Eddie Daniels knew what consequences awaited those who resisted the apartheid government of South Africa. In the 1960’s, a “colored person” (as he was referred to under the racial classification system) could sit in jail for six months simply for being found in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day. Regardless, he attended hundreds of rallies and gatherings in opposition to the government. No matter the time or place or if he was allowed to be there.
For his defiant insistence to meet with co-conspiritors, he was banned from communicating with others for five years. He kept meeting with them despite the ban. Because of the hopelessness of the situation, he grew tired of working through political process to change the political system. Tired of waiting on the system to be changed, he came to the conclusion that more direct methods, much more dangerous, were necessary.
Eddie and others became convinced that the only way they could hope to up-end apartheid was by disrupting the everyday life of fellow South Africans by sabatoge. They began planting bombs on infrastructure. Focusing on pylons, railroad communication towers and a radio tower, they set about to inconvenience the public to the point that those who had political sway would see to a change in government. Even though they took great care not to harm people, this change in tactics brought their campaign from defiance to outright attack.
Eddie’s career as a sabateur was short. In his few years as a sabateur, he managed to destroy some of his targets. Many of his bombs never detonated. He nearly managed to accidentally nearly blow himself up (admitting in his book that if he had set his charges properly, he would have died). On one occassion, he carelessly discharged an explosive in his developing studio. In 1964, he was arrested, interrogated and convicted of sabatoge-a sentence that carried the death penalty.
When asked why he didn’t get the death penalty, whilest many others did for the same crime, he said, “I guess I was lucky.” Lucky? Really?!? Spending fourteen and a half years of your life on Robben Island is “lucky”?
How is months spent with 23 hours of solitary confinement a day, allowed only one hour of exercise in the courtyard lucky? What is lucky about being forced to work in a quarry, doing meaningless work of crushing large pieces of slate or limestone into gravel?
How does one come to the conclusion that spending the bulk of their adult life-a time when most others are raising a family and building a career is “lucky.”
Eddie used a different measure of life spent on Robben Island than most of us to justify his assertion that he was indeed lucky for his time spent there. For him, he was lucky because of who he was with, what he did with his time and what he learned from his experience. How do you measure your life?
This blog is the second of a series on post-apartheid South Africa. If you would like to be notified of future blogs, please subscribe. Thank-you.