A Quest For Justice by Fiona Khan

Sitting in a puny office at the Greyville Daily News building beside a man who reminded you of St. Nicholas, was indeed daunting.  There was in him a simple humility with a wily twitch of his left eye that reminded you nothing escaped his eye.  It felt like you were stepping into Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales surrounded by elves as everyone milled at their computers tapping at the next day’s headlines. Farouk Khan, journalist extraordinaire had, through some divine intervention become my very close friend.

 

He spoke animatedly of the extraordinary times he spent as a journalist, acquainting him with gangsters, freedom fighters, politicians, and activists.  When you sat with this mind, this creative spirit, this source of wealthy knowledge, you instinctively knew that all writers shared a kinship and exclusive bond.  Through his eyes and chain of imagery that spilled from his lips like the over pouring off a filled goblet, one relived the lives, times and landscape of this country’s abrasive past and mellifluous present.

The book lay gaping on his desk, arresting as I asked if he recollected the time and death of Ahmed Timol whose face struck me from the facade.  With a sweeping gesture, he placed the book in my hand,

‘It’s now yours.  Read it!  It’s fascinating.’

My hands trembled as I thanked and walked away from Farouk that day.  In my hand was the answer to so many unanswered questions, to a barrage of childhood torment that only this book could solve.

 

My mind raced to the picture I saw in the paper as a seven year old.  A window at John Vorster’s Square ringed as the window from which Ahmed Timol had allegedly jumped committing suicide. As a child in a volatile, political South Africa, such imagery and the constant media thrust in your face perpetrates any child’s mind. I stared at the picture and wondered about all the other activists that had died over the years including Mathew Goniwe and Steve Biko.  I thought of the fear that rippled in the minds and hearts of the masses whenever there was a State of Emergency.  The riots and political activism in the country,  the merciless killing and victims of a system called apartheid festered by serpents that fed their bellies with the carnage, the hypocrisy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the conscience with which the perpetrators of such vile acts lived in retirement, feeding off the coffers of their very victims families.

My mind convulsed by images from childhood described as grotesque.  Puking on the sidewalk, I sat on the pavement collecting my thoughts.  There was a carousal of people walking freely and communicating with smiles on their faces.  Road names had changed, the intermingling of races drove the point surreptitiously that we were now living in a democratic country.  A poster with the latest headlines starkly addressed freedom of the press and speech.

A passerby thought I had lost my senses as I buried my head in my hands.  We could not even mention politics in our own homes back then, because we never knew whom in our family the security forces would target, torture and blackmail to reveal information.  This evil had turned brother against brother.

 

 

A smirk played on the edges of my lips as nostalgia snaked through another era.  I stole a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned in South Africa and labeled as too pornographic; to read at only ten years of age, then traipsed through a copy of Iliad and Odyssey.  Books were our only salvation even if it meant reading under the candlelight.  In the evenings, we lent our ears to the state paid radio station, Springbok Radio.  Driven by Squad Cars, a radio drama of cops and robbers, we launched into fits of satire with the Pip Freedman Show and reminders of our cruel system as every Saturday we listened to painful reminders of Boys on the Border, a request programme dedicated to the conscripted boys keeping the borders safe from terrorists and insurgents.  The system even defiled our young men, brutalized, sodomised by their superiors in military camps, and too afraid to reveal these atrocities to their families for fear of shame and denegation by society.  A cruel system bred a cruel society for both white and black.

 

Leafing through the list of ‘Death through Hanging: Suicide’, bile spewed forth as memories of defenestration erupted.  Men in custody, hands tied behind their backs; were roped by their legs and left to dangle from the ceiling, as police officers beat them with batons to reveal information. Others with plastic bags wrapped around their heads were suffocated until all was revealed.  Depending on the outcome of the inquest, the weeping wives, mothers, and children were shunned by society or elevated to martyrdom.

 

A young African woman walked by, draped on the arm of her young, white lover.  I could not help but wonder if they ever would realize the luxury of their relationship in this society from that of the apartheid era.  I recalled many who had to flee the country to neighboring Swaziland to enjoy such luxuries as in South Africa it was an immoral act and as such there was a law against that too.

In a cruel quest and twist of justice, the men who died in custody or who were political prisoners and refugees sacrificed their lives for a new generation of freedom.  Their lives did not perish in vain.  Extraordinarily, the carousel of people around me was reminiscent of B.B.King’s song, ‘What a Wonderful World’.

 

 

Fiona Khan is an award winning, internationally published poet and author. My stories and poems have been published in magazines and anthologies around the world. I am also an academic, an educationist and an award winning environmentalist. I am passionate about sustainability, organic gardening and Climate Change. My inspiration is purely metaphysical as i see beauty in everything that is around me and in what I do. My passion and love for all creation and the created, gives me the advantage of having the edge beyond what the eye can see, the mind can perceive, and the heart can conceive.

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