From the book: Side by Side by Helen Joseph
... Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"
To a great extent that has been true of the past thirty years of my life ”” I have followed the road "less travelled by", the road of involvement in the liberation struggle. But that road has drawn no sigh from me, as it did from the poet. It draws from me only deep gratitude to know that there was room for me, a white, to walk along that road.
Thirty years ago, it was indeed the road less travelled by. But not any more. Today there are untold millions marching along that road despite all the hardships and suffering that they must encounter. Today it is the onward, accelerating march towards a free, democratic South Africa.
Our story is not yet told; there is still far to go. I cannot write an epilogue to end this book, only a postscript to the part of it that I have written. Other parts, and especially the future parts, must be written by others.
On Sunday, 10 February 1985, a great crowd gathered in a large Soweto sports stadium to honour Desmond Tutu, the Bishop of Johannesburg, on his return from Sweden with the Nobel Peace Prize. There he stood, the people's Bishop, to tell that crowd as he held the Peace Prize in the air, "This award is not for Desmond Tutu. It is for all our people. It is for the woman who sells mealies in the street to pay for her children's education. I say, 'Take it, it is yours!' "
Zindzi Mandela too, stood there, before thousands of people to read her father's reply to the State President's offer of release from gaol on condition that he renounce violence as a political weapon.
She looked so young that day, in her jeans and yellow T-shirt with the United Democratic Front slogan splashed across it, "UDF unites, apartheid divides". I thought that to that great crowd she was everybody's daughter, not only the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
Her father's message was one of proud defiance, of loyalty to his people, to his organisation, the African National Congress, as he called upon State President Botha to renounce violence, to dismantle apartheid, to unban the ANC, to free the gaoled, the banished and the exiled and to let the people decide who will govern them.
"My father says, "I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return!' "
Nelson's message has rung out, loud and clear, beyond that stadium into the far corners of South Africa and to the world abroad. He closed the prison door upon himself after more than twenty-four years of gaol. Much has happened since that unforgettable day. Each week, almost each day, the death toll rises with the reports of demonstrations, protest marches met by tear gas and rubber bullets from the police, and cruel whipping of men, women and children. There is burning of cars, houses, offices and shops in black and coloured areas, even in Phoenix in Natal, where once lived Mahatma Gandhi, the protagonist of non-violence. It is becoming endemic as the anger of the people rises against their oppression and the ruthless, violent methods used to crush them.
Official figures reveal that in the past fifteen months more than six hundred and fifty black people have been killed in the townships, two thousand five hundred wounded, more than two thousand persons have been detained without trial and more than ten thousand arrested. Most of those who died were shot by the police. The past five months has seen the greater part of this agony.
Now the children, too, are shot, sometimes killed, whipped by the police, as they continue boycotting their classes in protest against oppression, demanding the release of their fellow students. It is not many days since nine hundred children were taken from their school grounds to the gaols, all in one morning. Some were released to their parents late that night. Many were not.
The army has become an army of occupation in black areas. Soldiers need no longer go to the borders of South Africa to kill their brothers. It happens in the black townships.
Deaths and detentions are almost no longer news. Treason trials multiply. For me there is sickening familiarity about the charges. I have heard it all before. I have been there already. "Hostile intent... conspiracy to overthrow the government by force..." Once again our leaders are caught up in these lengthy trials, these interminable legal battles. Will they be acquitted as we were?
After twenty-five years, another State of Emergency has been declared. It doesn't really affect the white people. We live undisturbed in our white houses, in our white suburbs, we read about what is happening to people in black areas. We see it on television ”” some of it ”” but outside South Africa much more is seen through the foreign media. I am sure that the vast majority of white South Africans remain ignorant of the extent of the violence.
Yet I am sure that white South Africa is frightened as never before, frightened for its wealth and its power, frightened for the continuation of its everyday life of privilege, frightened lest the violence cannot be contained by the armed brutality of the police and the army and most of all, fearful now of the worldwide hostility towards South Africa and its apartheid regime, expressing itself in increasing disinvestment and sanctions.
The fine clothes of the emperor have vanished and apartheid faces the world in its naked ugliness. South Africa has pleaded once again for time to change, has pointed to cosmetic changes already made, which mean but little to the mass of black people. Freedom to marry across the colour line, but no freedom to live in the same area, freedom to share white luxury in expensive hotels and restaurants, but no freedom for the basic human rights too long denied.
As the storm clouds gather, both inside and outside. State President Botha tries anew to appease the outside world, to stave off the financial and political crisis coming ever nearer. There is a new offer; the abolition of influx control and pass laws and the restoration of citizenship to black people in homelands or independent states. No details are forthcoming and the black people, still smarting under earlier broken promises, react with deep suspicion.
It is not enough; it is not a high enough price to be paid for the many dead; for the child of four years shot and killed while playing in her own yard; for the leaders, the heroes become martyrs at the hands of the police, or for the tortured detainees or for those murdered by unknown assailants.
Our anger must be directed against this government, against Botha himself, for he, too, must bear the responsibility for the apartheid system, which has made such violence possible. The blame for the violence that has flared up in all its ugly horror and destruction, from whatever source, lies on the shoulders of the nationalist government, and the men responsible must carry that guilt with them to their graves.
I do not wish this to be a sad and bitter postscript. I do not know what the picture of the coming years may be nor even what the coming months may bring, but my hope and confidence in the future of our country remains undiminished. The cost will be heavy, as it is now, but I believe that South Africa will one day become a united, democratic country.
My hope is grounded in my faith in the extra-parliamentary strength of the people, both those who reject the present constitution and those who are rejected by it.
I draw strength from the United Democratic Front, wounded though it is by constant attacks, by the long trials of some of its leaders, by the detention without trial of others. I do not believe that the UDF can be broken. Thirty years ago, on the eve of the women's protest in Pretoria, Lilian Ngoyi affirmed, "If our leaders are arrested, others will take their places!" That stands as true today as then. Others will take the places of the leaders who are removed.
I have visited some of those accused of treason, some still in gaol, others out on bail. I come away always uplifted by their courage and their spirit. This is a new generation of "traitors" but the strength is the same, the indomitable strength that can carry men through even twenty-four years of prison.
The banner of the Freedom Charter flies as high today as ever. The name of Nelson Mandela is on the lips of the vast majority of the people as the recognised leader. The struggle for justice must follow its course until the hunger of the people is satisfied, for a piece of freedom is no longer enough.
"They have been given pieces, but unlike bread, a piece of liberty does not finish hunger. Freedom is like life. It cannot be had in instalments. Freedom is indivisible. We have it all or we are not free".
Dr Martin Luther King
My book is ended. Our struggle is not, but one day it will be. I do not know if I shall still be here then, for my time is running out, but I know that all that I have lived through, together with the people I love, will not have been in vain.