It’s fitting that Rhoda Kadalia’s copy of Christopher Hitchens’ grueling 1999 takedown of the Clintons, “No One Left to Lie To – The Values of the Worst Family,” should be the one I forgot to give her back .
Like many who knew and loved Rhoda, I remembered her passing in Los Angeles, surrounded by her beloved family, her daughter Julia, her son-in-law Joel Pollak, her children Maya, Alexander and Amira, and her sister Judith Kadalie-Hendricks and his Extended family on April 16, were steeped in regret, sadness, and a degree of frustration.
Regret she was so young, 68, and that I didn’t know about her battle with cancer; sad because Rhoda is coming and sitting in your heart, frustrated because I didn’t understand her contemporary take on US politics in particular.
I’ll leave Rhoda alone in LA, who I haven’t bothered with for a while. If we had stayed in touch, I know we would have fought. And that’s not how I want to remember her.
I was encouraged to read that her son-in-law, Joel Pollak, editor-in-chief at Breitbart and an ardent Trump supporter, wrote this Rhoda enjoyed watching Bernie Sanders run against Hilary Clinton just as she did Trump’s cruder attack.
Now that we mention the Clintons…
The book Rhoda had placed on the pile in my arms the day I visited her at her home in Fryde Street was one of many in neat little piles on shelves and tables in her beloved home enthroned that she had loved for many years.
Below the house, perched on a hilltop in Walmer Estate overlooking Cape Town Harbor and District Six, Rhoda’s “Komvandaan”, was a spacious basement with bathroom.
This is where her grandfather, Clements Kadalie, died the country’s first black national unionist from Nyasaland (now Malawi) after marrying Molly Davidson.
This is also the place where Pastor Fenner Kadalie, Rhoda’s beloved father, one of Clements’ sons, ran two churches, one on Smart and the other on Constitution Street. Here Rhoda looked up from the Bloemhof apartments to Table Mountain for the first time.
Reverend Fenner and his wife Joan (née Francis), a machinist, and their then five children Rhoda, David, Charles, Reuben and Paul moved from District Six in 1961.
This was after the Reverend, whose main occupation was Superintendent of the Cleaning Department on the then City Council, was promoted to Superintendent of Mowbray Municipal Wash Houses. The couple had four other children, Thomas, Bruce, Patrick and most recently Rhoda’s only sister Judith.
Then, in 1970, the family was forcibly taken to Primrose Park, along with extended family members and any South Africans violating the Group Areas Act elsewhere in the country.
Reverend Fenner served as President for Life of City Mission until his death in 2011. Such was his reach that his memorial service at City Hall was packed and crowds spilled outside.
These were some of the forces that shaped, powered and served Rhoda Kadalie. The currents that came together to forge a woman of steel were diverse and urgent.
When we first met in the 1980s, Rhoda was an academic and at the height of her incitement. She had married a white man, Richie Bertelsman, in apartheid South Africa.
She was the first to set up a gender studies unit at the University of the Western Cape and was one of those strong black women of the time who spoke out and was heard. She was funny, she wasn’t scared, she was provocative.
Rhoda was an early advocate of what was then known as “Lesbian and Gay Rights,” and indeed her home provided shelter for me and many other lesbians who roamed the city.
Her later dismay at the prospect of trans rights being included in the US, despite being contrary to the Rhoda I knew, seemed unusually vicious. I wondered if it was early feminist theory that drove this understanding. We should have kept in touch.
Rhoda’s “shift” from anti-apartheid feminist, liberal activist to conservative and even “alternative” sentiments and worldviews should come as no surprise to those who knew her. She has made many enemies with her unwavering support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Rhoda’s own orbit, her son-in-law Joel Pollack born in South Africa, raised in Chicago and a Harvard graduate, slid from left to right over time to become Breitbart’s editor-in-chief. Steve Bannons Alt-Right Platform. Before that, he was the speechwriter for District Attorney Tony Leon.
It was no secret that Rhoda despised the Clintons and everything they championed politically in the United States. In this cauldron, Trump’s rejection might have resonated with her. Rhoda has written enough to explain itself. Most of it is on the Afrikaans platform Maroela Media.
Then there’s Hitchens himself, who went left to right in support of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As I leaf through the Hitchens book this weekend, Rhoda suddenly speaks to me in the margins. Her handwriting is clear, italic, urgent, first in black pen, later in blue.
See page 48 for an account of Clinton’s 1998 response to Native American poet Sherman Alexie, who complained about living conditions among First Nations people.
On that day, Hitchens writes, “Clinton announced that his grandmother was one-fourth Cherokee.
Rhoda wrote in cursive at an angle in the margin: “Remarkable race manipulator!”
On the first page of the first chapter, entitled Triangulation, Rhoda underlined the sentence “Manipulation of populism through elitism”.
This is how Hitchens, Trump, Kadalie and Pollak see/saw the Democratic political establishment. Essentially. In his heart.
Rhoda underscored Hitchens’ take on the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s assessment that Stalinism among intellectuals could be reduced to a tactic of extermination.
“Stalinism replaced all debates about the validity of the argument, or a position, or even a person, with a question of motive… When the finger points to the moon, the Chinese say, the idiot points the finger.”
Rhoda tried not to look at the finger.
Many stories are told about the life and times of Rhoda Kadalie. It is undisputed that she played a key role in shaping democratic South Africa. Those touched by her personally number in the thousands.
Her influence and network – both nationally and internationally – was considerable. It was a network that she used to bring about the many initiatives that she led and that she was so passionate about at heart.
That she alienated many along her chosen political/ideological path is part of that story.
I want to remember Rhoda for the curries and conversations, for the delicious soups on the kitchen counter, for her generosity, her keen eye for understated chic, her courage, her strength, her commitment to family.
I want to remember Rhoda for the deep reservoir of stories and skins she could tell you about almost anyone if she trusted you enough. Sometimes, of course, she shot her mouth off, but she didn’t care.
Yes, Rhoda, daai bek kort jam.
RIP friend, mentor, adversary, complex shit stirrer. DM
On the subject of matching items