FORGIVENESS: IT’S NOT BLACK OR WHITE. IT’S PERSONAL

It came out of nowhere, just like Die Stem, South Africa’s national anthem from 1957 to 1994. I thought we were all singing Nkosisikela when the veil was finally lifted and sommer Uit die blou van ons se hemel – she dropped a bomb on me.

It was not so long ago when I met her, but when I saw this picture (pic credit ANA)of her at the Memorial service of the Apartheid-era South African Foreign minister, Roelof “Pik” Botha memories began flooding back, to another lifetime.

When I worked as a radio journalist for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
My colleagues and I took regular breaks in the smoking room on the second floor of the TV Building in Aucklandpark, Johannesburg.

The smoking room was partitioned with glass walls within the canteen area making all smokers visible to breakfast, lunchtime and afternoon traffic. Despite it being a fishbowl it soon became our ritual to get our refill of coffees and then go in there to join others in innocuous conversations about weekends, leave-days and holidays.

It was during one of these visits to the smoking room that we met. But not in an official sense. I accepted her name without question “Hi, Ina, I’m Jedi – Nice to meet you”

I liked Ina and her crew.

I liked them because they were older women, which meant I could learn more from them.
I liked them because they spoke Afrikaans which was a rare thing to hear in the corridors of the SAUK.

You see, I had gone to an Afrikaans School at some point during my varied school career.
I had been taught Geography, Art and Maths and other things by Afrikaner teachers.

There is something about the language which remains alluring to me. Perhaps because it was for a large part of my life, like English, a language of power and access.

There were parts of it which were beautiful, poetic and sentimental – despite its bloody past.

Imagine, I can still hear the voice of our Afrikaans teacher Meneer Badernhorst screaming loudly in his baritone; se agter my! Liewer Meneer Henshaw! When we recited a book we read in Afrikaans-language class.

Although we all assumed it was an Afrikaans book, it was in actual fact a translation of the award-winning book written by American writer Beverly Cleary called, Dear Mr Henshaw. The book explored difficult topics like divorce, insecurity and bullying through the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy as he writes to his favourite author, Boyd Henshaw. Issues which resonated with me.

And I was not alone. We all loved the book: our multiracial class of Taiwanese, English, Polish, Portuguese, Indian, Coloured and African children from different backgrounds – even if the book was in Afrikaans. We went to an experimental school called: Cultura High.

Even as I write this I can still hear our voices harmonising together at Friday’s assembly to Coenie de Villiers’ Karoonag, a song praising the South African’s semi-desert released in 1990, the same year former President Nelson Mandela was released from Polsmoor prison. I can remember panting to get to my favourite part of the chorus;

“Ruik jy katbos and Kambro, as dit reen in die klein Karoo, my hantemwind, my optelkind vanaand” with my Schoolmates at Hoerskool Newcastle.

And so Ina and her crew filled a part of me which appreciated Afrikaans.

For numerous reasons the language resonated with me; after all, it was still the language spoken in the black townships of Johannesburg encased in a delirious mix of dialects called tsotsitaal.

It was still the coded language used by old topies who were forcefully removed from Sophiatown to Meadowlands under Apartheids’ Group Areas Act of 1913. For them, it was a language of romance, of charm and nostalgia for a time and place they could never return to.

It was the language of style, it was fashionable. It gave you some street cred, it could get you out of trouble with street gangs or the police for that matter.

And so years went by with Ina and I (and others) talking without a care in the world in the fishbowl. Most of our conversations were about pot-plants, decoupage projects, pets, some or other art and crafts which had caught their attention.

Ina loved to play Soduku, she said it was her favourite game especially when she was travelling. Her life was so very different from mine which is what made our conversations interesting.

Ina also gave great advice. She told me I was not ready to own a pet when I mentioned during a conversation, that I was thinking of getting a dog.

“I also want something to do at home in the afternoons and on weekends,” I told her. I needed a reason to be home since I spent most of my time out at work or out with friends. I thought getting a pet would be good for me. “A dog is a very big responsibility,” she responded.

“You have to take it for vaccinations, feed it three times a day, potty train it, take it out for walks. You can’t just go out all night or on holiday and forget about it, you have to make arrangements for the dog.” she said “ Not only that, it can be frighteningly expensive”

After she listed all the responsibilities which come with pet-ownership, I decided against it. I would not be good for the dog, even if the dog would be good for me.

