Guest post by Willie
A tall grey shadow has been cast over South Africa for almost a week now.
South Africans have many emotions about the passing of one of the most iconic figures of our time. When the massive display of grief on the passing of Nelson Mandela becomes a bit overpowering, it is easy to become comfortably numb. Numb to the continued media coverage and bombardment of information. Amidst this overload of information the “flash mob” event, organised by a local supermarket chain and the Soweto Gospel Choir, paid a fresh and deep felt tribute to South Africa’s hero (watch video here).
This event was so much simpler than the memorial held for Mandela earlier this week. The memorial received world-wide media coverage, with probably the largest collection of world leaders and other influential people ever gathered in one place. Many sub-plots were played out with traditional opposition meeting and embracing on the day, from Obama and Castro to Winnie and Graca. It certainly was not an event run with military precision, but rather along African time and with African spirit. US President Obama delivered a finely crafted speech (read here), which stopped short of being a landmark speech – perhaps because of the lack of dramatic atmosphere?
Reflecting on South Africa’s turbulent past takes me back to the period before Mandela was released from prison. This period was characterised by polarisation of people along many lines – political, racial and religious. The memory of how well people got on, on an individual rather than group basis, remains stronger than that of the differences of the polarised groups. The best way to explain this time is perhaps to point you to the famous song “The Weeping” by Bright Blue (see video here). The images of the Bright Blue video capture the atmosphere of the time exceptionally well.
The words from the Soweto Gospel Choir flash mob song above then took me further on my journey.
Asimbonanga (we have not seen him) Asimbonang’ umandela thina (we have not seen mandela) Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is) Laph’ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept) Hey wena (hey you!) Hey wena nawe (hey you and you as well) Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona? (when will we arrive at our destination)
If you have been following this blog some of you may know that I have a passion for fishing, especially the lifestyle, adventure and stories telling that it brings. I grew up at (not in) the Victor Verster prison from which Mandela was finally released in 1990. My father was a prison warder at Victor Verster and this made it possible to navigate the prison grounds. Many of my afternoons were spent fishing for trout and bass, in the Berg River close to the prison. Mandela was housed in the old farm house to the north of the prison where a personal prison compound was created for him. When I went fishing I ventured as close to the compound as I could on my way the river, hoping perhaps to have an impromptu meeting and a chat. Not sure how I would recognise Mandela as photographs of the man were not available and definitely strictly forbidden at the time. All I ever saw was a tall grey shadow watching me watching him. In my imagination I was fishing with Mandela.
Many things have changed since then, but the tall grey shadow still lingers over South Africa, perhaps for a long time to come.