Exhibition depicts the life of PMB struggle activist

2012-11-16 00:00

RED in the Rainbow, an exhibition on the life and times of struggle stalwart Fred Carneson, who grew up in Pietermaritzburg, was officially opened in the city yesterday.

The exhibition, at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, takes its title from the book written by Lynn Carneson, whose parents were stalwarts of the South African Communist Party. They played an active role in underground structures of the liberation struggle and Fred was one of the 1956 treason trialists.

The exhibition, which has been at museums around the country, will be on display in the city for the next year. Museum staff will be trained to take visitors through the interactive display. Lynn says the aim of the exhibition is for visitors to walk out with the words “what’s my role today?”.

A few remaining members of the extended Carneson family who still live in the city were at the opening. They said they only realised what an icon Fred was after reading the book.

Lynn told the gathering that her father was an altar boy at St Mary’s; he attended Maritzburg College after getting a bursary and one of his teachers was Alan Paton.

After seeing the city’s main street named after Chief Albert Luthuli, she recalled that her father was a friend of Luthuli’s and acted as his bodyguard during the treason trial.

According to Lynn, her mother, Sarah, who grew up in Johannesburg, was introduced to her father by someone who ran a leftist book club in Pietermaritzburg.

“My father came from an honest working class family. On Friday evenings they would go down to the Thistle Hotel for drinks.”

She added that her father said he learnt two things at Maritzburg College — to think and to fight.

The fighting was because he was small and mocked by wealthier boys because of his working class roots.

His awareness of racism and life-long commitment to non-racism was increased as a result of going to church and seeing whites sit on one side and Indians on the other.

Lynn said that Fred became an activist at a young age and told her that he was forbidden to talk left wing politics in the house by his father.

The Carnesons spent 28 out of the 46 years they were married with one or the other, or both, in prison or under house arrest.

Lynn said, however, that despite their suffering, their commitment to the struggle never wavered. She said Sarah, who is now 96, lives in Cape Town.

Lynn said the exhibition also aims to shed light on an aspect of South African history, to show the endurance of the human spirit and the need to keep on fighting for the dignity of human beings.

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