Besides – the truth was I didn’t like dogs. They brought back bad memories. They scared me and I could not imagine keeping one in my yard or home if it had the potential to one day turn on me and bite. I had seen too many children bitten by dogs in Meadowlands.

Our conversations went on like this until one morning. I walked into the canteen, as usual, to find Ina and friends sitting and chatting over pictures of someone who looked familiar to me.

I sat down.“ Why do you have pictures of Pik Botha on the table?”I asked almost in an accusatory tone.
Everyone around the table looked at me and then at each other in slow motion, silently. I could tell there was something wrong.

Until someone ventured to ask, “You don’t know?” “Do you mean you didn’t know?” They asked almost in unison.
“Didn’t know what?” I asked growing concerned.

Ina sat up, straightened her back on the blue chair, flicked her cigarette into the ashtray and folded her red-painted fingernails around her wrist. “Pik Botha is my husband, I am married to him, which is why I have pictures of him on the table,” she said.

I must have looked crestfallen because then she said “Maybe it might change things for you, so I understand if you don’t want to talk to me anymore”

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. My head was spinning. I froze.

Senzensina, senzenina, senzeni na. Senzeni na, soneniana? Sonenina? Jopi!Thente! Bhut’Vusi! Sono sethu ubumyama, sono sethu ubumnyama.

How was this possible? Sitting across from Pik Botha’s wife was akin, at least for me, to a jew sitting across from Adolf Hitler’s wife. I had never been so close to someone who was part of a regime which was instrumental in my oppression, someone who was so close to the centre of the Apartheid machinery.

You see I was raised in Soweto, on a steady diet of struggle songs most of which spat-out and trampled on the name of the Apartheid-former Foreign minister Pik Botha beneath the thud of worn-out converse soles on dusty streets.

Back then Pik Botha along with South Africa’s Apartheid-Era President PW Botha were the boere black people sang about killing and “shooting.”

It didn’t make sense to me that I was now suddenly sitting in front of “one of them.” Not only just sitting with her, but I was also enjoying her company.

What did that make me?

What was more surprising to those sitting around the table was that I didn’t know. How was it possible for me not to know who I was talking to, wasn’t I a “journalis?”

They all assumed that I had been sitting across from her with the full knowledge of who she was and what she represented.

I was blindsided, I did not expect to be working with Pik Botha’s wife.  Never in a million years. Didn’t she have more important things to do than be a producer for SABC?

I couldn’t decipher my feelings at such short notice.

I began to experience a case of cognitive dissonance; a moment of extreme emotional and mental discomfort. I had been holding on to too many contradictory beliefs, ideas and values. Justice versus forgiveness. Peace versus Love.

This new information about who Ina was, clashed with my ideas about race, injustice and relationships.

I didn’t know how to feel. Why should I care who she is married to? She was not responsible for Apartheid even though she had benefited from it.

She could not be racist because I had been happily talking to her for years. But Pik Botha’s wife?  Didn’t he spend his career defending and supporting Apartheid? Didn’t he call black people “terrorists?” On the other hand was he not, like Mandela, capable of change?

I cannot remember what happened next after that revelation, but regardless of the conflict Ina posed to my psyche I chose to continue to talk to her.

Until one day she, through a mutual fish-bowler, invited me to a luncheon at the home she shared with Pik Botha in Pretoria, the capital city of (Apartheid) South Africa.

I didn’t know whether to be afraid or happy. Scared or ashamed, to feel welcomed or feel like a traitor.

I was tongue tied, as I watched Pik Botha sitting at the head of white table sharing stories which were relevant to Ina’s friends who’d met him many times before I had. He was working on a book, a biography, she told us. So that’s why he can’t stay for too long.

Soon enough “Pik” disappeared behind the walls of his leafy mansion into a study filled to the brim with books whose titles I could not imagine.

I was mesmerised. Ina later led us to her art studio where she was busy creating a mosaic made of broken mirrors – is was beautiful. She was indeed an artist, a beautiful, tall thin woman.

She was also fragile. And this was the hardest part for me to witness, on top on the luscious green lawns and her artwork – she didn’t have it all figured out, she cried.

Her heart still broke with the distance that existed between her and her husband which no art project could fill.

She was much younger than him. They married on the 27th of April – Pik’s Birthday and South Africa’s Freedom Day. In 1998 four years after democracy. She was his second wife. That’s all I knew.

