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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Beverley Naidoo Launches Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett at Kalk Bay Books

Beverley Naidoo

The launch of Beverley Naidoo’s latest publication, Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett, took place last week at Kalk Bay Books. The event was attended by some who had been in exile or detention, who spoke poignantly in the question and answer session that concluded the evening.
Beverley Naidoo & Horst KleinschmidtDeath of an IdealistAnn Donald recalled her days as a university student, seeing Neil Aggett’s name up on the wall, as somebody who was in detention. She expressed her enormous gratitude that Naidoo had written the book. Horst Kleinschmidt, who joined Naidoo in discussion at the launch, took a moment to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that is made by Donald and her team at Kalk Bay Books. “In a world of greed and instant gratification where entertainment is king, we need you. Thank you for being here.”

Kleinschmidt, who was already in exile when Aggett was active, never knew him personally. However, he knew many of the people close to Aggett whom Naidoo interviewed for the book, including Auret van Heerden, David Dyson, Gavin Anderson and others. He said the book was a “meticulous and honest account” of Aggett, his work as a medical doctor and remarkable trade union activist.

“Fine writing as we find it here is one reason to read this book. Another is that, as South Africans, we still need to redeem our past. Beverley has done so by shining the light on the life of Neil and on all that was dark and gruesome, something for which he paid for with his life. It needs telling and it needs reading if we are to make sense of our collective journey forward as a nation,” he said. Neil Aggett died in detention on 5 February 1982.

Kleinschmidt recalled a recent statement from Jay Naidoo, founding secretary of the union that Neil served and died for. He expressed his outrage at the travesty at Marikana, saying this was “not the future for which Neil Aggett was murdered by the apartheid police”.

Beverley Naidoo spoke of coming to see Aggett as a young man “who practised integrity, to whom it was essential. He transformed himself from a young colonial boy, destined to be a ‘bwana’, into a man of conscience, opposing his father in the liberation struggle”.

The author said, “He was deeply affected by Black Consciousness and he engaged with it. He began doing this while at UCT. One can see evidence of this in his scrapbooks, but his first direct experience would have been his first internship in Umtata. He was surrounded by and working with black doctors in 1977. I’m sure there were very intense discussions. A number of people said to me, ‘Neil was a listener. He took what Biko said to heart, sensing that white people had to liberate themselves, their own consciousness’.”

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Liesl Jobson tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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