Andrew Richard Warlick (2001)
..“YOU WILL NOT GET OFF THIS BUS ALIVE”: THE LIFE AND VIRTUES OF ANDREW WARLICK, A FRIEND, COLLEAGUE AND COMRADE (Part One)
Posted by Zackie Achmat - source: http://writingrights.org/
On Sunday 11 April 2010, Dalli Weyers my husband and I walked down Lafayette Street in New York City. Dalli saw a copy of The Onion and said “I must take that home for Andrew”. This gesture was a natural one because every week Andrew Warlick sent his friends electronic copies of stories from The Onion – a newspaper that mercilessly satirises American society and politics. This brilliant, quirky White Southerner whose ancestors fought to retain slavery in the United States always made me and all his friends laugh.
On Monday 12 April 2010, as Dalli was about to leave our friend Loring McAlpin’s apartment to board a flight to Cape Town, we heard that Andrew had died by suicide. The copy of The Onion remained in New York. Why single out Andrew Warlick our friend, my colleague and comrade for public mourning when according to the poet WH Auden “there are so many deaths we have to mourn”?
Premature and unnecessary death stalks our waking moments. Every day coalminers across the world die because of greed and neglect. Young men die in wars from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Burma. The carnage wrought by suicide bombers in Iraq and the greater carnage of the US military against the peoples of the Middle-East and Asia leaves countless people in grief and mourning. We are compelled to see these tragedies without an acknowledgment of the individuality and personalities of the dead.
The countless and uncounted deaths of children who gruesomely succumb to hunger and preventable illness are only mourned by their mothers. Black men murdered by other Black men iwill be sought by their unnamed sons and brothers. The young women killed by cervical cancer will remembered in the dreams of their orphaned daughters. The young Black working class lesbian murdered in South Africa and the gay teenager executed in Iran must be mourned in every mosque. The murder of the stateless, the refugees must be acknowledged at every service in our churches. How does one mourn a friend where death is measured in numbers?
200 000 or more people who will die of HIV related illnesses in 2010 even as the government of South Africa tries its best to reverse the crimes of Thabo Mbeki’s denialism. Their names must be read at every ANC Youth League meeting to honour life. These deaths are all singularly mourned by loved ones and yet they are a part of our common inhumanity. Their ghosts must be imagined by future generations as warnings against inequality, abuse of power, corporate lawlessness
To paraphrase the poet Pablo Neruda every one of these deaths has a place in our hearts if we struggle to be “free of injustice and evil”. When Neruda spoke of the murder of the poet Lorca by the fascist forces of General Franco he asked: “How does one dare select one name to stand out from all the others amid the vast forest of our dead!” Andrew Warlick’s name and his death embody the collective tragedy of premature death and a rich personal life of service with the most vulnerable people in our society.
Andrew Warlick made his own way to South Africa as a teenager where his family allowed him to complete high school. He attended Garlandale Senior Secondary School, a Coloured High School. This fact alone sets him apart from everyone I know as a soulful, curious, unobtrusive free spirit. After he left Rhodes University in 2005, Andrew came to work with me at the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He was recommended and selected by James Rycroft who knew him from the small Rhodes university community. Despite my initial reservations (especially because he drove a bright red Valiant and chain-smoked) I learnt to love Andrew as almost everyone who knew him did.
In 2008, South Africa was rocked by xenophobic terror against stateless and refugee Africans in our country – it was Andrew Warlick’s lot with Nathan Geffen and Hannan Braun to convince a group of Congolese political refugees led by the late Deo Kabemba to abandon their hunger strike outside Cape Town Central Police Station and to move to the Herzlia Primary School in Sea Point. We all hoped that then Mayor Helen Zille would allow the refugees to stay in the Sea Point Civic Centre.
In the toughest negotiation of his life, 25 year old Andrew convinced these war weary and battle-scarred men to board a bus and to drink soup as their first meal in a week.
On the bus, one of the refugees pushed him onto a seat and said: “You will not get off alive, if it does not stop at the primary school ” What set Andrew apart from the Mayor who refused to open the halls despite the pleas of the Jewish community organisations was his enduring empathy. He asked the refugee: “Why will you kill me?” and the answer made Andrew cry. The refugee told him that when war broke out in Congo, his mother was killed and he fled with his father to Burundi. When the Rwanda genocide happened and Burundi was torn apart by war his father was killed and he fled to Tanzania with his uncle. Eventually, they made their way to Cape Town where his home had been wrecked three times and his humanity questioned every day by South Africans. Andrew was loved by these men because of his humanity even though they trusted no-one.
In an address to Harvard University graduands JK Rowling spoke of the centrality of empathy to imagination. She drew on her experience as an Amnesty International worker to write Harry Potter. She first addressed the importance of failure in human experience and then she turned to imagination.
“You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared. …”
“I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.”
Andrew Warlick exemplified the centrality of empathy to imagination. He enjoyed games, science, stories, imagination that creates, invents and innovates. Andrew had much more imagination than that he lived the civil wars of Africa through the victims of xenophobic terror. Empathy was the most important lesson he learnt as a white man from history and politics, This virtue stemmed from the psyche of civil war in the United States to free slaves, a slaughter that displaced millions and led to the deaths of about 600 000 soldiers. Civilian deaths could not be tabulated and if Andrew could, he probably would have counted civilian deaths because of his love of evidence. Empathy allowed Andrew Warlick to work with humility and to great effect in some of South Africa’s poorest townships and villages.
As a son of the American South in South Africa, Andrew displayed what philosophers have cited as the first virtue. He was polite to a fault even towards people he disliked i. Activists, colleagues, friends and every person who dealt with Andrew spoke of his elegant and effortless politeness.
The virtues of this beautiful and brilliant young man who came into my life as an assistant and researcher enriched my life and those of the hundreds of people that he knew. Tens maybe hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV and those who use our health system will never know him but his work in the Treatment Action Campaign team improved their lives. It is this work that I will remember in another note.
20th April 2010