A Place to Heal

Eric was head of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) which sponsored my stay in South Africa. From the outset I knew there was something about Eric that I did not know; that very few people really knew. He was charming and unfailingly courteous, but something lurked behind his eyes. He smiled often but I had never heard him laugh.

There was an alert vigilance about Eric's manner; often when sitting down one of his legs would vibrate in a kind of compulsive action, that I would describe as controlled but highly agitated distress. There was something out of sync about Eric.  He was both present and elsewhere at the same time. In the midst of a crowd one could almost see him reach for that private space. The Orphan’s antennae had zoomed in on an outsider.  

Representatives of foreign governments made a beeline to Eric’s office for advice and wise counsel. He ran the largest most successful NGO in Southern Africa, and overseas money for development was channelled through his organisation, side-stepping the apartheid regime. Post apartheid Eric was mostly surrounded by admirers and those who wanted his attention, but he retained his private space, that was his protection. Eric's anger was well concealed; my Orphan Child recognised that one. One day, I am not quite sure how it came about, Eric shared a little of his story.

After leaving school he was employed as a technician in the electronics firm where his father worked as a driver. Eric said he cringed with embarrassment, dismay and indignation at how his dad was treated. The secretaries referring to him as kaffir (a pejorative racial term in South Africa) would order him to get their lunch. The bleks were undeserving of respect, and their dignity as human beings was simply trampled under foot.

In employing Eric, the company was breaking the law.  It was illegal to employ bleks as anything other than labourers. Eric grew increasingly militant and joined the trade union movement. He was eventually detained by the security police and initially taken to the infamous John Vorster Square police station, used as a detention centre mostly for political activists, and from which Steve Biko is said to have fallen to his death.

A Healing Place
Part of me left as Eric began to speak of his systematic torture. During his initial incarceration, Eric was mostly left naked in his cell where he could see pieces of skin still attached to the walls. Before he was eventually charged and imprisoned on Robben Island, Eric was bound hands and feet and placed naked in a bag with a couple of cats. The bag was then submerged in a tank of water...

I had come face to face with a good reason for joining those protest rallies around Trafalgar Square. A few years after my return to the UK, Eric died of cancer. He was still quite young.

Now back in the UK, I became acquainted with a postgraduate student who, with a friend, had started a gardening project where torture victims worked as part of a healing process; they came mostly from South America. She invited me to visit several times. I never did.

After two-and-a-half years in South Africa, I too was in need of a place to heal.  An initial sanctuary turned out to be that course in transpersonal psychology. It helped me to reach somewhere beyond human chaos, to begin to acquire a different perspective on a world filled with madness.

See: Obituary: Eric Molobi | World news | The Guardian www.guardian.co.uk


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