Ina had never been mean to me.

So it was hard for me to read all the hate which was flung at her husbands’ feet from white and black people alike.

True, Pik Botha was a polarising character. Hated, with good reason by black people for his support of successive Apartheid governments who entrenched the system of racial segregation and the subjugation of African black people. White (Afrikaner) people hated him with equal venom, they called him a traitor for betraying white people, for being a liberalist-reformist and selling out the party and country to black people.

Either out of convenience or moral conviction, he later became a card-carrying member of the very party he had labelled a terrorist organization – the ANC.

As an experienced negotiator Pik Botha may have assumed along with his compatriots in the ANC, that the negotiated settlement was a win-win situation; South Africa’s new democracy was the best alternative to a protracted civil war. They surrendered, they did not capitulate.

But now as younger generations of (black), South Africans begin to reassess the terms of the agreement – many are beginning to believe that what was once thought to be our best alternative to a civil war, was, in fact, the worst alternative to a negotiated settlement – for black people. The deal was a win-lose arrangement.

And yet this is not what I thought when I heard that “Pik” Botha had died. My immediate response to the news was compassion; “Oh my God, Ina must be devasted”, that’s what  I was thinking.

I knew her personally. So I can not advocate for her demise.

The closest way I can think to describe this episode in my life is through the award-winning German book, The Reader:

When the main character Micheal Berg struggled with the revelation that a woman he’d had an affair with in his teens – Hanna – had been, in fact, a guard at the infamous Jewish concentration camp,  Auschwitz:

I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hannah, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks – understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both

The German law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink who wrote the book, published The Reader in 1995 to deal with the difficulties post-war German generations have had in understanding the Holocaust. It was a book written specifically for those who came after.

jediwinnie

How are we grappling with Post-Apartheid South Africa? Do we need another book?

Perhaps I can never make you understand anything. But I have chosen to forgive (her).

Forgive in the same way that I have had to forgive the mother of our nation, ANC stalwart and freedom fighter Winnie-Madikeza Mandela, for her role in my favourite uncle’s ultimate death through the Mandela Football club. However, remote the two events may have been.

Even as this brave woman, who was herself tortured, humiliated and locked into solitary confinement for more than 400 days was being honoured and celebrated for being so strong and making the Apartheid enemy bow at her feet.

In my mind, she also contributed to the slaughter of the innocent.

While these were the unintended consequences of the struggle for freedom. For me, it was personal.

As South African women came out in all their glorious beauty,  adorned in colourful African “ Doeks” celebrating Mama Madikizela’s life. Who I also loved. One day in April I walked into the quiet South African Embassy and sat alone and did what I should have done a long time ago.

I decided to make peace with her. Because things did go horribly wrong.

And hate is too much of a burden to bear.

Our predecessors with their flawed and subjective natures tried to combine the best of all of us, South Africans, in one song.  The New South African Anthem, sung in multiple languages represents the past, present and the future we hope for.

As their light is beginning to dim, what remains clear in the spotlight are the bitter facts of the past.

We must all think very carefully about the South Africa we want to live in and who we want to be in it. Peace is a process and a choice we must constantly make in our private and public lives lest we become like the America James Baldwin describes in his 1955 essay,  Notes of a Native Son;

Nobody was interested in the facts. They prefer invention because this invention expressed their hates and fears so perfectly…”

 

 

 

 

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THE FIXER: DAY-UNKNOWN

The second coming?
The second coming?

“It’s always impossible until its done” Nelson Mandela

A DAY OF PRAYER AND REFLECTION.

