Monday, 16 June 2014

Massacre, liberalism, tragedy and hope

The past week has been one of extreme highs and lows for me, on an intellectual and emotional level. It started with watching the film Miners Shot Down, and a few minutes ago I learned of the death of a dear friend and colleague that has left me bereft and deeply saddened. This is made all the more poignant by the fact that today is Youth Day, when we commemorate the lives of 23 young people who paid the ultimate sacrifice standing up for what they believed to be right in Soweto on this day in 1976. There are ceremonies taking place all over the country as we somberly reflect on the progress we have made, or not made, in the succeeding 38 years. But I want to dedicate this day to the late Clyde Finlayson, his dear wife Simone and their family.

When I read the reviews of Miners Shot Down I knew I wanted to see it. It re-lives the six days leading to the killing by police of 34 miners at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana in the North West Province on August 16th 2012.

The film was written and directed by Rehad Desai, a political activist who runs his own film production company Uhuru Productions in Johannesburg. Desai has pieced together months of painstaking interviews, written and oral testimonies into a taut and compelling story of brutality and incompetence which all South Africans should see. Some of the images and interviews are simply beyond belief. For me the most shocking is the speech by Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to the police at the scene of the crime a few days later where she commends her colleagues for their good work done, saying they should not be sorry about what happened on that day. What did happen was 17 men were mowed down with live ammunition in an eight-second volley of fire, while 17 more were picked off at a nearby koppie like wounded animals on a safari shoot.

Denials of responsibility, or even  partial liability for the massacre from Cyril Ramaphosa, a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time, left me unconvinced. His call in an email for "concomitant action" to be taken against striking miners sent 24 hours before the massacre gave his colleague Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa the licence he needed to get rough with the miners. Why else would the police bring in four mortuary vans and thousands of rounds of live ammunition to the scene that day?

The film chillingly depicts the nexus between the state security apparatus, the big mining companies and the National Union of Mineworkers, all of which were complicit in the massacre. Whatever ones views on rival union AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa's 5-month old strike on the platinum belt (which looks like it might end this week), his efforts to avoid a bloody confrontation between miners and police come across as entirely genuine and admirable.

I remember my aghast amazement when charges of murder were laid against 270 arrested miners a few days after the massacre, based on the "common purpose" doctrine. The charges were later dropped, but to this day not a single police officer has had to face a court of law to defend their actions on that day. The Farlam Commission has dragged on for nearly two years and we are no nearer the truth. It is a travesty of justice and a black mark on South Africa's system of justice, law enforcement and political oversight that heads have not rolled. I lay a bet that Jacob Zuma will exonerate everyone involved when the official government position on the Farlam Commission report is released.

Last Wednesday I flew to Cape Town to continue with the MPs training in Parliament. Lots of things on governance, rules and declarations of Members' Interests. It's good that MPs have to tighten up their standards of behaviour - we don't want more Travelgate scandals to mar the reputation of this institution. We have to declare anything and everything we receive as gifts in a register, and in some cases are advised to decline them if they cause a conflict of interest. Verteran ANC MP Joan Phubbs caused a ripple of amusement when she said sometimes it's difficult to assess the value of gifts - a string of pearls received from a diver in the south sea islands has a very different value when brought back into South Africa was the drift of her argument.

I took delivery of my office keys and moved in, or more accurately moved out the pile of papers and files and other unwanted stuff left behind by the former occupant. Room 224 in the Marks Building, where the Opposition parties are located, is sizable, with decent dark wood furniture but a nondescript view of other offices through the ample window. The wireless connection using my MTN 3G card is pathetic from my office, so I headed off to order my ICT package consisting of a new laptop and tablet which have to be set up on Parliament's network. I kept my Blackberry which has another seven months of contract left.

On Thursday I had breakfast with my Deputy Henro Kruger, and we were joined by Mmusi Maimane and Geordin Hill-Lewis, the Shadow Minister of Trade & Industry. I told them about Miners Shot Down which they had heard about but not seen. More meetings later with my former colleague Rehaad James who is down for Cape Town Summer Market business, and Russel Brueton, DA Director of Parliamentary Operations, about the priorities for my department in the coming weeks.

That evening I was one of a handful of DA MPs who made it to the opening of the Colin Eglin Library at the Cape Town Club  at 18 Queen Victoria Street, adjacent to the law courts. The first people I bumped into were John and Wendy Hund, parents of long-term friend Tessa Hund, who have been members of the club (or at least he has) for 50 years. The Club had just moved back to this, its original premises, after 17 years banishment to Leinster Hall behind the Mount Nelson Hotel, necessitated by its precarious finances which lately have taken a turn for the better. It's a grand old building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker (which notable building in South Africa was not designed by Sir Herbert Baker???), with high ceilings, wood paneled walls and squeaky, shiny wooden floors, and of course the portraits of Cecil John Rhodes, General Smuts and more recent ones of Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli peering down at us.

