Chapter 17 Affairs of the heart and Community H.E.A.R.T.

Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President on 10 May 1994. All over the world the ANC closed the offices of its Representatives and new Ambassadors replaced those of the old regime. Our Chief Representative in London, Mendi Msimang, became the first Ambassador of the new South Africa to Great Britain.

I too had to decide what to do. Esmé wanted to stay in London to be with Hilly and David and our grandchildren. Did I go back to South Africa and leave her again? I felt that would be very unfair to her and I wanted to enjoy having a family. I also did not know what I would do in South Africa although there was much to do. My old friend Wolfie Kodesh urged me to go for a visit to see where I could fit in. I think and Wolfie insisted it was so, that if I had gone back at the time of the re-launch of the ANC and election of the new National Executive I might have been elected as a delegate from the Western Cape. That would have opened up the possibility of becoming a Member of Parliament and perhaps holding high office.

The Judge in the Rivonia Trial said that he thought that the idea of holding office was a driving force for revolutionaries, but it was never my motive for being politically engaged.  I decided that I would stay in London and be with my family. To explain my decision I said, “Granny loves the grandchildren and is staying and as I love Granny, I am staying too.” It was true but there was more.  I had never been very good at forming alliances with people whose ideas I did not really support in order to get support for my own policies. In the situation that was developing I knew that is what would happen and the idea of having to play those games did not sit well with me.

My work in the ANC had been building solidarity and I felt we should try to hold on to the support we had developed. Our focus and that of the AAM was ‘release Mandela.’ After Nelson was released the AAM struggled to find a reason for remaining in existence. So what now? I proposed in our ANC office committee that the AAM needed to become an organisation that would involve its members who had enormous expertise in many fields in developing project work in the

fields of health and education to enable ordinary people in South Africa to take command of some aspects of their lives. Activists would make good lobbyists for British Government support for the new government in South Africa which would need time to sort out its new policies and the human resources and financial capacity to implement them. Being a “do gooder” as we rather disparagingly called charity workers did not appeal to me either. Therefore we would not be handing out food parcels. That was for Governments and the specialist agencies of the United Nations to do if it were needed. We would work to develop human resources through direct involvement in the work of development inside South Africa.

Our office committee with the agreement of Mendi, our Chief Representative, had decided that we would propose that AAM use its large membership base to become a development support organisation in the form of a charity. At a meeting called to finalise the proposal it was firmly stated by Billy Masetlha, Mendi’s deputy, that this idea was dead. AAM would become a political lobbying organisation. The Chief Representative spoke with the authority of our head office on such major policy issues, and that was that. But it soon appeared the decision had not come from Headquarters in Lusaka.  At my next Party cell meeting I was told that I was being disciplined for not discussing the idea with a higher organ of the Party before presenting it. That really angered me because our policy was that we did not pre-discuss ANC matters in Party cells to avoid factionalising and creating divisions in the ANC. I therefore very firmly rejected the censure because I had presented the paper to the ANC Office Committee as a full time activist in the ANC and therefore in accordance with our own rules I had acted correctly. The censure was withdrawn. When I asked what the substantive objection to my proposal was there was no response at all. What was done was to turn AAM into ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa), an information centre that would try by professional lobbying to influence the British Government to support the redevelopment of South and Southern Africa in ways that would empower the historically deprived to improve the quality of their lives. This was of course a necessary activity but it left out the need to engage the energies and loyalties of our supporters who were reduced to being mere payers of their membership subscriptions. There was no further active campaigning for them to do under the new approach. How experienced comrades could give up the “mass line” is beyond me.

It took time to set up a new organisation to raise the funds that would try to continue to develop active support for our reconstruction and development and therefore want to be involved in lobbying campaigns. Thomas Nkobi the ANC’s Treasurer General gave me positive support. He obtained a letter of support from President Nelson Mandela.

I needed the backing of British people who were strong supporters of our new country. I asked Brian Filling, Jane Coker, Robert Bruce and Nat Perez (a fellow South African) who all agreed to be the trustees but said they did not want to be very much bothered with the details.