ON SUNDAY – I was at the most famous church in Soweto, Regina Mundi where activists organized, held meetings prayed and were attacked by apartheid police during the 1970s, 80s and 90s The Church has to be rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by Apartheid police in pursuit of comrades. The service was e presided over by Bishop Sebastian Rousow. I spent most of my time outside, catching up with old friends and scouting out potential interviews for my clients . Trying to find the  right people for my people to speak to everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s story is important, but finding the right one out of billions is a skill.  While waiting outside I met tata Patrick, now a very old man. He tells me he has lived in  Rockville  Soweto since 1962, he was part of the Soweto Action Group Committee which was set up following the banning of all non-white political parties in South African, notably the  ANC and PAC.  He tells me with a faraway that police used to stand right where all the media cameras are, surround the church and shoot at people coming out of the church. He was even there when it was built. I can smell the whiff of stale alcohol on his breath. But he tells me that Mandela is a great man. A great tree has fallen he says. If you go to freedom Park which just behind the church you will see there are 95 indigenous trees which have been planted in honour of Mandela each year on his birthday the 18th of July. His son says each time he walks past those trees they represent freedom for him. Long Live they both say. But no one bothers to speak to Patrick. His old and rugged. The media crisscrossed past them waiting for the “big” political and international personalities. There are rumours that Winnie-Madikizela-Mandela might show up at the church, but the rumours are later proven untrue. I also meet Jane Nhlapho who has lived in Rovilled since 1967, and her friend Elizabeth Gwele from Dobsonville another Township in Soweto. They both describe  how police used to frequently surround the church with caspers, mellow yellows, police and army vehicles, and shoot and throw tear-gas at activists locked up inside. Elizabeth told me that, as parents they frequented the church in search of their children, to see if they are okay, still together in one piece.  Jane lost a family member right here at the church, a brother who disappeared – last seen at Regina Mundi Church. It’s pain-full to think about. They were running halter and skelter she says. Not knowing where to go or what to do. We were not free. We had not freedom of anything, movement, speech, anything. She looks as lars tall overwhelming  Master-like figure. “Today I can stand here and speak to you like a fellow human being “she said. And that simply brings me to tears.  I think of My brother Thente.

ROOM 209 – CHIEF ALBERT SISULU FLOOR – SOWETO HOTEL

Later in the day we go to the Soweto Hotel for the NRK team to edit and file their story  of the day. I chose Soweto hotel, because of where it is and it represents with uncanny accuracy the current state of our country.  It embodies in a few kilometres the character of South Africa.  Because the contrasts in South Africa from here can’t be more jarring. Our window is face the Union Road – Shop names have changed but the buildings are still the same buildings from 1955 when more than 3000  South African of all races gathered to sign the freedom charter – a blue print for a democratic South Africa – During the darkest period in my country.

They unanimously declared:

  1. The People Shall Govern
  2. All groups shall have equal rights
  3. The figures shall share in the country’s wealth
  4. The land shall be shared among those who work in it
  5. All shall be equal before the law
  6. All shall enjoy equal human rights
  7. There shall be work and security
  8. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened file and edit and file the story of the day. I choose the Soweto hotel we go back to Soweto …
  9. There shall be houses Security and Comfort
  10. There shall be peace and friendship.

You can have all of the above in South African today. If you have money.Only.

BUT ON MONDAY

To say I’m broken would be an understatement. I am trying to be brave and say it’s okay. I’m here at the media centre as I write this. I imagine how full this room will be tomorrow frantic with journalist filing stories minute after minute, second after second, and I won’t be a part of it. I won’t even be at the FNB stadium tomorrow – because as a fixer my team does not think I should be there.get one. So I’ve been literally crying and I feel cheated somehow, except who can I tell. Except you. While noting instructions from my team Clinton my former boss walks past and say to me “where’s my script” and  it brings back old memories of being in the news room where he would say the same thing to me… it took me while to write a story.  I see Sam, waiting in line and she gives me the warmest hug and I start crying I try to walk away. Later Hajra comes and gives me a hug and says hello member of the A team. She is a sweet woman. I start crying. I leave because I’m now too emotional. “Are you OK my dear” Havard the camera–man asks me. “You seem, quite frankly – shattered” he says. I tell him I will be fine tomorrow. Yet in my heart I wonder if he wouldn’t be shattered like me if it were him in my shoes.

MEET THE FIXER

Jedi Ramalapa a South African Female journalist for 13 years. Maybe you don’t understand. I have covered Mandela stories so many times in my life and the one time it matters, not one is willing to hire me, except as a fixer. It’s maddening, I want to scream, tear off my clothes, cry, and what not. But it’s not the end of the world. I will tell my story here. As a blogger – because that will be the most authentic story I could ever tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job – work to do , to be involved. It’s just I never thought that I would be a fixer in the biggest event of my country’s history instead of being the one telling the story.  Not even have the memento of a press tag. But life does work in mysterious ways and I have to be grateful for what I have.

They are on their way to pick me up. It’s 8:12 am South African time. We’re going to the Stadium. I’m driving them

 

I AM SORRY. THINGS WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.

Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic  Jedi Ramalapa
Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic Jedi Ramalapa

27-06-2013 These are highly stressful days for any journalist… in fact for most South Africans and perhaps even the world at large. Our beacon of hope, our best example of a human being Former South African President Nelson Mandela is critical in hospital. On life support. We are again at the precipice of the unknown.  We are at a point of no return. Things are changing. Any day now, any minute now we’ll get the call. Life is changing. We are indeed yet again a country in transition, we are “growing up” and regardless of how hard we try to stall, to delay, to postpone hoping and wishing – nature will and must take its course. The book I’m reading now Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog puts that fact so vividly into perspective, makes the fragility of life so ruthlessly definite, and so final.  I am beside myself with anger, with anxiety. I have been staring blankly through the window at the IT Corner – trying to finish the last couple of pages.  Tears interrupt me they stream down my face. I don’t care this time. I am so full of remorse, full of shame, maybe I feel guilty. I am angry. I don’t know what to do with myself, where to place the anger… how to package my emotions in a neatly coherent articulate English sentence that will make sense to you my dear learnerd reader. What’s worse there’s a huge  part of me feels that these “feelings” these “these moments when I feel so tender a look could shatter me, dissolve me,”  are a luxuries I cannot afford. They are Illegitimate, Bastard feelings.  There’s  no time. People before me endured and survived worse. I need strength. More courage. More wisdom.

I stand up – I am finding it incredibly challenging to finish the book. The testimonies of Apartheid atrocities worse that the holocaust. Beyond what I imagine to be humanly possible.  I am reading the Epilogue. I have been doing so well.  But I stand up and walk up the streets of Melville, Johannesburg,  once an artists preferred watering hole…

…I walk up 7th Street and each ever-changing establishments brings back memories…as if it was yesterday, Mojitos at Six the ever popular cocktail bar, dinners with friends at what used to the  Asian restaurant –SOI- now dark and empty, nights spent talking nonsense or watching soccer at former Wish, Spiro’s, Now Poppy’s…prawns I devoured with friends at the now vacant Portuguese fish market, which used to be Full Stop where we used to have breakfast.  I remember potato skins and cheese at Xai Xai, laughing over Oliver Mtukudzi lament on repeat  “ I’m feeling low I feeling low, help me lord I’m feeling low” ahead of a night spent jumping   and spinning to Drum ‘n Base in Transkei which used to be  home to the  famed Jazz establishment the  Baseline… now it’s on its way to becoming something else again. The vacant image of 7th street stings and suddenly I feel this emptiness growing  in my heart … new owners announce their imminent arrival on a few still  vacant shops…but that does not fill my heart with hope…I don’t know what I should put in this gaping hole in my heart..

There’s a soundtrack for this moment in life. It’s Hometown Glory by Adel.

 I’ve been walking in the same way as I did

And missing out the cracks in the pavement

And tutting my heel and strutting my feet

“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I could call?

No, and thank you, please madam, I ain’t lost, just wandering”

 

Round my hometown, memories are fresh

Round my hometown, ooh, the people I’ve met

Are the wonders of my world, are the wonders of my world

Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders and now

I go to the corner café on 7th and 2nd Avenue, thankfully it still exists but like so many business in Melville it’s also under new management.  In a quivering voice I ask for a single Stuyvesant Blue, my first cigarette in over two months. I know it won’t change anything now but I want to smoke it. I smoke it slowly as I walk back down I watch as new hiply-weaved young people spill out and smoke coolly on the pavements of what used to be PHAT JOE’s studios. – I choke on mine  and put it out.   I really could use a glass of the most crimson Pinotage.  I understand religion, I understand the need to hold on to a ritual a cleansing, a practice,  a fellowship, a heaven, a happily ever after, to be born again, to be absolved, forgiven – Since I can’t even trust myself to quit smoking, keep a roof over my head, or a job, be a functional human being, have friends, stay in a relationship, have children, build my own family. Take care of something. Someone. People who cannot do that are not trustworthy. Does not matter about your Politics. Be optimistic; be balanced, mature. Be responsible, accountable. Make something of yourself for god’s sake…  Me too really I want to be happy like Lira. Or at the very least content,  grateful, Thankful.  I feel more ashamed. What will it take?

