Helen Keller’s PMB connection

2010-04-17 00:00

A ZULU shield features in Helen Keller: A Daring Adventure, an exhibition that opened yesterday at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in New York.

According to the AFB, Keller “lost her sight and hearing at 19 months and went on to become an equal rights activist, world-renowned goodwill ambassador, advocate for the blind and socialist”. Her remarkable story was told in the play and subsequent film The Miracle Worker.

The shield was presented to Keller during her visit to South Africa when she visited the country from March to May in 1951. She was accompanied by her friend and secretary Polly Thomson. On her arrival in Cape Town, Keller said she had come “to help the blind and deaf as much as we can and to stimulate their training so that they can learn to support themselves”.

During her trip, Keller visited Durban and Pietermaritzburg. On April 19 at the city hall in Pietermaritzburg, she met around 100 deaf and blind people. On her arrival she was given a posy of flowers. According to The Natal Witness “the blooms were specially selected so that Miss Keller could appreciate them to the full. When Miss Keller spoke later she continually buried her nose in the flowers: ‘A bird of paradise’, and then ‘a gardenia’ as she recognised each flower from its scent. ‘When I first entered Maritzburg, the one thing of which I was most aware was its fragrance, but I had no idea how rich and varied it was,’ she said.”

On April 20, 1951, Keller was entertained at a garden party given by the administrator of Natal, Dennis Shepstone, at Parkside in Pietermaritzburg. The same day she visited Inkosi Bhekizizwe Zondi at Sweetwaters, grandfather of the current inkosi, Nsikayezwe Zondi. Although there is uncertainty about the shield, it is known she received an accompanying letter, which says the shield “is an equipment of a great warrior and that is how we think of you”.


Do you know who presented the shield to Keller? Let us know by phoning the news editor at 033 355 1111 or e-mail newsed@witness.co.za

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