- Published on Friday, 03 August 2012 11:10
- Written by Elzet Kirsten
On Monday, 30 July we filled the Neelsie Cinema to watch a film about one of the unsung heroes of our country and our university. Listen, Live and Learn students. Participants of the FVZS Leadership Institute short course "Growing Citizens through Multiculturalism". Pulp Film Society members. Goldfields residents and alumni. International visitors to Stellenbosch from the United States, Finland, Sweden.
Prof. Willie Esterhuyse was there himself for the screening of Endgame. The film tells the story of how prof. Willie was approached in the 1980s to enter in secret peace talks with the ANC in England. The heart of the film is about the friendship that developed between prof. Willie and Thabo Mbeki. They started out on opposite sides of the table: black terrorist versus white oppressor. They became friends because of a shared love for Russian music, Yeats and because they both had children suffering under the struggle.
These extras we got from prof. Willie himself. He told us up front: this film is faction. His wife and daughter are by no means the timid figures the film portrays them to be. "Have you met my wife? She runs my life." While prof. Willie was away in England, dr. Annemarie was lecturing in mathematics and being the resident head of Goldfields. At this stage the Esterhuyses were the ony white people living at Goldfields, a residence built for non-white students and therefore situated on the other side of Hammandshand Road according to the Group Settlement Act.
No one at the university was allowed to know about the peace talks. The security police was already keeping a strict eye on prof. Willie, knowing about the talks but wanting to make sure he toed the line. "I had to somehow get past my department head, so I went to talk to Mike, Mike de Vries [ rector at the time]."
But prof. Willie also took students into his trust. "You can't do anything without trust. Those talks would have been useless without trust." The students prof. Willie trusted were the HK (House Committee) of Goldfields. "They wanted to know why I was away so much. So I told them. There was risk in that. But that is how trust works. You build trust when you share risk. That is what Thabo and I also did. We shared risk, so we trusted each other." The Goldfields HK proved worthy of prof. Willie's trust. Their only condition was that Thabo Mbeki would come visit Goldfields when the ANC has been unbanned, which he did in 1991.
The discussion lasted for at least an hour after the film ended, after which prof. Willie still signed copies of his newly released book and got invited to a LLL house.
Why did prof. Willie choose to put his own life and the life of his family at risk twenty five years ago? Why did he come talk to a bunch of students until 11pm on a Monday night? Because of the words of his friend, the late dr. Aggrey Klaaste, past editor of the Sowetan: "It's never too late to talk." It rang true in the 80's. It still rings true today in his heart and also in ours.
• Elzet Kirsten is coordinating the FVZS course "Growing Citizens through Multiculturalism" with dr. Greg Ricks. She is also a guide of the LLL Cluster House and finishing up an MPhil in Translation.