OPENING OF THE PHILIPPOLIS MEMORIAL GARDEN
IN HONOUR OF THE MEMORY OF SIR LAURENS VAN DER POST


Address by

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP
Minister of Home Affairs and
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Chairman, The House of Traditional Leaders (KwaZulu Natal)

Philippolis, Free State : April 4, 1998

Mrs Lucia Crichton-Miller, and other members of Sir Laurens van der Post's family; Ds Haasbroek and other Church leaders; friends of Sir Laurens; distinguished guests, people of Philippolis.  I am honoured, once again, to give a voice to the thoughts and trembling of our hearts, as I did at the commemoration of Sir Laurens in March last year.  In the tranquillity of these surroundings I find myself among friends to share the sorrow and delight of the memory of a friend whose ever-present spirit remains a beacon of inspiration.  I feel that we have gathered here to complete the journey of an exceptional life as we deliver the ashes of Sir Laurens van der Post back to his fatherland.

The journey of the soul is one of transformation through the gathering of knowledge which progressively forms meaning.  Through the journey, new meaning builds on old meaning expanding and transfiguring it and generating growth.  As meaning varies in taste, texture and inclination so do the phases of our growth, and yet remain united by the capacity of the perceptive and accepting spirit to retain diversity within oneself without fear of contradiction. In this sense that of the soul can be a unique journey in which we travel to new places without ever completely leaving the point of departure.  The life of Sir Laurens is a great testimony of this journey, the artistry of which I feel is somehow completed in today's ceremony.  Therefore, I am delighted that this memorial garden has been built so as to capture the image of the journey, both as an aesthetic pursuit as well as a demanding and testing trial.

I find it perfectly fitting that the ashes of Sir Laurens be laid to rest in this memorial garden and that his memory be captured in such a beautiful and tranquil place.  Monuments are often erected out of metal or stone to preserve the memory of great men.  Personally, I feel that no better monument can symbolise the spirit of Sir Laurens which in my mind continues to live on every time we look upon nature and the human experience through the lenses of sensibility we learned from him.  The Latin poet Horatio closed his famous collection with a poem in celebration of his work with the words "erexi monumentum aere perennium" : "I have erected a monument more durable than bronze".  He was correct, as almost no statues of Horatio have survived, while his poems and his peremptory admonition to carpe diem are part of all libraries.

I feel that this memorial garden receiving the ashes of our brother Sir Laurens symbolises a statement which too will be more durable than any bronze monument.  It symbolises that the spirit of Sir Laurens and our land are one, and that the memory of Sir Laurens will continue to live for as long as there are people who through his books can reach into the intimate soul of our land, and taste its smell and contemplate the beauty and sufferings of its diverse people.

I am convinced that it was his inner wealth that enabled him to appreciate and illustrate to others the rich diversity of our South African peoples.  I have always marvelled at the seemingly limitless sphere of his interest, capability and accomplishment. I knew Sir Laurens for many years and had the privilege of maintaining a continuous dialogue with him.  I have been inspired and encouraged through our correspondence numerous times and convinced of his stature as an intellectual giant on every occasion. There have been few individuals who have gained an understanding of black African culture comparable with that which Sir Laurens internalised intuitively and externalised with poetry.  Through empathy he reached a perfect understanding of the Zulu Nation, of our ethos, aspirations and sufferings, and the intimate understanding of his soul remained unaltered and unaffected in spite of many years of propaganda against me and my people. His brilliant thinking and depth of intuitive human understanding led him to accept all peoples, races and cultures.  He left to the world the legacy of a new humanism in which the measure of all things is a multi-faceted man rooted in diverse cultures and seeking a new relationship with the natural environment, in a humanist synthesis of natural and cultural conservation.  His respect for the culture of the Bushmen shows how he instinctively knew that the treasures of humanity often lay hidden at the heart of our respective cultures.

Sir Laurens was entirely Afrikaner, entirely South African, entirely a citizen of the world and entirely a creature participating in the harmonious universe of nature, and felt or experienced no contradiction between these different facets of his rich persona.  He knew that contradictions revealed by our contemplation of reality are often the product of the rational mind, while the nature of things is captured through our intuition in its entirety and without contradictions.

