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Writing Presumes an Audience

Making Friends of Your Enemies: Challenges for the USA

Making Friends with Your Enemies by Charlene Smith, Biographer of President Nelson Mandela
by Garn Press, New York, NY | Jan 20, 2017 | Activism, Editorial Features, Politics, World News|
By Charlene Smith
I'm the sort of immigrant Donald Trump finds acceptable, blonde, attractive, accomplished, and with a British accent.
On the last point, come to think of it, most Americans would let me in.
This is where it gets difficult; I am South African-born. I've lived under neo-Nazis. Some apartheid presidents were jailed during the Second World War for active Nazi support, and the biggest spy ring ever uncovered in the U.S. was led by a South African Nazi. My parents were racist, and my father, a bully.  I was a kind child and when about eight-years-old, my siblings and I were playing in a park. I saw three black children holding the diamond links of the fence, watching us.
"Come and play with us," I said.
"Our mother said we can't," the boy closest in age to me said.
"Oh come, it will be fine," I urged, and they, tempted by the colorful merry-go-round, the swings, and slides, ran into the park. There we played until we heard sirens and saw police vehicles skid to a stop outside the park. Something terrible must have happened. We stood transfixed. The police ran toward us. We were confused, we hadn't seen any baddies.
They grabbed the three black children, who screamed and cried, as they were hauled off to police vans. A black woman, a maid, came out of one of the houses and fell to her knees pleading with the police officers who ignored her.
She wailed as the police vehicles sped off.
I had done this. I brought harm to this mother and my friends. Even now I feel shame.
Children are wise, they understand injustice, and no matter what their parents say or do, they know.
I was a clever child who won academic and good fellowship awards at school, I was never promiscuous, nor used drugs or alcohol, but arguments at home intensified. I felt apartheid was unjust. At the age of sixteen, a month after I graduated high school, I was labeled a 'traitor' by my parents, and a 'kaffir boetie' (the equivalent of 'nigger lover') and banished from home. I had no money and scant education but a journalism cadet program at the largest newspaper group accepted this shy child. I became the youngest cadet reporter ever and the first woman crime reporter in South African journalism. In that year black students protested inferior education. I saw the first dead bodies of my life as children my age and younger were gunned down by police. More than 600 died in a few months and that radicalized me. Five years later I was active in the underground of the African National Congress, the outlawed liberation group that Mandela belonged to.
There were three levels of commitment – were you prepared to be arrested?
To prepare we read St. Augustine's Just War theory. I became a disciple of Gandhi and satyagraha, non-violent resistance. He counseled that we should not respond to haters in like manner – or as Michelle Obama put it, "when they go low, we go high." Gandhi also wrote in his 1928 book, Satyagraha in South Africa, "you shall not bend your knee before an oppressor." Stand tall, be dignified, never cower.
The next decision was, if I get arrested and am interrogated and tortured, will I speak, or remain silent, or give them a little but not that which is most important? Do I shame the oppressor by carrying the harm in my own body, as Gandhi suggested? The apartheid government loved torture as much as Trump.
The last personal assessment was, am I prepared to die? Nelson Mandela said in his statement from the dock:
"We, of the ANC, always stood for a non-racial democracy. We shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart …Fifty years of non-violence brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation and fewer and fewer rights … Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with white people in our own country. … I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
He was influenced by "Letter to a German Friend, July 1943," in Resistance, Rebellion and Death, by Albert Camus, which was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1963. (I have the copy Mandela used.) These were letters the French Resistance dropped over German lines. Camus ends with words we need to start with:
"This country is worthy of the difficult and demanding love that is mine. And I believe she is decidedly worth fighting for since she is worthy of a higher love… Your nation … received… only the love it deserved, which was blind. A nation is not justified by such love. That will be your undoing. And you who were already conquered in your greatest victories, what will you be in the approaching defeat?"
The U.S.A. is not worthy of blind love. I love it with my eyes open. I hear the fear of the white working class who have lost work, forfeited homes, status, and struggle to pay excessive interest rates on student loans. Hate is a product of fear. Always.
I am disturbed by the militarization of the police. The notion of service is being surrendered to force, and this enables the shooting of too many black men.
I didn't want my children to live in a society that discriminated against anyone for any reason. I didn't want them to ask when they grew up, "what did you do mommy?" And to have no answer.
My road led to Nelson Mandela.
