, especially his Biblical

St Saviour’s Cathedral, Pietermaritzburg, 1870

liberalism, brought him notoriety (or fame, depending on one’s point of view) throughout the English-speaking world. The High Church party in Britain was particularly worried about the theological and political ramifications of Colenso’s opinions and Gray in December 1863 deposed Colenso after a church trial for heresy.

Colenso successfully appealed against this action but he was opposed by the Dean of his Cathedral, Dean James Green who on Colenso’s return left St Peter’s with his followers and set up a parallel Church in St Saviour’s in 1868.

Another Bishop was appointed by Gray, Bishop W.K. Mcrorie, who took his throne in St Saviour’s. Thus for a number of years there were two Church of England dioceses in Natal Colony, a situation which only came to an end after Colenso’s death in June 1883.

Looking up the nave towards the sanctuary.

The two church buildings however continued to function, with St Peter’s being an ordinary parish church, until St Saviour’s was de-consecrated in 1976 and set for demolition in 1981.

The lovely woodwork of the ceiling

Two men associated with the development of a residential township on the historical former farm Randjesfontein in Midrand, Gauteng, Charles Lloys Ellis and Keith Parker, heard of the imminent demolition of St Saviour’s and decided to buy the sanctuary, transepts, nave, chapter room and library and transport the fabric to Midrand. Here the former Cathedral was re-built under the guidance of architect Robert Brusse.

The north wall of St Saviour’s with the baptistry

The re-constructed church is beautifully simple and elegant, retaining much of the Victorian Gothic of the original. The roof is high with lovely Gothic-style trusses and the floor of red tiles is also remarkable.

On one side of the nave is an organ loft and on the other a small baptistry chapel. The entrance to the church looks still very much as it did in 1870.

St Saviour’s, Randjesfontein, was consecrated for worship on 16 May 1985 – appropriately, the Feast of the Ascension.

The beautiful grounds of St Saviour’s

The church is surrounded by beautifully-maintained gardens shaded by high conifers.

The building is still privately-owned and is rented to the Midrand Presbyterian Congregation. The beauty of the building has also ensured that is popular as a wedding venue and a venue for musical recitals and other cultural activities.

A gallery of more of my photos of this beautiful church can be found here.

 

Anatolia comes to Midrand – the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere rises on the Highveld

The Nizamiye Mosque seen from the north

Travelling north on the N1 highway from Johannesburg to Pretoria a sight can be seen which might have students and lovers of architecture rubbing their eyes – a three-quarter replica of the famous Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, stands on a rise to the east with its four tall minarets like rockets ready for launching into space standing around an imposing dome.

Built in a period of 2-and-a-half years the Nizamiye Mosque was constructed by some 300 workers from South Africa and Turkey and is the result of the generosity of an anonymous man from Istanbul who wanted to build a masjid where the Ottomans had been unable to – in the Southern Hemisphere.

The building was supervised by South African architect Ahmed Shabbir Bham and follows the style of the original, which was designed by famous Turkish architect Mimar Sinan (c1490 – 1588) in the late 16th Century. He set out in the design of the Selimiye Mosque to disprove a saying common among architects in the Ottoman Empire: “You can never build a dome larger than the dome of Hagia Sophia and specially as Muslims“.

The dome of Selimiye Mosque was indeed slightly larger than that of Hagia

Looking up into the dome with its rich calligraphic decorations

Sophia and is characterised by a sense of airy space due to the positioning of the interior supports close to the walls.

“The sense of unity is likewise emphasised on the exterior by the placing of four high minarets close to the rising mass of the central dome,” – from the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architecture & Technological Change (London, 1979).

The minarets of Nizamiye are 55 metres high while those of the Selimiye are 83 metres. The dome of Selimiye is 83m high and that of Nizamiye is 62.25m.

The ceiling of the colonnade around the courtyard is richly decorated

The materials used in the construction of Nizamiye Mosque were locally sourced except for some specialised items such as the tiles, marble and carpets used.

The workers recruited from Turkey were specialists in calligraphy, art and marble work.

