It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the untimely and sudden death of our beloved friend and colleague, 'Bra' Duma Kumalo on Friday, February 3, 2006, apparently in his sleep at a hotel in Johannesburg, where he was participating in a workshop on the forthcoming local government elections in South Africa.
'Bra' Duma was a man with a huge heart. His life was an accidental journey into the political struggle for social justice in South Africa. The journey began on the fateful day in 1984 when he accidentally became caught up in a protest march against local councillors in the Vaal region. A local councillor was killed that day and Duma was wrongly identified as having been one of the crowd that had participated in the killing. 'Bra' Duma became one of six persons subsequently wrongfully convicted of this murder. He and his co-trialists became know as the Sharpeville Six. It was a case around which the whole world rallied as the "Six" were sentenced to death on the notorious charge of common purpose. A few hours before their execution, the "Six" were released, after several years in jail and around three years on death row in Pretoria Central Prison.
Some of 'Bra' Duma's most exceptional work came from this experience. He became the voice of those he had come to know, to love and to lose on Pretoria's death row. This story was enacted in the remarkable play, "He Left Quietly", produced through 'Bra' Duma's collaboration with playwright and director, Yael Farber. After a special performance of this play requested by former President Mandela, Madiba spoke to Duma of how he considered it Duma's sacred calling to continue to reach people through the powerful medium of theatre for healing and social transformation. 'Bra' Duma honoured this calling with diligence. He could seldom turn down a request. He extended himself to embrace each invitation to share his message of the power of listening and of dialogue. He had the capacity to touch people in extraordinary ways and to open up possibilities for dialogue and for reconciliation across the divides. He had an amazing capacity to understand and to speak the right word at the right time to bring healing.
The one request that 'Bra' Duma did not realise in his lifetime was that of being re-tried in a court of law - and found not guilty. It was something he desired to put the record straight. It pained him deeply that he should wrongfully continue to have a criminal record and that this should prevent his securing a visa to honour invitations to visit friends in the United States. Each time he applied for a visa, he was denied because of this criminal record. He was told that he would have to apply to the President for a Presidential Pardon if he were to have this criminal record expunged.
But on each occasion, on a matter of principle, he refused because he was required to admit to the crime he was purported to have committed, as a precondition of securing a pardon. This was impossible for 'Bra' Duma who was a person of deeply-held principles. He was not a person prepared to be politically expedient. It was his deep integrity combined with his extraordinary compassion, that made him such a wonderful human being.
His was not an easy life journey. Thankfully, he had the unceasing support and care of his wife. Betty. Betty had waited for Duma through all the long years of the trial and the prison sentence. She had never given up. Through all the events of the subsequent years, Betty has remained at his side as his pillar of support, advisor, companion, and closest friend. She and 'Bra' Duma and their son, Georgie, shared a home in Sebokeng, near Sharpeville, in the Vaal.
'Bra' Duma's huge contributions to the Khulumani Support Group, of which he was a founder member, will never be forgotten. He rigorously held open the space for survivors to find their voices and to "speak out". He expressed in words that many could not find, the need for all of us to listen deeply to those in our societies who have carried the costs of struggles for social justice in their bodies. He was a remarkable facilitator and an inspiration to all who met him. He never gave up listening to the stories of what others had endured and he never gave up supporting people in the telling of their stories, He believed in the capacity of stories to bring healing. His theatre work took this commitment to story-telling to a higher level.
Bra Duma's contributions were huge - from struggles against the death penalty across the world, to struggles to end impunity and to secure reconciliation through facilitating direct encounters between people of all backgrounds.
While we would rage against your untimely passing, we would want you to rest in peace, our friend. You have made a truly remarkable contribution to humanity and to each of our lives.
You left us in your own time and you left us quietly. We were not ready for your death. We would never be ready for your death - you are so much a part of everything that we do. We will never forget you and your memory will continue to inspire us in the years to come until we all meet again.
HAMBA GAHLE, our beloved comrade and friend. All your friends at Khulumani Support Group.