Peter Brown Memorial Seminar 2014

“Pursuing your Passion”

By Zelda la Grange

 The Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives (APC) celebrated Heritage month by remembering the legacy of Nelson Mandela.  Heritage month allows organizations which are involved with the preservation of heritage, such as museums and archives, an opportunity to highlight an aspect of heritage, and celebrate it.  The theme for Heritage month in South Africa was “Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage.”

The Peter Brown Memorial Seminar pays tribute and honours Peter Brown who was a friend of Alan Paton, a co-leader of the Liberal Party, a founder of the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) and was very instrumental in the setting up of the Alan Paton Centre.  Peter Brown played an important role in the establishment of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) in 1953.  In 1958, he became the National Chairman of the LPSA.  In Alan Paton’s autobiography, Journey Continued, Paton describes Brown as a person with a social conscience “about things like justice, equality and the rule of law that was going to cost him dear. Brown was widely respected and one of the longest banned White South Africans during apartheid.

The 2014 Peter Brown Memorial Seminar was presented by Ms Zelda la Grange on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 in the Colin Webb Hall, Pietermaritzburg campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).  This was the 8th presentation of the Peter Brown Memorial Seminar and is held every two years and presented by the APC.  La Grange’s talk was titled: “Pursuing your Passion” which was followed by the launch of her book, Good Morning, Mr Mandela.  She joined the President’s office as a Senior Ministerial typist in 1994 and became head of logistics for President Nelson Mandela.  Working closely with various government departments, she coordinated Mandela’s itinerary, travel arrangements, security and transport, and accompanied him on domestic and international visits when needed.

La Grange said it was an immense honour to be invited to participate in the Heritage celebrations of the APC.  She had very little knowledge of Peter Brown but states that “what is noticeable when one reads about Peter Brown is that many people consider him an unsung hero of the struggle of South Africa.”  Madiba reminded people by saying that the struggle was not fought and won by one person or just the leadership of the movement, but that one should remember, acknowledge and honour unsung heroes like Peter Brown and Alan Paton.  “I know therefore that he is smiling down on me today, having travelled here where Peter Brown and Alan Paton are being remembered as critical figures in our history of liberation and therefore part of the heritage of our diversity”. 

La Grange states that her story or contribution pales in comparison to that of a Peter Brown or Alan Paton.  She added that the wealth of memories and experiences has left her in a once again, privileged position.  She aims to share her story and experiences and hopes to transfer some of the lessons that she had been privileged to learn from Madiba.  Madiba taught La Grange about courage and conviction.  “We have just celebrated women’s month and I was reminded that the march to the Union Buildings in 1956 served as a demonstration of courage and conviction by ordinary women who wanted to change the world.  The courage and conviction exhibited by both Peter Brown and Alan Paton is no different”.  Madiba once told La Grange that “If you don’t have courage, you are not going to last here for long.”  La Grange explained that as a young Afrikaner girl, she had to find the courage to follow her convictions.  “Courage and conviction are therefore common threads through the lives of many of our struggle heroes which they have taught us about”.  She described having to find courage upon meeting Mandela to realign her convictions as a young, ignorant Afrikaner girl, and said that the courage and conviction which motivated men like Mandela, Paton and Brown should inspire all South Africans. 

Another lesson that La Grange learnt from Madiba is the way you approach a person will determine how that person treats you and do not ever allow the enemy to determine the grounds for battle.  La Grange also stated that Madiba taught her about respect and discipline.  Her experiences and lessons have left her a lasting impression on how much respect Madiba paid to others, even if people did not deserve it.  “Show respect even to those who do not deserve it, not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of your character.”

La Grange concluded by reminded us that the greatest statesman of our tme belonged to us as a country.  His heritage is our heritage.  “But that is not limited to him becoming the first democratically elected President, or wearing a Springbok jersey.  His story is one of courage and conviction, forgiveness, respect and self-respect.  But to honour that heritage, we need to apply the lessons we have learnt from him.”