“Remember in your first letter to me from Death Row, you told me you were going on hunger strike” “Yes, and you told me I had to live to fight to be free” “And here we are nearly 30 years on sharing a bowl of chips!”
I started writing to Dan nearly 30 years ago when he was a political prisoner on death row. I was involved with various human rights groups including a group called Lifelines and his name was given to me through another group that started from that. Our first meeting was in 2010, a year after he was finally released. We had written to each other for more than 20 years. Dan tells me I inspired him and gave him the motivation to keep fighting. The truth is he did the same for me.
To read of the absolute daily hell and torture of the mind and body that he was going through in death row, yet know that he never lost hope to be free to see his children again, gave my life perspective. No matter what I ever faced, I was still incredibly lucky to have the life I had. To have my freedom. The luxury of the lottery of life that I happened to be born into. To have a friend where you reciprocally give everything you have, while expecting nothing in return is extraordinary.
I wrote dozens and dozens of letters pleading for Dan’s release from death row. Eventually I became his representative and finally, in 1994, a reply from President Nelson Mandela came to say the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Devastatingly this was not the end. And the fight went on for another 15 years.
Dan thanks me for the continual fight while he was on death row and remained a political prisoner. I’m not sure I hold a very fast track record, 20 plus years is a long time! However, it may be the case I did eventually annoy the whole of the justice department to despair. When we finally met we visited the prison warden together.
When Dan explained who I was he just said
“YOU, it’s you, you are the one who wrote all these letters and I would say to Dan, what does this woman want; and Dan would reply, she just wants my freedom”.
Meanwhile, Dan advised, inspired and showed me the seldom seen humanity in humans. And, we both remained steadfast, against the odds, that one day we would meet. And one day, we did.
Death row to Nelson Mandela Square for chips
When planning this round the world trip then, there was no question then that the first stop would be to see my extraordinary friend and his family. And as in our first meeting 7 years ago, it was as though we had known each other all our lives and had never spent a day apart.
So, here we all sat, a Friday night in Nelson Mandela square sharing our memories and a bowl of chips.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” Nelson Mandela
See some more pics here Meeting Dan and family in Soweto