We left South Africa for a time because my American husband feared that he would be deported and I would be jailed. In 1989, I returned after the assassination of a close friend. Four months later, Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked if I would begin the first investigations into government death squads. God blessed us because within two weeks a death squad assassin escaped the noose in Pretoria by giving us an affidavit of some of his crimes. Liberal lawyers brought a stay of execution. It was my task to prove or disprove his claims before making them public. We did not know if this was security police disinformation. It included claims of police officials torturing a man then putting him on a spit to burn to death, while they barbecued nearby. They locked the doors of minivans with students inside and firebombed them. They used waterboarding, the helicopter, electric shock torture – all devices that the U.S.A. employs and we've mostly turned our faces because it was to others. It never could happen to us. Could it?
Pastor Niemoller, interned at Auschwitz wrote:
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
On February 10, 1990, I visited a friend recovering from pneumonia, Cyril Ramaphosa, now deputy president of South Africa. He was reading Barbara Tuchman's, The March of Folly, and said, "every politician must read this." In it, Barbara Tuchman writes:
Folly is a child of power… The overall responsibility of power is to …keep mind and judgment open and to resist the insidious spell of wooden-headedness. If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is a summit in the art of government.
On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela, aged 71, walked free. Cyril held the microphone for him at his first public address in Cape Town. Two days later I was the second journalist to interview him in Soweto. He had such grace. Before I began he said, "Ms. Smith, I have read your works, I want to know about you." He quoted verbatim things I'd written years before, and asked me to describe persons or events.
Nelson Mandela was always interested. He cared. If he met you once, he would remind you, when next you met, of what you discussed six months or a year before.
The world loved Nelson Mandela because he loved us, all of us. He came out of prison and told South Africa's deeply divided people to 'make friends of your enemies' – when at that time there were government death squads, the right-wing were planting bombs at taxi ranks, and internecine violence saw hundreds of people die a week.
His approach caused anger among some ANC leaders. He listened to them patiently, and then asked, "What will it cost to negotiate?" They had no answer. We had lost so much peace was the most radical act of all.
No one was invisible to him. Our Madiba would arrive at an event and first greet the cooks, the cleaners, the security detail, the waiters; the rich and famous could wait. Everyone was important to him. Everyone is important.
He went to the white-only homeland of Orania to visit Betsy Verwoerd, the widow of the architect of apartheid and the man that sought Mandela's execution. When they emerged, his hand gently on her old shoulder, she looked at him with pleasure. It flabbergasted a nation of haters.
If a woman or child was gravely harmed, he would travel across the country to comfort them. He was our president, our best friend and trusted ally, regardless of our political persuasion. We called him Tata (father).
He wasn't perfect, he made mistakes, but he would admit when he was wrong and change course. He was as flawed as we, he simply tried harder to be better.
I knew Nelson Mandela for 23 years. In July 2013, my father died and I did not mourn.
In 2015 I wrote a 'letter' ending with these words:
"I kept thinking about my absence of feeling. A few months after your death, Mandela died and I mourned deeply. I still do. At Christmas 2013, I thought of how sad your life was, how narrow, and how blessed I am to love many, and be loved by many. Sorrow for your sad life is what I now have, and so dad, my father, the architect of the person I am today, I want to thank you. I hope you have at last found peace."
In America today, we fear. People are angry. Friendships have splintered. People whisper behind closed doors. They have panic attacks or insomnia. As apartheid became more vicious I developed a stress-related heart condition that saw me in the I.C.U. a few times a year. Since moving to the U.S.A. I have never been hospitalized. Don't give bullies power over your mind and body.
I believe Mandela might say, "You know American people are very clever, they have achieved much. Along the way, they became lost, they were so busy telling others what to do that they ignored the cries of those at home. We are not ungrateful for their meddling, because of sanctions – first called for by Martin Luther King in 1961 and finally defying a presidential veto from President Ronald Reagan in 1986 – saw me walk free less than four years later. As my good friend, the Archbishop Tutu might say, 'There is a time for everything, this is America's time, to build, to heal, to mend, to speak, to heal.'"
The word courage comes from the French word, coeur, it means heart. Courage comes from the heart. It is an act of love.
Open eyes are the fuel Lady Liberty needs. Pain leads to new awakenings, a fresh appreciation of what we are and all we can be. Listen with an open mind. Courage demands we make friends of our enemies and denounce persecutors. And always, as Mandela did, make time to dance.
Freedom challenges us. Justice Jackson ruled in 1941 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (who refused to salute the flag), "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."
After receiving a Congressional Gold Medal on October 6, 1994 (14 years before being removed from the Terrorism Watchlist), President Nelson Mandela said: "At the end, goodwill prevailed. At the end, the overwhelming majority, both black and white, decided to invest in peace."

