Re­mem­ber all who sac­ri­ficed for our free­dom

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IT TOOK a while but I fi­nally got to see Ac­tion Kom­man­dant, the story of Ash­ley Kriel, a 20-year-old Umkhonto we Sizwe free­dom fighter killed by po­lice on July 9, 1987.

It is a bril­liant movie and the direc­tor, Na­dine Cloete, should be con­grat­u­lated for pro­duc­ing a prod­uct where her love for the sub­ject can al­most be felt in ev­ery frame. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Na­dine was only a year old when Kriel died be­cause she brought to life so much of what made that pe­riod spe­cial. This movie should be com­pul­sory view­ing for all young peo­ple. It was strange to watch a movie where I knew al­most every­one from the footage of the mid-1980s and those who were in­ter­viewed more re­cently. I think I might even have caught a pass­ing glimpse of my­self at the fu­neral, but, of course, I was much thin­ner then and had far more hair.

The movie was per­sonal for me be­cause I knew Ash­ley very well from the time when I worked in po­lit­i­cal youth or­gan­i­sa­tions in the early 1980s, but es­pe­cially from the time when I worked briefly in Bon­te­heuwel to help or­gan­ise the launch of the Cape Ar­eas Hous­ing Ac­tion Com­mit­tee. It was held in the same civic cen­tre that fea­tures quite promi­nently in the movie. This was where most po­lit­i­cal meet­ings were held in the area.

I re­mem­ber Ash­ley as the most im­pres­sive young­ster in any of the youth groups through­out the Western Cape at the time – we were in­volved in most ar­eas of the prov­ince, and there were many peo­ple as young as he who be­came in­volved.

He was a nat­u­ral leader, charis­matic, well-spo­ken and ar­tic­u­late and knew how to keep a crowd lap­ping up his ev­ery word. And un­like most of his peers, he was al­ways hun­gry for knowl­edge.

This is one of the rea­sons his death was so shock­ing. We all felt Ash­ley would have had much more to con­trib­ute to our so­ci­ety. The other rea­son was the way in which he died, as it was sub­se­quently shown he was ef­fec­tively as­sas­si­nated by the po­lice who dis­cov­ered the lo­ca­tion of his safe house.

One of the things I thought about as I watched the film was the role the peo­ple of the Western Cape played in the Strug­gle, some­thing which seems to have been down­played in post-apartheid South Africa.

It was re­fresh­ing for me to hear mainly coloured peo­ple singing free­dom songs in Xhosa.

That’s the way I re­mem­ber it; most of the Strug­gle songs we sang were in Xhosa. This helped to build a bond be­tween the peo­ple from the Cape Flats and those from the town­ships.

I watched the film at the Cor­ner­stone In­sti­tute and lis­tened to var­i­ous peo­ple mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions from the floor af­ter­wards. I could not help ask­ing my­self what would have hap­pened to Ash­ley if he’d sur­vived and what he would have thought about where we are as a coun­try to­day. What would he have thought of the gov­ern­ment? Would he have been in the gov­ern­ment?

As I thought about Ash­ley, I found my­self think­ing of Nel­son Man­dela, who would have cel­e­brated his 98th birth­day on Mon­day. Man­dela sur­vived the dan­gers of ac­tivism in his younger life and came out of prison 27 years af­ter be­ing in­car­cer­ated a wiser man, but still as prin­ci­pled as he had been in his youth.

Man­dela could so eas­ily have been sen­tenced to death at the Rivo­nia Trial, but was im­pris­oned for life in­stead.

At least we had an op­por­tu­nity af­ter his im­pris­on­ment to share in his wis­dom ac­cu­mu­lated over many years, some­thing that we did not have with Ash­ley and oth­ers who died as young as him, such as Co­line Wil­liams, An­ton Fran­sch and Rob­bie Water­witch.

Fran­sch was also 20 when he was killed af­ter a seven-hour shoot-out with po­lice in Athlone in Novem­ber 1989.

Wil­liams was 22 when she and Water­witch, also 20, were killed ap­par­ently when a de­fec­tive limpet mine they were about to place out­side the court in Athlone ex­ploded pre­ma­turely in July 1989.

Hope­fully a film like Ac­tion Kom­man­dant will force those with in­flu­ence in South Africa to re­mem­ber the his­tory of the Western Cape and its peo­ple. It is a com­plex story of re­sis­tance over many years, from the op­po­si­tion by the Khoisan to the Dutch who set­tled here to the slaves who were shipped here fight­ing for their free­dom to the brave young men and women who gave up their lives in the 1970s and 1980s in the Strug­gle against apartheid.

It is im­por­tant to cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tion to free­dom by Man­dela – it was im­mense – but it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber Man­dela never en­gaged in the Strug­gle by him­self. He was al­ways part of a col­lec­tive and part of a much larger move­ment of brave men and women pre­pared to give their lives so oth­ers could be free. Most never took the lime­light.

Ash­ley Kriel was one. So was Co­line Wil­liams. So was Rob­bie Water­witch. So was An­ton Fran­sch. So was Christo­pher Truter and many oth­ers.

As you mark Man­dela Day with your 67 min­utes of do­ing good on Mon­day, take a few min­utes to re­flect on oth­ers who also con­trib­uted to our free­dom. And com­mit your­self to pick­ing up where they left off.

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