They didn’t walk alone: 15th George Botha Memorial Lecture

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What about those who cooked, cleaned and built the houses in which they lived, he reminds us to consider. Without them, would those who achieved fame, or who sacrificed and contributed so much, been able to do all they did?

15th George Botha Memorial Lecture, prepared and delivered by Denise Zinn[1]
8 November 2023
South End Museum, Gqeberha

We ask the audience to stand for a minute’s silence for the people of Palestine, for all those killed and still being massacred by the Israeli Zionist regime in a genocide unfolding before our eyes.

Our struggles are connected.

I begin this memorial lecture, instructed by an ancestor, a father, a political fighter, a mentor and poet, Victor Wessels, who wrote: 

For the fallen[2]

He fell
in severed isolation
and died
among policemen
by a single friend
A fighter fell
Go tell his death
Go tell

We have to start here, with this telling.

George Botha was killed in Sanlam Building, just down the road at 44 Strand Street, near the docks, a few hundred metres away from where we are gathered here at the South End Museum this evening. He died at the hands of security police on 15 December 1976, five days after he was detained under Section 22 of the General Laws Amendment Act on 10 December 1976. He was 30 years old. He fell, they said in their official report, down the stairwell.

Who was George Botha? He was a biology teacher at Paterson High School, the high school where he himself had been a student, in the Schauder township in Port Elizabeth. Dennis Brutus was a teacher there during his time, and famous poet Arthur Nortjie a student in another grade – politics and poetry must have been a constant hum, sometimes in the foreground and sometimes in the background. George grew up in Schauder with his father and his mother, Eva, who had five children. George had two brothers and two sisters. Both brothers died, at different times, in motor accidents when they were young adults, and his father died during the time George was a student at UWC. And then, in 1976, Eva Botha lost her son George in this brutal way, by no means an accident – all the men she loved, bore and nurtured, gone.

George was husband to Pralene, maiden name Reid. She says she first set eyes on him – perhaps more accurately “eyed him” – when he was doing practice teaching at Paterson, while doing his HDE at UWC, when she was in matric. Pictures of the handsome young George show why memories of meeting with him then must have lingered till she met him again on his return to PE as a teacher. They were married in 1972 and became parents to two boys, Garth and Lyle, who were four and two years of age when George died.

These were the close family members George left behind. It gives one heartbreaking pause to place oneself in their shoes, to imagine what it must have been like for Pralene, so early in their life together, when she was probably around 25 or 26 years of age, to carry on raising two little boys, while she continued to work, now the main breadwinner and only parent. A year after George was killed, she decided to go to Dower to train as a teacher herself, remaining committed to the same struggle and some of the organisations to which George had been affiliated – like the Teachers’ League of South Africa (TLSA), various cultural and civic organisations, and the Sacos school and community sporting organisations. Once she started teaching, she enrolled for studies through Unisa, majoring in English and education. She taught English and mathematics at high school, and in order to deepen her understanding of maths to be able to teach this subject at matric level, she furthered her studies in mathematics at UPE evening classes. This is where I met Pralene, as I was taking the same course, and then I also met up with her in the TLSA meetings held at June Udemans’s home.

George and Johnny Klassen were best friends growing up, and Johnny fondly remembers Aunty Eva being a mother figure to all George’s friends in the neighbourhood. They lived in the same neighbourhood and then went to university together. They got involved in student politics together as young adults while at UWC, and continued to be involved in struggle organisations thereafter. They were each other’s best man at their weddings. And George’s last call was to Johnny, around midday on 10 December 1976 from the school where he taught, where he said to him, “Die Boere is hier.” Five days later, his wife Pralene got the news that her husband had died, that he had “jumped down the stairwell”.

Not even a year later, in September 1977, in the same room 619 on the sixth floor of the Sanlam Building, Steve Biko was interrogated after being arrested in Grahamstown. He was tortured, beaten unconscious, then left there manacled to a railing. They tried to revive him, they admitted to the TRC, by putting him into a bath of cold water. He was later taken, naked and still manacled, in the back of a police van all the way from PE to Johannesburg, and then pronounced dead. But the official police report at the time stated he died of a hunger strike.