We launched the new organisation called Community Health Education And Reconstruction Training (Community H.E.A.R.T.) on the first anniversary of our freedom on 26 April 1995 in South Africa House. The Ambassador, Mendi Msimang, agreed to this because when we approached him to hold the event there he had no funds from the Department of Foreign Affairs to hold a celebration. In the end he had an official reception at lunchtime on that day and we provided the “big do” in the evening. It was a great occasion and brought in donations that enabled us to buy a vehicle to serve as a mobile clinic for student doctors and nurses studying through the Medical University of Southern Africa to provide health care to children in rural schools in an area northwest of Pretoria. Working under supervision they did their practical training where they saw a wide range of illnesses and to give treatment where there were no other medical facilities as yet available.

INSERT LETTER FROM MANDELA

Unison trade union, a merger of three unions of local government officials, gave us enormous support. The General Secretary, Rodney Bickerstaff, let it be known that his publicity people could help us. They designed our logo, printed flyers and letterheads and placed articles in their various journals that reached their 1.3 million members. Building the new organisation was a slow process and Ez financed me for two years before I could gradually recover the money we had invested as a loan to get the organisation going. There also seemed no point in taking a salary that could only come from money Ez would have lent to Community H.E.A.R.T.

Two big breakthroughs were the launch of our “Book and Ten Pence” campaign to get children to donate the books they had finished together with ten pence to cover the cost of collecting them, sorting and shipping them to South Africa. It became a very popular campaign. The second was that through Bubbles Thorne I was asked by Rape Crisis Cape Town to seek funding from Comic Relief, the British Charity that has a Red Nose day that raised some 30 million pounds every two years with a twenty four hour telethon. Steven, a wonderful Welshman, was assigned to work with me and his board granted us a large sum of money including 10 per cent of the total sum to cover our administration costs. That kept us going. The grants were repeated a number of times. Trade Unions also contributed and individuals who liked the approach of mass involvement made donations too. The book campaign would have collapsed under the sheer amount of work involved in sorting and packing the books for shipment – about 50000 filled a shipping container – if Nat Perez and his wife Elsa had not taken charge of that work.

At some point it struck me that our children should become computer literate. I started collecting used computers and getting friends to check them out to make sure they worked. I persuaded sea captains to take them as ‘captain’s luggage’ to South Africa. It needed much more resources than I had and I was greatly relieved when Tony Roberts and Sonja Sinanan asked if I would mind if they set up an organisation called Computer Aid International. They too were backed by Unison and I was pleased to become a board member of their organisation. To get them going Community H.E.A.R.T. paid for their work in collecting, refurbishing and shipping some two thousand computers to South Africa and Namibia. They are a very professionally run organisation and I am happy to be their Patron.

The detail of our work and building the organisation took its toll of my health. I thought I would have time to be with Ez and my family but I was on a new treadmill and seemed to have even less time than before. At some point a Cabinet Minister on a visit to London asked me what I was doing. I explained about the millions of Rands donated to Rape Crisis and the half a million books we had at that time shipped and distributed in South Africa. He then asked what else I was doing as if that were of little account. I said that 500 thousand books were probably worth about 25 million Rands. That evoked a spark of interest and the remark, “That is indeed a lot of books.” South Africa had 20 000 schools with no libraries at all. Simple arithmetic tells us that if each school is to have only 1000 books each we actually need 20 million books. (The total we have sent is now nearly three million books worth at least ZAR150 million.)

During 2002 I finally retired from Community H.E.A.R.T. and a new director, Isobel McVicar who had been a Unison branch Secretary in Glasgow took over. She had been on both ACTSA Scotland tours to South Africa and was inspired to help. She married the Unison Branch vice Chair in Manchester and that led the Unison North West Region of England to donate office space and facilities to us. Their support has been invaluable.

