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Profiles on two anti-apartheid activists

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Margaret Carter

In Margaret Carter’s house, wherein we would reside every Wednesday and every other weekend for visitation with our father, the kitchen table was central to all domestic and public matters. Margaret taught us how to bake raisin bran muffins and fashion crafts there, but she also launched movements — through art, protests, education, writing, documenting events and lobbying those in power.

Her bedroom door was three feet from the kitchen table, and affixed to her door was a sign that read “Work is love made visible”, a quote from the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran.

Margaret was a member of the Anti-Apartheid Coalition in Bermuda, founded in 1981. She, along with our father, Ronald Lightbourne, Glenn Fubler and Canon Thomas Nisbett, worked to raise funds to fight against, and to promote awareness of, the injustices and brutality of South Africa’s apartheid policies.

On April 21, 1986, the Anti-Apartheid Coalition hosted a public forum entitled “Why Solidarity With The South African People?” with Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and a representative of the United Nations, as the featured speaker.

When Archbishop Huddleston visited Bermuda, we were 11 years and 9 years old respectively. I am not even sure we ever even met him, but there was a palpable buzz in the house in anticipation of his arrival. During that week, Margaret and our father ferried him around with reverence and excitement, using one of the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association’s buses.

At this kitchen table, Margaret wrote letters against the South African apartheid regime as a member of Amnesty International. I believe that is how she came to meet human rights lawyer Clare Hatcher and a number of social justice activists in Bermuda at the time. My father’s friend, Glenn Fubler, has reminded us that the Bermuda anti-apartheid movement meetings took place at the Opportunity Workshop, the headquarters of the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association at the time.

While Margaret was unable to walk, what she was able to do with her hands surpassed anyone else I know. I clearly remember one Easter, Margaret making a miniature model of a Bermuda kite with toothpicks. The dexterity needed was no joke. I enjoyed helping her with all such projects and remember assisting in putting together hundreds of ribbons and pins, fashioned in African National Congress colours to be handed out during that time.

I remember at that kitchen table, conversations flipping back and forth from the mundane to the revolutionary, including talks about the anti-apartheid movement and human rights generally. Margaret documented our lives through the now dying art of scrapbooking. Thanks to her commitment and artistry, we can now refer to those times, and we can jog our foggy, childhood memories.

It has been said that Margaret was not afraid to speak truth to power. That was a fact. She used her voice and her hands, and any resource she had to ensure that people everywhere — in particular in Bermuda and South Africa — could have equal rights and dignities, so that there was the possibility of equity and inclusion, and so that everyone had access to the same resources.

Margaret died before Nelson Mandela was released from prison and later became the first Black president of South Africa. Both she and Mr Mandela, “Madiba”, are a testament to the truth of that Khalil Gibran quote on Margaret’s bedroom door. They both worked for the freedom and dignity of all South African people during their lifetimes. Indeed, work is love made visible.

Ronald Lightbourne

In our childhood eyes, our father was magical. As an educator, he was able to take everyday life moments and turn them into learnings, but all under the guise of play. We did not grasp the education we were being provided as we sang call-and-response in the Bermuda Public Service Association van on the way to school. So it was with our involvement and understanding of the anti-apartheid movement, and my father’s role in it.

While studying to become a teacher in London, at the College of St Mark and St John, our father distinguished himself by becoming a founding member of the college’s Anti-Apartheid Society. It followed that upon his return to Bermuda, he and colleagues Glenn Fubler, Margaret Carter and Canon Thomas Nisbett founded the Anti-Apartheid Coalition Bermuda.

Much of what I remember emerges in the form of storytelling and highly erudite, strategic conversations with my father’s peers. I suspect that I did not understand half of what was being created during those years. However, the mere fact that I idolised my father meant that all he did — and all we did together — profoundly influenced me.

From the perspective of the anti-apartheid movement, it meant that when my father travelled to Paris in June 1986 as the Bermuda delegate to the Unesco World Conference on Sanctions against Racist South Africa, and brought me back a T-shirt with Mandela’s likeness and the words “Liberez Mandela”, it left an impact. So much so that when Jessica sat the 11 Plus exam, when the essay prompt asked what slogan she would put on a T-shirt and why, she wrote “Free Mandela” and began to deconstruct the apartheid problem, which caught the attention of our school principal, Margaret Manders.

Upon our father’s return the Anti-Apartheid Coalition, the Amalgamated Union of Teachers, the Bermuda Helping Professions Association and the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association, along with nine other local organisations, gathered to voice their solidarity with the South Africans fighting against their oppression at a rally at City Hall.

Just a year before in August 1985, Bishop Desmond Tutu recognised the work of the Bermuda Anti-Apartheid Coalition, including the Let Your Lights Shine demonstration and an interdenominational prayer vigil.

Teachable moments central to our childhood were viewing Cry Freedom together in the Liberty Theatre, travelling to New York to see the original cast of Sarafina perform on Broadway, and visiting the bust of Mandela in my father’s old stamping grounds in London.

My father was a storyteller and so we took pleasure when he recounted stories of a protest at Wimbledon, where he and some anti-apartheid activists charged the court during a match and were arrested. He chuckled at his naivete, as he was the only member of the group who gave the police his real name.

Ron Lightbourne and Margaret Carter

He also laughed when mentioning the Royal Gazette front-page article which mentioned “[more] than a dozen members of the [Bermuda Anti-Apartheid] group, including two children” picketed the offices of Minorco, an exempt company with South African ties, in solidarity with and support of South African gold-miners. He suspected that the mention of the children (us) was meant to shock and appal the public.

Ron Lightbourne
Jessica Lightbourne

Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement meant so much to my father that later in life he tattooed Nelson Mandela’s name and prison number on his arm while visiting one of our friends living in Barcelona, something that our former-political prisoner tour guide at Robben Island remarked on during our trip to South Africa in 2017, months before our father died unexpectedly.

Jonathan Lightbourne

In a Royal Gazette article from June 22, 1987, our father highlighted Bermuda’s systemic racism, and his wish for us to join our hands in love and freedom. He defined love as “the consistent, compassionate, disciplined caring for each other in every day which nurtures human life, body, mind and spirit”.

He continued: “And by freedom I mean the reasonable restraint of every barrier, every impediment of the full flowering of every talent.”

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Published June 28, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated June 28, 2021 at 7:39 am)

Profiles on two anti-apartheid activists

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