For the past few days, I have had someone staying with me who goes back well into my past. We were together in the underground in Lesotho, in the early 1980s and in Pietermaritzburg in the mid to late 1980s. Needless to say, these were extremely difficult times.
In Lesotho, there was continuously the threat of raids from the South African Defence Forces. They came across the border in 1983 and again in 1985. They killed at will. They targeted specific buildings and killed anyone inside those buildings. People were killed while they slept. One had her throat slashed, as she slept in a hotel room in the middle of Maseru. As it happens, they killed someone with absolutely nothing to do with the ANC. They had been given information that a particular cadre was staying in room “x” which was (say) three rooms to the left on the right hand side of the building on the third floor – they counted from the left hand side, instead of the right hand side, and that was the person that died. In the aftermath of the raid, I drove with two friends to the houses of those who had been killed. The horror still lives with me today.
In Pietermaritzburg, during what was called the “Seven day war” we saw yet more horror, as the state backed Inkatha and the ANC fought each other. (This was after Nelson Mandela had been released). We were living in the “black” township of Imbali and lecturing in the Federal Theological Seminary, at the time.
We were just remembering some of the moments which continue to haunt us. Bodies lying in the road. Bodies piled in the mortuary. Bodies found in the forest. Remembrance services held in the Lay Centre in an attempt to help people come to terms with the tremendous loss we were suffering.
I said to my friend, that when I think back on those days, the thing I struggle with is remembering my own cowardice – the extraordinary level of fear I had. And, she reminded me, it was not the way I behaved. People were not aware of that fear and that cowardice. I was glad to hear of things I did, which were not cowardly, but still I remember it being there. And it has made me somewhat less judgemental of cowards, I think.