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Early on July 31 1973, a chilly morn­ing, my firm and no-non­sense school­mas­ter fa­ther and I set off to the then Pre­to­ria Cen­tral Pri­son to pick up Dik­gang, a brother I had never met. He had been im­pris­oned for 10 years to the day. It was not in the na­ture of the peo­ple in power to give a thought to re­leas­ing him a day or two in ad­vance of the com­ple­tion of his full 10-year term. They had to ex­tract max­i­mum pain. My mother, Karabo, and my broth­ers, Malatse and Ka­belo, stayed at home to pre­pare for what was billed as the most joy­ous day of our oth­er­wise mis­er­able lives, which were gen­er­ally un­avoid­ably rained on by the un­just ab­sence of our el­dest brother and the con­stant se­cu­rity branch ha­rass­ment of our en­tire fam­ily.

My fa­ther was a highly re­garded and re­spected man in his com­mu­nity. He was self-as­sured, bright, opin­ion­ated and at the height of his pow­ers, but he lived un­der the jack­boot of apartheid, which even his stead­fast char­ac­ter could not shed. Apartheid seemed to pain him more than most. We drove in com­plete si­lence. When we ar­rived at the pri­son, there was no long­jailed son to pick up. Af­ter the cruel and de­mean­ing runaround they gave us, it be­came clear that the pow­ers that be pre­ferred to sub­ject Dik­gang to the in­dig­nity of de­liv­er­ing him to our home in At­teridgeville in the back of a po­lice car. A fate my fa­ther would have pre­ferred to avoid.

They de­nied a man 10 years of his son’s most im­pres­sion­able years and then rubbed it in his face in full view of his ador­ing com­mu­nity.

My fa­ther’s anx­i­ety turned to all-out rage. The full ex­tent of his anger at the un­just in­car­cer­a­tion of his first son by the apartheid regime came rush­ing un­con­trol­lably to the fore.

When we ul­ti­mately ar­rived at our home to find it full of a large con­tin­gent of se­cu­rity branch po­lice from the in­fa­mous Kom­pol Build­ing, my fa­ther gave in to open ag­gres­sion un­known against the se­cu­rity branch at the time. They would have had to kill him but for my mother’s gen­tle in­ter­ven­tion. His val­our made me proud, es­pe­cially as it stood side by side with my now free and still un­bro­ken brother.

He evicted them from our home – but not be­fore they had served Dik­gang with a ban­ning or­der that would last for five years and which would pro­hibit him from be­ing in the com­pany of more than five peo­ple at a time.

The wel­come party was bro­ken up. Our neigh­bours had to leave. Some stayed away from us for­ever in fear of ret­ri­bu­tion, the idea of which was reg­u­larly re­in­forced by the se­cu­rity branch car that was of­ten seen parked across from our hum­ble home.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old and in­stantly learnt from both my fa­ther and my newly free brother, that day, that we could take on the might of the apartheid state and win – how­ever qual­i­fied and grad­ual our vic­tory.

Vic­tory against op­pres­sion is not an event, but a long, dif­fi­cult and of­ten mo­men­tar­ily dis­ap­point­ing process.

Our ca­pac­ity to en­dure their worst and still emerge vic­to­ri­ous was un­der­lined by the fact that 10 years of in­car­cer­a­tion had not bro­ken my brother phys­i­cally, even though he was quite skinny – some­thing over which my mother voiced her dis­ap­proval loudly, sadly and, in ret­ro­spect, hi­lar­i­ously.

I de­vel­oped a clear un­der­stand­ing of the sheer ca­pac­ity of the hu­man body to en­dure and sur­vive in­car­cer­a­tion and tor­ture.

The preser­va­tion of one’s phys­i­cal be­ing can­not – ever – be an ex­cuse to not fight for jus­tice, even against an ap­par­ently in­vin­ci­ble force.

