I was very sad to hear about van Zyl’s death. I am of the generation of journalists who well remember the unique interventions made by him, in particular.
I sometimes wonder if there would have been elections in 1994 without van Zyl and Idasa.
Last year I was asked by a Dutch television company I have done quite a lot of work for to set up a documentary in which he would be a main player, along with Breyten and two ANC artists/poets to mark the 20 years since that particular meeting in Victoria Falls.
Despite the incredibly short time given me to set it up, I managed to arrange it, mainly through van Zyl’s delight that it would be made, and his energy to bully Breyten to delay his trip back to Paris, but then one of the key ANC personalities pulled out at the last minute, so the documentary was not made.
I was asked again last month to see if I could set it up again later this year. And now, alas, the main driver of that initiative is gone. And without him there isn’t anyone I can remember who was at the Victoria Falls meeting then who could drive accurate memories of that story within its context, and with its complexities, analysis, and humour too.
And of course, I, as a technician with a microphone, also remember van Zyl’s rich, compelling voice, strong enough to ensure we changed our world, and musical enough to engage any listerner prepared to hear.
This is the second or third important historical documentary which has been informally on my diary for a while and which will now not be made because one or more of the main players has died.
I will think of him at the memorial and think of IDASA, as I know what he and it meant in South Africa’s history.
Dear Paul and Ivor,
Apologies for the belated note on the passing of Dr Slabbert. The range of voices I have met in the last few days who knew him or of him, and sing praises of him; are many. I had no opportunity to meet him personally and yet, somehow, I feel that I have. I have colleagues at OSISA who recall that he developed that institution from nothing; and of course looking back in history, I recall that I covered a lot meetings as both a political writer and a correspondent for the Associated Press,
during the transition periods (the 80s and early 90s) between President Kaunda and the delegations from South Africa led by Dr Slabbert or certainly gatherings associated with progressive groups within the SA
establishment. The founding member of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika, upon learning that I had joined Idasa in 2002 had only one question for me: “How is Van Zyl Slabbert?”. Those moments represent some of the most important years of my life growing up in the face of historical events in southern Africa.
Its not easy for those of us who joined Idasa late in the day to comprehend the the full impact of this tragic event but we live in the shadow of the greatness of this incomparable intellectual who has passed and left us this indelible footprint called Idasa. May his soul rest in peace.