This is my prayer for the land that has given hope to so many. In years to come may you look back at the courage you found, and the enhanced love you have for our United States of America.

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The Breathers

A friend, a smoker for all his years, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer just over a year ago. Some months before he was diagnosed I received the same diagnosis, I've never smoked although I've been asthmatic for just over a decade. The diagnosis came after three bouts of pneumonia in two years, in addition, the pulmonologist said, I also had a partially collapsed right lung, small cell disease (cancer), and a tumor in my lung's middle lobe, double cancer.
Around the same time, a friend in Houston received a lung diagnosis that gave her a life expectancy of two years; she began lugging around a large oxygen bottle to help her breathe. She, and we, began researching the hell out of her disease and lung machines. She is a sculptor and dust, like smoke, is not your friend.
And then yet another friend, a Zimbabwean found her lungs were collapsing and she went onto high, permanent doses of Prednisone - probably the drug I hate most in the world next to Warfarin (Coumadin). Warfarin is awful because you can't eat the green leafy vegetables I love, but Prednisone makes me crazy; it causes mood changes, but not her, a fabulous person anyhow, she became nicer, although it caused her to develop a classic moon face (makes her more beautiful, lucky girl).
Yet another friend, in Maine, who struggles to walk more than the length of her apartment without oxygen joined us on a Facebook inbox chat we call The Breathers.
According to the doctors, we should all be dead or dying, but the human spirit, and faith, is remarkable.
My first friend has a fantastic wife, friends who adore him (me too), prays as much as me and the Texan, and was lucky enough to get onto a clinical trial. This week he held a celebration because the tumor is less than 1 cm - that means, bye bye cancer. We don't talk remission, we focus on farewell.
The Texan friend got onto her treadmill each day with her oxygen tank and walked, then started running. She also launched a major sculpture in a park, found more commissions started coming in, started renting out part of her home for Airbnb, told very few her diagnosis. Instead of retreating from life she went toward it.
I was similar, I was so traumatized after my initial diagnosis I told one person who burst into tears and kept saying, "please don't die." I was so appalled by her theatrics that I thought, that's the last person I'm telling, I don't need drama, I need support and if it means being on my own so be it, but thank God, I found The Breathers.
My Texan friend, like me, scorned the drugs the doctors wanted to put her on. With a two-year life expectancy, she started living, her treadmill work saw her lose weight, look the best she had in years, and my favorite pic is of her doing headstands on a beach. Her life and work have gone up a few levels with another major, awe-inspiring sculpture project.
The Zimbabwean woman came to terms with her moonface, and is shining in all the best ways including reimagining her business. She has also become a profound source of inspiration to all who know her. Her health and spirit are strong.
The woman in Maine is studying Gaelic, is an artist, and deeply spiritual she helps people in war-torn or poverty-stricken areas across the world. All via internet. Motivated by our little group - who speak in occasional bursts, she began writing a book that will be launched this fall.
Me? I refused chemo or radiation. I asked the doctor for three months to do things my way. I deepened my practice of Ayurveda - an ancient Indian medical system, older even than Chinese medicine. I switched to a mostly vegetarian diet with occasional fasting; I walk a few miles a day, I started training as a Kundalini yoga teacher - which is powerful, active breathing, I disrupted the first few classes because the exercises would see me cough so much I'd have to leave the class. At three months all the scans showed the tumor shrinking, my cells opening.
My doctor asked what I was doing, I told him, he, thank God, also practices yoga and believes in its healing potential.
He still said, maybe start chemo now?
I said, another three months please, and with me too, by the time I went back after the additional three months the tumor was negligible, the small cell disease gone. All along, I also thought that if the tumor grew I would go to India for 21 days and go on an Ayurvedic fast.
And if I died? You know, this has been a pretty fascinating life, it's okay.
Maybe we are all just lucky but I think having the support of loving friends in a similar situation, going for alternatives and not panicking and going straight onto heavy pharmaceuticals, maybe that helped.
I'm blessed to know The Breathers, I am so lucky we were all sick at a similar time and reached out to each other. I am grateful we are all healing or managing our conditions better.
When I first wrote this and posted it on Facebook, a New Zealand friend inboxed me, she has sarcoidosis - same as the Zimbabwean woman, a single parent, she is struggling to breathe. She is also rejecting Western pharmaceuticals, she has eliminated alcohol and red meat and says that even after a month she can feel a positive difference.

if you have a diagnosis you're anxious about it - just BELIEVE, try different things, don't make doctors gods, help them and yourself and your family (if you tell them, I didn't, I felt I couldn't cope if people around me panicked, I needed to be laser-focused on my self and my survival, not on calming them with assurances I didn't have). Keep a positive attitude, keep the faith and if it is your time to go then give thanks for all the good life has given you.

If someone close to you has a negative diagnosis, cut the drama because then it becomes all about you. They need you to be calm, sensible, someone they can tell everything too, even the stuff that scares both of you. Don't obsess about the disease - they're doing enough of that - be knowledgeable, but also focus on pleasant distractions, going to listen to music, having friends around for a meal that you cook (take-out and processed foods are not good for us), use these lessons to live life better, to love more, and stress less.

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Responding to journalist questions about Mandela Feuds & Legacy

By Charlene Smith (c) 2013

My mailbox is groaning with emails from journalists who send copiouos questions about Nelson Mandela and his feuding family. As a self employed writer I don't have the time to type the answers that they'll get paid for, so I send my phone number.

Here are some recent questions and my responses.

Q:What do  Read More 
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Me and Nelson Mandela

By Charlene Smith (c)

I love to cook and so there came a point during the anti-apartheid struggle, where I gave up full-time journalism, became a full-time activist, part of the underground, and after long, endless meetings, would cook for strugglistas.
Murphy Morobe loved my veal Marengo, Cyril Ramaphosa (now African National Congress deputy  Read More 
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Struggling to Dance as Mandela Did

By Charlene Smith (c) 2013

“How we danced,” retired judge Albie Sachs said remembering the years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency.
Sachs lost an arm to apartheid bombers then became a Constitutional Court judge in a democratic South Africa. One of the world's most liberal constitutions, it was the first to enshrine gay rights.
Tributes  Read More 
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