DUT to honour columnist Harold Strachan

2010-12-24 00:00

THE Durban University of Technology is to confer upon Weekend Witness columnist Harold Strachan (85) an honorary Doctor of Technology degree in Arts and Design for his artistic talents and a career dedicated to helping build the foundations of a South African democracy.

“Am I excited? Well, yes, of course, but more surprised. The dark dangerous days of struggle seem so long, long ago. In fact, my dark days started fully 50 years ago,” was Strachan’s response to the news.

But he said it also struck him as a bit humorous.

“I’ve been called many things in the past — klipgooier, opblaser, traitor, bliksem terrorist and madman, but never a doctor. So I quite enjoy that, it seems a bit naughty,” he said.

Strachan believes “the brave and wavering commitment to justice” that he is now being honoured for started many years ago while in an all-white boys’ school in Natal, where he identified the rudiments of fascism in ordinary people’s behaviour within his own culture.

“I realised that what I wanted most to do in this short life was to rid us of racism, a prime ingredient of fascism,’’ he told The Witness.

Strachan said his work life began as pilot in the South African Air Force, waging war on Adolf Hitler.

Afterwards, he signed up for a Fine Arts degree in Pietermaritzburg. A scholarship to the Camberwell School of Art in London helped cement deep dedication to working-class politics.

When he returned to the country, he began teaching art in universities and technikons until the armed struggle started.

And what drew him on this career path?

“Well, now, I was always artistic and that is what drew me down this art path. But then again I was always ready to declare my belief in democracy and justice. And if you’re always ready to do that then when the cry goes out AUX BARRICADES! That’s where you go. That’s not the time to decide you have kids to bring up or a weak chest or you-name-it, this is your first responsibility, to your country’s people.”

A prison term, followed by 10 years of house arrest and 10 years of banning and altogether 16 years of unemployment was part of the price tag to Strachan’s fight for democracy.

“We survived because I had a dedicated wife who brought home the monthly cheque while I became the househusband — washing nappies, cooking grub, all such horrors. Indeed I feel half the doctor thingummy should go to her.”

Strachan eventually started doing art restoration and writing, which got him a good name.

“It’s been a great life, a great career. Fundamentally it’s because I’m an otherwise bastard.”

The ceremony will take place sometime in April next year.

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