ijusi: issue #29 The Mandela Issue Early 2014 CONTRIBUTORS: Designers: Mariska Botha - Clinton Campbell - Bradley Cuzen - Wilmarie Deetlefs - Rikus Ferreira Melissa Furter - Paul Garbett - Rhiannon Darcy Hanger - Nix Harwood - Letitia van Heerden Roger Jardine - Anton Kannemeyer - Matt Kay - Warwick Kay - Dale Kilian - Stathi Kougianos Wilhelm Krüger - Shane de Lange - Kim Longhurst - Mike Louw - Thabiso Mbambo Ningihlenge Ntuli - Brad Purchase - Scott Robertson - Udo Schleimann - Marie Serfontein Anna Sinnige - Skullboy - Alex Sudheim - Sasha Subramoney - Sumeeth Suthurgam - Fred Swart Andre Thijssen - Patrick Thomas - Simon Villet - Nicolene van der Vorst - Brode Vosloo Garth Walker Writers: Brenton Chelin - Eli Coelho - Steve Kotze - Blake Pickering - Niren Tolsi - Anelia Varela Ernest van der Merwe
Published now and then by Mister Walker in Durban South Africa, ijusi aims to explore personal stories by South African graphic designers around the idea of “what makes me African - and what does that look like?”
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#29 The Mandela Issue
By Blake Pickering THE LAST SUPPER Revolutionary FanFic We descend into the scene from on high, two working street lights forming halos of the wood smoke and dust. A corrugated township with its barks and distant jalopies dragging their way through the night. It’s late. Miners and maids, shelf packers and picanins sleep without dreaming. We zero in on a window, paneless but crudely crisscrossed with rebar. Within the hoots and jabber of revelry. Bafawetu! BA-FA-WE-TU!
We slip through the bars like spies and join the fracas. Faces swollen with beer and laughter, half quarts on a makeshift table and a Panasonic hissing big band.
The little room, all beefy sour smell and sooty paint and gaudy melamine, all mushy from the booze and a rare night off from white spine breaking, is not, dear reader, a moment in the official history. Instead, picture the room suspended out in the infinite black, apart from age and place and the yoke of oppression. Nor are the actors in it alone. The air heaves and candles spit with the spirits of the righteous men, some fallen and others requited, of Moshoeshoe and Mao, Che and Squngathi. There to bear witness.
The little room, all exposed concrete blocks and misplaced sink, holds in it the players in a play about a rainbow nation that rains blood, both comedy and tragedy.
Jacob has the floor. A lull. Oliver, Walter, Albert, Winnie, Thabo and Nelson look on. Lilting a little on one foot, he leans down and rustles among some newspapers in a bag next to him, emerging with a brown stick of dynamite held aloft like a baton. Walter and Albert shoot nervous glances, but Winnie erupts in a cascade of laughter. Bafawetu…
Jacob settles his onlookers with a swirl of the stick. Holding himself, his face takes a regal air. “Mense, our policy is one which is called by an Afrikaans word…” Jacob’s Verwoerd, even two litres of Lion in, is dead on the money. The room goes to tatters. Thabo, usually reflective, has both feet off the floor and grips his sides helplessly. Jacob gives it a moment before continuing.
“…is called by an Afrikaans word, ‘terrorisme’,” Jacob punctuates the sentence with a hiccup, “and that is a word I’m afraid has been misunderstood so often. It could just as easily be described…” the dynamite pokes the air for effect, “as a policy of good neighbourliness.”
And with the riot of laughter our construct collapses. The players tumble outward into the void of Rivonia and Robben Island, Stompie, Sharpeville and snaking lines of voters. Onward to avarice and affirmative action, boers, bullets and Boipatong. On to the funeral of Madiba, his captors and cohorts casting lots for the relics of his South Africa.
