Daily Guide 14 December 2013
Laughing And Crying by CAMERON DUODU
December 14, 2013
K! – KOO, ever since Nelson Mandela died, I have been crying like a baby. You know how babies cry – the crying just occurs when they feel uncomfortable, right? Me too, whenever I hear the ANC national anthem, Nkosi Sikel’Africa, my chest begins to heave and before I know it, I am sobbing. Real Tears oh! Not some fancy stuff.
K2 – Ei, then Koo, you have suffered! Because they’ve been playing that anthem all over the TV networks. BBC, Sky, the lot.
• Koo, you know why I cry so much when I hear it? It’s because I was at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, on 10 May 1994, when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first black President of South Africa and that ANC anthem, which had formerly only been sung at ANC gatherings, became the official national anthem of South Africa. It was an unbelievable transformation.
• Koo, that must have been some day, eh? I can imagine the SA Chief Justice, wearing the same robes as were worn by the judge who sentenced Mandela to life imprisonment in 1964…
• Koo, it was not only life imprisonment, but life imprisonment with “hard labour”!
• Yiee! Hard labour on Robben Island….
• It meant quarrying limestone all day. The limestone was white, you see, and the sun’s rays reflected on it so fiercely that Mandela’s eyes were harmed permanently by just the glare from the limestone, whilst he was breaking it! Koo, I said I was crying real tears just now. Do you know something?
Whilst I was enjoying the privilege of having a private lunch with President Mandela in his official residence in the Union Buildings where he was sworn in 1994, Mr Mandela used the term “Real Tears”!
• Ei Koo, was he a prophet! Did he tell you, “Cry real tears when I am gone?”
• Koo, do be serious! No, he called his white steward and told him to go to his bedroom and bring from the medicine cabinet, a bottle marked “Real Tears”. That was the medicine he used to ease the pain in his eyes caused by the damage done to his eyes during stone-quarrying. Because I knew the story of what happened to his eyes on Robben Island, I was immensely touched to see him apply the medicine to his eyes – before my own very eye He was like that – so natural. He wasn’t going to wait until his lunch guests had gone before using the medicine, when his eyes were hurting.
There were no pretensions about him.
That’s why he was greatly loved by so many people.
• Yes, it must have been nice being with him and seeing that a famous guy like that acted naturally.
• Hmm – don’t make me cry again oh! One day, I went to his house at Houghton, in Johannesburg, and there were a lot of ANC people sitting in the hall, waiting for him. We joined them and sat down to wait. Suddenly, we saw him coming towards us. His observant eyes saw that every chair in the hall had been taken, so instead of coming towards us, he went to the dining room and grabbed a chair. He began walking toiwards us with it!
• Himself, Koo?
• Yes! It didn’t occur to him to ask anyone else to bring a chair for him! Self-reliance learnt in prison, you see? It had become a habit! Koo, it is good to be trained in Ghanaian culture. I darted from my chair like a shot and went straight to him, grabbed the chair, and broughtit down for him. He said, “Thank you!” quietly and sat down.
• Koo, Ghana da wase! [Ghana thanks you!] You showed what “nteteier pa” [ a good cultural upbringning] meant, in that faraway place in South Africa!
• Koo, I must admit I was pleased with myself. I mean, what were all those young ANC cadres sitting down like stones for? A 74-year-old man (as he was then) is carrying a heavy chair – no matter who he is – and you sit down and watch him and do nothing?
I was shocked that my South African brothers lacked cultural training to that extent. So European.
• I am sure Mandela must have been impressed with you?
• Koo, I think he was. You see, when, subsequently, I asked him questions as we conversed, he answered them absolutely candidly, without hiding anything.
It was then that he told me that he visited Ghana secretly in 1962, and that the bureaucracy surrounding President Kwame Nkrumah prevented him from seeing the President. He said Ako Adjei, the Ghana Foreign Minister of the time, told him that – he remembered the term! – “the Osagyefo” would be addressing a meeting of other freedom fighters later and Mandela could talk to him then! Which meant no personal interview. Mandela didn’t like that one bit, and he left for Monrovia, Liberia, where President William Tubman not only received him, but gave the ANC cause $5,000. Big money in those days.
• Koo, but I thought Tubman was an American ally, and Mandela and the ANC
were supposed to be under the influence of the Communists? Which meant, in those Cold War days, that Tubman would fear Mandela?
• Koo, that was the funny bit!
The Americans thought Nkrumah was himself a Communist, but Nkrumah didn’t see Mandela, the Communist, and yet the “reactionary” Tubman, didn’t only receive Mandela but gave him money to assist in his “Communist” ANC cause!
• Koo, it makes you want to laugh! Or cry?
• Yes, when it came to apartheid, almost all black people were united – irrespective of their attitude to global politics.
Koo, I have to go now. But I promise you we shall continue this. Ok?
• Ok. Koo.