Tag Archives: Malcolm Fraser

Amandla! Mandela

Dear Hildegard, I want to share some memories with you about South Africa and Mandela. Hearing the news today of his death has reminded me of so many things ….

I remember coming into Cape Town and being so sea sick that I couldn’t get off the ship. I was 11.  I could see Table Mountain and I knew it was Africa and in another ten days or so we would be home in Australia.

I remember the day the Springboks played in Adelaide – it was my first year in High School and the match had to be abandoned.  Those protesters heralded the beginning of the sporting boycott of South Africa. Proud I lived in a city that began that act of solidarity.

I remember going to dinners, marches, putting up posters, organising prayer services, talking to friends, selling raffle tickets, singing songs of freedom, learning all the words of God Bless Africa to support the end of apartheid.

I remember meeting Leah Tutu in Adelaide and asking her how does she keep going when her husband was constantly facing death threats and always so close to trouble and tragedy. She told me – I dance, we dance.

I remember staying up all night to see Mandela released from prison and having the ABC satellite loose transmission just a few moments before it happened because Mandela’s release was delayed.

I remember taking the family to the city for a peace march to celebrate Mandela’s release. I did not want our children to miss the moment. I wanted to be a part of history.

I remember crying and dancing the day Mandela became President and hearing him say Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson).  I remember this being printed off in my office and carrying it around with me for years as a constant reminder to be courageous and in the light.

I remember being in Perth Airport and seeing a very tired and, I thought, inebriated, Kerry O’Brien heading off to South Africa to interview Mandela. I was on my way to Mozambique and would be passing through Johannesburg.

I remember being in Johannesburg and going to Alexandra and being shocked by the poverty on one side of the road and the wealth on the other. I remember the energy of the student and church activists who kept me company that day.

I remember searching for the new South African flag in the market in J’burg so I could bring it home to keep reminding me how a new nation was finally re-born and a flag no longer outlawed.

I remember driving Donald Woods to an event at Annesley College and the hall was packed to the rafters and he mainly wanted to talk to me about Australian cricket. The irony of the ordinary passions amidst the politics of sheer survival caused me to chuckle!

I remember feeling proud of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons, with former PM Malcolm Fraser making real and important contributions to bring about peace and to stand with the people of South Africa. I always felt this was one of the finest acts of the Commonwealth. It also rehabilitated Fraser for me as I had lost all respect for him back in 1975!

I remember being inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and seeing Tutu cry night after night in hearing the evidence. I was so inspired by this magnificent restorative justice experience.

I remember singing all the songs on Freedom is Coming over and over again until everyone in the house knew every word.

I remember getting a beautiful copy from the dearest of friends of Long Walk to Freedom – a coffee table version – chosen so all the photos could be seen and shared easily with the children.

I remember being in Glasgow and a South African delegation thanking me as an Australian for standing shoulder to shoulder with black South Africa to help end apartheid. I felt a fraud for the little I had done and humbled to receive their thanks – two of them had been imprisoned for their politics.  I remember seeing in the Glasgow Town Hall a thank you note from Mandela to the people of Scotland that same trip and it bore the date of my birthday.

I remember going to Mandela’s house 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando, Soweto the womb in which many of his earliest thoughts and plans were made.  The only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners have lived.

I remember going to the Hektor Pietersen Museum and being so inspired by the youthfulness of protest and the courage of school students.

I remember being in the Apartheid Museum and learning for the first time that I had seen more footage on my television on what had been going on in South Africa, than many of the South Africans themselves because of the censorship.  I remember the tablecloth on which the ideas and constitutional changes were etched.

I remember being on the Parliament House balustrade in Pretoria and buying stamps that commemorated Mandela’s Presidency and a few year’s later being in Cape Town and walking through the doors of the National Parliament and seeing the fruits of democracy on the walls and in the conversations.

I remember walking the labyrinth in Cape Town behind Tutu’s St Georges Cathedral and marking each step for the long walk South Africa had behind it as well as the one in front of it.

I remember listening to the former political prisoner at Robben Island tell the story of what it was like to be there and the University they created to support and keep learning together. Mandela taught his fellow prisoners.

I remember the District 6 Museum and being delighted with the storyteller and the generosity of the tales of hope and resilience as well as nonviolent resistance in the harshest and dehumanising of circumstances.

I remember sitting next to one of the great elders of the trade union movement at dinner and being so honoured to be in his company while presenting at a conference on democracy for Gaetung Province. How amazing it was to have this opportunity and he thanked me for all Australia had done to help end.

I remember in 2012 being sad to say goodbye once again to South Africa and wondering when I might be back. I am very grateful that one of my now adult children had a taste by coming with me on that trip. He was 5 at the rally when Mandela had been released.

I remember listening to Johnny Clegg at WOMADelaide and enjoying every single minute of his talk and his band. It was my WOMADelaide highlight that year.

I remember all the South Africans I have met in South Africa and around the world. I remember their kindness and patience with me. Their love of their country and that they will be mourning for Mandiba in their own ways and for their own reasons.

These and many more memories of my little thread of connection to the story of Mandela and his beautiful country have been flooding back.  I wept when I heard the news. I gave thanks for his life. I pray for the future of South Africa. I have always felt that while there was breath in his body, it was an insurance for the whole country to protect and to guide.  I pray that his spirit will inspire a new generation of activists who will understand that there can never be peace without justice.

I am ashamed that I came to learn more about racism from South Africa first before I came to know it closer to home in my own country and community. But I am grateful I was able to apply some of those lessons. The lesson of solidarity is what I learnt most from being a tiny part of the anti-apartheid movement.

