MANDELA GETS A SEND-OFF TO MATCH HIS GREATNESS
By CAMERON DUODU
The Ghanaian Times 17 December 2013
I confess that I haven’t wept as much in recent years as I have done in the past few days – since Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013, in fact.
Seeing his two famous wives, Winnie and Graca – two women with tragedy embedded on their souls – cheek to cheek, not in a Hollywood style coming together staged for the benefit of the cameras, but in genuine sympathy for each other over the loss of a man who had rained words of genuine love on each of them, but without making them hate each other – that made me cry. How many men can pull that off?
“Love, where is thy sting?” I asked myself. I could write a tome on that subject.
Then, the anecdotes told by Mandela’s grand-daughter, Nandi, made me cry. I could swear she was one of the grand-daughters who were holding “Tata” Mandela’s hand when he walked into the departure lounge of Jan Smuts airport, on the day I first met Madiba, in August 1990. She is now a fully-grown woman, as beautiful as could be expected from her maternal pedigree, and as eloquent an activist as one raised in Soweto, and intellectually nurtured on the wordcraft of such wonderful orators as her illustrious grandpa and grandma.
Zandi made me remember the young Zindzi Mandela reading a letter from prison in which Mandela asked the black South African public to stick resolutely together and fight apartheid. Defiance. Fearlessness. It runs in the blood, does it? I wept, speculating on the scarcity of such qualities in many of our tawdry lives.
Nandi told one particularly funny story which, she said, her grandpa used to tell them – to make fun of himself and puncture the notion that he was a solemn person used to making ponderous speeches.
Nandi said that Mandela was wooing a girl-friend and was invited to lunch at the girl’s home by her mom and dad. Mandela said he was so nervous at the table that when he tried to eat a piece of chicken that had been given to him, the chicken jumped off his plate every time he stabbed it with his fork! “It just ran away! all the time!” Mandela joked. Who has never wilted in the presence of the parents of a beloved one? Marvellous story.
Nandi got plenty of laughs with this story, thus wisely introducing light relief into a sad ceremony that had, naturally, reendered many people extremely tense.
Then, came two speeches that will have made South Africans – generally, sadly amnesiac, when it comes to acknowledging the part that black Africa played in their liberation – fully aware that they had never stood alone during their long struggle against apartheid. The first to prod their sleeping memories was the President of Tanzania, Mr Jakaya Kikwete.
Now, obviously, Kikwete is a man who personally took part in the struggle to free Africa from colonial oppression, for his speech was full of first-hand knowledge; not the anodyne type that is crafted by anonymous bureaucrats, but one that he wrote himself – full of personal details and charged with emotional content but delivered in a friendly manner. It was also very literate — something which the bureaucratic speeches never manage to convey! (By the way, the President of Malawi, Mrs Joyce Banda, also made an extremely warm and sagacious speech, which bore all the hallmarks of personal labour at her writing desk!)
Mr Kikwete of Tanzania opened the tear ducts in my skull as he recalled how Mandela arrived in Tanzania in January 1962, on the secret trip that was to take him to Accra, Lagos, Monrovia, Algiers, Rabat (Morocco) and Addis Ababa.
Mandela’s clandestine trip to Tanzania had been a dangerous one – he had had to go first to Bechuanaland (now Botswana), then cross over to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), before managing to make it over the border into Tanzania (then called Tanganyika). He could have been captured at any point in these places, by the British colonial authorities who controlled those territories. They were in league with the apartheid authorities and sometimes actually took instructions from them. Their most notorious capitulation to apartheid concerns occurred when they disgracefully exiled the future King of Bechuanalad, (later) Sir Seretse Khama, by refusing to allow him to return to his kingdom from his studies at Oxford University, because he had had the tenerity to marry a white woman! The sight of a white queen married to a black king would offend the apartheid regime across the border, the British decided, and cause “bad neighbourliness.” So the king should not be allowed to return to his own country!