Shane de Lange | Alex Sudheim
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandelaâ€™s body lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from 11th to 13th December 2013. Approximately 100,000 mourners viewed Mandelaâ€™s body over the three days. This image was taken at Lanseria International Airport in Pretoria at 17:46pm on 12th December 2013.
Dale Kilian | Rhiannon Darcy Hanger
Letitia van Heerden
Nix Harwood | Anna Sinnige
Nicolene van der Vorst
Shane de Lange
By Brenton Chelin
Umhlaba You return now, to the land that birthed you, The land that shaped you,
The land that you fought so valiantly for. Like your ancestors before you,
Now you reside in every inch of this, your native land.
Your voice echoes across the peaks of the Drakensberg, And through the valleys of Mvezo.
Your gentle embrace is felt in the seasonal rains.
And in fellow South Africanâ€™s you left behind, your spirit will blossom. For you are the father of our nation, and we your children. Born were we into a land of conflict and oppression, A beautiful land scarred by an endless struggle. With wounds that may forever have remained
Were it not for your moral stance in immoral times. From the smouldering ashes, you rose.
To reconcile this land, divided by a violent past. Sowing the seeds of reconciliation
To be nurtured by your example of understanding and forgiveness. And now, as we rejoice in the fruits of your labour,
You must return. Called back to the only home you have ever known. Uhambe Kakuhle Tata Madiba. Uhambe Kakuhle.
By Eli Coelho
Do Icons Dream of Dead Africanists? a fiction embroiled with facts
“Realise that everything connects to everything else” – Leonardo Da Vinci I
18 July 1918. In Europe men shred each other in a grand deconstruction of nineteenth century principalities and empires. The Allied counter offensive of the Second Battle of the Marne provides a glimmer of the dark finality as waves of young men impale themselves on the impatient guns, their guts splattered on the hungry earth; entombed in eternity at the moment of that birth.
Even as the baby roared his debut an aeroplane raid was being carried out on Kent, though to the delight of Anglophiles everywhere no English casualties were reported. Yet somehow in the undifferentiated plasma of the universe, the newborn’s cries and the shriek of bombs became entangled like a mushy memory unable to distinguish between the Schlieffen Plan, double-ply toilet rolls or a koeksuster. Though no weather records survive pertaining to the day in question, we can picture the clichéd dark and stormy night with lightning whitening the sky over the village of Mvezo as thunder growls across the Mbashe River.
That night, somewhere, certainly, couples coupled. Though it is reported (source unknown) that, yet again, in Kuruman, nothing happened. II
On that same day – a meaty Thursday sandwiched between Wednesday and Friday – The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser reported: “It will be interesting to see how the experiment in local selfgovernment works in India. There are many fine intellects among the Indian leaders, but there are also many hotheaded zealots, more impetuous than wise, who may cause disappointment.” III
One night, once more indeterminably stormy or dark, some time before his tenth birthday, the boy had a vision (or perhaps it was merely its lesser cousin, the dream) wherein he was visited by a long line of ancestors from the House of Thembu who intoned: “You will encounter many difficulties before you achieve great glory. Let nothing or no one stand in your way.” As the apparitions of the dead chiefs turned to go they paused and added, “Beware of beguiling Bizana beauties”. Then they proffered one final pearl: “Invest in comfortable shoes”. The boy told no one of this. He hugged the secret to his grave. IV
1947. A conspiracy of sinister forces conspires to do exactly what? No one knows.
Nelson gives up a job that pays £8 10s. 1d. per month, no small matter when your feet have become accustomed to Oxfords. V
In Turffontein, south of the blackening city, a pharmacist by the name of Spilkin or Slipkin reports that a tall native tried to buy arsenic to kill rats. Spilkin/Slipkin told him he would have to bring a letter from his baas. That was the last he saw of him. VI
The nostalgic heart paints the poetry of the song but remains exiled from the Promised Land.