The following year, in 1978, Lungile Tabalaza, in the same Sanlam Building, died in the hands of the security police. The official report stated that he tried to jump to the next building across the road, in an attempt to escape. Four years later, in 1982, states another report, Siphiwo Mtimkulu was tortured and poisoned in the building before being shot in the head. His body was never found, disposed of by his interrogators. It was well known in activist circles that the PE Security Branch was the most ruthless in the country.

These were just some of the deaths in detention in the Sanlam Building. No doubt there are several untold stories that need to come out, to correct the history that has for 50 years remained hidden. The reasons for this also need to come out into the open. Sources documenting deaths in detention indicate that at least 73 political activists are thought to have died at the hands of the security police, George Botha being one of them. And there may be more. In the O’Malley Archives, an entry entitled “Torture and death in custody” states that between 1960 and 1990, the Human Rights Commission estimated that there were approximately 80 000 detentions in South Africa, of which about 10 000 were women and 15 000 youths under the age of 18.

As we revisit the fascist brutality of the apartheid state, we can’t help but think of the atrocities currently being inflicted on the people of Palestine. There are some obvious and interesting parallels. The rise of fascism[3] in Europe and the establishment of Israel in 1948 occurred in the same year that the Nationalist Party took over the government of South Africa and set about legalising the apartheid state. Soon after they took power, the Nationalist government promulgated a series of laws consolidating and worsening the original dispossession of land by the European colonisers. They took to new levels of inhumanity the disregard for the lives of people who were not white, by instituting laws enforcing the displacement and uprooting of people from their homes to locations that were remote, barren, cramped, cordoned off. They isolated from each other people who would have come to know each other as kindred, learned and known each other’s languages and cultures, and united in common humanity. This was part of the strategy of divide and rule, at the same time creating sources of cheap labour to work the land on the farms, the mines, the factories and in the homes of the well-off, looking after their children and properties.

Spaces once vibrant with mixed communities – places like South End, Fairview and Korsten, where people enjoyed their existence with different families, music, food, friendships, play, religions, schools and culture – were broken up, some bulldozed or taken over and occupied by new white owners. This legally entrenched segregation to serve racial capitalism.

When Israel was declared a state in 1948, it was not enough to receive the land they were given by decree, for free, in compensation for the harm done by anti-Semitism all over Europe and the deliberate extermination by the Nazis of Jews and all those considered “lesser races” – including black people, gypsies and others. The Zionists also proceeded to occupy Palestinian lands, removing people from their homes in several regions set aside for the new settlers. On our screens and in the news, we have been hearing about the infamous and brutal “Nakba” in 1948 as the war in Gaza, the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem – already cramped into contrived homelands and refugee camps – has been televised. This occupation was resisted from its inception, and several wars on the Palestinian people took place to consolidate and continue the displacement of Palestinians, but have not quelled the resistance. This latest, most brutal of all efforts by the Israeli regime has gone further than ever before – it is a genocidal war not just of retaliation after the attack by Hamas on 7 October, but a concerted effort to eliminate and completely push out the Palestinians from their homeland, so that Israel no longer has “the Palestinian problem”. In South Africa, it was the “native problem” that occupied the efforts of the colonisers and the apartheid regime. These struggles are connected. It is no coincidence that all over the world, the description of the situation in Palestine is that it is an apartheid state – the word and concept borrowed from its Afrikaans origins, depicting the situation in South Africa, which it most closely resembles.

To date in Gaza, there are huge numbers of detentions without trial of suspected resisters, in an attempt to quell the opposition to the apartheid-like oppression of the Palestinians. In the Jerusalem Post, accessed by Google, they now report that Israel is holding 6 000 political prisoners, and the figure of administrative detainees (ie, in detention without trial) has shot up to over 2 070; 170 children under 18, and 33 women are being imprisoned in Gaza and the West Bank. The number of children killed, in today’s news on 8 November[4], has risen to over 4 200, and the death toll has topped 10 000.