Also in this respect his feeling of nature was ahead of recent scientific discoveries. I would not be surprised if his influence can be traced in the scientific paradigm shift which has displaced Darwinism to embrace the harmonious view of natural dynamics put forward by Gaia.  The view of competition among species and a conflict-ridden natural world survived for as long as our rational mind focused too closely on the dynamics affecting individual entities, rather than contemplating the whole.

Mystical perception could contemplate the whole ahead of the times when the development of complex scientific matrixes has enabled us to understand the interaction of seemingly infinite symbiotic relationships of a natural world to which man seems not to belong. Because of the sensibility we have learned from Sir Laurens, we remain spiritually inspired as well as spiritually tortured by the quest for that feeling of belonging and re-union with the natural harmony to which we, as homines sapientes, have perhaps never fully belonged. The quest for that re-union led Sir Laurens to explore and defend the culture of the Kalahari Bushmen and their world. He spoke of the Bushmen as having achieved something that we have lost, or perhaps never had, and felt that we had lost contact with a side of ourselves which holds an important part of our humanity not sufficiently valued by industrialised society.
 
Sir Laurens knew that diversity requires recognition. Our diversity cannot be levelled down into uniformity without a concomitant loss.  South Africa is still to fully benefit from this wisdom.  Also in this respect he was ahead of his times and perhaps his message has been more appreciated abroad than in his own fatherland where many people have not yet taken heed of his words.  Nemo profeta in patria.  Our Lord Himself summed up this saying so well in Luke 4, verse 24 when he said: "I tell you the truth no prophet is accepted in his home town...".  Since the year 1920, as an Afrikaner he spoke against racial oppression.  He then rejected the theory and practice of apartheid which denied the common value of our diverse human experience.  I am convinced that he believed that a quest for morality is at the shared roots of our humanity and is the striving force of human growth and progress. Therefore he saw apartheid as inherently immoral and wrong.  He saw how, because of its immorality, apartheid hindered the growth of Afrikaners and mortified their culture in guilt and lack of self-respect.

Because of his rejection of apartheid he adopted Britain as his new country and the home of his African soul.  And yet he could not wrench himself away from his beloved fatherland. South Africa is still far being what he and I often dreamed it could become.  Nevertheless, a gigantic step forward has been taken and it is deeply saddening that Sir Laurens is no longer with us to witness the functioning of democracy for which he sweated so much and for which his heart bled for so many decades.  However, our dream will not die and I am sure that it will come to pass, as I have learned from him that often dreams shape reality.

Now more than ever all the peoples of South Africa could have benefited from his wisdom and guidance.  The triumph of democracy had set the conditions which could have enabled this great son of Africa to come back home and make a direct contribution.  Instead, in death, Sir Laurens has come back to his land to rest, and thus he has been perhaps spared the pain of becoming a solitary voice of reason in the midst of much insanity.  However, I believe that time is the greatest of all gentlemen, and I am sure that with time all people in South Africa will realise that our country can succeed only if we recognise the wisdom of such great African souls as Sir Laurens van der Post.

His life was not an easy one.  He was a giant amongst men, whose greatness often escaped those of a lesser stature.  I remain enthralled by the manner in which Sir Laurens could extract the essence of a situation, seeing clearly to its very crux.   His broad knowledge on many subjects often quite overwhelmed me. It was a rare pleasure to dialogue with Sir Laurens as I felt that he would understand what I meant even before I had spoken.  In this unspoken acceptance and understanding of what I did and of my motivation, I often took a great deal of courage.  He was one of God's gifts to our troubled land.  He was God's gift to Africa. He was God's gift to the world.  I believe that from now on many people in our country will increasingly appreciate who he really was.  He was and will remain one of South Africa's greatest sons.

In the dialogue which united us over many decades I found a continuous source of courage. He was one of the few people who understood how lonely and filled with sacrifices the road of leadership often is, especially as leadership roles face new challenges.  He knew that it is not true that the age of leaders is finished, even though the role of leadership has been completely transformed.  He often stressed to me how the stature of a true leader is measured by his capacity to lead others to lead themselves and take charge of their destinies.  For this reason, I continue to advocate the notions of self-help and self-reliance, of people becoming responsible for their own lives rather than blindly following the will of another or waiting for someone to lead them. Sir Laurens recognised that the time has come in which individuals may become their own leaders and draw on the strengths of human nature as never before. He valued the exploration of human nature as a tool towards understanding, accepting and embracing ourselves and each other.