Lembede: “I yearn for the glory of Africa that is lost and I shall strive to restore it with what remains of my life.” AND “Moral degradation is assuming alarming dimensions; this dimension manifests itself in such abnormal and pathological phenomena as a loss of self confidence, inferiority complex, a feeling of frustration, the worship and idolisation of whiteness, foreign leaders and ideologies.”
“Hasta la vista baby!” VII
The Lord smote mine enemies and these dark obscenities were wiped from the earth. The Book of Melzachi 4:7
“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance ... The murderer’s soul is blind...” Albert Camus, The Plague Chi-baba, chi-baba, chi-wawa An’ chi-lawa kook-a la goombah Chi-baba, chi-baba, chi-wawa My bambino go to sleep Perry Como, July 1947 VIII
The cow’s head writhed with maggots: a squirming, aggregated mass of living matter feeding on death. The roadside butcher offered him the putrefied hunk at a discounted price. The tall man in the expensive shoes knew that with a little effort he could transform it into an irresistible delicacy. IX
Why does everything happen in July, the month pigs refuse to fly? A cat has nine lives but every dog has his day. It’s like the case of the vanished commissar or the man who wasn’t there; like an ice pick to the head or lambs to the slaughter; a cold case unloved, unsolved, until the cows come home. X
On 30 July Anton Lembede complains to Nelson of a sudden pain in his stomach and of a premonitory chill. He is rushed to Coronation Hospital and by evening is concluded dead of “intestinal malfunctioning”. Friends speculate whether it was something he ate. That day, in an Austrian village, seemingly unrelated to the President of the ANC Youth League’s dark passage, the chief of police and his wife are gifted with a future governor of California. No one suspects a connection. No one can unravel the web’s suffocating strands. XI
“Our lives are not as limited as we think they are; the world is a wonderfully weird place; consensual reality is significantly flawed; no institution can be trusted, but love does work; all things are possible; and we all could be happy and fulfilled if we only had the guts to be truly free and the wisdom to shrink our egos and quit taking ourselves so damn seriously.” ― Tom Robbins XII
Every day we build the jigsaw anew, knowing full well that there are missing pieces. We look for absent patterns in the bewildering wilderness of the random. We watch bright-faced boys morph into monsters or compromised men. We aspire to stem the surge of night but suspect no dream survives the dawn intact. We shop for comfortable shoes. XIII
Eleven days before Mandela’s 29th birthday the AK-47 goes into production in the Soviet Union. The next day a downed UFO is reportedly found near Roswell, New Mexico. Two days later Princess Elizabeth, back in the UK from a recent royal tour of South Africa and destined never to be Empress of India, announces her engagement to the decidedly extraterrestrial Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Soon afterwards poor Anton’s entrails give up the ghost. Meanwhile in Kuruman: nothing happens.
By Steve Kotze
Mandela Rasa The fragile lingering husk that once contained Nelson Mandela became a talisman at the end of his life. Attaining very nearly a century of life among his fellow humans, the great statesman was transformed into a mysteriously magic piece of intelezi (spirit medicine). Losing his ability to communicate, his mind captive to senility and his body hidden from the world in the rich white enclave of Houghton, the circumstances of his lingering death served only to emphasize the paranormal aura surrounding him. Madiba was the blank slate, definitively imbued with whichever properties anyone needed to perceive in him.
Throughout the nation that either adored him during his lifetime as the “father of democracy” and its “greatest son”, or else despised what they saw as “‘n fokken houtkop kaffir” (“a fucking stupid nigger” in Afrikaans), “communist terrorist” or “umdayisi” (sellout) Mandela was everything in between as well. He simply became all things to all South Africans and we were granted the ability to see in him whatever we desired, regardless of the contradictions. This enchanted force extended beyond our borders to the farthest reaches of the globe, where his name was synonymous with his country. When he eventually died on 5 December 2013 the diversity of people and groups who sought to lay claim to his legacy, potency or whatever was staggering. The New York Times reported practically in disbelief how Congressional Democrats and Republicans were unified in their competition to seize hold of Madiba’s corpse and its mutable essence. In the Middle East his long standing hostility to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land was suddenly matched with an account that Mandela was trained by Mossad in Ethiopia during 1962. Apparently suppressed documents recently emerged with proof that he not only joined the Communist Party, but was a member of its Central Committee, something long denied by the ANC. Examples of his unique heterogeneous appeal multiplied exponentially, and continue to do so.
