Un­cle Kathy and the kids

One of the hard­est things about prison was not hear­ing the laugh­ter of chil­dren, says in a new book

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

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.’”

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