I asked Orhan Celik, director of the Aksan Property Development company why Midrand was chosen as the site for this imposing building and he told me it was because it was the only place they could find appropriate land of the required size located close to a city.

“Also Midrand is half way between Pretoria and Johannesburg and it is the seat of the African Parliament, so it has historical significance too,” he added.

Like its model in Turkey, Nizamiye Mosque stands in a külliye, a complex comprising a school, shops and a clinic.

The courtyard of the mosque. A huge banqueting hall is underneath this marble paving.

Under the beautiful courtyard of the mosque is a banqueting hall which can seat up

Basmala (the Bismillah phrase) – image via Wikipedia

to 1000 guests. In the centre of the courtyard is an ablution facility (wudhu khana) topped by a skylight for the hall below.

All worshippers who wish to enter the masjid need to do wudhu before entering. This is a ritual cleansing involving the intention to cleanse oneself and then washing the hands, face and feet, often accompanied by recitation of the Bismillah (in the Name of God).

The prayer hall of the mosque is always entered without shoes and there is usually

Looking across the prayer hall towards the qibla wall. The mihrab can be seen to the right of the picture

place provided for the shoes to be kept while the worshipper is inside the prayer hall.

In the prayer hall itself there are no pews and the hall is orientated towards the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine. The main entrance to the prayer hall is opposite the qibla wall, or the wall in the direction of Mecca. Worshippers kneel on the rich carpeting of the hall facing the qibla wall in

The wudhu khanna in the centre of the courtyard

which there is no door.

The direction of the Kaaba in Mecca is also indicated by the mihrab, an alcove in the qibla wall. This wall is at right angles to a line leading to Mecca.

Also against the qibla wall is the minbar or pulpit from which important prayers will be led by an imam or other spiritual leader. In the Nizamiye the minbar is raised quite high and is very ornate.

The minarets symbolise the striving towards Allah by the faithful and also had a practical purpose – they were used by muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. When raised up high the muezzin could be heard

Nizamiye from the north east

further than if he were standing on the roof of the mosque.

Cherif Jah Abderrahmán, president of the Western Institute for Islamic Culture, said in 2007, “… the architectural shape which best and more clearly indicates the presence of Islam, is the minaret, whatever its current function and whichever may be the social reasons which led to its construction.”

Certainly from a distance the minarets of Nizamiye are striking.

The mosque is due to be opened officially on 4 October 2012.

A gallery of my photos of this magnificent mosque is available at https://picasaweb.google.com/108214824979962624680/NizamiyeMosqueMidrandSouthAfrica. Please feel free to visit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Apartheid to Zaamheid – a book review

In the midst of the furore of the Limpopo textbook crisis and the gloom of the world’s economic failures a book arrived serendipitously on my desk and helped to keep my spirits positive.
From Apartheid to Zaamheid is a readable and practical book about making a difference, being a positive force for change in South Africa, rather than a perpetual whinger about all that is wrong in the country.
My only complaint really is, why did the book take so long to arrive on my desk? It was published by Aardvark Press in 2004 and yet I only came to see it this week. Well, maybe I’m not as awake as I like to think I am!
The author is Advocate Neville Melville who played a significant role in the transition from the apartheid regime to the non-racial democracy we live in today. He has also been the Banking Ombudsman as well as being appointed by former president Nelson Mandela as the Police Ombudsman.
The book is 130 pages long and presents, in very readable ways, the problems facing South Africa and a number of possible ways that individuals can make contributions to solving these problems – not in grand, sweeping ways, but in small ways that touch people’s lives.
The word “Zaamheid”, Melville explains, he coined from the international symbol for South Africa, namely “ZA”, and the initial letters of the words “alle mense (all people)” to form the “Zaam”, which sounds a lot like the Afrikaans word “saam” which means “together”. The suffix “-heid” means roughly “-ness” as in “apart-ness”.
Melville defines his new word as meaning “everyone working together” and he writes, “The choice of an Afrikaans-sounding word would, in itself, be an act of bridge building.”
That introduces the major theme of the book, which is also its sub-title: “Breaking down walls and building bridges in South African society.”
Some of the chapter titles give an idea of how this theme is explored by Melville: “The crack in the wall”; “The great wall”; “Behind high walls”; “A peek over the wall”; “Up against a brick wall”; and “Bringing down walls”.
In his analysis of the problems facing South Africa Melville makes it clear that the walls, both real and metaphorical, which continue to keep South Africans apart from each other are the source of the ills besetting the country: “The affluent continue to barricade themselves from the rest of the world in security villages with checkpoint controls. The workplace is increasingly becoming a no-go zone for whites, particularly if they are males.”
In the final chapter of the book, “The way ahead”, Melville makes some pertinent points, like “We are, as a country, spending too much of our energies in trading blame and squabbling amongst ourselves. Instead we should be focussing all our efforts into the challenges that face us. Until every last person has a stake in the country’s wealth, none of our individual wealth is secure.”
The book as a whole is a challenge to all South Africans to become bridge builders rather than wall builders.

