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Cartooning in Conflict
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22/01/2009

Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad in South Africa

The trip to South Africa opened a 40 year old scab of painful memories of a childhood of not taking into account all sides of the equation.

On arrival we drove straight through a squatter camp reminiscent of Gaza, however on the other side of the road, new little houses like mushrooms after a heavy rainfall.  There is hope, and driving into the Mamalodi school, that hope began to be tangible. A future for children who do not always have enough to eat, but a future forged by a school of people feeding their souls.
 
I felt tearful all day long.  So much of me still belongs to the nature and people of South Africa.  Watching the little black hands manipulating the computer mouse to play with the 2 Simple games which Nigel Canin our friend and supporter donated to their library was inspiring and illustrated the possibility of transforming the anger of 3,000 children to curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. We could learn from this example.


 
The horrors of the days of apartheid and the transformation in motion was powerfully illustrated with our trip to the Constitutional Court of South Africa, which is built on the site of a dreaded prison, where such famous prisoners as Gandhi were subjected to the nightmares created by the South African security police.  Albie Sachs, a justice on the Constitutional Court took us on a tour which Ali and I will never forget.  Albie lost an arm and an eye when a bomb was placed in his car by security agents, as payment for his work against the apartheid regime.  Ali was tearful when we toured the prison as was to be expected.  Albie later hosted a screening of Encounter Point on Constitutional Hill what a privilege to meet him.
 
The next day we met with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, we were hoping to meet with Madiba as he is so fondly called, but unfortunately he was not well on that day. Nevertheless we met two wonderful representatives from the foundation and we hope to be able to work together in the future.  Then off to Cape Town where Nigel surprised us with home hospitality in a township with Mandisa who then proceeded to give us new names .  Ali is Remember, Nigel Love and me Forgiving this she did without knowing who we were or our stories.


 
Saturday night there was a screening of Encounter Point at a movie house in Cape Town and even though there was a dreadful storm many braved the weather and participated.   We also attended a "Limud" session for a lecture and more than two hundred people attended the talk we gave.
 
The major highlights of the most beautiful place on earth, Cape Town were the meetings with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and with Alex Boraine one of the main architects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Archbishop Tutu has to be one of the most charming men you will ever meet.  He embraced us into his office and shared stories and humor for which he is famous.  He of course knows all about the Parents Circle and was very interested in our projects.  We were so moved by his warmth and his take on forgiving.


 
Alex Boraine is someone we could learn from and did, we could have spent the whole day with him.  He founded the Transitional Justice Institute in New York, but has returned to South Africa to work on the ground .He promised to give us materials for the reconciliation center and we will follow up on this generous offer.
 
Back to Johannesburg for a screening of "The Letter" a documentary made by the South African Television, at the Witwatersrand University, it was well attended by students, both Moslem and Jewish and we had a very interesting discussion.  Unfortunately there is a great strain in relations between the students, so I hope we brought some new ideas about not taking sides.
 
We also met with Janet Love and Jody Kollapen at the Legal Resources Centre.  They are two famous anti-apartheid warriors who spent long periods of time in jail.  It was so inspiring.  We also spoke at the Temple Emmanuel synagogue, the biggest reform temple in Johannesburg.
 
Without doubt, the most moving meeting for me was with the African mothers who had lost children during the Apartheid regime.  Many of whom have simply disappeared . We all told our stories, many tears were shed, and once again I realized that there is no difference between mothers, we all share the same pain.  I will never forget this day.
 
The visit ended with a cocktail party in the garden of my cousins in Johannesburg, here too we met many new and inspiring people who were involved in the struggle.  This brings hope and encouragement.


 
This can not end without thanking Hayley Galgut who organized the whole trip and worked solidly for a year on the project.  Raising the money , making the contacts and putting up with all the hitches.  Hayley , is a South African Human Rights lawyer we met in London at a screening of Encounter Point.  She has this quality of listening and was there simply to help us bring our message to a South African audience.  We also thank the donors some of whom remain anonymous, as well as Nigel who took care of us all along the way and showed us the wonderful work he is doing in South Africa.  We also can not end without acknowledging a new and special friend in Vivienne Cohen, without her we would not have been able to come to South Africa, we loved every minute we spent in her company and hope to meet again very soon.
 
I never cease to be moved by the warmth and gracious love we experience  wherever we go, but for me South Africa is of course very special.
 

 Robi Damelin - September 2008









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