The fascists share their strategy and tactics, as well as their ideology and goals. Detention without trial was the first strategy by the South African security forces to root out activists and try to gain intelligence to piece together a picture of growing resistance by the oppressed, so that it could be quelled. In the General Laws Amendment Act passed in 1963, Section 22 empowered the state and its security police to detain a person who was suspected of being involved in opposing the state for 90 days without notifying their families. And so it was that Pralene went searching for her husband at several police stations, trying to locate where they had taken him. No one gave her any information. They could repeat the 90 days if they didn’t get what they wanted from the detainee. There were many who were watched and listed as possible suspects. In the records of the Department of Justice can be found files of those held in custody or listed as members of subversive organisations in terms of the Act of Terrorism, Sections 6 and 29. You will find there names of people you know: Imam Haron is listed there; Neil Aggett is listed there; Victor Wessels, his father and his brother are listed there; Khusta Jack, Allan Zinn and some others here in this room this evening are listed there, alongside 181 pages of names listed in alphabetical order.

But detentions without trial were not the only strategy used by the South African state. Apparently unique among nations who had derived legal systems from Roman-Dutch law or common law, was the imposition of banning orders on individuals. The Britannica website explains as follows:

At the order of the minister, a person deemed a communist, a terrorist, a member of a banned organisation, or otherwise a threat to security and public order of the state could be confined to his home or immediate surroundings, prohibited from meeting with more than one person at a time (other than his family), forced to resign any offices in any organisation, prohibited from speaking publicly and writing for any publication, and barred from certain areas. … The effect was to render the banned person a public nonentity.

The first banning order ever to be served on a political activist in South Africa by the apartheid regime was on the treasurer of the Unity Movement, Dr Ahmed Ismail Limbada, in 1952. It severely impacted on the lives of those who had to endure those banning orders, and on their families. In many cases, several banning orders followed on from each other, as in the case of Victor Wessels, who wrote:

The agony
of being mute
when there is
need to speak
is like
the agony
of being blind
is like
the agony
of being deaf
But I know
no pain at all
that hurts as much
as being mute and deaf and blind
by order of an alien law[5]

But the banning orders on organisations and individuals, detentions without trial, incarceration in prisons including on Robben Island, and other repressive responses, didn’t stop the resistance. So, the killings by the organs of the state became more frequent. Between September 1963 and September 1977, one report states, 41 political detainees died in police custody. After those dates, there were undoubtedly more. Here are some of the reasons provided by the police for their deaths – read out with an eerie soberness on the Kathy Motlalana radio show Talking Point:

Suicide by hanging
Fell 7 floors
Natural causes
Slipped in shower
Fell down stairs
Fell 10 floors
Fell down stairs
Fell 6 floors
Fell from car
Head injuries
Gunshot wound
Killed by cellmate
Heart attack
Asthma attack

At the official state inquest into George Botha’s death in May 1977, senior government pathologist Dr GJ Knoebel gave evidence regarding examinations he had made on Mr Botha’s body. He found skin abrasions on the shoulder, upper chest, right upper arm and armpit, indicating wounds made two to six hours before death. Other wounds were found, which were at least three days old. From the post-mortem examination, PE’s chief district surgeon, Dr B Tucker, agreed that the injuries could have been sustained while the body came into contact with a rigid object, possibly while being struck by it. However, in his findings at the inquest, magistrate J Coetzee accepted the police witness’s denial that no form of violence whatsoever had been inflicted on the deceased, as no relevant evidence had been presented, and that Mr Botha had died from a head injury when he fell, which was not due to an offence committed by any person. Just six months later, Steve Biko was to meet his fate at the hands of the same “persons”, Security Branch policemen, who killed George Botha.

The poem at the start of this lecture, “For the fallen”, was written by Victor Wessels in 1969, after the death of Imam Abdullah Haron. Fatima Haron Masoet, daughter of Imam Haron, spoke in an interview on Talking Point after the 9 October judgement by Judge Daniel Thulare that Imam Haron had died as a result of injuries caused by relentless torture at the hands of the security police. She spoke of why, after so many years, this judgement was so important. “The truth must be heard,” she said, and, quoting Judge Thulare, “there can be no justice without truth.”