How can whites live with the legacy of apartheid? – a moral question

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Prison wall on Robben Island. Photo by Tony McGregor

South Africa has always been, in Allan Drury’s words, “A very strange society” so it should perhaps not surprise us that not quite 20 years after the official death of apartheid, that strangeness still afflicts us so severely. Drury wrote his book in 1967, when official apartheid was just 20 years old. Since then the strangeness has only grown.

The 1994 settlement which saw beloved elder statesman Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela become the first democratically-elected president in our twisted history, was heralded by many as a “miracle” – and there was much that seemed miraculous. For the first time that I know of in history a ruling oligarchy negotiated itself out of power.

But that miracle had some serious flaws, flaws which are now coming to light as the strains of adjusting to a globalised economy and a rapidly-evolving world political scene start to take hold. The very fact that the settlement was negotiated has left us with issues that need to be resolved. Negotiation is frequently, though not necessarily always, done through compromise and letting go of interests.

Negotiations took place in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) and the subsequent bi-lateral negotiations between the ruling National Party of President F.W. De Klerk and Mandela’s African National Congress, and then in the broader Multi-Party Negotiating Forum (MPNF) which hammered out an interim constitution for the country. In all these negotiations some critical issues were left to the future, one of them, the issue of land distribution which was greatly in favour of whites thanks to the 1913 Land Act which had made 87% of the land surface of South Africa an exclusively white preserve.

The MPNF left land tenure issues to be resolved by the so-called “willing buyer, willing seller” mechanism. By 2008 this policy had failed to resolve the land tenure issue satisfactorily and, according to Professor Ben Cousins of the University of the Western Cape, more people have lost access to land than have gained it through this mechanism. As Prof Cousins points out: “If land questions remain unresolved, the possibility clearly exists for populist politicians to focus strongly on these issues in order to build a support base, leading to unrealistic policies that promise much but fail to deliver real benefits. This in turn could lead to discontent and unrest.” (On the “Livelihoods after land reform” site, http://www.lalr.org.za/ accessed on 21 August 2011).

It is this discontent and unrest that is very visible in South Africa today, and is articulated very vividly by the former president of the ANC Youth League Julius Malema, who not long ago called whites “criminals” because they stole the land from the blacks. “They (whites) have turned our land into game farms… The willing-buyer, willing-seller (system) has failed,” Malema was reported as saying. “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.” Many whites responded to these statements with defensiveness which, while understandable , showed but little historical insight.

Solomon T. Plaatje

In fact much of the land was taken by force and, in 1913, by law, when the infamous Land Act was first promulgated by the Parliament of the newly-formed Union of South Africa. This Act made a black South African, in the words of contemporary writer Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje “… not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.” That perception of pariah status reached its apogee during the apartheid era and has continued to some extent up to the present.

A disturbing result of the demise of official apartheid has been the rise of white denial of the distress caused by apartheid – the rise of people who would argue that apartheid was not that bad, that blacks under apartheid were better off than blacks in the rest of Africa, and even, to some extent, than blacks in other parts of the world, for instance, the United States.

The other side of this denialism is that the same critics use the undeniable corruption that is plaguing South Africa to discredit the ANC government and imply that blacks cannot be trusted or are naturally prone to corruption and are un-skilled or other such racist inferences.

