Thursday, February 9, 2006

In Memory of Duma Joshua Kumalo

Duma Joshua Kumalo passed away in his sleep at a hotel outside Johannesburg, South Africa on 3 February 2006. Duma was one of the founding members of the Khulumani Victim Support Group and is best-known internationally as one of the “Sharpeville Six”. He, with five others, was accused under the problematic "common purpose" legislation in 1984 of killing a local councillor. Duma was at home at the time of the killing. He spent 8 years in jail and 3 of these on death row. He received a stay of execution only hours before he was to be put to death. The trauma of this experience must have been immense, but Duma came through it and was quick to remind people that he was a survivor and not a victim.

Duma came close to losing his life during the fateful “Sharpeville Six” ordeal as we know. In fact, when he returned to his cell after receiving the news that he was not going to be executed, his final meal was waiting for him. He ate the meal, but has subsequently said that something inside him died that day. Although this may in part be true, Duma’s experience also lit a fire inside his heart. Duma came out of jail determined to have his name cleared. This was his only plea to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other government bodies. His wish was never granted. None of this however deterred Duma from his struggle for justice both for himself and for others. He tirelessly helped fellow survivors of apartheid violence.

Duma spoke internationally many times about his experience. He contributed in immeasurable ways to the growth and popularity of Khulumani as an organisation in South Africa and overseas. He was a strong advocate against the death penalty and supported Amnesty International on several occasions in this regard. He also told his story through the play The Story I am About to Tell, as well as through other film and theatre productions. In all his endeavours, and throughout his time in jail, he was supported by his wife Betty. Betty was his rock. Duma also has two sons. My thoughts are with them and Betty at this time.

Personally, Duma was one of the most warm-hearted people I have known. His smile and sense of humour was legendary. I could spend hours talking of my experiences with Duma in South Africa and abroad. People still speak of Duma in Derry in Northern Ireland. His large frame etched in my mind as he ambled about the town speaking with passers-by and always grinning. We spent much time, perhaps too much time, in small Irish pubs as he regaled the locals with stories and song long into the night. If you met Duma once you remembered him. Across the globe people often ask me about him. My heart will be heavy now as I have to pass on the sad news that the great tree has fallen.

Duma loved life despite all the hardships it had thrown at him. He was fighter. In light of this it is not surprising that it is the spirit of Muhammad Ali that comes to mind when I think of Bra Duma. Duma, you inspired people from inside the darkness of your cell and shook the world; you inspired people whilst quietly assisting Khulumani members with their problems; you inspired people across the globe when your voice boomed out on the world stage as you spoke of your experience; and you inspired people with your honesty, grit and charm under the theatre lights.

Duma Joshua Kumalo may have lost some fights in his life but he won a much bigger war. Muhammad Ali’s words are a fitting tribute to him: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before [you] dance under those lights”.

Duma, I will miss your hearty laugh, your generosity of spirit, your courage to always fight for what was right and your burning desire for justice. You were a champion of a man. Hamba Kahle.

Brandon Hamber (8 February 2006)

A small fund to assist the family with the funeral arrangements has been set up, if any of you would like to contribute please email me.