Amid universal anguish among his compatriots though, the proud acclaim was met with more quietly expressed vitriol, which together marked the two poles of Mandela’s mythology. From racist white supremacists who gleefully bid him good riddance while they mourned the two-decades long passing of apartheid, to crypto-reactionary minority “liberals” (including many of Indian descent and mixed-race “Coloureds”) who saw Mandela as the last “decent native”, his death severed the last link with the old world of ethnic respect they once commanded as a birthright. Genuine grief for the death of a beloved leader was admittedly the majority response. It encompassed all spheres of South African society. Faithful party cadres and politically agnostic young Africans alike were reduced to tears in morning traffic the following day on hearing Brenda Fassie’s My Black President broadcast on the radio. Grateful whites who had feared Mandela also wept, having learned to love the unexpectedly genial old man. After all, he spared them the trauma of public confession to apartheid’s wrongs or the personal advantages they had gained from it when he invited them into his “Rainbow Nation”, with no strings attached. Bitterness tinged the sorrow of many who hoped justice and economic reparations would accompany freedom. Betrayal was foremost on their minds. In his eagerness to placate the very anxious white voters who returned the National Party to office for decades, Mandela sacrificed all the ideals of the Freedom Charter. Niceties of diplomacy did not interest the disaffected. When righteous power was in the hands of the poor voters, they were sold out while Mandela took his holidays with Tony O’Reilly in the Caribbean. The point of course, is that Nelson Mandela was all these things and more. When people look at Madiba they see themselves.
Mandela embodied both the accomplishments and failures of South African democracy because his entire life reflects the complexity of our national narrative. South Africa is best understood as a collection of competing contradictions: urban or rural life, political militancy or moderation, social privilege or suffering and so on. A large number of these ambiguities recurred repeatedly within Mandela’s own life, and partly explain his singular ability to incarnate the dreams and nightmares of fellow South Africans.
Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1818 in the tiny settlement of Mvezo, a collection of traditional thatched homesteads huddled on a high ridge overlooking the looping Mbashe River valley. The little community represents thousands of others precisely like it that are scattered across rural South Africa. The fact that Mandela was born in a place like Mvezo gave him the instinctive ability to understand the type of life he shared with others who grew up and lived their lives in the poverty stricken countryside. Although his family came from this remote location, the circumstances of his birth were also unlike those of his neighbours. Mandela was born into the African aristocracy and grew up as a minor prince of the Thembu
royal household. He was a direct descendant of King Ngubengcuka, but is related to that monarch through the ancillary royal house known as Ixhiba, whose role was to serve as advisors and political counselors to the king.
The future political activist experienced intolerance first-hand as a child when the local white magistrate deposed his father as chief after accusing him of insubordination. This event affected Mandela’s life as his father Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa not only lost his title as chief, but his fortune in cattle as well. Together with his mother, Nelson Mandela left Mvezo and went to live in the village of Qunu. Although the place he was born in is quite close to Qunu, that short migration also marked the beginning of a very long journey that would take him all the way to the office of president, and into the role of a transformative world leader. His teacher Miss Mdingane used a mission school convention that students should have an English name too, and gave him one that belonged to a great British naval hero. This marked him as both a product of African tradition and Christian missionary influence, particularly of the Methodist Church. When Mandela’s father died of tuberculosis, at the age of 9 he was sent to live with the Thembu regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. It was the regent who was the first to discern that his young relative possessed the natural attributes to hold office and nurtured these talents.
