"This is actually nothing to say you were jailed for a year"

“I’ve been Fortunate”

image

“I told you, Dargan, I’m not newsworthy,” Oupa told me after the interview.

He had just spoken for over an hour, telling me about his experience growing up in a ghetto near Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid; getting thrown in jail for a year for helping organize protests; and being invited back after the end of apartheid to have lunch with Nelson Mandela. 

“If you go to South Africa, I will try to get you to interview Desmond Tutu,” he said, “then you will get an amazing story.” 

I had learned quickly that this type of humility was typical for Oupa. When I had first expressed interest in doing a story on him, he had been surprised and flattered, apparently baffled that I would want to write about him. 

“I can give you a whole list of people at UNF who are more interesting than me!” he told me. “I hope I don’t bore you.” 

But I was persistent, even though I didn’t know his story yet, I knew it had to be interesting. Oupa is the director of the Intercultural Center for PEACE at UNF, and I had seen him at all sorts of events throughout my four years there. His strong African accent caught my attention, and his obvious love for culture and sense of humor made him immediately likable. 

The first time I talked to Oupa directly was a few weeks before I walked into his office to ask about doing a story on him. I was wearing a South African beanie and he stopped me in the hallway to ask about it. He told me he was from Joburg, and we talked about how my brother had lived there for a little bit. I walked away wondering what brought him from South Africa to UNF. 

A couple weeks later I got to ask him, and I heard the amazing story that I wrote out for the Spinnaker in the link above. 

It was probably the most fascinating interview I have ever done. Some of my favorite parts of the interview: 

He assured me that him being thrown in jail was not a big deal. “This actually is nothing to say you were jailed for a year. It’s very minute, I mean, compared to the fact that Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his political beliefs.” 

His honesty about the feeling of being displaced. “I’m now a person in marginality. When I’m in America, people say ‘My god, you have such a strong South African accent. Everything that you’re doing is so African.’ And then I go to South Africa and when I get there they say ‘Oh my god, you have such a strong American accent. Everything you’re doing is so American.’ I wish I could have been just South African.” 

And something that didn’t make it in the article—when he was talking about diversity, he told me I need to go to Africa to experience being the only one of my race. He told me how he once went to Mexico and felt like he was the only black person in the whole country. He went to a museum, and when he came around the corner, there was another black guy! They ran to each other and hugged, but then when they tried to speak, he realized the other man only spoke Dutch. Oupa was laughing so hard while telling this he could hardly finish the story.

As I was working on the article, I emailed Oupa and asked him for a few older photos to include with the story. He sent me one of him and his daughter with Mikhail Gorbachev and one of him with Bono at Archbishop Tutu’s 80th Birthday celebration in South Africa. 

And this from the man who still thinks he’s not newsworthy. 

Oupa told me when he met Mandela, he was moved by his kindness, his caring, his concept of life, his humility, his generosity and his love.

I would say the same thing about meeting Oupa. Even after just talking with him a few times, I feel like he genuinely loves and cares about me almost like a father. I feel like we are friends. 

I am so glad I realized he was newsworthy. I only wish I had earlier.