Monday, 10 February 2014

Two speeches, one country

When Ben Pretorius sent through the transcript of his speech from the Rainbow's 32nd birthday celebrations, it prompted me to go back into the archive in search of another speech that he gave in the height of the State of Emergency. Together, they make quite an interesting read.

Speech by Ben Pretorius : Malombo Concert 31.08.86

One of the interesting things about being a South African, is that this government of ours never ceases to surprise and amaze us.

THEY TOLD US THAT……sport and politics don’t mix, yet it was them that banned players of colour from playing in this country.

THEY TOLD US THAT…..politics and religion don’t mix, yet it was they who used the bible to justify apartheid.

THEY TOLD US THAT…..politics and education don’t mix, yet it was them who introduced Bantu education as a tool to control and dominate the masses.

THEY TOLD US THAT…..politics and music don’t mix, yet it was them that hounded the Masekela’s, Dyani’s, Makeba’s into exile.

Now, in 1986, when they have dumped this country into political chaos, surprise, surprise….this government tells us that politics and music DO mix. They now want to spend R4,300,000 of MY money, YOUR money, OUR money, for us to all get together and sing ourselves out of this political quagmire they have dumped us in.

Our reply here, at the Rainbow Restaurant to this ill conceived exercise, lies in our slogan that we used earlier this year; namely “The Struggle for Jazz and Jazz for the Struggle”.
Over the past three years our struggle for jazz has been well documented and the audience here today is testimony to the progress we’ve made.

When we say “Jazz for the Struggle” we mean the following:

                               The struggle for the end of the state of Emergency
The struggle for the release of all detainees
The struggle for the release of Nelson Mandela and all our leaders
The struggle for the unbanning of the ANC and all other political parties
And the struggle for all South Africans to have an equal say in the future of one, unified South Africa and people.

Only then, and Only then, will we sing a song with one voice for the future of this country.
As for now, the only song we’ll sing is for the struggle to continue.


By: Ben Pretorius
Date: 15 12 2013
Venue: Rainbow Restaurant and Jazz Club Pinetown.

Today as we celebrate the Rainbow’s 32nd birthday the country and the world at large lays to rest one of the finest human beings ever to have walked this earth -  Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela, the revolutionary, the freedom fighter, the statesman, the reconciler, the father of our nation and a  man of principle and immense humility.

On behalf of all of us here today I wish to convey our deepest sympathy and deep felt sorrow to the Mandela family and thank them for sharing him with us.

Over the past ten days many many people have shared their Mandela moment with the world -  how their lives were inspired and enriched by this incredible man.  Here at the Rainbow we too have a Mandela story to tell….

The Rainbow’s very existence, established on 17 December 1981, was as a result of the fight against evils of apartheid and inspired by the ideals as set out in the Freedom Charter of 1955.  Those ideals for a free and democratic South Africa for all to share in the wealth of the country were championed by the likes of Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe and many others who were prepared to die for the attainment of those ideals.

Under the banner “Jazz for the struggle and the struggle for jazz” the Rainbow used the unifying qualities of South African jazz and other art forms to unite people of all races against the evil forces of apartheid.

The very name- The Rainbow – was chosen to reflect our diverse population groupings in a convivial and peaceful venue, this long before the name Rainbow Nation was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Concerts commemorating and celebrating anti-apartheid days such as June 16, May Day and human rights day were staged at the Rainbow.  We also staged concerts in direct protest against days that were in support or sympathetic to the apartheid regime such as – “not the Day of the Vow” concerts, and “don’t vote” concerts and many others.

During those very dark and repressive days of the 1980s, when states of emergency were regularly declared and the detention and the killing of activists were the order of the day, the Rainbow too was the target of the state machinery with threats to close it and threats to my life.

With the formation of the UDF in 1983 many of the anti-apartheid organisations in the country united and the resistance to the Government became a far more co-ordinated and effective force.

Here again the Rainbow played a very important role in promoting art and especially music to articulate the growing opposition to the system.  We organised concerts at Universities, trade union conferences, at funerals of activists and of course here at the Rainbow.

In July of 1988  on the day of Mandela’s 70th birthday, two concerts were planned to celebrate the occasion – one at the University of Durban-Westville on the Saturday night and the other here at the Rainbow on the Sunday afternoon.

Permission for the UDW concert was granted by the state but was subject to numerous conditions, all of which were agreed to by the organisers.  Despite this, the concert was banned at 20h00 on Friday night.  The next day, accompanied by the late Baba Archie Gumede (who was a listed person at the time and not allowed to speak in public) and members of the band Sakhile,  I drove to the University to take stock of the situation and to finalise plans for the concert at the Rainbow.  On our way there we were amazed to see SADF soldiers encamped in private gardens, en route to the University, rifles at the ready. 
At the entrance to the university we were stopped by the military.  After explaining that we wanted to collect musical equipment from the venue the band members were told to get out and wait in the shade of a caspir vehicle.  At the concert venue we were met by security police who told Baba Gumede to get out of the vehicle and for him to confine himself to an empty parking space and not to talk to anyone.  I was told too that I had five minutes to speak to the concert organisers and was warned that if the concert at the Rainbow the following day just mentioned the name Mandela I would be locked up and the concert stopped.
I hastily spoke to the UDW organisers and arranged for them all to come to the Rainbow for a meeting to finalise details and contingency plans for the Sunday concert.

