His story is our story, and our story is his story. That was the dominant message from family, friends and acquaintances – among them journalist and political commentator Max du Preez and Judge Albie Sachs – as they gathered at the inaugural Anton Lubowski Memorial Lecture at the Stellenbosch University (SU) Faculty of Law on Thursday, 12 September.
Lubowski was a Stellenbosch student and a Simonsberg resident in the seventies. He initially enrolled at SU in 1972 for a BCom degree but transferred to a BA Law degree in 1973 and graduated in March 1976.
The memorial lecture took place on the 30th anniversary of the murdered Namibian-born anti-apartheid activist and advocate's death (3 February 1952 – 12 September 1989).
Lubowski was a member of the former Namibian independent movement South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) when he was assassinated in 1989. The perpetrators were never apprehended. He was 37 years old when he died, leaving behind his wife, Gabrielle Lubowski and his two young children, Almo and Nadia.
The memorial lecture initiated by Charl Adams, a varsity friend and residence roommate, was presented by the Law Faculty in collaboration with the Development and Alumni Relations Division, Simonsberg Residence and the Frederik van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development.
Adams, a retired editor of the Small Business Labour Bulletin and senior officer at the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, shared an emotional story detailing his first meeting with the young Lubowski in 1972 when they were both first-year students.
“Anton immediately stood out because he was tall, charismatic, outspoken and, yes, at times controversial," he said. “In no time, his fame spread throughout the residence for his willingness to share his mother's buttermilk rusks and droëwors with everyone. That was Anton, he shared with all of us … and eventually, he shared his life for justice and peace."
Prof Nicola Smit, Dean of the Faculty of Law, embraced a quote by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie in her tribute to Lubowski.
“We should remember that the single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. And we know, of course, that many stories still remain to be told about our country's history. It is, therefore, a great honour to be part of this memorial lecture," she said.
Max du Preez said Lubowski was a freedom fighter in the proper sense of the word, and not driven by ideology. “He did what he did because of a deep sense of justice and human solidarity. He was a complete African," said Du Preez.
He said the failure of the post-1994 government to prosecute those identified apartheid killers and torturers under the then Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was an outrage.
“There was an abundance of evidence that the conspiracy to assassinate Anton was perpetrated in SA. All the names of the conspirators are known. It is an outrage that they were never prosecuted. I swore then that we would unmask his killers."
The consequent investigation by Du Preez in his capacity as editor of the anti-apartheid Afrikaans newspaper Vrye Weekblad at the time led to the exposure of, among other things, the existence of the South African Police death squad at Vlakplaas under first Dirk Coetzee and then Eugene de Kock.
“It was important for us to show, through this expose, that apartheid was not a peaceful, misunderstood policy, but an evil and violent ideology," he said. “It could not exist without humiliation, torture and killing. And I thought at the time that Anton, my friend, would have appreciated the fact that his death triggered this search for what the apartheid regime really stood for."
'So feel proud Stellenbosch University…'
Activist and former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs praised Lubowski for his contribution to the triumph of non-racialism and the constitutional order in SA.
“Anton came from the Afrikaner sector of the community which made his being a rebel particularly significant and valuable in terms of the contribution it made. Anton's life, his actions, his commitment, and his death asserted his contribution to the freedom struggle.
“So feel proud Stellenbosch University, not only of the changes you are making but of the rebels which became creators of our new SA. And, of course, feel proud of your association with Anton Lubowski. He is one of the heroes of SA, of our democracy, of idealism, of hope, of demanding the best from the world, of the people around us, of ourselves."
Sachs handed SU a scroll with the Bill of Rights as a gift in honour of Lubowski.
Dr Leslie van Rooi, CEO Social Impact and Transformation and the current residence head of Simonsberg Residence, said the former resident is remembered as a giant of Namibia who was shaped by the brave and defiant giants before him, just as he shaped those who came after him.
“When Anton left Simonsberg in 1975 apartheid was far from over. Namibia looked much different from what it looks like today. But he was there to make a difference. And this is what he did almost immediately -this Anton who impacted the lives of so many and influenced the critical thinkers of our day."
He added. “It is important to realise that our stories somehow connect and cannot be separated from the stories of others – they connect, intersect, we add, we change, we influence. It is through our connectedness that our stories become real and complete. Without ever meeting him, my story is connected to Anton and, in fact, I remain influenced by him and many others. The question for us is, however: what are the stories that we will write for the future and who will our stories connect and intersect with, and what are the realities that we will create …?"
Nadia Lubowksi had the last word.
“Being the daughter of a father that dies, no matter what age is hard, being the daughter of a political activist who was assassinated in front of our home as a young girl of nine is difficult, being the daughter of a political activist who was assassinated and murdered and whose murder was never solved or never explained in any way is even harder.
“So besides the memories, longing and hardships that it all brought, I've also had to deal with and face the story in various multiple ways, because that part of my life always comes up in the public domain. However, having to deal with that inevitable intrusion, has given me the ability to face his death and what he stood for and the things that our country have gone through. His story has shaped who I am today and what I stand up for," she said.
- Photo: Charl Adams, Max du Preez, Albie Sachs, Prof Nicola Smit and Dr Leslie van Rooi at the first Anton Lubowski Memorial Lecture. (Photographer: Anton Jordaan)