During 1995 a German sounding female voice on my Community HEART office telephone said the speaker was Edelgard Nkobi, the daughter-in-law of Thomas Nkobi, the ANC Treasurer General. He had suggested she phone me for an explanation for an article she was writing about the ANC. Since I had worked under him when I created and ran ANCSA Merchandise and had also been a spokesperson for the ANC and he had supported the founding of Community HEART, I had no problem with that. That was the first of many calls and sometimes she spoke for so long I would indicate to Guillieta Fafak who worked with me that she should tell me I was needed to deal with a visitor to the office. I could not be rude to the daughter in law of ‘TG’ and needed a reason to end the conversation. Late in 1985 Edelgard came to my office to interview me. I was struck by her background knowledge and she told me she was the widow of TG’s eldest son Zenzo and had lived for many years in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe after that country’s independence. I rather fancied what I saw and late in the afternoon drove her to where she was to meet her sister-in-law who lived in London. Pity that Edelgard was not staying on her own because by then I would have liked to be invited to spend more time with her.

Her phone calls continued. She wrote articles about Community H.E.A.R.T. to promote its work in Germany. She arranged for me to be invited to a weekend workshop on international affairs for shop stewards. It was held in Wuppertal at the DGB (German Trade Union Congress) school. Edelgard met me at Dusseldorf Airport and by train, and underground train we arrived at our destination and met our study group. I spoke about apartheid and my own experience and it evoked a lot of sympathy. I wanted of course to raise funds for the work of Community H.E.A.R.T. The upshot was that they would help provided that their contributions would be properly controlled and they would trust only their German Finance Ministry to exercise the oversight. They would not contribute to a foreign (British) registered charity. Edelgard was my interpreter as I knew just a few words of German through a foundation course I took nineteen years earlier in prison.

Overnight accommodation was in the attached hostel and when I hesitantly suggested in my few German words that she share my room she scuttled away like a frightened rabbit. It was a good weekend and Edelgard took me back to her flat where I realised I would stay until leaving the next morning for London and she would go off to work. By this time I was exhausted from the flying, train travel, coming to grips with a new audience and trying to win their support. I lay down to rest while Edelgard prepared supper and I thought she would prepare the couch in the living room for me. She kissed me lightly and I dozed off. In her room was an enlarged photograph of me taken when she interviewed me. She told me, but much later, that our friend and ANC Chief Representative in Switzerland Ruth Mompati on seeing the photograph had remarked that if Esmé saw it she would scratch Edelgard’s eyes out. I was right about the meal and the relaxed chatting about our lives. The chemistry was good but the couch was not prepared and so started a complicated relationship which lasted for twelve years until her death.

I knew I would not leave Esmé because we had shared too much and I liked having such an intimate family. More and more our lives went in separate directions; we slept in separate rooms and it seemed to me that I could live this dual life without hurting Ez who, when I came home from prison, had said she knew I would have affairs, but should not ‘bring them home’ which meant she did not want to know about them. In reality, while there were many opportunities I did not indulge. I would go to conferences and meetings for a political purpose and felt as I had in underground days that I would not use politics as an excuse for indulgence. Usually there wasn’t time, and when there was time I was exhausted except for a delicious once or twice when there were no long term consequences. Now it was different.

Edelgard set about the creation of a German sister organisation to Community H.E.A.R.T. Through her old university friend Sabine Kebir a noted biographer of Berthold Brecht, or rather the women in his life, Edelgard got to Tina Jerman and her colleague Dodo Schulz, partners in EXILE Kulturkoordination e.V. We met in Dusseldorf and despite the language difficulties they agreed to provide the office resources for Community Heart e.V., the charity we registered in Germany. Their accountant Hermann Hibbe agreed to be on the Board and to guide us through the registration process. Tina Jerman became the deputy Chairperson and I was the Chairperson. I quickly expanded my knowledge of German to include phrases such as: Registered Association; Donations are tax deductible; a social benefit organisation; and bank transfer, all key phrases in fund raising. To make the new outfit known EXILE organised speaking tours for me. At first my hosts were people who had in one way or another been active in anti-apartheid work, often religious-based groups, and I travelled to many parts of Germany by train.