His time at the University of Fort Hare brought about his first political transformation. Until the time he arrived to study there at the age of 21 in 1939 Nelson Mandela’s future was still firmly linked to the old order of African nobility and service to the Thembu throne. Upon embarking on his Bachelors degree at Fort Hare, however, he got to know a student named Oliver Tambo. The two men became friends and partners in their shared desire to end racist South African policies of segregation and discrimination.
The life of a migrant worker is still an all too common reality for many South Africans, so it was predictable that Mandela made his way to the industrial heartland of the country after he was expelled from university for political agitation. In utter contrast to his later experience of wealth and comfort as president, the first job he had in Johannesburg was to guard a factory. The mental image of him in the long black coat associated with that work, standing over a glowing brazier improvised from a paraffin can is an arresting one. It does not fit well with the carefully groomed urbane man pictured during the Treason Trial a decade later.
His political career began in earnest at that time when he joined the African National Congress in 1942. Despite a later reputation for compromise, his reputation at this time was based on confrontation and conflict. In September 1944 a group of these militant revolutionaries led by the firebrand Anton Lembede formed the African National Congress Youth League to pursue their aims without the constraints of the old guard within their organisation. Sadly, the 1950s witnessed a steady increase in state-sponsored violence against black South Africans and leaders of the ANC began to advocate for an armed resistance to these attacks. Mandela was at the forefront of such calls, and was actively involved in the formation of Mkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s armed wing also known as MK. It was his involvement as Commander-in-Chief of MK which resulted in his arrest and trial for treason. Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, and would spend much of the next three decades behind bars on Robben Island. He was released from prison on 11 February 1990 to play a key role in the negotiations to bring about a new political dispensation in South Africa. It is this function he is ultimately best known for, in his capacity as a nation builder. In pursuing a peaceful end to centuries-long conflict over land and resources Mandela and other liberation leaders were forced to renounce the radical ideals of redistribution and justice enshrined in the Freedom Charter. Of all the transformations in his life, this one resulted in the worst of all his identities, “a white man’s lackey” and the epithet “umthengisi” in his own Xhosa mother tongue.
After being elected as the first democratic president of South Africa in April 1994, Nelson Mandela served only one term in office and retired. Under his government the lives of ordinary black South Africans improved undeniably, as they have steadily since. But that’s not saying much, the starting point was so low that virtually anything at all was an improvement. Actually, the most improved standards of living in South Africa are among privileged whites, which explain the near complete adulation he received from that quarter. Slavoj Žižek pointed out that this fact was a sure sign that Mandela’s revolutionary aims were defeated. Maybe, but in the end Mandela’s talismanic aura gave the country space to breathe. What comes next? Who can tell?
By Niren Tolsi
Mandela’s Nightmare: The Night of the Long Knives “There is a white family out there fucking out [on fear],” sneers The Brother Moves On (TBMO) frontman Siya Mthembu, with a sardonic grin as the local art-rock band moves into a sinister groove flattened by ugly trombone notes. The multi-racial crowd of twenty- and thirty-somethings gathered at The Lighthouse in the Johannesburg suburb of Mellville for the launch of A New Myth, TBMO’s debut album, cheer Mthembu on. It is Friday night, December 6 2013. Nelson Mandela is dead.
Racial genocide – “The Night of the Long Knives” – feared by white conservatives in South Africa and amplified by the foreign media, must be erupting in their bunkered minds, suggests Mthembu with irony.
“This song is dedicated to ‘Die nag van die lang messe,’” says Mthembu in Afrikaans. “We are sharpening our pangas, and those who do not have pangas are sharpening their rocks… We are organizing this logistically through BBM (Blackberry Messenger),” he cackles.
There is laughter and cheering and Mthembu spits out menacingly: “Darkie why you care? Darkie why you dare…?” Mthembu’s angry, cynical posturing on stage feels like the first shriek of individual realism, and a counterpoint to what has otherwise been a public reception of the news of Mandela’s death on December 5 that has been dominated by homogenous, solemn bewilderment slowly evolving into celebration. The trauma of loss, yet to sink in.
