I almost didn’t get to see the Grocott’s Mail newsroom. My granny had told me about it and how it was named after my father.
But my recent trip to Grahamstown was for work and I didn’t have much time and didn’t have the Grocott’s contact details. It was my first time in Grahamstown since the early 90s.
But during an interview with Rhodes economics professor, Geoff Antrobus, he floored me when he asked whether I was related, in any way, to David Rabkin. This doesn’t happen often.
My father was in jail from 1976 to 1984 and he died two years after he was released, at just 37 years old. Mostly, people ask me if I’m related to Sue Rabkin (my mother) or Hilary Rabkin-Naicker (my aunt). Few people knew my father.
For my own part, my father went into prison before I was born. He and my mother were arrested when she was pregnant with me.
In an underground South African Communist Party cell with Jeremy Cronin, they had been printing and distributing revolutionary propaganda for four years before they were caught.
I was born in Pollsmoor Prison before my mother was released on a suspended sentence. My father was sentenced to ten years.
Although we visited him every year, these visits were short, and we were separated by a glass partition and a prison official noting every word that passed between us.
To this day, I am terrified of prisons and have a weird phobia of the sound of keys jangling against each other.
After he was released, I had him for just two years before he was killed in Angola while undergoing military training with Umkhonto we Sizwe.
So I didn’t know my father that well either. I have no photographs of the two of us together and I clutch on to every memory.
To me he is a hero. It was a really great thing when he was awarded the Order of Luthuli in silver last year. But there were so many heroic cadres who died in the pursuit of our freedom, I really don’t expect him to be remembered by that many people.
I smiled shyly and told Prof Antrobus that David Rabkin was my father. “Then you must know Guy Berger,” he said. Prof Guy Berger was in prison with my father.
My mother had often told me how special he was to my father. I had met him once before but I was too in awe to really talk to him.
I’m actually not a shy person at all, but, somehow when it comes to my father, I get like that. Prof Antrobus gave me Guy’s number.
We called him and he immediately came and fetched me and took me home for supper, without any prior notice or anything.
Though I claim to be a writer, I can’t find words to describe how much it meant to me. It felt like going
home, like I was his own family.
On the way, he took me to the Rhodes Journalism school where he lectures. Wow. What a cool place to study! And everywhere, little references to David Rabkin. It was so nice.
Then Guy insisted that I visit Grocott’s in the morning. On a freezing morning, I met up with the Grocott’s Mail editor, Steven Lang.
As we ascended the steps to the news room, there was a huge picture of my dad on the wall and a sign saying “The David Rabkin Newsroom”.
My mum teases me for being sentimental, but I couldn’t help it, I was so proud, I got all trembly. The newsroom was like all newsrooms early in the morning.
Quiet, but with the air of an impending adrenalin rush. It was great, for me at least, because I love newsrooms. My father was first and foremost a revolutionary but he was also a journalist.
I never got to talk to him about journalism and his views on it. I wonder whether he would have agreed with Noam Chomsky’s views on the relationship between media and power.
I wonder who his favourite writers were and why. I wonder what he would have thought of the South African media today. Would he have liked my work?
But I just felt that a newsroom, where young aspiring journalists are taught the trade, is just one of the loveliest ways of remembering him.
I want to thank Guy Berger, Steven Lang and everyone at Grocott’s. Every edition you put out means a lot to my family.
- Franny Rabkin is a writer in the fields of Law and the Constitution for Business Day.