South Africa. One of my most favourite countries in the world.
Having worked there, repeatedly, I’d planned to return as a tourist one day.
It hasn’t happened.
But every so often, South Africa comes to me.
Late April, 2015.
I come across a small book in our home library.
“South Africa Stories” is the simple title.
Memories fill my mind.
My CBC boss, Les Lawrence, heeds the call from South African Bishop Tutu and Canadian Archbishop Ted Scott –– eminent persons in the fight against apartheid — and agrees to an important project: to help South African broadcast journalists prepare for the end of apartheid. He and I are the project leaders.
Eleven journalists are in the first group, carefully selected by our partner, the Southern Africa Education Trust Fund. They’re here in Toronto at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to strengthen their skills in radio and television journalism.
Of various races, some are exiles.
Their intelligence, educational achievements and resourcefulness impress us. Their stories alternately shock and inspire us.
We cry when they leave.
But mostly, we rejoice, knowing they are going back stronger than they’d arrived, knowing they have also made us stronger. We have bound some of their written stories into a simple book. Something for them to take home, along with their new-found skills.
They write thank-you notes in my copy. I rediscover it in April 2015.
South Africa Stories.
Late April, 2015
Sylvia Vollenhoven, one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite journalists, arrives at our old farmhouse north of Toronto with our mutual friend Dale. It’s been years since Sylvia was here and we hug her warmly. A woman of stunning achievement and deep commitment to South Africa, journalism and freedom, she’s in Toronto for the Hot Docs festival.
She tells us about her current project, The Keeper of the Kumm, which will be produced as a play, a book and a documentary. We listen in fascinated silence. She’s one of the most eloquent people we know and Hamlin, Dale and I devour her words like manna from heaven.
And we laugh.
Sylvia is very witty, but her mistake appears to be an honest one.
“What are these things called again?” she asks in that beautiful accent of hers. She points to stalks of pussy willows in a container. “Willy’s Pussies, right?”
Willy’s pussies. Oh, dear.
I gasp for air between bouts of loud laughter.
We tell Sylvia we hope she will come back a year from now – with her book and her documentary. She tells us she hopes we can come to South Africa to see the play. We eagerly say Yes.
Of course, it’s most unlikely that I will be able to travel that far. But as I sit on the verandah with three dear friends who love South Africa, it is such a warm thought.
And am happy.
Dedicated to Sylvia and the journalists of South Africa… especially “the first eleven”.
Photos by Hamlin Grange