Forest Whitaker and Cape Town poet Brian Williams working for peace in Africa

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

It is perhaps ironic that American actor Forest Whitaker won a string of awards for his portrayal of an African dictator and is now involved in peace efforts on the continent.

Whitaker must have been motivated by his role as dictator Idi Amin from Uganda as he is now playing a role in ending Africa’s conflicts. He is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

Cape Town poet Brian Williams (left) with American actor Forest Whitaker. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town poet Brian Williams (left) with American actor Forest Whitaker. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Whitaker was in Cape Town this week at the launch of a poetry book penned by Brian Williams, who works with him as a mediator in countries like Sudan and Uganda.

Williams, who lives in Kensington suburb, left for South Sudan on Friday, shortly after launching his book, Daughters of the First, at the University of the Western Cape on Wednesday night.

Williams works as a professional mediator and runs a consultancy that focuses on mediation in communities. He joined forces with Whitaker in 2012.

At the time, Williams was negotiating a peace agreement between the City of Cape Town and Hangberg residents.

In Williams’ book, Whitakers writes that it was in November 2012, that “Brian and I went out to meet the (Hangberg) community and its leaders”. He was filming Zulu alongside actor Orlando Bloom in Cape Town at the time.

Whitaker continued: “They were a committed group and walked me through the community explaining how the police had come in with guns filled with rubber bullets and forcibly removed people.

“As we sat and talked with the community, I noticed how Brian used words. The manner in which he could take a negative word uttered from either side of the table and transform it, while never destroying the message of the sender. He was using a high form of communication.”

He concluded that Williams “would use tonality to touch the heart, structure to bring security to the brain and syntax and punctuation to drive home peace into everyone’s soul”.

“I would watch this transformation take place during dialogues in Khayelitsha, Langa, Hangberg, Crossroads, Kensington, Hanover Park and finally with peace builders in my programme in far away Uganda and South Sudan,” he wrote.

“In these sessions I learned of Brian’s love of true communication and the alchemy that’s involved through the connections that it nurtures.”

Williams said his writing and work intertwined, as the poems focus on encouraging peace too.

This was the first time that he was talking to the media about his work with Whitaker, he said.

“I don’t use it (the Whitaker link) to leverage it for myself. Nobody knows that we work together. You won’t find it on my website,” he said.

“In the nature of the work that I do, I need to protect the confidentiality. Until he decided to write in a book about our work together I decided not to speak about it.

“The work that I do requires confidentiality. I’m involved in mediation and no one can know about it.”

He said Whitaker had come on a “private visit to South Africa but broke his cover by coming to the book launch” where he read a poem from the book.

Daughters is the fifth poetry collection that Williams has published. His debut collection, The Wounded Spear Arises, was praised internationally after it was published in 1989.

Williams, who holds five university degrees, is currently doing post-doctoral research about community reconstruction. He started his working life as an electrician on a construction site though.

Later, he was involved in anti-apartheid union efforts and joined the department of labour in the Western Cape in 1995.

He said after 1994, with the birth of democracy, it “became important was how to reshape relationships” and he got involved in that.

“We needed the new government to succeed. Everybody was redefining relationships,” said Williams.

“Transformation is about relationships. It is about genuinely caring for other people.”

Williams is presently on the executive authority that runs the University of the Western Cape. His book is available for sale at R100 and non-governmental organisations that sell the book can keep the proceeds, he said.

For more information contact Williams at 082-499-3636.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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