It has taken me a while to decide how to write this final blog post. Endings rarely make sense to begin with, and they make less sense if one has not had time to look back and reflect more thoroughly and comprehensively.
On Wednesday, July 26th, People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty (PASSOP) held an event called “Colours of Cape Town” at 6 Spin Street Restaurant in Church Square, Cape Town. Between 5PM and 10PM, a collection of students, organization and community leaders, artists and musicians, and professors and educators gathered for an evening of solidarity with the LGBTIQ refugee community.
The opening speaker for the event was Albert “Albie” Sachs, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. As Supreme Court of the United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has written in a book called “Art and Justice,” Albie remains one of the most influential jurists of the past century. Professor Warren introduced the two of us to one another, and I remain completely indebted. After a few friendly emails, I asked if he wanted to speak at the Colours of Cape Town event, and he graciously said he would give opening remarks. That Wednesday afternoon, I walked down a cascade of stone steps to find his bungalow in the Clifton area of Cape Town, and he greeted me warmly and asked me to wait for a moment in his living room (where “Art and Justice” sat temptingly on the coffee table). When we began our chat, he asked if I had any questions for him, and of course I asked, “Do you have any advice for an almost-attorney?” He shook his head, without smiling, and hesitated a moment (I’m almost certain all the color drained from my face in that moment). Then he replied, “Anything I could say to you won’t mean much. Follow your life, and your dreams will follow.” I laughed nervously, but then he smiled, and we had quite a conversation, about the tour of the Constitutional Court of South Africa that he hosted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, human rights and democracy before and after apartheid, and his experiences and opinions of Chicago (my home).
As we gathered our things to leave for the Colours of Cape Town event, I asked if he knew what a “selfie” is. He laughed, and said, “It’s funny. I don’t have a cell phone, but of course I know what a selfie is!” He immediately went to his deck overlooking the ocean (with his cats trailing behind him), and we took a picture overlooking the ocean to send to Professor Warren.
After catching our Uber, he mentioned he was scheduled for a conference with Justice Sonia Sotomayor the upcoming Friday at the law school at University of Cape Town. Then he asked me, “What do you think we should talk about?” Again, the color probably drained from my face, and I tried to think of a clever answer. After replying, I asked, “What do you think you should talk about?” He said he didn’t know, and would probably just wait until that Friday evening and feel the moment after he had come to know her a little bit.
Colours of Cape Town itself proved to be marvelous.
Albie’s opening speech touched on his experiences as an exiled refugee in the United States and in London, as well as the Fourie and Union of Refugee Women cases, which he spoke about to draw connections between law, policy, and issues that refugees face on the ground.
Prince, from Zimbabwe; Shamsa, from Somalia; Tendai, from Zimbabwe; and Mervin and Stella, from Malawi, shared their experiences as LGBTIQ nationals of their countries of origin, and as refugees living in Cape Town. They talked about issues ranging from longterm lack of employment due to employers refusing to hire those without documentation, to abuse and forced marriages to persons of the opposite sex, to the pain of not being able to help every fellow refugee who walks through the door of a nonprofit organization, to the feelings that one experiences in the first moment of stepping off the bus or truck in a new country. Jacqui The Poet turned the lights down, pulled out a few pieces of paper from her bag, and led the group through the world of her prayers and poems.
And Sharon Cox, the Health and Support Services Manager at Triangle Project, closed out the speaker series with thunderous applause.
The rest of the evening was full of merriment, networking, perusing Roy’s (a gay refugee from Uganda) handmade jewelry and fabric bags and scarves, visiting the rooms reserved for Enhancing Care Foundation and their free healthcare and STI testing services, and (for me and Victor) thanking everyone who attended and contributed to Colours of Cape Town: Winter 2017.
We had two homeless LGBTI refugees reach out to PASSOP immediately after the event, and that proved to be the best thanks I could have received for putting the event together and turning PASSOP’s event from 2016 into an annual (thus far) affair.
Sincerest thanks to Victor Chikalogwe, Albie Sachs, Sharon Ludwig Cox, Jacqui The Poet, Robert Mulders, Alwin Roux, Prince, Shamsa, Mervin, Tendai, Mel, Marie Lunau, Calli Schmitt, Lakeisha Gardner, Matt Keating, Matthew Clayton at Triangle Project, Guy Hamilton at Pride Shelter Trust, Tariro Washinyira at GroundUp, Ayanda Marepula-Maneli and Sarah Christie at Enhancing Care Foundation, Saya Heather Pierce-Jones at 90.4FM, the performers of The Fall, LesBiGay at Stellenbosch University, and Rainbow UCT.