On Thursday millions of people around the world will be clamouring to buy roses and make dinner reservations so that they can entertain someone special in their lives. It is, of course, Valentine’s Day, known as the day of love in many countries.
Irrespective of its origins, dating back many centuries, Valentine’s Day has become popular with people who are looking for love or who believe they have found love.
When we were young people growing up in the Struggle, we were sceptical about days like Valentine’s Day, seeing it only as a commercial opportunity introduced by the capitalists to exploit the vulnerable working class even more. The scepticism is still there, but it is muted somewhat. We all know that it is more about making money for people who sell roses, chocolates and other stuff associated with love, but we don’t mind playing along, within reason.
I almost always buy flowers for my wife on Valentine’s Day, but it might not be roses, because who decided that the best way to show your love is by buying roses? There is a demand for roses on this day which, of course, means that people who sell roses can increase their prices and make a lot of money in the process.
Most Valentine’s Days are filled with sadness for me, because I inevitably think about people who are no longer with us, people who might have played a role, directly or indirectly, in my life over the years. One such person is Vernie Petersen, the former national commissioner of prisons and director-general of sport who, it was revealed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in State Capture recently, resisted many attempts to corrupt him while he was the head of prisons.
It was through Vernie that I met the love of my life, my wife, who has been my life partner for almost 35 years. I was organising young people in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain, and Vernie, who was from Westridge, came around to check up how we were doing one Thursday night. In his brown VW Beetle were a few members of the youth group in Westridge. I only had eyes for one of them and she later became my wife.
This Valentine’s Day, I will be thinking especially about Vernie’s loved ones who were deprived of him way too soon.
It was difficult during the Struggle years. As activists, we were taught to be sceptical about everything, including love. It was not easy to admit to anyone that you had fallen in love. The many commitments we had, meetings almost every night after work, meant that love life often had to take a distant second place in terms of importance.
Over the years I have realised that love can be overrated but developing a good partnership with the person you have chosen to spend your life with, can never be. You need to learn to laugh together and not only love together.
Love can take different forms. There is the love that I felt for my mother who was the disciplinarian in our family, but I understood it because she had to raise five children, mostly with minimal support from my father, under very difficult circumstances.
Then there is the love that I felt for my three daughters from the minute I witnessed each of their births. This love, like the one that ends up in marriage, has to survive through thick and thin, through sickness and health, etc.
More recently, I have discovered another kind of love, for my grandson, who, in the space of eight short months, has stolen the hearts of everyone in our family. He has become the centre of our universe and we follow every step in his development with great interest.
It is good to love and be loved. You don’t need a special day for this and you should not have to prove it with roses, chocolates or special dinners. That does not mean you should not spoil your loved ones from time to time and not only on Valentine’s Day.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 9 February 2019)