Tag: Nelson Mandela

To Come Back from Qunu

I do not have a background in the struggle. Unlike the many people who over…

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Burying Comrade Nelson Mandela

Part of the difficulty of organizing this ritual is this: nearly 20 years after apartheid we are scattered generations with diverse fates. We have lived long enough after 1994 to not only be the oppressed. We also now include both the beneficiaries and the losers. We are both the celebrators and the cynics. We are the unemployed and we are also the new business elite. We are the party officials, the parliamentarians, the bureaucrats; but we are also the most vocal critical dissidents and leaders of new social movements. We are the ruling party and we are also the opposition. We are the committed and we are the disinterested, the disappointed and the eternally optimistic. In this moment, where Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela was also above all, the name of a comrade among those on the Island and in exile, we are all reminded of shared generational births into a political community. It is these generations who want to sing their political songs , their songs of longing, defiance and fighting, to laugh and smile and cry together. Grief has that effect of re-uniting the dispersed– even if ever so briefly.

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The Mandela Legacy

Madiba’s example of forgiveness, reconciliation, and humility are inseparable from his unwavering commitment to combat white supremacy, and promote equality and justice. That commitment, conveyed in his leadership, provided a beacon to the negotiations to replace apartheid with democracy. We saw it flash bright at CODESA after De Klerk used his closing remarks on the opening day of the CODESA negotiations to complain that the ANC had not abandoned its armed struggle, even as the parties were now gathered around the negotiating table. Mandela had already given his closing remarks and De Klerk was to have been the last speaker of the day. But an incensed Mandela insisted on returning to the podium where he castigated De Klerk so vehemently that two decades later De Klerk is still licking his wounds: “Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold … he has abused his position because he hoped that I would not reply. He was completely mistaken.” Mandela went on to remind the audience that the armed struggle was suspended to give negotiations a chance and that it was one of the agenda points for the negotiations begun that day.

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Playlist: South African Jazz for Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man that so many South Africans have come to love, even those who grew up being taught that he was a communist and a terrorist when communism was portrayed as a great evil. He achieved so much in his life, but what he achieved was for the people of South Africa–not for himself. Nelson Mandela, in his biography A Long Walk To Freedom says “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.” Many jazz artists have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela over the years, and I felt it fitting to dedicate one of my radio shows to this music as a tribute.

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The two mutually irreconcilable Nelson Mandelas

Nelson Mandela’s post-presidency saw the rise of a larger-than-life caricature of himself, one that somehow managed to be smaller than both the real accomplishments of the man as revolutionary and politician, and an apolitical, often commercial, valorization of the failures of a lengthy transition to democracy that never seems to amount to liberation.

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That Woolworths’ Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela presents a complex, complicated, even contradictory set of public images that have been cycled and recycled in ways that allow many stakeholders to appropriate and mobilise his legacy. Of course corporate entities do not have a responsibility to uphold civic values; but that does not mean we cannot engage in a case-by-case scrutiny of how – and in what ways – these mediated projects seek to pay heed to the core values and ideals Nelson Mandela stood for, when they pay tribute to him. As an example, I want to look at one popular, well-intentioned and well-received South African corporate sponsored tribute dedicated by the South African retail chain, Woolworths. This tribute is framed as a flash-mob of singers from the Soweto Gospel Choir singing the struggle anthem Asimbonanga inside a Woolworths store.

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The ‘Fake Interpreter’

A few days ago, when the story of the “fake interpreter” broke in the South African media, the ANC denied any knowledge of who he was and how he got to be on the podium, signing while world leader after world leader gave inane speeches intended to tell the world that “Yes, I more than anyone, I was close to Madiba; we had dinner together once, and he paid special attention to me. Furthermore, his saintliness is the reason why I, too, should be close to the same beatification treatment.” (Yes, Drone President, I’m looking at you.) That would have been a tough job for any veteran of sign language, who must not only convey the words, but also the emotional impact and context through a mixture of physical movements and psychological engagement with both speaker and audience. It is translation—and like translation between any two languages, it has all the attendant complexities of signs never adequately meeting the requirements of the signifier—but with an added layer of physicality essential to convey the speaker’s intended tone.

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