Eyewitness news reporter Alex Aleesive is receiving kudos from a fellow colleague and new author Mandy Wiener  at Talk radio 702 for writing a great piece on the legacy of Mandela, he quotes veteran journalist Max du Preez – The face of the Truth and Reconciliation reports at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) back in the day.  “Mandela is living proof that good can triumph over evil” He is moved by Madiba’s  supernatural ability to just be human.  I can’t stop myself from crying. I think maybe I’m jealous.  I’m young, black and still not qualified to tell the story of our struggle, not free to tell it as I see it.  Sorry that position has been filled.  We had more qualified applicants. You seem to have a problem with commitment.   I am still waiting for so and so to “come back to me”.  Thank you.  But I know for sure it’s way deeper than that.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

Instinctively, intuitively  I feel like Madibas daughter, his grandchild, his great-grand daughter – I feel like one of his off-spring who have  been pleading, begging asking the Media and the world  to back off a while they spend this crucial time with their father – who was never theirs to begin with. I want to say wait. Shut up. Don’t interpret my words, don’t put them another way. Don’t tell me how to feel; don’t translate, don’t tell me what to say and how to say it. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t be angry –just for once back off. Don’t tell me how things should be done,  don’t tell me how to be civil, don’t tell me what you think Ubuntu is,  don’t outline to me what’s  appropriate or inappropriate to do at this time, don’t try and analyze me, understand me,  Don’t pretend to know me or to “get” me. Don’t educate me. You’ve spoken for me for long enough. You’ve twisted my story, my history, my culture, my being for long enough. You’ve spoken for, about and over me for long enough.  Just don’t tell me how to behave, don’t mediate,  don’t HELP! Just Stand back for once, don’t take this moment from me, and make it yours, don’t force me to feel sorry for your pain once again.  Don’t try to fit me us him into your ideas of what makes you the better man or human.  Don’t taint this time with your pity, empathy or admiration. It’s not about you.  Please don’t interfere, don’t try and fit this moment in your very busy schedule, your plan… don’t speed it up or slow it down, just let it be what it is. Its importants. Don’t steal it, make me pay for it, work for it, earn it. Don’t ask me how I feel. Today that is none of your business. I want to be left with my nearest and dearest as we  spend time with “our father” to share sweet nothing moments, – for as long as it takes – to exchange  sacred secretes, moments, to hear “Things went horribly wrong, and for that I’m sorry.” To  Say “I’m sorry too Tata. So – so sorry for making my happiness, our happiness, your sole responsibility.  We cannot ask for more. Thank you. I love you”

