Letter from Hobeni

Donald Woods Foundation,Hobeni 008

One of the pleasures of cataloguing someone else’s book collection is that you get access to books that you have not been able to read before, usually because you did not have the time to do so. In the case of Hilda Bernstein’s “The Rift” it was because I was never able to find a copy in the UK. And remember that I worked in a library, so I had far better access to newly-published books than most people.
“The Rift” is about the South African exiled community, and how they coped with the experience of exile. The book consists of 105 interviews, and the exiled community is divided between the adults who went into exile, and the children who had no choice in the matter. About a third of the people interviewed were or are known to me. Their accounts of their escapes are fascinating, although some are quite harrowing because they were not able to escape immediately, and were arrested and tortured. It is especially the accounts of the children escaping after the Soweto uprising that are deeply moving. Many of them just walked to the nearest border, whether it was Lesotho, Botswana or Swaziland, with no idea of the reception that they would be given by the governments of those countries, or how they were going to survive once they had escaped from South Africa.
There are stories about the building of the ANC complex at Mazimbu in Tanzania, and all the difficulties that people had to deal with on first arriving there because they had to build in from scratch. But the most interesting stories for me are about how people related to their host communities, especially in the UK.
One of the problems for the children who were brought into exile by their parents is that, even when they had become adults, they were always introduced as the child of so-and-so. They were not allowed to develop their own identities. I did this on at least one occasion when I introduced Gillian Slovo as “the daughter of Ruth First, who was murdered by a parcel bomb”. But I had a good excuse on that occasion. It was a library event and she was promoting her book “Every Secret Thing”, which is about her family. I can only hope that on other occasions I was sensitive to people’s need to be their own person.
But what is most striking is that many of these people have gone home, and are helping to build the new South Africa. I have that evidence around me every day at Hobeni. And we owe it to these people, as our friends, to help them in every way that we can. It is easy to make contact again, if we have lost touch, through social networking and then we can find out how we can be of help. This year is the 20th anniversary of freedom in South Africa. So, with ACTSA, build on that freedom, and transform people’s lives.


One thought on “Letter from Hobeni”

  1. Just become aware of your blog David (which is quite excellent), Look forward to many further informative posts. Hope you’re enjoying life.


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