Philosopher Samantha Rice from Rhodes University in Grahamstown asked in a recent (2009, Journal of Social Philosophy) article, “How do I live in this strange place?” Rice points out that “…an honest and sincere public dialogue about race has not yet happened in South Africa—the subject is too close to the bone for many and too much is at stake and too confused—race is the unacknowledged elephant in the room that affects pretty much everything, in and outside academia”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Photo by Tony McGregor

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu recently caused some more concern among whites when he raised the issue of reparations for blacks who had suffered under apartheid – remarks which, not for the first time, caused some to call him racist. Tutu has consistently argued for more moral dialogue, for a greater commitment from whites to engage with their black fellow-citizens about issues which concern both. Tutu, however, is articulating, in more reasoned tones, to be sure, what Julius Malema is also saying – for the vast mass of blacks have up to now experienced little improvement while whites continue to live much as they did under apartheid. Whites continue to live in white areas, their children go to well-resourced schools, they have regular holidays and participate in many cultural activities. Most of these things are denied to blacks.

Now of course there is the class issue – but in South Africa class and race coincide to a very large degree and whites are seemingly in the main so habituated to privilege that they don’t see themselves as privileged, and hence the denialism, the refusal to engage in the debate but rather to minimise the negative effects of apartheid. As Rice noted, “Because of the brute facts of birth, few white people, however well-meaning and morally conscientious, will escape the habits of white privilege; their characters and modes of interaction with the world just will be constituted in ways that are morally damaging.”

So how can a white person really live a moral and authentic life in the circumstances of South Africa at the beginning of the 21st Century? Certainly not by attempting to minimise or deny the evil of apartheid. Certainly not by attempting to escape the dilemma by claiming not to have benefited from the system. Rice is rather more pessimistic than I would be about this. She states flatly “I do not think that it is possible for most well-intentioned white South Africans who grew up in the Apartheid years to fulfill their moral duties and attain a great degree of moral virtue.”
Her prescription to deal with this moral issue is that whites should adopt a demeanour of humility and silence. I agree with the humility part, but not necessarily with the silence part.

In the face of the great moral evil that apartheid represents, humility on the part of whites is most definitely appropriate. We benefited greatly from a great evil, there is no doubt about that; even though many white individuals might have struggled through the apartheid years, their struggles were not of the same order, either physically or morally, as the struggles of blacks.

From that position of humility, of appropriate contrition for apartheid, we should express our solidarity with all South Africans in the struggle for a just, more equitable society, to listen to others with openness in order to understand what they would expect from us in the struggle, to accept black leadership and initiative in these matter.

Neither condemnation nor retreat is likely to be useful. A humble engagement might help ourselves and the country more. Failure to do this, failure to commit to the struggle to overcome the painful legacy of apartheid, will in a very real sense mean forfeiting our right to stay here.

Port Elizabeth’s “great gale” of 1902

“Never before in its history has this port suffered under such overwhelming disaster as we record today. On Sunday morning some 38 craft rode at anchor under the leaden sky. Heavy rains had fallen and the wind gradually rose until, as the shadows of evening hid the shipping from view, a fresh gale was blowing in from the south-east, which, as the midnight hour was reached, had developed in to a hurricane. As the turmoil of wind and wave continued, so the toll of ships mounted, until 18 vessels were aground, with a raging sea adding a high toll of human lives.”

So read a report in the Eastern Province Herald in Port Elizabeth on 2 September 1902.

A gale force south easterly wind came up during the evening and night of Sunday 31 August 1902 when some 38 ships were riding at anchor in Algoa Bay. Huge waves battered the ships and several of them began to drift onto the bight of the bay.

The first distress signals sounded were gun shots which were heard just before midnight. The local rescue team, consisting mainly of a rocket brigade, went to the shoreline to see what they could do. In spite of their efforts the wind made it almost impossible to get lines to the distressed ships.

Four local men, Frank Gregory, A. I. McEwan, E. Hayler and John Mannie went out to attempt to get a line across but all were drowned in the attempt. Mothers and children were among those who succumbed in the raging seas.

