It is seven days since Durkje bid us all farewell. At last we have bid Durkje farewell.
It was one of the most beautiful farewells one could ever imagine. So many contributed, every contribution was precious.
This was a memorial to the life, the achievements of Durkje but also an expression of overwhelming love for Durkje. Our thanks and gratitude must go to you Chris Langeveld. You channeled our love for Durkje into a celebration of a life spent selflessly for those that needed it most, the dispossed and the wronged.
Durkje is a diamond of many facets (I still cannot get myself to use the past tense). Sister to Imme and Janneke, Mother to Henry and Charles, Grandmother to Meagan and Grace, Mother in law to Rina and Naomi, care giver and champion to untold numbers of people. Every person at the service departed with a shared experience of this gift to the country she loved and made her own.
The time line followed was of her service as an attorney. The Legal Recourses Centre (LRC) office in Pretoria is where the Law of Land became her specialty. None were surprised at her appointment as a Land Claims Commissioner. Many more were saddened when it became clear that the three year contract was not to be renewed. Testimonials there were aplenty from communities she had served in Limpopo and Mpumalanga and those of her Pretoria LRC days in Northern Province and North West.
With the staff she so carefully recruited, a foundation was laid and lines of action were thrashed out that simply did not exist. The research they did and the results they achieved in but three years clearly demonstrated that they were on the right track, that progress in rural land reform was possible but, by its very nature, will be slow and difficult. Undaunted she returned to the LRC, this time in Johannesburg, to continue with her passion, Land Reform, as an attorney for communities that needed their claims taken forward. With no limitation on the communities she may assist, she answered calls from close to home to the far reaches of Northern Cape, North West Province, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Cases that she had worked on before she was Commissioner came back to her still unresolved. Three days before admitted to ICU with double pneumonia, she was in Piet Retief taking forward claims she had nurtured as Attorney of Gilfillan du Plessis, after she retired from LRC. Her colleagues kept alive the hopes of many communities whose claims were still in progress. Standing there in the ICU cubical she had occupied for more than eight weeks, with her now cold body, I grieved for these precious colleagues and the communities whose hopes they had kept alive believing, as did we all, that it was but a question of time. For us as family it is a grievous loss, but we will recover. For they that desperately hoped for her recovery, that she will continue the work that is interrupted, I found her passing particularly cruel.
But there were others at the memorial service that remembered another Durkje, the political activist, the municipal candidate, with her picture plastered across the ward she contested. (It was no surprise she did not win. The surprise came from a person of “the other side”. His words to me were “you wife did remarkably well”). They recognized, if not the face then the name. They so wanted Durkje to succeed. For our sons it was “that is our mommy”. They knew of this women that welcomed to our home, for a get together, the Delmas trialists (largest of the so called Delmas trials transferred to Pretoria) out on bail. When I and friends visited Pretoria Central Prison, with food parcels, the three denied bail, Durkje befriended their families, keeping open house for those that came from far.
I recall a young boy, totally absorbed singing to himself, placing one after the other, the toy cars, trucks, trains, whatever he found in the cupboards of our sons, in a line that snaked down the passage and into the lounge. Now a not so young man I wonder if he remembers those moments of tranquility away from home, with father awaiting trial in Pretoria Central Prison.
Others at the service recall our visits to the townships to observe and report on acts of violence against individual activists and communities, to MP’s of the Opposition in the White Parliament. These MP’s were the protective umbrella we used to bluster our way through tight and potentially dangerous confrontations with the system. Still others recall Durkje’s work in the Pretoria Black Sash, and the relationships we developed with representatives of foreign Governments. A dear friend, and Chair of Black Sash, was detained at the beginning of one of the states of emergency of the 1980’s. A visiting foreign minister, of a leading Western Power, was asked by a small delegation, at a meeting in the embassy, to intervene on her behalf (he did just that, to be chocked off for interfering in the affairs of RSA). Imagine the amazement as he emerged into the full glare of TV cameras, followed by the delegation with Durkje and then I in tow!
When was Durkje so heavily involved politics and unrest monitoring? When as housewife and mother she was studying law by correspondence. Henry was once asked “what work does your mother do”. The innocent young boy retorted “my mother doesn’t work”.
Representatives of another land claim, that has been with Durkje for some time, were present at the Memorial service but, for lack of time, did not come forward to speak. I quote from a letter written by Durkje to the community representative. “Through research I am sure I have found the legal answer to enforce transfer of ……. (your communities) rights.” -Chris Gilfillan