These struggles are connected. How they died, and who killed them, is the truth that must be heard. Most of those perpetrators are no longer alive, and when they were, their post-apartheid freedoms were negotiated in exchange for other freedoms, what Fatima Haron names as one of the failures of the new democratic state. This, too, is a focus worth pursuing, but not now in this lecture. The pursuit of justice goes beyond punishing the perpetrators. It is to ensure that the history of what happened at that point in our struggle is known as fully as possible, is laid bare and not rendered invisible, leading to a falsification of history.

My husband, Allan Zinn, is a historian. He is known well by many for the many things he does and has done in his life as a sportsperson, a teacher, an organiser and a struggle activist. He was a champion middle-distance athlete; he studied history, including African history, at university; and, after completing his first degree at UCT, he moved to the Eastern Cape, to Rhodes University, in 1979, to study human movement science and more history, so that he could become a history and physical education teacher. We got married in January 1980, and I came to teach in PE while he continued his studies at Rhodes. In August that year, he was detained along with a group of students – Guy Berger, Devan Pillay, Ihron Rensburg, Mike Kenyan, Ian Mgjima, Ashwin Desai and Chris Watters. Ihron, by the way, had been a student of George Botha’s at Paterson High School, and a pallbearer at his funeral in 1976.

The detentions of the Rhodes students were under Section 22 of the Internal Security Act, and they were brought to PE for interrogation. I clearly remember that day in August, while I was teaching at St Thomas High School, when the security police came to fetch me so that they could go and search our home where we lived in quarters at the back of Hazel and Basil Brown’s home in Van der Kemp Street. So, in 1980, Allan also got to know Sanlam Building and room 619. He and other detainees brought there – like Zubeida Jaffer, a few months later, who was also at Rhodes at that time – were taken up that stairwell and told, “This is where George Botha fell,” in unveiled threats to create fear of death and get them to break and reveal information that may incriminate them or others.

After 14 days of Section 22, some of those detained were released, but Guy Berger, Devan Pillay, Allan, Mike Kenyan and Chris Watters were then placed under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, where they could be held under solitary confinement for six months, which could also be extended if the SB wished, to get further information. Solitary confinement has been described as a most extreme form of psychological torture which can drive people insane.

I want to acknowledge here how many of these pieces of a historical puzzle that is still being put together, providing a fuller picture of what happened during these years of brutality – including to George Botha – have come to light through my historian husband’s pursuing of this history, and his ongoing pursuit of justice – this ongoing struggle in which we are all involved, no matter about 1994. These struggles are all connected.

Although Allan’s and George’s lives never intersected, I know that had he not been killed in 1976, they would have become close comrades, too. There is so much that they would have shared in common. As I researched his life for this lecture, using much of the information Allan gathered, I was struck by the intersections and commonalities between Pralene’s husband, George, and mine.

George learned his politics in Cape Town from groups operating subversively underground because of the nature of South Africa’s own fascist state at the time in the ’60s. He was influenced by the politics of the Unity Movement – non-racialism, non-collaboration, principled struggle. George attended gatherings organised by the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union (CPSU), by politicos Jean Pease and Frank van der Horst. They met in small cells in Bellville, never quite sure in which cells other comrades were. They were in contact with people like Peter Meyer and Eugene Cairncross. Abigail George writes in an essay about what it was like becoming politically conscientised during that time, in Cape Town and in PE, with larger than life figures like Neville Alexander, Kenny Abrahams, other members of the Unity Movement, and others of the TLSA debating and analysing the nature of the struggle in South Africa.

In interviews Allan had with Frank van der Horst, Johnny Klassen and others, it becomes clear that the consciousness of possible SB surveillance meant that discussions to understand and analyse the political struggle were often held clandestinely. They tell of hiking trips up the mountain, out of earshot of listening devices. George Botha was a young man of influence, and while at UWC he was elected to the SRC in 1967. As these interviews reveal, due to the nature of repression at that time and the power of the state police to silence by various means any opposition, people didn’t openly declare their political organisations or allegiances. Thus, at the time of his death, George Botha was variously described or claimed to be a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, and in one report he is stated to have been detained as a suspected member of the ANC.

