|Vol. 11 No. 11
MAY 26, 2016
Papa Kunene and Graduates
It was last week that I started to see emails circulating among members of an African men’s group that I became aware that Dr. Daniel Kunene
was in his final days. There was talk about going over to his home as a group to see him. But then news spread that Dr. Kunene had passed. He
died on May 27 at the age of 93.
I first met Papa Kunene, as Heidi Pascual, the former managing editor of The Capital City Hues — and still its webmaster — used to affectionately
and reverently call Dr. Kunene, back when I became the editor of The Madison Times back in 1999 when Betty Franklin-Hammonds passed away.
I vaguely remembered him from the anti-apartheid movement in Madison from the mid to late 1980s when students, faculty and others were
trying to get UW System to divest itself of stocks of any company doing business in South Africa.
Dr. Kunene had left his native South Africa back in the 1960s and eventually made his way to Madison as a professor in the African Languages
and Literature at UW-Madison. He was in political exile and was a local cause célèbre. Decades later, Dr. Kunene still kept those connections
with the Madison Left who supported the divestment movement and protested alongside Dr. Kunene to protest South African apartheid.
Indeed, the South African freedom movement was greatly aided by patriots-in-exile like Dr. Kunene for I truly feel that apartheid crumbled when
the powers that be saw that the continuation of apartheid would spell the downfall of the South African economy. It was people like Dr. Kunene
leading the charge that caused the downfall almost as much as the African National Congress actions within South Africa. It was a pincers
movement, you could say.
While Nelson Mandela was a great man and icon of the anti-apartheid movement, it was also leaders like Dr. Kunene who caused those
apartheid walls to fall. Yet their contributions have been lost in the glare of the light shown on Nelson Mandela. It took a Village to cause
apartheid to fall.
I first met Dr. Kunene when he was a part of a group of poets that included Fabu and I was doing a story on it. And I covered many stories
concerning Dr. Kunene ever since. I remember going to WORT to take photos when Dr, Kunene proposed to Marci and they both had headphones
on while Dr. Kunene was doing his radio show. And I took photos at their wedding at Olbrich Gardens back in 2003.
On occasion, while Heidi Pascual still lived in the U.S., we would go over to the Kunenes for dinner on occasion. Daniel and Marci were always
very charming hosts. The food and drink were very nice, but the discussions were always the main course. Daniel was such an intelligent, well-
read man. He was always so nice and had a great smile on his face.
But he was also a man of conviction. If he felt strongly about a subject and didn’t like something, his countenance and words would let you
know. You could see the emotion in his eyes because he felt so passionately about the subject. And he would not mince words. Daniel was a
man of firm convictions and moral values. Pity the person who was on the other side of those dividing lines in his life.
I would get a word or two in during these conversations, depending on the topic. But most of the time, I would just listen and learn so much
about South Africa and other matters big and small about life.
One of the last times that I saw Daniel was when he had written a poem about the Walker Administration’s attack against unions and Daniel read
the poem at a rally at the State Capitol. Daniel and Marci were about the only people of color in the crowd. But I think those ties that were forged
in the 1980s still were strong in the 2010s. And we published his poems in The Capital City Hues.
The last time that I saw Daniel was when he self-published a novel, a fictionalized account of the anti-apartheid movement called Dawn to
Twilight. One got the impression that Daniel based a lot of this on his own early years in the anti-apartheid movement. He wouldn’t come right out
and say it. But that smile on his face seemed to indicate that was true.
One of the things that I really admire about Papa Kunene is that he remained so active and so clear thinking throughout his life. Writing Dawn to
Twilight in the twilight of his life was so inspiring. I guess I have another 30 years to go.
Like I said earlier, I hadn’t seen much of Papa Kunene in recent years. But I will miss him. He is someone who has helped make Madison what it
is, a place for progressive thought and freedom. His fight against apartheid became all of our fight for freedom. As Dr. Martin Luther King said,
“An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Dr. Daniel Kunene made those words ring true. I will miss him.
During the past month and a half, I have been absorbed in two things. One is making preparations for The Hues 10th Anniversary Celebration.
The other is putting this graduation issue together.
This issue is a rite of spring for me, a time of renewal when I have the privilege of meeting several hundred young people, from high school to
college, who have completed another stage in their academic careers. What they have done with their lives and what they intend to do with them
Space and time do not allow me to pontificate words of wisdom to the graduates. But that isn’t really needed. From the column of Dr. John Y.
Odom to the advice of Kynala Phillips addressing the Women in Focus scholarship recipients, it’s all there.
I hope you enjoy reading — and looking at the photos — of these wonderful graduates as much as I enjoyed putting it together.