The British kept him in England for many years, and then returned him home just when Bechuanaland had had enough of British hypocrisy and was demanding independence (which it did later obtain as Botswana). Guess what the British did next? They knighted the poor guy they had kept in exile for merely marrying a white woman! And the poor fellow — he accepted the knighthood! Sir Seretse Khama — ah, had he refused to become a “Sir”, he would have featured more prominently in African history. I did a BBC programme with him once and he invited me to go and visit him for a chat. But the lack of bottle he had shown by accepting the British knighthood rankled with me and I didn’t go. In fairness, I should have gone and found a way of asking him why he accepted it. Most probably — in fairness again — he was advised by his council, the Bamangweto Council — to accept it in reconciliation with Britain. At independence, much is often forgiven, isn’t it?
Mr Kikwete told his world-wide audience, but particularly, the South Africans: “We made arrangements to bring Mr Mandela from the border post to our capital, Dar-es-Salaam, as soon as we got the message that his feet had safely touched Tanzanian soil .”
Why did I cry (again!) when I heard this? It is because, in 1962, as editor of Drum Magazine, I myself had gone to Dar-es-Salaam in an attempt to reach South Africa by the same route, but only in reverse! I wanted to expose the practical realities of apartheid to the magazine’s readers, and I knew I would never be allowed into South Africa by the regime.
I was right, for when I officially wrote to the prime minister of South Africa of the time, Dr Henrdrik Verwoerd, to ask for an interview, his office sent me a one-sentence reply: “Your visit to South Africa cannot be permitted!”
So I went, instead, to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, to interview the prime minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Sir Roy Welensky. He was next to Verwoerd, as the baddest bogey in the eyes of black Africans! But at least he was prepared to defend his position to a black editor. When Mr Nichael Dei-Annang, who was in charge of Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s office, read my interview with Welensky, he called me and said, “Cameron, it was like trying to squeeze water out of a stone, wasn’t it?”
In Dar, I met Frennie Ginwala, an influential ANC exile (who later became Speaker of the South African Parliament) and I made other contacts. Through them, I wanted to smuggle myself into South Africa, by the Mandela route. That proved difficult, and I was eventually advised that Dar was full of South African spies and that I would be betrayed if I attempted to go to South Africa secretly.
“The South Africans will be waiting for you!” I was warned. “And the apartheid regime will hang you as a spy sent by President Kwame Nkrumah!”
Frightening thought, what? But it would have happened, as anyone who has read the book, INSIDE BOSS, (by Gordon Winter, which gives details of South African espionage activity both inside and putside South Afruca) would agree.
Well, there was Mr Kikwete telling the Mandela funeral audience that when Madiba arrived in Tanzania, he, Mandela, had just decided to take the struggle of the ANC to the next level, by forming an “armed wing” Umkhonto WA Sizwe (The Spear of The Nation) and had come to Tanzania to discuss with President Julius Nyerere, how to take that staghe of the struggle forward.
Although, at first, Nyerere had some “reservations” (Kikwete revealed) he agreed to give the ANC training camps for its cadres. “Tanzania became home to many ANC people,” Kikwete pointed out. “President Nyerere gave them travel documents and established training camps for them. I am glad to tell you that I cane to this funeral with President Nyerere’s widow, Mama Maria Nyerere!”!
This announcement was greeted with tremendous applause. My tears flowed: “Oh heroic Julius! You shoukd have been here at this moment!” I mused.
Mr Kikwete went on: “This visit of Madiba’s became a landmark event, changing the course of South African history. For we gave the ANC places to train its cadres. MK (Umkhomto we Sizwe) veterans here will find that names like Kongwa, Ngagao, Morogororo, Mazimbo (HUGE CHEERS) and Akawa, sound familiar.