When he returned to work as a teacher in PE, George was active in localised political struggles and in people’s organisations that sought to build political consciousness wherever ordinary citizens lived and were active – in school, sport, civics, student and teacher organisations, and “alternative” educational organisations. In various pieces of testimony, the active but short life of George Botha and his influence become clear: he was a revered teacher and was the chairperson of the Paterson Athletics Club, involved in promoting Sacos sport with its “no normal sport in an abnormal society” stance. He had been a strong and talented rugby player himself while at school, and when he became a teacher he continued to support various sporting activities at school and in the community. He accompanied students on tours during the ’70s. His students used these opportunities to connect with other student activists in other cities. In 1976, for example, they came into contact with students active in the ’76 unrest in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town. He was a trusted confidant and supporter of the student movements against apartheid.

His life story and his contribution made a difference in the lives of others – his family, his students, his friends – and in the struggle for freedom in South Africa.

I am struck by the fact that most of those we remember and honour are men.

I want, here, to turn to the title of this lecture: “They did not walk alone.”

As necessary as it is to document and acknowledge, lament and grieve, as well as celebrate the lives and contributions made by those we lost in the course of our collective struggles, I am struck by the fact that most of those we remember and honour are men.

I think of the Brecht poem that Allan loves always to read and quote, called “A worker reads history”, in which Brecht asks us to think about who else assisted those remembered in history and who get memorialised. What about those who cooked, cleaned and built the houses in which they lived, he reminds us to consider. Without them, would those who achieved fame, or who sacrificed and contributed so much, been able to do all they did?

Last month, at the Raymond Uren Memorial Lecture, we were privileged to listen to Dr Leigh-Ann Naidoo, the guest speaker. As she recounted how active Raymond was on so many fronts, and in so many organisations and people’s projects, travelling all over for sports events and meetings, she asked rhetorically, “How did he manage to do it all?” Instinctively, I shouted out from where I sat in the audience, “He had a wife. He had Rhona.” There was acknowledging laughter and nodding of heads. Would Raymond have been able to do all he did without Rhona? On a lighter note, Raymond Uren loved to cook. Basil Brown called his memorable potjies “Weza Pots”, because their completion and perfection were dependent on the responses to his frequent, “Rhona, weza garlic? Rhona, weza potatoes? Weza dhania?” – all of which were, of course, all already cleaned and chopped up as needed. It was just a week after that lecture that Tasneem approached me to do this lecture. I felt most honoured, and I also recalled that there had only been two women who had been invited before to do this lecture. So, immediately I agreed, and it came to me that this was an aspect I had to include, hence the title of my lecture here this evening.

And what happened to these families, partners, children and comrades when they were left behind?

The impact of loss is felt; those like George Botha have left so many behind. But we need to remember that before they were taken from us, they were able to do what they did because of who walked before them, and also who walked alongside them. What enabled them to be as active and involved as they were? And what happened to these families, partners, children and comrades when they were left behind?

Abigail George alludes to this in a poem called “The theft of George Botha’s silence”. Here is an extract:

It’s a landscape of graves
The brilliant gone long
Before their time.
Comrades, countrymen,
They’re welcomed
Into eternity even
Though they’re more
Ghost than ash, dirt, clay, earth, soil.
Afterwards, I feel
A kind of emptiness
Inside. As if I’ve been
Hollowed out with

 After the reopened inquiry into Imam Haron’s death, the over-100-page judgement was delivered by Justice Daniel Thulare on 9 October, one month ago. The judge overturned the original outcome of the inquiry and declared that the death of Imam Haron was due to torture in detention by the security police. The work of those who have relentlessly pursued justice for those who died in detention or at the hands of the apartheid state has been slowly bringing to light and overturning the falsification of history, the burying of the truth. The cases of Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett, and now Imam Haron, have given hope to those who have despaired that the truth of what happened would never surface or be documented.