By the time the storm abated on the Tuesday there were perhaps 38 people known to have died and about 300 rescued. From that day funerals became a daily occurrence as more bodies were washed ashore. The victims were buried in Port Elizabeth's Southend Cemetery, where there is also a monument recalling the tragedy. On the monument are recorded the names of all the ships, those victims whose names are known, and the names of the local men who made the rescue attempt.

The disaster remains the largest marine disaster ever to hit South Africa – though there have been others with greater loss of life, never before or since have so many ships come to grief simultaneously on the treacherous South African coastline.

The list of ships which were beached that day included:

Oakworth – a British cargo sailing vessel of 1242 grt was on route from Port Pirie with a cargo of grain;

Emmanuel – was a German sailing barque of 1147 tons under the command of Captain Tuitzer on route from Port Pirie with a cargo of grain;

Coriolanus – was a German sailing barque of 978 tons. under the command of Captain Gotting on route from Wallaroo with a cargo of wheat;

Hans Wagner – was a German iron barque of 938 tons under the command of Captain Millman was on route from Melbourne with a cargo of grain;

Agostino Rombo – was an Italian sailing barque of 827 grt, en route from Buenos Aires with a cargo of forage under the command of Captain Vassho (Captain Vassho is listed on the Memorial SE cemetery at Port Elizabeth);

Waimea – Norwegian ownded ship was carrying a cargo of wood, with loss of Captain Oredorp and 7 crew on passage from Fremantle (Captain Oredorp is listed on the Memorial to the dead in the SE Cementary of Port Elizabeth);

Arnold – was a German iron sailing barque of 854 grt under the command of Captain Ahlars and carrying a general cargo

Sayre – a British cargo sailing barque of 735 grt was on route from New York with a general cargo ;

Nautilus – was a German sailing barque of 745 grt that dragged her anchor in the great storm of the 1st September 1902 and was wrecked at North End Beach, Algoa Bay. She was under the command of Captain Assing and on route from Adelaide with a cargo of wheat. Captain Assing and 11 crew lost. Their deaths are listed on the Memorial SE Cemetery, Port Elizabeth.

Content – was a Swedish sailing barque of 547 grt. under the command of Captain Gustafsen. She was on route from Rangoon with a cargo of rice when she was wrecked on North End Beach, Algoa Bay on the 1st September 1902.

Iris – a transport schooner of 522 tons;

Kimara – I have been unable to find out anything about this ship;

Hermanos – was a Norwegian sailing barque of 498 tons under the command of Captain Gunderson which was on route from Banbury with a cargo of wood;

Thekla – was a German sailing 3 masted schooner of 350 grt on route from Mauritius with a cargo of sugar;

Constant – was a Norwegian sailing barque of 292 grt that was wrecked at North End Beach, Algoa Bay on the 1st September 1902 under the command of Captain Jacobsen when on roure from Rio de Janeiro with a cargo of coffee.

Clara – was a British Steam tug of 139grt;

Gabrielle – was a British sailing schooner of 78 tons on route from St. Johns with a cargo of wood;

Scotia – was a British cargo steamer of the Clan Line;

Countess of Carnarvon – was a wooden British steam tug of 38 tons;

Cavaliere Michele Russo – was an Italian ship of 1,529 tons on route from Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of Grain. 17 crew members died;

Inchcape Rock – was British full-rigged ship under the command of Captain Ferguson on route from Portland, Oregon.

My source for most of the above information about the ships involved is The Wreck Site.

The photos accompanying this post come from the collection of my late father, Murray McGregor. I do not have any idea of the name of the photographer.

For the identification of the photos I am grateful to FaceBook friends Valma Meier and Derek Watters.


Visiting Old Oom Paul and historic Church Square in Pretoria

Public spaces in cities usually attract interesting characters – especially if the spaces are also tourist attractions.

Church Square in Pretoria is no exception – and has the added characteristic that it is a favourite gathering place for the start of protest marches and trade union demonstrations.

