Left to Right: Di Bishop(Oliver), Molly Blackburn. pic UCT Archives

Di Oliver

AS I TRY try to find an objective response in myself to the UCT RMF actions of last week, I am immensely grateful to the Cape Times for publishing Mbali Matandela’s views yesterday.

My photograph, together with my late husband, Brian Bishop’s photograph, were amongst those burnt with other photos, paintings and portraits last week.

Brian and I were close friends and colleagues of the late Molly Blackburn, after whom the Molly Blackburn Hall on the UCT campus is named.

Two beautifully designed photo collages of Molly and her friends and colleagues used to hang on the attractive wooden columns in the MB Hall.

We were anti-apartheid activists together before Molly and Brian were killed in a car accident 30 years ago; an accident that left me with permanent physical and lasting emotional injuries. Included in the collages was a telegram of sympathy and solidarity sent to Molly’s husband Gavin, and to me from the ANC in Lusaka.

The UCT RMF Facebook page sets out their mission statement (March 25, 2015) that includes one long term-goal as: “Remove all statues and plaques on campus celebrating white supremacists.”

I am guilty of much as a South African citizen born under apartheid, a system that compromised us all. “White supremacist” is not a description I easily own, but I am prepared to explore what I might have done that would cause such a label.

I would never want to lecture to the students. Rather, I think there are things I believe we should mutually explore together.

I do feel hurt over what happened to the photographs that were on display. When I heard that exhibits had been burnt, I tried to establish if our photographs had been included, because I had heard a rumour that they were.

I went into the Molly Blackburn Hall where the photographs were on display. They weren’t there. I thought: “This can’t be.” I thought perhaps that they had been taken away. I understand that the university is taking an inventory of everything that was on display.

There is nothing wrong with fighting colonialism. It was ugly. But I firmly believe you undo your cause when you resort to violence. I have always believed in non-violence. I will always support the students, but I believe their fight has to be more nuanced.

I understand the anger. I feel very strongly that a lot of the work since the TRC that ought to have been done, has not been done. We are a very wounded nation. While it has been possible for some of us to heal, for many healing has not come. I believe that some of the service delivery issues, some of the anger, some of the reaction to non-delivery by government at all levels are being underpinned by a deep woundedness. Unhealed hurt is one way of putting it.

There are some incredibly fine initiatives on the go. But after democracy, far too many of us thought that we could just push forward, and the challenges that were still there would just go away. But they haven’t. The woundedness is still there.

Take District Six, this gaping wound in the middle of our city. I can remember the technikon (the present Cape Peninsula University of Technology) being built there. I can remember fighting against its construction. I went to appeal to the authorities not to allow the technikon to be built there. But nothing has been resolved and more and more of the land that should be part of the restitution process is just being gobbled up.

I know there are complications. But I’m still convinced that if we engage in good faith, we will find solutions. We must find solutions. I don’t want to see our society being split on racial lines again.

Student protests have not come as a shock to me. But a lot of things that happened during the fight against apartheid have been forgotten. I am one of those who have become part of the walking history that has been forgotten. History is important. Not only from 1652, but a history from much closer to the present.

I completely accept that the students are alienated. And I completely accept their attention to matters such as colonialism. But I really believe that it would not be necessary for us to sit on opposite sides. We must work out something that is more African and more embracing.

We are an amazing combination of human beings in South Africa. We become a winning nation when we start doing things together. An example is our football team in the 2010 World Cup. That was amazing, wonderful. And we have people who are wonderfully entrepreneurial.

I am very thankful for the student who wrote the article on the Cape Times op-ed page because I had visited their Facebook page and it was very faceless. One can understand a fear of retribution or whatever, but we really do need to know who they are so that we can engage. We have an enormous job to do in fighting what the government is doing that we don’t like.

We should be directing our energies to the right places.

I longed to be a UCT student when I was young, but my father wouldn’t let me go there. I was always a bit political, and by the time I was ready to go to university in the late 1960s, there were sit-ins at UCT, and my father said he wanted his money’s worth. So, he sent me to Stellenbosch. In the end, I was glad he did because I’m one of the few English speakers in my circle these days who is fluent in Afrikaans, who is not an English-speaking chauvinist like a lot of us are these days.

Going to Stellenbosch enabled me to speak another language and be exposed to cultures I hadn’t been exposed to because of apartheid. And I am a much more rounded person because of that.

Last year, a group of us (friends and colleagues) were invited to participate in responding to the countrywide flashpoints of anger. We have travelled far and wide to demonstrate solidarity, refer desperate people to resources, offer opportunities for expressing grievances and feelings (often anger and fear), participate in initiating creative alternatives to the often desperate situation of people’s lives, and to introduce legal support where this is indicated in terms of our constitution.

In the Western Cape, we spent several hours focusing on the essence of what we believe and what name we would like to give our small chapter of the work. We are all committed to redress, restitution and reconciliation, and were delighted when we found a Xhosa word that embraces these three concepts – Masibuyisana. Our commitment is to justice and healing.

Thanks to the media once again, we are in contact with groups and organisations that have opened themselves to our quest for “listening and being heard; acknowledging pain we have caused and pain we have experienced”.

I welcome the opportunity of finding ways that the principles of working together, black and white, towards the healing of our woundedness (as a nation), could be furthered.

This is not work that is always best served by public debates, which tend to divide us into “fors” and “againsts”. Thanks to the bold step of writing about her views, I now know there is a flower that I shall try to find.

l Oliver was a political activist and member of the Black Sash