Mthembu’s is a squawking critique of the Madiba mythology and legacy among the silence of parents and children gravely placing tributes outside his home on a still Friday afternoon. On that Thursday night, when news of the former president’s death broke, the vigil outside his Houghton Johannesburg home embraced the Mandela as benign conciliator and patriarch of the nation – one deradicalised by liberal history and constructed as the dyke holding back waves of black anger and bloodlust.
It was a celebration of the success of South Africa’s middle-class experiment as kids apparently straight out of the pubs and clubs joined gym-bunnies dressed in leopard skin tracksuits and neighbours to mark Mandela’s death.
“In South Africa, our vision of equality and freedom is premised on modes of privilege,” says Richard Pithouse, an academic at the Rhodes University politics department, “If you have the money, you can be part of a reconciled and equal society.” “If you are poor and black,” says Pithouse, “It is difficult to access justice and equality – principles which South Africans construct into Mandela’s embodiment and then project back into themselves and their sense of exceptionalism and nationalism.”
“These are principles affirmed in terms of law and policy, but also a symbolic imagination of what life will be like, but there is no follow through,” says Pithouse citing the examples of private landowners and local municipalities, whether run by the ANC or Democratic Alliance, who continue to evict people from homes without a court order – in contravention of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act and the Constitutional Court’s numerous judgments on rights to housing. On Saturday morning at around 2am, 45-year-old Nathi Hlatswayo was standing in front of the shrine of flowers and candles on 12th Avenue in Houghton. Hlatswayo, who has never had a formal job and currently works as a car guard in Yeoville, says he has come to Mandela’s house to “pay tribute to the man who united us” but also “because I can make more money guarding cars here than in Yeoville”.
Does he feel South Africa is still united: “Because we are sad, yes… But we are divided between the poor and the rich. There are too many people struggling with poverty and hunger today,” he says.
The class divide widening under a government run by Mandela’s ANC, articulates itself in actions, by the state and by private businesses – or both when interests conflate – that suggest “The Night of the Long Knives” is much less something white South Africans should fear, but rather something perpetrated on poor black South Africans, on a daily basis – making it a polar night of long knives.
This was evident at Lonmin’s Marikana mine last year when the South African Police Service killed 34 miners striking for better wages on August 16. According to a lawyer at the commission, 32 of the 34 dead were killed by bullet wounds to the upper-body – evidence contradictory to the police claims that they were acting in selfdefence.
On Thursday night, as President Jacob Zuma was about to tell the nation that Mandela had died, Nomzamo Zondo was texting messages from her holding cell at Johannesburg Central Police Station.
Zondo, an attorney from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) had been locked up for over five hours without being charged. She was not allowed to see her five-month old baby who she was breastfeeding. The Seri legal team had earlier that day won a battle at the Constitutional Court, which instructed the City of Johannesburg to permit informal traders, which it had evicted from streets in October, to return to work. Despite the court order, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) met trader attempts to set up stall again with violence.
“[The police] pushed me around” read Zondo’s penultimate text message to this journalist before her release, “But I was arrested for confronting a JMPD officer who was shooting a trader who was running. He had confronted the officer [because] he had two rubber bullet wounds to the back.” The pogrom against white South Africans appears as likely as the second coming of a man sanctified and deified into an almost anodyne shell of his political self.
Yet South Africa’s democratic failures – a lurch towards social conservatism, increasing authoritarianism by a state that is less transparent with every passing day, the inability to translate a multi-billion rand education budget into empowered citizens, a replication of the apartheid state’s repressive measures against citizens who mobilise and corruption that siphons millions from the national treasury every month – suggest there is an ongoing assault on the Rainbow Nation’s poor blacks. Is it because South Africa, in its uniquely schizophrenic and superficial way, pays only lip service to the virtues we construct into Mandela’s embodiment, and which we attempt to project back onto ourselves and our perceived exceptionalism?
