Growing Pains: Encourage our forefathers to speak

2014-09-17 13:00

I have had a superlative kick-off to Heritage Month.

Nine months ago, following his inspiring cameo at Madiba’s funeral, I got to interview former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. He was a shining light of support for the southern African liberation movements for well over 30 years.

And like all giants of his ilk, he still speaks of his contribution in humble tones.

Some of the stories he told me about his role, and that of his fellow African presidents, are captured in a documentary which aired on Sunday on SABC2 called Tribute to the Frontline States.

I had the privilege of working on this doccie and found one striking similarity between the interviewees – former president Thabo Mbeki, struggle veteran Ruth Mompati, Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs and former National Assembly speakers Frene Ginwala and Max (aka Dad) Sisulu – they’re deep reservoirs of history.

And deeply reluctant to open up.

While some welcome interviews, there is still much they pack away in their memories. Others are reluctant even to sit down and share the basics. Perhaps it is as taxing as asking someone who has just run the Comrades to describe the route.

The trouble is that in the absence and disintegration of archival material, their recollections are just about all we have to deepen our understanding of our past.

On Wednesday, I attended the 70th anniversary celebrations of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). A grand old dame full of institutional memory, and yet perennially youthful, filled with a chaotic energy. It’s like a fountain of youth, bottled.

What typically tends to go missing at any celebratory event is reflection on the troughs, rather than the highs in a life.

Here is where the need for recording history as it lives is uncovered – imagine if we had recordings of the 25 delegates and future ANC leaders as they launched the ANCYL, articulating their hopes and dreams.

Imagine if we got to ask them what they hoped the ANCYL would be doing in 70 years; what it would look like; how diverse in race, culture or even sexual orientation its members and leaders would be; how it would be changing the ANC and South Africa today.

And what about when the league in effect took over the ANC in 1949, and when it failed to do so again, causing the rift that led to the formation of the more radical Pan Africanist Congress? It’s uncanny how history tends to repeat itself. And just how little we know of ours.

What I wouldn’t give to read graphic novels or comic books about those days – telling us what these chaps actually thought.

On Friday, we marked the anniversary of Steve Biko’s murder. As usual, reams of good English were put together in speeches to be deliveted about the man.

I would have loved to have seen cartoons on TV describing in simple language what Biko believed. Our understanding of the chain of ideas and ideology that are passed down is generally weak. We don’t see events and people as necessary stages in the timeline of a belief.

Speaking of timelines, the Oscar Pistorius case will have been well documented for future generations.

But what I find strange is how much our legal system today is steeped in the past, one that the majority of us privately admonish.

What would the ­verdict have been if Oscar was tried in accordance with an African legal system?

Ultimately, the struggle to unshackle the African, white and black, from the perils of the past is to go deep into it. There is no better time to start.

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