Intimate look at political icon

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Copy of TO AUNG SAN SUU085

The Lady and the Peacock:

The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

By Peter Popham

(Random, R215)

The generals in Burma/ Myanmar won’t appear on any Nando’s ads any time soon; we Westerners have but one point of reference for that country – Aung San Suu Kyi.

We know she was kept isolated under house arrest for nearly two decades because her party was too much of a threat for the junta.

We know she had to give up her family for the fight for freedom in her country. The generals told her: you can leave Burma to join your family, but then you can never come back. She stayed.

And we know she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

But there are many things we don’t know, which is why Peter Popham’s The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi is so worth reading. For instance, did you know that the ruling general at the time, Saw Maung, apparently took her Nobel prize as a “personal humiliation” and went insane? (Of course, it could be argued that dictators are insane anyway…)

But it seems as if things are changing in Burma. For one thing, her party will be allowed to contest by-elections in April, and she will stand for a seat in parliament. So now is a good time to learn more about the woman who is often mentioned in the same breath as Gandhi and Mandela.

Popham’s book fills the not inconsiderable gaps in our knowledge and presents us with a portrait of a flesh-and-bone person behind the democracy icon, a woman who has a marvellous sense of humour, who likes to sing.

And a woman who, in more ways than one, strikes a chord with South Africans. Popham quotes from her 1990 essay Freedom from Fear: “‘It’s not power that corrupts but fear,’ she wrote in the months before her detention… ‘Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’

“‘Fear, bhaya in Burmese, destroys all sense of right and wrong,’ she went on, which is why it is at the root of corruption. “‘With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife, corruption in all its forms becomes deeply entrenched.’”

Words of warning from Burma.

Popham, a journalist, writes in a free-flowing style, so you never feel bombarded with facts; rather, you absorb them as you go along.

There’s just one problem: he is a little too in awe of his subject. But it’s hard to be too critical about that, because we all are – or should be – in awe of someone who has sacrificed so much, with so much dignity, for a noble cause.

The book is a good advert for the woman who was born to a destiny of democracy.

FIGHTER FOR DEMOCRACY: Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest many times, to a total 15 years.

The generals in Burma/Myanmar won’t appear on any Nando’s ads any time soon; we Westerners have but one point of reference for that country – Aung San Suu Kyi.

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