Looking back on life with humility

2008-04-30 00:00

Dr Frank Mdlalose’s (the first premier of KwaZulu-Natal) delightful and short autobiography has a humility and gentleness that covers a tough commitment to justice, non-racism and service to the community mixed with with a deep love for his family.

The accounts of his rural boyhood in Northern Natal, when the population of the then Union of South Africa was less than six million people, his family life and ancestry, travelling by train all the way to his boarding school at Bulwer in the forties, the innocent tricks that the older boys played on the new boys, membership in the ANC Youth League at Fort Hare and the forging of friendships in the fifties that have carried on into the new and democratic South Africa, are disarmingly described.

Mdlalose doesn’t avoid the hard things like the tragic loss of two of his sons, the difficulties, when he was premier of the province, around handling the demand by Zulu nationalists to declare Ulundi the capital and the corrugations in his political relationship with Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who was a close friend and fellow member of the ANCYL at Fort Hare.

The descriptions of the indignities he encountered as a black man in the old South Africa, compounded because he was among the few who had a university education as a medical doctor, are painful, but he records the basic decency that he also encountered. As Dr Oscar Dhlomo said about Frank Mdlalose, “he can keep his cool even under the most challenging circumstances”. Like many of the principled and brightest democrats who are former IFP activists, he now gives his political support to NADECO (the National Democratic Convention).

His practical “ubuntu” is not an empty slogan but a value that he and his family derive from the Mdlalose family’s traditions and their strong Christian values. Mdlalose is a man who has a national vision, indeed an international one, as his overseas travel and service as our ambassador to Egypt, reflect. He has never lost touch with his “100% Zulu boy” roots and carries no chips on his shoulders about his identity. Although he mixed with “the high and the mighty”, he remained firmly rooted in his province and in his community of Madadeni (Newcastle) where his medical practice was.

Any autobiography is full of human interest and nobody expects an academic treatise. This story of Mdlalose’s life is pleasant reading and a fascinating insight into a fine man whose decency and humanity shines through unself-consciously. There are interesting photographs including the obligatory one with Nelson Mandela but more unusual is to see Queen Elizabeth II in the group.

Graham McIntosh

• The book can be ordered from Adams Booksellers at 031 304 8571 and west@adamsbooks.co.za

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