tribute francis

Thirty-three years ago there was a knock on the door of my home in Cape Town. There stood a man who held out his hand and said simply, "My name is Neville Alexander, and I bring you a message from the Island."

Those were the dark days in the early 1970s, when you and your Rivonia colleagues had already spent 10 years in jail and looked as though you would be there forever. My wife, Nomthunzi, and I could not believe our ears. It was like a message from beyond the grave.
And what a message it was. You had asked Neville to convey to me greetings and thanks. Thanks for the writing I had been doing about wages in the gold mines and about the migrant labour system. "Keep going," you said, Ungandinwa nangomso.

I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that the little work that I was doing - which seemed like spitting into the wind at the time - should have been noticed on the Island. Overwhelmed that you should have thought to send me a message of appreciation and encouragement. Overwhelmed that our decision to return to South Africa from Cambridge in 1966 - which had been much criticised - should have been so validated by you and your colleagues. It was a message that moved me profoundly; a message that strengthened me for the long years which still lay ahead; a message for which I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

It would be fair to say that the work that Saldru, founded in 1975, was able to do, including the work on poverty during the 1980s, owed everything to your encouragement and to your perception that such work was useful even in those difficult days.

Years later, when we met, I was chairman of council at Fort Hare University and you came on more than one occasion to give us all - but particularly the students - vision and courage. And a sense of inspiration: that all things are possible if we are prepared to commit our lives to work for the common good.
Thank you so very much for everything.