After 22 years as a political prisoner and 24 years thereafter I felt it was time to write about my life in South Africa in struggle, in prison, in exile, in freedom and back home in my homeland, South Africa. It has taken me a long time to find my ‘voice’ though friends will tell you that once I get going it is hard to stop me talking. I felt that it is ‘big headed’ to write about myself despite being asked to write down the stories I tell when I am given the least excuse to do so. I have always wanted to speak about the people and places and events and ideas that shaped me and in a complex interplay determined my life’s trajectory. The trajectory of my life took me through a happy childhood filled with a deep awareness of the inequalities of the world around me and what that meant for millions of others whose lives were marred by the systematic brutality of inequality, of wars and of death before they could reach maturity. I was surrounded by my parents’ friends and comrades who had a zest for life but who were also serious about changing the world we live in. Happiness could be light hearted and even frivolous, but the greatest happiness came from service to human kind. Conscience can be such a hard taskmaster!
The trajectory of my life took me through a happy childhood filled with a deep awareness of the inequalities of the world around me and what that meant for millions of others whose lives were marred by the systematic brutality of inequality, of wars and of death before they could reach maturity. I was surrounded by my parents’ friends and comrades who had a zest for life but who were also serious about changing the world we live in. Happiness could be light hearted and even frivolous, but the greatest happiness came from service to human kind. Conscience can be such a hard taskmaster! I lived for 18 years in Britain (1985-2002) and was active there and in many other countries winning support for our struggle for freedom, including 9 years in the office of the African National Congress until freedom came and we switched off the lights; 9 years of creating and directing a charity called Community H.E.A.R.T. in Britain and Community Heart e.V. in Germany to support projects in Southern Africa; then 4 years as an advisor to South African Government Ministers. I have been retired for over two years. Bertholt Brecht in his poem To Posterity says in free translation: To notice that the trees were blooming in the springtime was a kind of betrayal because we felt that time devoted to beautiful things not directly linked to the struggle was a distraction, and I agree with him that the voice raised too often in anger becomes shrill and the face ugly. Indeed we worked with artists and especially folk artists as a means of promoting the struggle. Art and culture was a ‘site of struggle’ as we later came to say. He ends thus: We who wanted to make a world where man would be a helper to man did not ourselves have time for kindness. He pleads with those who come after, to think of us with forbearance.
Well, now I have time for beauty and for sorrow and anger and ugliness too, as well as humour and the insights that artists and musicians bring.I hope that you will come to know why I was so deeply involved in the struggle to put an end to apartheid, and why I am so engaged in community work where I now live back in my home town in South Africa. I hope it will lead you to understand how I came to name this book The Mission. I had planned to call it “Life! Life is wonderful!” my cry when the Judge in the Rivonia Trial sentenced eight of us not to be hanged, but to life imprisonment. Through my opening story, The Mission, I wanted to honour my murdered comrades Looksmart Ngudle and Chris Hani who did not live to see our freedom, and took that as the title of my book. There have been moments that have been turning points in my life. Some were quite dramatic and others seemed just to happen, slowly and delightfully and some with rather harsh consequences. I suspect that sometimes we make choices not by deeply considered analysis but by drifting along until something definite happens. It is almost like waiting for the moment and then not recognising until much later that it has come to pass.
I have sometimes been obsessively active, and had a long period of forced relative inactivity, but I can say without boasting that I have had the wonderful fortune to have loved and been loved and that makes me a very lucky man. My first wife Esmé loved me and we worked together as political activists. She brought up our children on her own while I was in prison. She took me back again and loved me some more after I was released from prison and supported me in my political activity until she died and bequeathed me the resources to continue afterwards. We were together for 46 years including the 22 years of separation. When I was awarded the National Order of Luthuli by our State President for my contribution to the struggle for freedom and commitment to the people of South Africa I wished that the award could have been given to Esmé too. Since she had long passed away I asked her cousin Rochelle to accompany me to represent her. My second wife Edelgard brought me love and a whole new circle of friends and intellectual companionship and taught me to speak German. I have loved and been loved since she too passed away.
A Time Line of South African history has been provided as Appendix 6
Birgit Morgenrath in Germany has been my primary editor and a sympathetic but very hard task master. I write in English and she has translated my text into German. At the same time she has forced me to structure the story. There would not have been a book without her work. I must add that Tina Jerman who for over 15 years has arranged my many speaking tours in Germany has become a dear friend. She has urged me to write and indeed arranged that Birgit Morgenrath, whom I had known since anti-apartheid days, would be my editor. Tina, thank you. Hugh Lewin who was a prison comrade and is a great writer agreed to be my editor for the English language edition and I am grateful to him for his expertise. He of course appears from time to time in my stories. Reedwaan Vally of STE publishers had long wanted me to put down my story as a contribution to our ‘struggle literature.’ The new generation of young people, and especially the ‘born frees’ are mostly unaware of the harshness of apartheid life before freedom in 1994 and of the human cost of achieving the freedoms we take for granted. Freedom is something to win and to defend at all costs when it has been won.
I am grateful to the Ford Foundation for a grant for editing and producing the first edition of this book, translating it into German, and for making it possible to give 5000 copies of the first edition to high schools and libraries in South Africa. The Director of their South African Office, Ms Alice Brown, guided me through the grant making process with great understanding. The South African office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation made a major contribution to the replication of the DVD that accompanied the first edition. Community Heart e.V. in Germany has contributed to the costs of editing the book and the translation and printing of the German edition.The Evangelische Entwicklungsdienst, EED. In Germany contributed to the printing of the German edition and to the compilation of the DVD in the first edition.
Other donors included:
Eine Welt Haus,
Osnabrück Goethe-Institut Johannesburg Bochumer Initiative Südliches Afrika Private donors