Uncle Kathy and the kids
One of the hardest things about prison was not hearing the laughter of children, says in a new book
toys about twice a year.”
From time to time he and Barbara host a party for the children of their building and others who may be visiting. One of the more recent parties was held in their communal gardens adjacent to the apartment block. Cupcakes were carefully chosen, as well as gifts for each child, and sweets, of course. Kathy sat in his garden chair watching and smiling.
Basking in the pure energy and the innocent laughter of the little ones. “Why do you throw parties for children?” “Hopefully it will become a permanent thing. We missed last year, so I’m trying to make up. I just told Barbara, ‘Let’s take the kids to the zoo.’ I asked one of them who said they’ve been to the zoo with the school. But it’s different from being special, just two or three of them going with Barbara. And if any of the parents want to come, they can come. Give them a nice treat. I also get, not as much, but I get some pleasure out of it.
“Last week a little girl, Aysha Khan, visited me with her parents,” he announces. “Very bright. She’s written my biography in a very short way, but she’s written down chapters that she still wants to write and very nicely done too. There was minimum prompting from the father except when she forgets to say something the father would remind her, otherwise the parents stayed out most of the time.”
Another type of light switches on inside Kathy when he talks of his experiences with children. The glow of hope. “It’s nice to see what kids are up to.” “Remarkable. How old is Aysha?” “I think she must have just started going to high school or be on the verge of it. She’s still young,” he says. “Those are things I enjoy most, visits from these kids, and I get all sorts of kids visiting.”
He also treasured the visit by 13-year-old Karabo Nkoli who had written a book called Whispers of Life.
“Having been deprived of seeing children in prison must highlight even more how precious they are and how they need to be taken care of?” “Absolutely. I mean in prison you are in a situation where you even want to, long to hear a child cry. Just to hear that voice. Those who were married and had visits from their wives, they were allowed to bring their little babies, but not children, to visits. But I had nothing like that.”
Once, when a niece of his was going to visit him at Pollsmoor Prison, she forewarned him that she would bring her baby. The idea filled him with dread. How do you hold a baby? What if he dropped it?
He had to rehearse with a pillow, guided by the expertise of his cell mate, Walter Sisulu, a father and grandfather. He demonstrated his technique with a pillow standing in for the infant.
“I had never carried a baby before. I knew that I would have to carry this kid, but when that time came I freaked out. With all that experience and learning, so she had to put the kid on my lap.” “You couldn’t hold her?” “I couldn’t in case I dropped the kid.” “So your love for children is why you often say we are not fully free if children go to bed hungry or they can’t go to school.”
“Yes. I had to say that as recently as yesterday in a telephone interview, I ended off more or less with those words. And the fellow, the interviewer, ended off by saying, ‘You’ve made my day.’”