This les­son from my brother was to stand me in good stead as the same regime jailed me and many others, with­out trial, for long pe­ri­ods at Diep­kloof Pri­son more than two decades later in the mid-1980s. This time it was his turn to find me in pri­son. I was in awe of the fact that his in­car­cer­a­tion had not de­stroyed his ca­pac­ity for per­sonal de­vel­op­ment. He had com­pleted his ma­tric and his ju­nior de­gree while he was in­car­cer­ated. This was per­haps one of the most in­spir­ing at­tributes that struck me about him. As he set­tled in at home and con­tin­ued his law stud­ies, my lit­tle self sat right be­side his desk and stud­ied be­side him, very of­ten right through the night.

My only lim­i­ta­tion was that I did not have enough home­work to keep up with him. In­dus­try was a qual­ity my fa­ther de­manded of all of us. Dik­gang epit­o­mised in­dus­try. In time, it was to show in the var­i­ous as­sign­ments he had to un­der­take through­out his colour­ful ca­reer.

I did not know at the time that I would need to com­plete my own le­gal stud­ies at Wits while I was jailed by the same apartheid regime many years later. I had more than enough in­spi­ra­tion from him to see this through.

In 1975, when he asked Khabo for her hand in mar­riage, I had the du­bi­ous hon­our of plac­ing the en­gage­ment ring on her fin­ger on his be­half and de­liv­er­ing his speech in his stead be­cause he was not al­lowed to be there – he was still banned. Even this false start could not ruin their 41 years of mar­riage. It was in their home that I found suc­cour when I was my­self served with a re­stric­tion or­der on my own re­lease from pri­son, years later.

A whole gen­er­a­tion of lawyers, in­clud­ing my­self, was greatly in­spired by the es­tab­lish­ment of his law firm in part­ner­ship with now jus­tices Ge­orge Maluleke, Willie Ser­iti and Ntendeya Mavundla. Theirs was a pro­gres­sive law firm that was to later serve as an in­spi­ra­tion for the es­tab­lish­ment of my own law firm much later.

Dik­gang’s ten­ure at the bar and on the Bench has been sparkling. He has rep­re­sented many – from free­dom fight­ers to busi­ness­peo­ple – most ably and the law re­ports are awash with his thought­ful and well-crafted judg­ments.

I was al­ways warmed by his in­tel­lec­tual bias in favour of the weak and vul­ner­a­ble while stay­ing true to our de­vel­op­ing and pro­gres­sive con­sti­tu­tional ju­rispru­dence, which came with both pos­si­bil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions.

A qual­ity that most closely com­petes with his grit, in­dus­try and in­tel­lect must be in­tegrity – that rare com­mit­ment to, al­ways, do the right thing, how­ever in­con­ve­nient or costly.

The best way to live, he would say to me when I needed to hear it, is to as­sume that ev­ery­thing you say is on loud­speaker and ev­ery­thing you do is recorded.

His most abid­ing qual­ity, if patriotism is a per­sonal qual­ity, is that he loves his coun­try and its peo­ple above all else. The eas­i­est way to irk or pain him is to ques­tion his love for his coun­try and peo­ple.

A mo­ment that sticks out as the most hurt­ful and vile, per­haps com­pet­ing with his un­just in­car­cer­a­tion, is his char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion as a “counter-revo­lu­tion­ary” by some in the ANC.

This ac­cu­sa­tion filled me – as one who served in the in­au­gu­ral ANC ex­ec­u­tive in the then PWV province with Kgalema Mot­lanthe, Tokyo Sexwale, Frene Gin­wala, Paul Mashatile and others – with over­whelm­ing shame and dis­be­lief.

The only con­so­la­tion I could of­fer him was to as­sure him that the ANC that refers to him as counter-revo­lu­tion­ary is not the ANC of our peo­ple of old, the ANC of Oliver Tambo. It is not that ANC. Thank­fully, the ANC has qui­etly dropped this char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. This is not enough. The ANC owes him and the many judges it has so in­sulted a pub­lic and un­equiv­o­cal apol­ogy.

The great­est farewell gift we can give this great son of the soil as he hangs up his tired robes for the last time is to en­sure that the state, in the many ways in which it man­i­fests, al­ways serves one mas­ter and only one mas­ter – the peo­ple – with­out fail. Al­ways.

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