The seating capacity of the Rainbow is approximately 180 but during the regular Sunday afternoon jazz concerts we could have up to 350 paying guests who make use of every seat and available standing room to squeeze in.  On this particular day however we sold 500 tickets with many people not being able to get in. 
Prior to the concert starting 8 armed police officers entered and asked for me.  Josh, who sold the tickets at the reception told them that our liquor license prohibited people entering the premises carrying firearms.  The officer in charge begrudgingly told them to wait outside.  He questioned me about our license and other matters relating to our trading conditions and left. Shortly thereafter several plain clothes security police entered and said they wanted to attend the concert.

With the venue bursting at the seams, and sweat running off the walls I got up on stage to welcome every one and introduce the band members.  Having done so, I did try to placate the fears that some of unusual guests may have had about the jazz concert.  I explained that the sound of the crashing drums should not be confused with bombs going off and that soprano saxophones were not RPG rocket launchers and so and that this was just a normal Sunday afternoon concert for all to enjoy.

The band started playing and half way through their first tune the security police left en mass,  cajoled by all as they departed. 

At that point I stopped the band and announced that this was now “officially the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert.  The announcement was greeted by a deafening cheer and everyone stood up and with fists raised sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica.  There was not a dry tear in the house.

Needless to say this cocking a snoop in the face of the authorities was widely reported in the international media subsequently.

In February of 1990 shortly after Mandela’s release, I was a member of the organising committee of a rally at which Mandela was to speak in Durban.  We were refused the use of the Kings Park stadium and as a result a temporary podium was erected on the grounds adjacent to the stadium.  Built with scaffolding material with steps leading up to the stage platform some 20 meters high this was the stage that Mandela had to mount to address his supporters and speak to the violence that pervaded Kwa Zulu Natal at the time.  I had the pleasure of meeting him on the stage and experience the awe in which he was held by the 150,000 supporters in attendance.

In February of 1991 the Highway Branch of the ANC was launched here at the Rainbow.  Amid threats of violence from the AWB in the lead up to the launch, security for the meeting was provided by SANDF soldiers who were, ironically, under the command of a former security policeman who had interrogated me in the past.  His response to the irony was...”same job, different boss”!!

In July of 1991 I was asked to organise the cultural programme for the ANC’s National Conference at UDW, the first in South Africa since it’s unbanning.  It was here that Mandela was unanimously elected as the present of the ANC.

A week later at a Kings Park Stadium rally welcoming OR Tambo back from exile, Mandela spoke of his vision of a free and democratic South Africa for all to live in.

From 1991 to 1994 prior to Mandela being elected as the first president of a democratic South Africa, the country and especially KwaZulu Natal, experienced unprecedented civil violence as nefarious forces within the country tried to scupper a negotiated settlement.  Incidents such as the bloody clashes between ANC and Inkatha supporters, the Boipotong massacre, the killing of Chris Hani to name but a few.

Many regular clients of the Rainbow suffered or were killed during this time.  It was also during this time that the Rainbow served as a sanctuary for those people who fled the violence that flared up in Hammarsdale, when we fed and found safe accommodation for the many refugees.

In 1994 as the first president of a democratic South Africa, Mandela displayed his unique qualities as a statesman and a reconciler, bringing together former enemies to form the Rainbow nation.

After serving only one term as president he retired from formal politics to become this amazing humanitarian, highlighting the plight of the poor the vulnerable and children of this country and the world...

It was then and until his death that he became this world icon, showing us how to be better human beings.  With his passing we now have to ask ourselves as South Africans, what is the Mandela legacy?

Sadly since he left the political stage, many in Government speak of the Mandela values but have not followed them up with deeds.  What sets Mandela apart from all the subsequent and many of the current ANC leadership is that he was the embodiment of his values and principles – he walked the talk.

Many of the current leadership resort to empty rhetoric and shallow platitudes and must now, more than ever before, be judged, not by what they say, but by their deeds.  The Mandela message must be clear … service to the people of this country and not service to themselves!!

Today a giant of a man was laid to rest at his humble home in rural South Africa and today by comparison we are led by a small man living in a very big house. Our responsibility, in this democracy that Mandela and many others sacrificed so much for, is to hold those in Government accountable for what Mandela stood for and to elect leaders who will best serve the people of this country.

God bless Africa Hamba Kahle Madiba.


 On a personal note, the unified singing of our national anthem, Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika at the close of our concert on 15 December 2013 was, unquestionably one of the most moving experiences I have had. The Rainbow spirit will never die.

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