Brush strokes of Mandela's influence felt in Orange

VICTOR Gordon was a young boy of eleven growing up in a middle class white neighbourhood in South Africa when former President Nelson Mandela, who died on Friday, was sent to prison, branded by the government of the time as a terrorist.

Saddened by the imminent death of the the iconic leader, Mr Gordon penned a poem in tribute to Mandela as the sun was rising on a Saturday morning in June, evoking strong memories of his years living in frightening times in segregated South Africa.

As a child Mr Gordon could never have imagined years later he would be standing in the same prison where Mandela was incarcerated, nor that his paintings would be hanging on the walls of that same prison.

Mr Gordon's paintings, donated to the South African people as part of an art project to depict the importance of the struggle against apartheid, have since travelled the world.

As the son of a Jewish father and fundamentalist Methodist mother with black servants who lived in a shed at the back of their house, Mr Gordon believed he was living a completely 'normal' life.

"At the time there were many differences - the servants were never allowed to use the front door and were only allowed to eat off enamel plates and cups," he said.

"The female servants were forced to be separated from their husband and children for most of the year - but as I child it was all I knew.

"It wasn't until I grew older I became aware of the injustices."

At the age of eight he was shattered by an experience of brutality against black farm labourers which has remained with him since.

It was during a school holiday visit with his sister to the farm of their Afrikan cousin where, as was the case on most farms owned by the white in South Africa, black workers squatted and lived in feudal subjugation on the farm.

"We were just driving along and all of a sudden my cousin stopped the car took out a sjambok (whip) and began beating these black people who were on the side of the road," Mr Gordon said.

"He beat those people so hard they were like mince meat - I was so terrified I wet my pants."

The young Gordon and his sister were so distressed by their experience they called home to their parents who came to collect them.

The sjambok to this day is associated with the brutality of the South African regime during the time Mandela was imprisoned as it was regularly used by police to beat and brutalise the black population.

The scene appears in some of Mr Gordon's work, which he painted years later during the most oppressive time of the apartheid regime.

With Mandela behind bars and the black South African population oppressed, and with a growing sense of social justice, a 15-year-old Gordon found himself the subject of police brutality when he tried to fight off a policeman who had set his vicious dog on a defenceless black man.

"I just couldn't stand by and watch and do nothing, so I tried to beat the policeman off," he said.

Mr Gordon was thrown into a cell with 25 other men who were systematically taken away to be beaten during the night.

"There was one journalist who tried his best to protect me," Gordon said.

This experience would come back to haunt Mr Gordon in more ways than one.

"When I applied to Australia I was really concerned that would go against me and it would come up as a criminal record, but fortunately as I was under 18 it was considered an offence by a young person with no conviction recorded," he said.

After being drafted into the military in South Africa Mr Gordon decided he wanted to leave his native land when faced with the prospect of being sent to towns and villages to brutalise young black men, which was considered to be 'part of the job' for anyone in the military during the apartheid era.

He headed for Australia, managing to sneak out the illegal paintings of the vicious police brutality, death and destruction during the years Mandela was incarcerated.

Those paintings today have been exhibited all over the world after Mr Gordon donated them to the South African government.

Mr Gordon wasn't in South Africa when Mr Mandela was released from prison, but soaked up the emotion of the historic event in Sydney.

"While the whole world was there to watch him I shared that special moment with my niece," he said.

Mr Gordon said Mr Mandela's ethos of passive resistance will install him as one of the greatest leaders of the last century.

"He will be remembered like Ghandi," he said.

A POEM WRITTEN BY VICTOR GORDON:

Hamba kahle Madiba (Farewell Nelson Mandela)

Ironically his lungs gave out in the end 

He inhaled the furies of racial hatred

then exhaled resistance 

He breathed freedom, tolerance and 

compassion into the struggle

He himself breathes no more... 

but his breath is now everywhere.

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