The guest of honor was Judge Dennis Davis who gave a masterful speech in honour of his late friend, who died aged 88 in November last year. He described Eglin as the quintessential South African liberal, whose contribution to the new democratic order was significant but not adequately recognised. He re-told the story of the 1969 election (I think it was that one) where he stood as a Progressive Party candidate for the Seapoint constituency. When questioned about whether the Seapoint swimming pool would be opened to non-Whites he said yes, it would, which hardly endeared him to his somewhat conservative voters but showed him as a man of principle who wasn't afraid of speaking his mind.

Early the next morning Ian Ollis picked me up and after collecting Nosimo Balindlela drove us to Arabella Hotel & Spa near Hermanus, about 1 1/4 hour's drive from Cape Town. Here we joined the rest of the Parliamentary caucus, Helen Zille and some party officials for our retreat, consisting of a punishing series of talks, round table discussions, presentations and workshops all designed to help us do our jobs. Overall it was extremely worthwhile, not just for what we learned but for the opportunities to bond with new colleagues. There was some time off, too, spent mostly watching rugby (SA comfortably beating Wales in Durban) and soccer (England going down 2:1 to Italy in the World Cup). A few of us also found ourselves passing the time in the late hours puffing on a Cohiba and sipping on a Courvoisier cognac in the cigar lounge, very convivial R&R I'd say.

Yesterday after breakfast, half way through the morning session, I suddenly began to feel very queasy, with a burning pain in my chest, so excused myself from the room and walked around for a few minutes to try and recover. I began to think I was having an angina attack, and after consulting medical doctor colleague Heinrich Volmink drove myelf (in Darren Bergman's hire car) to the Hermanus Clinic. To my intense relief the ECG and blood tests were negative, and the few questions the doctor asked and my answers suggested a hiatus hernia - unsurprising since I have been treated for this in the past. So now I am on a course of Nexian tablets to reduce the acidity in my stomach. I returned something of a hero, with expressions of concern coming from people who had heard a rumour I'd fallen seriously ill. "No" I told them, I'm afraid you've got me for the next five years!"

This morning I was sitting having breakfast and using the WiFi at Zabad's in de Waterkant when I glanced at my phone. My blood went cold and a shock wave went through my body. The message from Rehaad read "Clyde has passed away".

I first knew Clyde was seriously ill a week ago when I called him from the Cape Town Castle where I was visiting the Kamers / CCDI market (see my last blog post). I spoke to his daughter Natasha who said he had been admitted the day before for double pneumonia and was in intensive care. Clyde had been treated over several months for bronchitis but it had not healed, and now he was in real danger. A few days ago his condition had not improved and he was not responding to antibiotics. Things did not look good. And now he is dead.

I phoned Rehaad who told me he had died late last night. I got up the courage to call Natasha and offered my deepest condolences to her and her mum. She sounded in another world, but was able to tell me they were planning a mega party to send the man into the next world. Clyde had built up a very successful business in Cape Town over twenty years, staging music concerts and other big events that drew tens of thousands of people. I was introduced to him by the City of Cape Town in 2008 when he was working with Peter Shrimpton at the Heart of Healing, an NGO. They helped us stage the first Khayelitsha Festival in October of that year and we became firm friends, discovering that we were born on the same day - May 8th 1960.

We hired Clyde to help us stage the Soweto Festival Expo for a number of years, then last year he came on board to help with the ground work at the Cape Town Summer Market. He did a fantastic job, though even he recoiled a few times at the treatment some of the vendors meted out on us. On January 1st I drove out to the site of his New Year Rezonance party near Durbanville, and saw for the first time the scale of the operation he put together. Clyde's personality drew people to him, he was warm, funny, generous, demanding and fair-minded, which meant he could squeeze the last drop of energy from his staff and still retain their respect. It is devastating that he is no longer with us.

Clyde would inspire with his optimism and humanism - summed up by the photo I took of him in 2008 shown at the top of this post. On that occasion he was threatened with his life by the township mafia, who he refused to give into while dishing out work to casuals at the Khayelitsha Festival. He always had a can-do attitude and never let people's animosity get to him. He was a born events man and would work four or five days non-stop to get the job done. Clyde loved his family with a passion, but scared the wits out of them with his derring-do love of motorbikes. I can't believe I will never see him again.

Hamba Kahle, Clyde my friend. I will miss you.

1 comment:

  1. Very good article,'s always beyond words when a close one dies,'s then, that we wonder about our own lives,..and how precious each and every moment really perspective is a different one, on the changes taken place all over the planet,..things are drastically changing and vibrationally those that cannot upgrade with the new frequencies that are coming in all over the planet,leave.
    Our DNA , as well as our physical bodies are going through so much right now...the ones that have left have been brave,..we now need to set way for the others and hold the frequencies with light, let go from all fears, and anger...and transmute into a new earth...blessings to all depart now, and an onward journey to in galactic experiences..for we are from the stars....x