In fact, even the advice which Sir Laurens gave to friends and political leaders alike was flavoured with the undercurrent of his profound wisdom.  He was spoken about as a "Guru" because of his astute perception, skilled political analysis and moral integrity.  Of course he did not like this appellation, but I often remind myself that "Guru" means the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.  How true for a man whose life shone with such brilliance.

On an occasion such as this I would be tempted to flash pieces of his life like snapshots of the past. Yet anything which I have to display tells the same story, an ongoing story with which we are all familiar.  Every insight and every accomplishment of Sir Laurens bears the signature of a man who ploughed the depths of the human spirit, believing always in the unconquerable dignity of mankind.  I am pleased that we have borne witness to these things and grateful that we may share them even after his passing.

The profound beauty of a garden is an extremely fitting tribute to the life of Sir Laurens van der Post.  For one so fascinated by dreams and so adept at psychology I find it comforting that a symbol of such serenity has been chosen in his memory.  I am sure that for those who will visit this garden there will be the unmistakable atmosphere of quietude in which we may examine our own beliefs and perhaps regain contact with what Sir Laurens called "the bushman in us". There seems no better way to honour him.

It would appear almost inevitable that a man of such virtue and wisdom should have an intense religious perception.  The Holy Bible had a deep impact upon his understanding of life.  In every contact throughout the years, I perceived a religious affinity between us, a mutual belief in the precepts and solidarity of Christianity. Perhaps it was because we could connect on this level that a bond of friendship and respect formed so rapidly and lasted for so long.  For this reason last year when I commemorated him in London I stated:

     "Sir Laurens was a truly modern African man, who sublimated the lessons of Africa
     into a language uniquely peculiar to him with which he conveyed them to Western
     audiences.  His intuition disclosed the value of the unity which ties together the things
     which are with those which were, and with those which are to come, and all of them
     with one another, from the small to the large ones, from those with greater to those
     of lesser consequence, but all with equal importance to the cohesiveness and meaning
     of the whole.

In this respect, Sir Laurens beautifully expressed our African awareness that there is no contradiction between humanism and religiosity which do reconcile within a higher level of awareness and enlightenment.  South Africa is proud to have had an illustrious son of his stature.

His departure leaves a void which will not be filled, and for me this loss makes the world just a little more an uncomfortable and lonely place to be.  His memory will remain with us forever, as the spirit and humanity of Sir Laurens van der Post will continue to exist within us for as long as we continue to understand and respect the wonder which we shared.  We must bow to the mercy and love of God, who chose to enrich us through Sir Laurens' prolific writings which will remain for many generations to come an unparalleled testimony of the times we lived.

South Africa and the world will ever remain indebted to him.  We thank God for his life."

We have come to this occasion summoned by sorrow for the departure of our brother Sir Laurens.  I feel that we leave this place of tranquillity enriched, almost as if the spirit and inspiration of Sir Laurens had touched us once again.  The dialogue with him has not been interrupted by death, and he will continue to live in our hearts.  As Shakespeare once wrote:

               So long as man may breathe
               And eyes may see
               So long lives this
               and this gives life to thee.

And so will the spirit of Sir Laurens van der Post continue to live in his writings, in this beautiful memorial garden and in our hearts. Also on this occasion I bow to the wisdom and mercy of God who sought to give our brother Sir Laurens a greater measure of His divine grace.  May the soul of our brother rest in peace in the arms of the Almighty and all merciful Lord.  As we open this memorial garden and lay his mortal remains to rest, I wish to thank all who have contributed towards its realisation. I admire what the people of Philippolis have done in contributing to the realisation of this garden of remembrance.  I thank the University of the Orange Free State for having planned this garden.  And I thank the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology for their contribution.  As I remember Sir Laurens' belief that our normal daily lives are the influence of our dreams, I almost feel that he now continues to inspire our dreams and that this garden is the waking evidence of our dreaming.  Requiescat in pace.  Robala Hantle. Lala Kahle.

 

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