A 21 Shutter Salute for An Eye Like No Other

A man like no other : Alf Khumalo

How do you honour; where do you begin to pay tribute to a man whose eye albeit behind the camera has seen you in your most vulnerable, intimate, private and perhaps, powerless moments.  A man who risked his life to bring your mother, aunts and cousins to see you while you were in exile? Or who brought you shoes “izimbatata” from home to soften your feet when your soul was starving  between the meshed  cold Skycrapers  of  New York City.  Or better still how do you pay tribute to a man who captured your defiance at the Evaton Bus Boycott, the hopeless despair of the Treason Trial, the bloody pain of the Sharpeville Massacre, when you were silenced during the banning of liberation movements, during the rise of the angry voice of the Black Consciousness Movement, the nervous states of emergencies in the 80’s, the glorious dawns of the release of Nelson Mandela, The Codesa Talks of the early 90’s and the triumphant rainbow moments of Nelson Mandela’s Presidency? How do you pay tribute to a man whose plea’s you turned a deaf ear to, refused to hear until it was too late? That was the hard and painful question that confronted some of the dignitaries, media executives, artists, musicians and politicians who attended veteran photographer and journalist Alf Khumalo’s memorial service at The Forum auditorium in Gauteng Legislature offices in Johannesburg.  Among them sat, singer Sibongile Khumalo, Judith Sephuma, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbuli  Sipho Hostix Mabuse and Keorapetse Kgositsile, including Pulitzer winnining photographers, Joao da Silva and Greg Marinovich.  The auditorium  proudly displayed eight larger than life panels depicting the history of the liberation party the African National Congress ‘s centenary celebrations through photographs many of  them taken by Alf Khumalo, 82, himself in over  50 years of his illustrious career as a photojournalist.  There was not mention of him on the panels, no mention of the man who former President Nelson Mandela, described as a historian, taking ordinary moments he shared with his dog at his home in Soweto or the man who former President Thabo Mbeki honoured with the order of Ukhamanga ( ), No even a single panel gave tribute to the man Winnie MadikiZela Mandela described as “one of the few photographers who fought oppression through the lens”.  Khumalo adopted the Mandela family back in 1951 when he was a young photographer experimenting with his camera” Winnie invited the audience into her world.  Khumalo was then a  part-time journalist with the Bantu World Newspaper, documenting life under apartheid by taking pictures of everything that was newsworthy including arriving uninvited and taking photographs of the goings on Mandela home in Orlando West, Soweto, which was also turned into a Museum [Nelson Mandela Family Museum] three years ago, around the same time that Alf Khumalo turned his Dobsonville home into a museum and school of photography in Diepkloof, which as his obituary read, “young men and women growing up in the dusty streets of Soweto, Alexandra, and Evaton, could literally walk into and learn photography directly from bra Alf Khumalo.”  If the audience was blind to the irony displayed so elegantly on the towering plinths, the Chief photographer of the Saturday Star newspaper and a representative of Alf Khumalo’s Photographic Museum in Diepkloof Soweto, Paballo Thekiso, gave voice, almost involuntarily to Alf Khumalo’s pain of not having realized his dream of building a photographic museum and photography school before his soul left his body, on the 21 of October from renal failure.  Through tears, Thekiso described Bra Alf’s dream which he shared with him while they were sitting under a tree one day “he said you see this place I want us to make it into a double storey, oh no-no let’s make it a triple story. On top it will be the  hall of fame , in the middle you can put whatever you want, and  leave this bottom part the way it is” Thekiso  who described himself as a living example of  Alf Khumalo’s legacy described the conversation he had with his mentor  of  ten years almost  verbatim. “I am sad that he didn’t live to see his dream, he asked, asked everyone, everyone. I saw him do it. He’s been knocking on doors, and no one listened and today he’s gone” Thekiso’s voice broke into a searingly sharp wail that made former ANC Women League President, Winnie Mandela including the audience whose heads were already bowed to wince in pain.  He interrupted attempts to console him through song insisting “I want to speak about this thing. Let us celebrate people when they are still alive. Today I have a family, I have a wife, I have a stable life, because ubaba gave me his time to teach me, he gave me a future, this unfortunately stopped because in 2007, 2008, 2009 we didn’t have funding”.  And as if to continue where Bra Alf Khumalo had left off he continued to knock on doors. “If you are sitting in here today, and you have money please give some of it to the museum”.  Thekiso deftly answered jovial requests by some  including musician Caiphus Semenya to have some of their more private  images taken by Mr Alf Khumalo  returned back to them  by saying “ until those boxes of negatives are scanned properly, you will never see those pictures”.   Perhaps it was veteran Poet and writer Don Mattera who opened the door wide for Paballo Thekiso to bravely deliver his pain-filled tribute. The poet and scribe was  one of the first people to speak, asking the newspapers for which Bra Alf Khumalo worked for almost half a century to put their money where their talk of legacy is and preserve and nurture Alf Khumalo’s dream.  Mattera whose prominence in South Africa’s literary landscape  rose with his seminal book, Memory is Weapon also spared a moment to address the political situation in the country “This is a beautiful country, we must not allow issues like Marikana  and others  to destroy who we are and what we are. We must not bring our country down because we don’t like a government. What we must do is help to heal the wounds of our past ….so that our children can have something to hang on to.  Winnie Madikizela Mandela joined him later saying “one bullet fired under a democratic government to workers asking for bread to eat is difficult to justify”. “Our country “she emphasized “Will be lucky to survive the negative image it projected to world of itself. On that day (August 16th) I was proud of the journalist in this country.” Madikezala Mandela concluded her tribute with a pledge to “realize bra Alf dream of his museum in Diepkloof, by knocking on my own doors and opening them”.  Mattera who looked frail at 77   described Alf as a soft and gentle man whose rivers flowed deep.  “ By the way” He reminded the audience “ it’s on your marks, get set, ready, before you go, turn around to see who you can take with you, that’s what bra Alf did, hola hola,” he greeted in the language  of the old township, Sophiatown.  Perhaps there were those in the audience who wished the memorial service was one of those irritating moments described to laughter by his colleague at the Sunday World newspaper Juby Mayet, when he would stall at the moment when everyone was ready to go on assignment saying “sorry please, just two minutes I’ve forgotten something”.

By: Jedi Ramalapa