In an interview on Talking Point recently, Imam Haron’s daughter Fatima spoke about how the families are forever affected by the unexpected deaths of their loved ones. As part of a group made up of families of victims of apartheid crimes, she recounts:

It is so disheartening to hear the stories … after so many years. … We want to ask the NPA not to delay these cases. All these cases are still waiting, [also] waiting from families of these victims. Families never moved on. They are still struggling today. We [the Haron family] can be grateful and thankful. But our mother never sat back – she inspired us. She worked hard. We even lost our home because the government of the time said we were illegitimate children, so the house must be sold. … So we lost everything, our home. [Our mother], a grieving widow, picked [herself] up through all of her pain, she stood up tall, she persevered. At the age of 43, she went out to work, she learned to drive. If it were not for her, if she had “lost the plot”, where would we have found ourselves? She made sure we were educated. Our mothers stayed behind. So many mothers have lost [so much].

As I write this, I think of Eva Botha and Pralene Botha and the husband and son they both lost. But they soldiered on. Pralene raised two sons as a young mother – no doubt with “a little help from her friends” and family. Pralene continued to study, to teach, to be a member of the TLSA and to be active in the school sports movement under Sacos. She participated in and supported alternative education and cultural gatherings, and remains an active citizen, volunteer and trustee of the South End Museum. She has attended every single one of the 15 memorial lectures honouring the memory and legacy of George Botha. For Pralene and others who have lost loved ones to the struggle, I offer this poem by Vikram Seth:

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above –

Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

I think about the invisibility of the huge numbers of women who are too seldom mentioned for their role and their suffering during these struggles. For example, it is well known that Neville Alexander was tried and sentenced to ten years on Robben Island for his role in leading the formation of the Yu Chi Chan Club[7]. But the women who were sentenced with him are seldom mentioned. In this trial, there were ten people who were tried and sentenced besides Neville, including Don Davis, Marcus Solomon and Fikile Bam, who all got ten years’ incarceration on Robben Island. Also sentenced to ten years was Elizabeth van der Heyden, one of four women who were part of this group of ten. Others were Dulcie September, Dorothy Alexander and Doris van der Heyden, who each got five-year sentences. And the other three men, Lionel Davis, Leslie van der Heyden and Gordon Hendricks, got seven years. The women were sent to Kroonstad and Barberton, far from Cape Town, making it difficult for their families to visit. We need to know their stories.

There were so many other women activists and struggle stalwarts – too many to mention – whose invisibility, because they were considered less than even in struggle, perhaps saved them from death. But they should no longer remain invisible. I am proud to note that there are people – historians and storytellers, journalists and writers – and projects that are determined to make sure that they don’t remain invisible. Allan and his colleagues here at NMU and others elsewhere doing similar work, are trying to ensure that the work of all those who gave their lives to the struggle for justice – their material, writings and so on – are archived for future generations, to bring these histories, or herstories, into the light. In the NMU archives, already, are the personal papers of Raymond Uren, June Udemans and Brigalia Bam, as well as those of organisations including the Northern Areas Heritage and History Project, Sacos and the Unity Movement.

I really want to use this opportunity to pay special homage to the partners – partners and children – of those struggle icons who were incarcerated and met the ultimate punishment of death. We want to acknowledge your strength and perseverance and determination to carry on, to hold their legacies alongside your own. Many didn’t get through the pain of loss, and these too have been victims of the impact of the ruling state’s repression, retaliation and negligence.

Many of those who were lost in this way are often described as “ordinary men”, “ordinary people”, who cared about human beings, about the equality of all human beings and their right to a decent life. There are other ordinary people who stand with them, even if not in the limelight or on the stage before a microphone. They are the Pralenes and Rhonas and Hazels and Charmelles – you know the ones I mean. In my humble extrapolation of Brecht’s intention, they are the ones who made the food to put on the table, who stretched the pennies and who kept the children fed, clothed, clean, in school, warm and in bed with stories to put them to sleep at night. This, too, was important – the nurturing of the next generation, who needed to be taken care of, even while meetings had to be organised and the struggle had to continue.