Chicco (left) and Vincent (right) tending the pigeon

On the morning when I went there to take the photos accompanying this article I immediately noticed two people holding a pigeon, of which there are thousands in the Square, and bending over this bird with an intensity that immediately made me curious.

I went over to see what they were up to and found that they were, with great patience and care, removing some cotton that had gotten wound around the poor bird’s legs.

Chicco is all concentration as he cuts the cotton from the pigeon's leg

“It will lose the leg if this cotton stays on it,” explained Vincent, one of the two men. Meanwhile the other man, Chicco, was doing the “surgery” to remove the cotton – and indeed I could see that the leg was already in rather poor shape because of the cotton which had made quite deep indentations in each leg, just above the feet.

It turned out that Vincent and Chicco were flower sellers, with a stand at the western entrance to the square. Their bunches of flowers around the pylons at the western entrance made a colourful and fragrant display.

Freelance photographer Phala in his "studio"

A little further I came across a man with a sign leaning against a plastic bottle crate reading “Same Time Photos” and I noticed on his sleeveless jacket an insignia: “Freelance Photographer.” Intrigued, I introduced myself to him and we got chatting. His name is Phala and his studio is under one of the trees on the square. He noticed that my camera is a Canon and proudly showed me his – also a Canon!

All the while the sound of a “vuvuzela” was blaring hoarsely over the square. The sound was coming from a group of members of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union standing in front of the Old Raadzaal waiting for their comrades to begin a march to the municipal offices down Vermeulen Street, some of whom were attracting attention to their cause by blowing their vuvuzelas.

Along the paths crossing the square were people of all walks of life, some hurrying, not doubt to offices, others strolling, no doubt waiting for something else to happen.

In the middle of the square Old Oom Paul (better known outside of South Africa as Paul Kruger, formerly the President of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899) stands darkly brooding over Pretoria’s central Church Square, with his top hat often providing a useful perch for pigeons.

Anton van Wouw's statue of Oom Paul

The Gereformeerde Kerk on what is now Church Square. Drawing from around 1865

The statue of Oom Paul was sculptured by renowned South African artist Anton van Wouw (1862 – 1945) and was first erected in Pretoria West, then moved to a position in front of the Pretoria Railway Station before being placed in its present position in 1954.

The name “Church Square” is derived from the fact that, on the very spot where Oom Paul now stands brooding there was a church – in fact three churches were sequentially built on that spot, the first in 1857, the last demolished in 1905.

The particular character of Church Square also derives from the series of interesting and mostly quite old buildings which surround it.

The Raadzaal

One of the most impressive is the Raadzaal on the south side of the square, built to house the Volksraad (Parliament) of the ZAR. It was designed by Sytze Wopke Wierda, who had been brought from Holland to the ZAR by Kruger as Government Engineer and Architect in 1887, and who was responsible for a number of other buildings in Pretoria, including the Palace of Justice which stands facing the Raadzaal across Church Square..

The Palace of Justice

The building is in an Italian Renaissance style with a figure said to be of Athena at the top of the tower which dominates the roof line. The Volksraad first met in this building in May 1890.

The Palace of Justice has twin towers and a semi-basement housing cells. The most famous trial held there was the so-called “Rivonia Trial” of 1963/4 in which Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and nine of his comrades stood accused of sabotage and which led to their incarceration on Robben Island off Cape Town until 1989 and 1990.

The old Reserve Bank building on the left

Also on the north side of the square is the Herbert Baker-designed Reserve Bank which pre-figured his later design for the Union Buildings.

Tudor House

To the east of the square is the interesting Tudor Towers built in 1904 by tycoon George Heys, who had the famous Melrose House built for his family. This building housed his offices as well as other businesses owned by him.

The jugendstil Cafe Riche built in 1905

On the other side of the square are the jugendstil Café Riche building and the General Post Office.

© Text and photos copyright Tony McGregor 2011

 

Voices of the past, voices of the present – re-imagining our history a pre-requisite for peace

“If you can’t see the country’s past, if you can’t hear the voices from the past then you can’t understand the present.” – Anglican priest Michael Weeder, quoted in Mike Nicol’s Sea-Mountain, Fire City (Kwela Books, 2001).

