Letter from Hobeni, 23rd October 2014

Xhosa men's danceXhosa women dancing

I have just had a very pleasant surprise.   I was sitting in the library with the doors open, forging through a pile of papers, when I heard a familiar voice saying “David?   David from London?    David from the Anti-Apartheid Movement?   What are you doing here?   Do you remember me?   I am Skin”.

The last time I saw Skin Sipoko was in Edinburgh in 2004 at the “10th anniversary of Freedom” festival.   And before that it was in a coach of ANC volunteers being taken to Wembley for the 1990 Mandela Concert.   Skin was at that time working with Dali Tambo in Arekopaneng, the ANC cultural unit.   He is now one of the drama tutors here at the Donald Woods Foundation in Hobeni.

He told me that he wanted his class to see “Cry Freedom” because it was important for them to understand who Donald Woods was and what he did in the struggle against apartheid.   But, Skin said, he did not know where he could get a DVD of the film.   I replied “We have three copies here, and we have a TV in the library”.

So we arranged for his class to come and see the film, and we gave an impromptu talk about the role of solidarity in the liberation struggle.   The film was longer than I remembered, which is odd because I watched it on the plane journey from Amsterdam to Nairobi on my way to South Africa, and that was only at the end of July.

But what is more important is that there is a group of young people who now know why Donald Woods is important, and they now know that he came from this village in the Transkei, that he was born in the house at the centre of the Donald Woods Foundation, and that he grew up speaking Xhosa and English.   And they know about his friendship with Steve Biko, and that when Biko was murdered it was Donald Woods who campaigned to expose what had happened.   And that he was banned, his family was attacked and that they were forced to flee the country to exile in London.

And now they will be able to tell their friends the story.   And young people here in Hobeni, in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape will come to understand why the Donald Woods Foundation is here, and why it is working in this area.   And so the ripples of solidarity will spread as we stand side by side throughout our lives.

And all because I met an old comrade from Arekopaneng

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