Lucky Dube and Doris Lessing

Paul faced much opposition when he reached Europe. In Philippi, Thessalonika and Athens he was either insulted, flogged, derided or imprisoned.

One night in Corinth he was encouraged by the Lord, ‘do not be afraid to speak out … I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city’ (Acts 18:10).  The people ‘on side’ in the city were not priests or ministers of religion. They were ordinary people who could recognise truth when they saw it.

This past week two people, reared on the soil of Southern Africa have hit the world headlines. Lucky Dube, the reggae star, was shot in an apparent attempted car highjack in Johannesburg. His death has saddened many people and it has also brought his life and work into perspective. While he entertained he also challenged us to recognise hard truths. It is one thing to reach agreements and shake hands. It is quite another to deeply respect other people – especially those who are different. One of Lucky Dube’s messages was ‘without respect there is no progress.’ When we think back to Zimbabwe in 1980 we remember how black and white, Shona and Ndebele shook hands and agreed to work together. ‘Yesterday you were my enemy, today …’ and all that. But was there deep respect? People worked together in the same office or factory but come the end of the day they each returned to their own ghetto. Segregation, with its undertone of mistrust, reasserted itself soon after the ink was dry on the declaration of independence

Doris Lessing has just been awarded the the Nobel prize for literature – an honour recognised as the highest humankind have yet devised. She was born in 1920 and grew up in a Southern Rhodesia which she considered the most ‘culturally boring’ place imaginable. ‘The main topic of conversation among whites was the latest misdeeds of their black servants.’ Prompted by an article in a newspaper which reported the arrest of a ‘houseboy’ on a farm she wrote The Grass is Singing, a novel about a white woman in an impossible marriage who comes under the influence of her black servant, Moses. There are sexual undertones – enough to alarm the white minority who promptly had the book withdrawn from the shops – but they are not the main point. The housewife is caught in a tension; she should assert her ‘superiority’ over this servant but at the same time she discovered her need for him. He gave her some kind of solidity in her otherwise pointless life. Lessing punctured the myths of white supremacy in a way that enraged the then rulers of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia.

‘I have so many people on my side.’ Some are derided, exiled, tortured or shot. But there are many who speak up for truth. Lucky Dube and Doris Lessing are in the headlines but wherever someone recognises truth and has the courage to speak it he or she is ‘on my side’ and in good company.

22 October 2007

Post published in: Arts

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