“On its own the passage of time neither heals injustices nor pacifies antagonists.” – Bernard F. Connor OP, The Difficult Traverse (Cluster Publications, 1998).

When ANC Youth League president Julius Malema made his now-infamous statement that “all whites are criminals”, in reference to what he termed the “theft” of land by whites from blacks, the response of most whites was defensive – taking the form of either an aggressive denial or a personal attack on Malema himself.

The Slave Lodge in Cape Town. Under a tree close by this building weekly slave auctions were held.

While understandable, these responses are not helpful, and also show a very basic misunderstanding of the history of this complex country. Perhaps such misunderstanding is not surprising, given the many years of racist propaganda to which many whites have been subject for so long.

Certainly Malema’s statement was calculated – and he is too clever a politician not to have calculated this – to excite his followers and to provoke his white opponents. He certainly succeeded in achieving both those outcomes, though his very success raises many other questions.

The most basic question is, what sort of South Africa do we want? And how do we want, in this envisaged country, to relate to our past? We need to ask these questions, and to begin to search for answers, before we can move on, because we will not be able to move on until our relation to our past is clarified. The experiences of Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Chile, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Argentina and even the United States, attest to this, as indeed do the responses to Malema’s statement.

Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who lived through a time of unparalleled violence against his fellow-Jews wrote:

“Violence does not consist so much in injuring and annihilating persons as in interrupting their continuity, making them play roles in which they no longer recognise themselves, making them betray not only commitments but their own substance, making them carry out actions that will destroy every possibility of action.”

Police supoervise the destruction of Modderdam on the Cape Flats, August 1977. Image from "A Shanty Town in South Africa" by Andrew Silk, 1981.

South Africa has certainly experienced much of this type of violence in the more than 500 years of white intrusion onto the soil of this southern tip of the great continent.

The first violence in this intrusion took place in 1487 when Portuguese sea captain Bartolomeu Días, using his cross-bow, shot and killed a black African at the place he called São Bras, which we now call Mossel Bay.

In the light of the later propaganda about who was here first, it is perhaps relevant to note that the people who were seen on that fateful shore in 1487 were “blacks, with woolly hair like those of Guinea” – i.e. most likely Bantu-speaking people and not Khoisan, indicating that the apartheid discourse that whites moved into empty land when moving east from the Cape Colony and that the Bantu-speaking people arrived there at about the same time was a lie.

Emblem of the Dutch East India Company carved above the entrance to Cape Town Castle Circa 1680. Photo by Andrew Massyn via Wikipedia

When the Dutch arrived at the Cape and started to develop their replenishment station below Table Mountain in 1652 they found Khoikhoi people already in residence there and began systematically to displace them. The first “apartheid” barrier was the almond hedge planted by Jan van Riebeeck to keep the Khoikhoi out of the Dutch East India Company’s gardens growing on land that the Khoikhoi had for generations considered “theirs”. This was perhaps the first “land grab without compensation” in South Africa’s history. The first, but by no means the last.

The planting of the Dutch settlement at the Cape was also a grave interruption of the continuity of the indigenous people. It interrupted the continuity of the grazing of their cattle; it interrupted their freedom of movement across the land and interrupted the natural power relations between groups by introducing outside influences.

The very beginning of what we now call South Africa was steeped in violence and the voices of those who suffered need to be heard, even at the distance across time of more than 500 years, as do those who suffered after.

Can you hear the voices whispering in the mists coming down Hoerikwaggo?

We all in South Africa at the beginning of the 21st Century need to open our ears to those voices which call to us down the centuries, those voices which, if we are still and listen, we might hear carried on the winds which blow down the crevasses and kloofs of Hoerikwaggo (or Sea-Mountain, as Table Mountain was called by the Khoikhoi), or in the hot winds of the Karoo or the gales across the Highveld, the songs and laments of Khoisan, of slaves, of Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana. We might, if we listen carefully, also hear the cries of children and women and old people trekking through the unknown, fearful and tired.

History, it has been said, is always written by the victorious. In Africa we also have a saying, that until the lion tells his story, the hunter is always the hero.

