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Lynn Carneson's Red in the Rainbow Exhibition Opens at Iziko Slave Lodge

Lynn Carneson and Albie Sachs

The launch of the latest exhibition at the Iziko Slave Lodge was a glorious and joyful occasion. Red in the Rainbow: The Life and Times of Fred and Sarah Carneson is a heroic narrative told by the Carneson’s eldest daughter, Lynn. The exhibition contains a fascinating range of images and artefacts that enhance the narrative and enable viewers and readers to have a direct encounter with the Carneson family’s experience.

“This is an exhibition in honour of everybody who fought apartheid,” said Carneson, welcoming her parents’ erstwhile comrade, Albie Sachs, who opened the exhibition. She praised Sachs, who is a member of her extended family, as “a living example of the spirit of the struggle that never goes away … with his generosity, his love and total commitment to making this world a better place”.

Red in the RainbowSachs recalled an occasion when about 10 members of the Communist Party who parked at isolated spots on the green belt in the early morning and walked to meet each other under a certain tree on the sides of Table Mountain. “Fred Carneson waved his arm at the rainy vista and said, ‘Welcome to the boardroom!’”

Sachs remembered how Chris Hani left, followed by Reg September, Ray Alexander and Jack Simons and then the rest of the group one by one. “Eventually it was just Fred and Albie Sachs,” he said. “Fred was the bravest of all of us. He stayed at his post as the police were closing in, as people were being tortured to death. He was very meaningful to me, setting a standard of ebullience and brightness. In his detention he received some of the worst treatment … like his torture by sleep deprivation for five days until he collapsed.

“We tell these stories because some people have converted the South African experience to a magical moment when Mandela walks out of jail and does a deal and South Africa becomes free. It’s so unfair to those who invested their lives in a struggle for justice and freedom. The question I’m asking of the children today is ‘Was it right to dedicate your life to the freedom struggle?’ The sacrifice was heavy. It was felt by the parents but endured by the children,” said Sachs.

“Growing up in a world when your parents were being whipped off to jail, there were pressures at school, psychological pressures mostly. People ask the question: Was it worth it? In a sense it’s an impossible question. It was an exceptional time, and an exceptional choice the parents made. Please don’t take South Africa’s freedom for granted. Don’t let it be frittered away. Don’t undermine our Constitution.

Ruth Carneson“Lynn didn’t grow up feeling wronged and abandoned, feeling she was somehow victimised by the choices her parents made. She grew up feeling the pain. But she grew up proud, with values, and a sense of self.

“Ruthie shows this in her proud and beautiful book, Girl on the Edge the pressures she bore as the youngest. This is a special honour and brings a sense of joy to open this exhibition because of the two daughters who lived through the trauma.”

Carneson was at pains to emphasise that this exhibition looks forward as well as backwards. She said, “Despite our collective experience of political persecution and torture, and the prolonged separation, what emerged was a tale of enduring love and triumph over evil. This exhibition does two things. It vividly recounts my parents’ life in exile and their long awaited return to South Africa in 1991, and it casts its eye to the future, inviting those who engage with it to ask how they will be part of an evolving South Africa.”

The author invites readers to experience the exhibition first hand and find out what their response to a future South Africa will be:

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