Finally, the thread I have tried to weave through this lecture this evening is captured in the statement you may have picked up from time to time throughout this address: “These struggles are connected.” I trust this thread has been visible and able to draw together strands from the corners of our minds and memories, to show the very many ways people and struggles are connected – in this country and beyond this country, in all of this world we live in, where injustices imposed on vulnerable people abound. It is an infinite struggle of global proportions, fought in small and big ways wherever we find ourselves.

This thread is, of course, not a single one: it is like a woven rope of many strands which connect us in solidarity with those who are suffering. We owe to our fellow human beings to take hold of that rope, perhaps the only lifeline they have left, and let them know we are on the other side of it.

Finally, I answer Victor’s call once again, to:

Proclaim his death
a man has died
a man
has paid the highest price
that any man can pay

He was
a father
he was
just one of us
just one of those
whose lot it is
to sweep the streets
to labour in the sun
to dust
to make the beds
to let the profits grow

He preached the brotherhood of men
and died
within the secrecy of
a police cell
among policemen
We know, we feel, we mourn

Proclaim his death
that all may know
that all may understand
that we have understood
A man has died
Proclaim his death![8]

Written 27-30 September


I want to thank the South End Museum, Tasneem and the trustees for entrusting me to add my voice and thoughts to the long line of illustrious speakers who have shared their wisdom with you over the years, honouring the name, the man and the legacy of George Botha.

And I want to thank Allan Zinn, who helped me in the preparation of this lecture. He has been doggedly pursuing testimonies, stories and facts and adding to archival materials that allow the truth to be made visible, for history to be known in all its complexity of contributions and perspectives, and in pursuit of justice. Much of what I have put together for this lecture is information that he has shared with me, so that, echoing the words of Fatima Haron Masoet and Justice Thulare: the truth can be heard, for there can be no justice without truth.


[1] Denise Zinn is an adjunct professor at Nelson Mandela University, where she was formerly the deputy vice-chancellor in Learning and Teaching, after being an executive dean in the Faculty of Education.

[2] See Testimony: The poems of Victor Wessels (edited by Allan Zinn, Abe Daniels and Denise Zinn), page 7.

[3] Definition of fascism in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “A political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” This is the term coined by Mussolini to describe his movement in Italy.

[4] Al Jazeera, Jerusalem Post, and other news media accessed on 8 November 2023.

[5] Poem by Victor Wessels. See Testimony (Zinn, Daniels and Zinn, 2022, page 3).

[6] Extract of poem “The theft of George Botha’s silence” by Abigail George.

[7] The YCC was planning to engage in guerrilla war tactics as an armed wing of the National Liberation Front, of which Neville Alexander was a leading member.

[8] Poem appears in edited anthology of Victor Wessels’s poetry, Testimony (2022, page 8).

See also:

Waarom skryf ek Afrikaans: Kaapse struggledigter gepubliseer

Hamas: terroriste of vryheidsvegters?

Wanneer die onderdruktes die onderdrukker word

Fresh off the press: 21 Voices from Israel and South Africa by Marthie Momberg

So nodig soos kamele: ’n lesersindruk van Marthie Momberg se 21 Voices from Israel and South Africa

Hope, belief: A reader’s impression of 21 Voices by Marthie Momberg

Die Johann Rossouw-gespreksreeks: Notas oor die tragedie van Israel en die Palestyne

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  • A superb lecture - so unusual in its generous reference to others, so universal in its melding together different 'troubles' (to use an Irish term), so correct in acknowledging the massive contribution of the silent and unnoticed in the background.
    Terrific stuff!

  • Baie dankie, Denise Zinn, dat jy lig werp op hulle wat by die huis in angs gesit en wroeg het oor 'n geliefde in die kloue van siellose sadiste.

  • david willers

    A very powerful 'backstory' of the anti-apartheid struggle in the eastern Cape. Thank you.

  • Reageer

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