And so I think we have to re-imagine our history. We have to use our minds’ eyes to see how people have lived and died, and begin to re-interpret the meaning of that living and dying. We have to try to imagine what it must have been like for those people on the shore at São Bras to have seen these strangers arrive, and to have seen one of their own killed by this hither-to unknown weapon.

It is important too that we try to understand the feelings of Khoikhoi at the Cape when Van Riebeeck planted the Dutch flag (or was it the flag of the Dutch East India Company?) on their soil. And the fears of the Dutchmen who were given the task of making the Cape a viable investment for that company – what were their feelings about being stuck in this strange land, surrounded by people who were so different?

Ven. Michael Weeder, now Dean of St George's Cathedral, Cape Town. Image from http://cape-slavery-heritage.iblog.co.za/2011/01/12/people%E2%80%99s-dean-cadre-padre-father-michael-weeder-named-new-dean-of-st-georges-cathedral/

To quote Michael Weeder again (from Nicol’s book) talking about the Slave Tree monument in Cape Town: “Families were destroyed here. Children sold to one person, their mothers sold to another. A woman sold to a farmer in Stellenbosch, her man sold to a merchant in Cape Town. Can you Imagine that? Can you just imagine what it was like, all the misery that happened here on the ground beneath our feet?”

The great chief Maqoma

The great chief Maqoma. South African Library, Cape Town

Can you imagine how the great chief Maqoma felt, lying on the ground with the booted foot of that hyperactive Governor of the Cape Harry Smith on his neck?

Can you imagine the pain of a young mother dumped with her little children in the veld at Dimbaza in the middle of winter?

Image from the film "Last Grave at Dimbaza"

Can you imagine the anguish of a father watching the home he had painstakingly built for his family at Modderdam or Crossroads being demolished?

Can you imagine how a descendent of Sekwati (chief of the Pedi at the time of the Great Trek) must feel every time he or she sees the Voortrekker Monument?

South Africa is a complex country with a rich history which, like all histories, is an interpretation of what we have been taught, what we have read, what we have experienced. No one history or interpretation of history, can adequately do justice to where we are today in this country.

If we are to make something of this country, we need to listen and understand each other, and that takes patience and a willingness to learn. A willingness, a humility, to allow another person’s history, in a sense, to become my own.

Typical apartheid sign. Image via Wikipedia

Typical apartheid sign. Image via Wikipedia

Of course we cannot change the past – what has happened has happened. There can be no turning back of the clock – indeed to which time would we turn it? But we have to deal with the past some creative way without denying anything in it. As Beyers Naude said, “No healing is possible without reconciliation, and no reconciliation is possible without justice, and no justice is possible without some form of genuine restitution.”

In the Interim Constitution, which was the basis for the elections of 1994 and the subsequent Government of National Unity, a statement about reconciliation was included which might be a basis for our moving forward. The Interim Constitution spoke of the “need for understanding but not for vengeance; a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation.”

In the Preamble to the Freedom Charter is the statement “that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.”

In his recent speech at Stellenbosch, which has aroused the fury of so many whites, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu said:

“Our white fellow citizens have to accept the obvious: You all benefited from apartheid. But that does not mean that all are responsible for apartheid.

“Your children could go to good schools. You lived in smart neighbourhoods. Yet so many of my fellow white citizens become upset when you mention this. Why? Some are crippled by shame and guilt and respond with self-justification or indifference. Both attitudes make that we are less than we can be.”

We are all here now and belong here simply because we are here. There is absolutely no profit for any of us in self-justification or indifference.

To make our future together we have to let go of guilt and let go of the need to justify any of the evils of the past. We have to understand where we come from by hearing those voices from the past and make active efforts to change ourselves, to, in Gandhi’s famous words, “be the change we want to see.”

We defeat ourselves if we wallow in guilt or recrimination, or, with indifference, wait for the passage of time to heal the many injustices and antagonisms that have arisen in the course of our complex, rich and fascinating history.

We can be so much more.

© Text and photos, unless otherwise indicated, copyright by Tony McGregor 2011