SARAFINA - a journey to Siegen, Germany

In Siegen (North Rhine Westphalia) I had an unforgettable theatrical experience: a performance of the musical play Sarafina at the City Hall on Sunday evening, 22 June 1997. With the audience of 800 people I lived through the shifting emotions of the South African school pupils who rose up against apartheid racism in Soweto in 1976. The musical tells the story of Sarafina, a girl who takes to the streets with her classmates in protest after the arrest of their activist teacher. Thousands of school pupils protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a language of education in their schools. Their protest ended in a hail of police bullets. By the end of that year, 1976, about a 1000 demonstrators had been killed.

For me, it was a miracle that these young Germans who lived in a country that had not experienced a climate of violence and terror for over fifty years, were able to imagine themselves into the lives of young South Africans who had not experienced a climate of peacefulness for fifty years and more. The cast, a dedicated group of school pupils of the Evangelisches Gymnasium Siegen-Weidenau, and their music teachers, gave an inspired performance of singing, dancing and backing music, linked by an informative commentary. Cultural forms and expression truly transcended national boundaries and experiences. 

These lovely, talented, young people made us live through the emotional experience of that generation of school children who were indelibly marked by events which helped to transform South Africa away from its apartheid racist system. I think the cast of Sarafina in Siegen will have been marked by their experience in coming to grips with those events and emotions. I have been marked by their performance. I laughed at the humour and I wept at their portrayal of courage and determination to achieve social justice. I enjoyed their musicality, their spontaneity and joie de vivre.

Being at that performance was itself an interesting journey. In a certain way the starting point was Much, a small village in Germany that most Germans do not know about.

While on a lecture tour in Germany in February 1997, an additional lecture was unexpectedly added to my heavy itinerary. I stayed overnight in a motel near Much. Herr Hillnhütte, music teacher at the Evangelisches Gymnasium, accompanied by a pupil, Christian Krell, fetched me the next morning to take me back to Siegen, a mere one and a half hours drive, to address the pupils at the Gymnasium. They promised I would be in time to give a lecture that evening at the training establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn. I did say it was a heavy itinerary!

Herr Hillnhütte explained that they had invited me to the Gymnasium because in their music classes the pupils had been learning songs from Sarafina, To understand the deeper meaning of the songs they wanted more information about South Africa. They needed to understand the motives of the children of Soweto who rose up in 1976 against the imposition by the Apartheid regime of Afrikaans as an additional language of education.

Christian Krell had undertaken to get the information. Active in the SPD {Socialist Party of Germany) youth organisation he knew who to ask for information about South Africa! What could be more natural than to write to Liebe Genosse Rau, (Dear Comrade Rau) the Sehr geërhte Minister-Praesident von Nordrhein-Westfalen (The Right Honourable Prime Minister). The Prime Minister of course referred the letter to the head of his administration, Herr Staatsskanselei Brueckner, to help the young people of Siegen in their cultural activities. Herr Brueckner referred the matter to a frequent adviser on cultural matters to the State Government of North Rhine Westphalia, Frau Tina Jerman, Cultural Expert of EXILE Kulturkoordination in Essen.

EXILE organises my lecture tours in Germany. EXILE also provides the administration for Community HEART. e.V., which supports development projects in Southern Africa, and Tina Jerman is the Deputy Chairperson of Community HEART, and I am the Chairperson. Perhaps Staatskanselei Brueckner remembered that EXILE had introduced me to him, and I would know about South Africa. To cut a long story short, Frau Jerman told Christian Krell that his Gymnasium could invite me to speak to their school because I would shortly be on a lecture tour in Germany and would be nearby in Much.

Knowing that I was to address the young people for two hours, and knowing that young bottoms find it difficult to sit still for so long, I asked them to sing for me. Such well-trained voices singing in such harmony with a genuine South African sound and beat was startling. That they had taken Sarafina as a source of musical teaching material was inspired pedagogy. It had led immediately to a wider quest for knowledge, an inquiry into politics with a small ‘p’, ethics, and a greater understanding of history and geography. But at the Evangelical Gymnasium in Siegen this was not s

From: The Mission by Denis Goldberg