It was the words of Bonhoeffer that added to my understanding of solidarity:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, and I was neither so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

And so this day I am in solidarity with all those who mourn Mandela’s death and celebrate his life.  I will do a dance to the Soweto Gospel choir, sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, ‎ unhaul the flag, look over my photos and books, send messages to friends in South Africa and say a prayer for his family and his country, and raise my hand with a fist – Amandla!

Sunset in Pilansberg

Sunset in Pilansberg

Call and Response

The basic form of any interaction is call and response.  It takes centre stage in performances that begin in the cradle where the child smiles and we goo and gah back … or is it the other way around. Over the years the call and response might get a bit more sophisticated and spicy when you add in gender, sexuality and music.

There is an eternal question of whether we find our own vocation or it finds us – the master arriving for the student when the student can receive the master … and so the same call/ response pattern continues. So it is with our spirituality – does your practice find you? or  do you find your practice? Who has the call? Who is the respondent?

I sense Hildegard that the more I am open the more it is likely that I can receive and hear the call rather than make the call and have a response back from the UniVerse. One voice and a chorus response reminds me of what happens on twitter one message being re-tweeted to hundreds and sometimes thousands of others. Such a wild way of thinking about call and response in my time.

Hawken’s Blessed Unrest names and claims what so many of us are a part of, invisible and indivisible threads woven together by a common vision of a world that comes into being because of our collective, if sometimes dis-organised arrangements.

We gather in time and space, on line and off line, in the crevices and crannies of cyber space portals, making our mark and making a difference.  Unfettered by sovereign boundaries we say yes to our common values and there is what Hawken names as a collective genius at work birthing an alternative narrative to a doom and gloom future.

When I was CEO of Volunteering South Australia and Northern Territory one of the key points I regularly made in the public domain, was that when we vote we have a say for the type of government we want every three or four years, but every time we volunteer, we are voting with our hands and hearts on the kind of community and environment we want to live in and create.  I am limited in the number of hours I can volunteer in a face-to-face way these days, and after serving on community boards and committees for more than three decades, I am looking for ways to mentor the next generation. I am looking for ways to volunteer, where I can make use of the time I have, and the platforms I have to bring about the future that I envision.

In song, the call and response is a pattern of successive phrases taken in turns and where the first singer or musician makes the call and it is echoed by the second and so the conversation continues in lyric and tune.  The sophistication of verse and chorus is just another example of this pattern.  I send out a tweet and then there is a response from the twittersphere. Sometimes I respond to other tweets and I became the respondent to the call – the power of the re-tweet – a loud echo to the single 140 characters or less call.

This past two weeks I gave myself a virtual volunteering quest. I didn’t subject myself to any screening procedures, sign on with a not for profit, undertake training to do the voluntary task or be invited. I gate crashed my way into a virtual volunteering role.  I have always supported anything I can to bring recognition of Aboriginal people and to right the wrongs of colonialisation.  I haven’t done a lot, but I have contributed to actions and discourse over the years and maybe that account is for another blog.  You may recall my recent entry about identity, well I thought the best thing I could do is see if there was anything in the Recognise campaign I could help with.  On investigation and my usual online trawling exercise I saw that a film Vote Yes was being finalised and seeking crowdfunding for the last $20,000.  So I hopped on line and on board to see what I could do essentially through my twitter account (although I did use facebook, email and LinkedIn as well).

Each day for a couple weeks I have been tweeting about the film, shamelessly asking people to chip in and lend a hand with a donation, not out of charity, but as an act of solidarity and to inform the twitter sphere of the issue of constitutional reform to see Aboriginal peoples recognised in the Australian Constitution.

(I was nearly 9 years old when Aboriginal people got the vote in 1967. I celebrated when the Australian government said Sorry to the stolen generations in 2008 and was in the company of some very fine Aboriginal leaders that day.  I have been fortunate to have had instruction and patience from many Aboriginal people in my personal and working life. I am deeply grateful to their grace and what they have shared with me. I have a lot to learn.)

I have sent tweets to people as diverse as Lady Gaga, Fr Bob, Margaret Attwood, Malcolm Fraser and David Suzuki. I was amazed at who retweeted and who didn’t (for the record only Lady Gaga of the group above didn’t retweet).  I added to my knowledge of Aboriginal leaders and groups. I wasn’t afraid to be bold and ask for help and surprisingly celebrity /well known strangers did help out (please note Magda Subanzski and Rob Oakshott).

It has taught me a lesson once again that an invitation to help out is often valued and accepted – people respond to the call – but the call (the ask, the invite) – needs to be made.

So was I called and then made a response? Or did I make the call for others to respond too? Was it a mix of both? Was my gatecrashing welcome or just another sign of colonisation, this time of air space.  I was kindly welcomed and thanked and generously entertained by the custodians of the project who appreciated my enthusiasm for the greater good. Its the least I could do and the most I could do – to call and respond and respond to the call.

In my heart I know there is a dance going on – one where the caller and the responder share the lead and where the dance is on a wonderful tapestry where threads are woven together and sometimes the carpet itself takes flight and leads us to new horizons.

I was once told off at the Broken Spoke Dance Hall in Austin, Texas for not responding to the music a Texan Two-Step properly and dancing in an appropriate way. I may know the tunes dear Hildegard, but there are new dances to be danced and songs to be sung.  I will always strain to hear the call and prepare to be able to respond. I will also try and remain open to the call and when I need to be the call for others to respond remind myself that like you, I am trying to live like a feather that is blown about by the UniVersal breath.  Call and response is the foundation of reflection and action and reflection comes first in that binary equation.

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