By Anelia Varela
Nelson who? Until Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I had no idea who he was.
Google tells me it was a Sunday in February 1990: the week before my twelfth birthday.
I didn’t watch the live broadcast of him and Winnie walking down that street with their fists in the air. If I remember the scene as vividly as if I were there, it’s only thanks to years of reruns.
Who knows what I was doing that day. Maybe I was in my bedroom in my pretty hometown of Knysna, writing diary entries about my latest crush – Charl, Albertus, Louw, whoever it was that week. Or maybe I was recording the Top 40 hit parade onto blank cassette tapes, finger poised to hit Pause at just the right moment. You know, normal things that normal eleven-year-olds did. Normal, white eleven-year-olds.
We lived our lives without asking questions, blinkered by youth and censorship and small-town seclusion. It was just the way it was.
And then Mandela was released and soon we all knew who he was. And the way it was became a better way.
But still, I left. Five years after the first democratic election, I got on a plane to London, armed with a UK working holiday visa at a time when the world opened up to us in a way it never had before. I would never go back, not to live.
In London pubs, conversation often turned to Mandela when I revealed my national identity. “You’re South African? I met Nelson Mandela once.”
And they would launch into their Mandela story, keen to make a connection, to show they understood, to find some common ground.
One Brit remembered going to the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium; how he cried with the rest of the crowd when The Man Himself came on stage at the end. Another friend told me how she’d walked many miles as a teenager when she found out Mandela was visiting a nearby town, and how she stood waiting for hours just to catch a glimpse of him. I smiled at their stories, nodding, wowing and oh-really-ing in all the right places. But every Mandela story in every pub made me nervous, because I knew there’d be a pause at the end when the friend or the colleague or the random drunk would wait for me to respond with some or other life-changing story of my own. I was the South African, after all. But I didn’t have a Mandela story. And it made me feel like a fraud; like a second-class South African citizen.
It was even worse when he died. Having a Mandela story became a badge of honour to be displayed on TV and on the radio. By then I was living in New York and, like many other expats, I made a pilgrimage to Madiba restaurant in Brooklyn that night, wanting to mourn among my own. And there, outside the restaurant, white and black and brown South Africans flashed their badges for the cameras, their pithy soundbites immortalised as part of Mandela’s legacy on the local news. When they ran out of South Africans, the reporters turned to American bystanders who were keen to have their two minutes of fame.
I avoided the reporters, afraid of being exposed as the only South African in New York – or, seemingly, the world – who hadn’t had some kind of personal connection with Mandela. And now here I am, having to write an essay for the Mandela issue of i-jusi. And I have to put up my hands and say, I’m sorry. I just don’t have a Mandela story. I was too busy recording the Top 40 hit parade.
By Ernest van der Merwe
The Royal Ravens of Vilakazi Street Dear Madiba, I saw royal ravens and they lived on Vilakazi Street. They had noble intentions and spoke of harmony and not greed.
They tried to make us see that it was all a hoax for we had nothing to fear. Except for madness has grabbed hold and forced us to retreat from here.
For a lewd guilt has come over them, with a gale force wind blowing in the air. It brought danger and winged creatures that were hiding behind a cold glare. These strange creatures stole treasures from their rightful heirs.
Their dreams and thoughts were plucked from them, and vanished into thin air. Take hold; take head, for the cage has been broken, for everyone needs to be set free. The birds are all singing melodies of shattered dreams… all of this by royal decree. Up in the air… up in the big old tree, up in the air where they are free.
With stately stature, the royal ravens made promises to everyone you see.
We should have known the ravens would not retreat, nor would they waver. For the ravens have not joined us, they are here to mock and enslave us. Take hold; take head, for not everyone is born free.
May you finally Rest In Peace…for you are now truly set free.
Ijusi Magazine issue #29, themed: The Mandela issue