“President Nyerere also offered moral and material support, and mobilised regional support, not only for the ANC but also for SWAPO, MPLA, FRELIMO and ZANU. We gave the cadres of these liberation movements travel documents and passports. I don’t know whether Thabo [Mbeki, South Africa’s former President] has returned his!” (WILD CHEERS). “When necessary, the [South African] cadres assumed Tanzanian names”, Mr Kikwete added.
When Mandela got to Tanzania, he had no passport, yet he wanted to go to Accra, Lagos, Algiers, Rabat and Addis Ababa. So Nyerere gave him a travel document. (He eventually obtained a full passport from Ethiopia).
Mr Kikwete continued: “We also established a radio station for the ANC to give them back the voice they had been denied in South Africa. Many of you will remember Radio Freedom!” (VERY LOUD APPLAUSE and cries of ‘Yeebo!… Yeebo!’ from the crowd). We further helped them to publish the freedom fighters’ magazine, Sechaba” (APPLAUSE)
Do the South Africans who feel unfriendly towards other Africans, know these facts? Not on your life, and because the ANC’s former exiles in Black Africa are now so inward-looking, they are not telling their compatriots about these things. And, of course, the South African media – most of them at any rate – are very white-oriented and couldn’t give a toss about Black Africa’s part in the anti-apartheid struggle in the so-called “reconciled” rainbow nation!. As if everything would turn out all right by itself, because the whites wae as magnanimous as Mandela was.
The other speaker who made huge waves at Mandela’s funeral was former President Knneth Kaunda of Zambia. The 89-year-old Zambian statesman had last been seen on TV, during the CAF football competition, looking frail and painfully plodding behind the Zambian team, wielding a walking stick. Perhaps to wipe that image out of the minds of those who saw him then, he now ran — theatrically — up to the podium – and ran back to his seat, when he had finished speaking. He got a huge amount of cheers. He looked like the proverbial speing chicken no less! Good on you, Ken!
Looking flushed with triumph — and good health — Kaunda didn’t read a speech. He spoke extempore to the audience. He used a Christian verse – “Love thy neighbour as thyself” as the theme of his speech.
” The Boers had come to South Africa from Holland, claiming to be Christians” (Kaunda said). “But the behaviour they exhibited towards the Africans they found here had nothing to do with Christian good-neighbourliness. They treated the Africans like dirt and kept them out of their schools, hospitals and everywhere else that mattered. Segregation. Apartheid.” (Kaunda gestured with his hand, as if brushing away a dirty fly)
“I met on a train with the prime minister of South Africa whom I came to find when I became President, Dr Verwoerd,” Kaunda said. “On a train at Victoria Falls, where we held our secret talks, I told Verwoerd that what they were doing was not good; it was not Christian and that he should talk to his African brothers. “Release Mandela!”, I said. He didn’t listen.
“I also met with Verwoerd’s successor, Johannes Vorster — again on a train! The same thing happened. Then I met P W Botha. He didn’t listen either. Next, I met with F W De Klerk. Again, on a train! He wasn’t yet the President of South Africa, but he was head of the National Party. As soon as I met him, I called a press conference and said, “I can do business with this man!”
Dr Kaunda concluded: “And that’s how we assisted to initiate the negotiation process, that culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the liberation of South Africa.”
For once I didn’t hear Dr Kaunda sing! (Perhaps he was put off by Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of the ANC and the MC for the occasion, who rather rudely interrupted Kaunda’s flow to point out to him that his time was up. So Kenneth Kaunda did’nt have enough time to weep either! Remember him weeping into his white handkerchief at the UN year after year, when he went there to rail against apartheid? Where was Cyril Ramaphosa then? Kaunda dismissed Ramaphosa’s interruption. “Young man!” he sneered. But polite as he was, he promptly cut his speech short. And ran back to his seat! The audience loved that.
But seriously, why should Kaunda have wept at Mandela’s funeral? He was recounting a tale of absolute triumph that he, Kaunda, had helped to script. Nelson Mandela personified that tale of triumph. In more ways than one.
First, Mandela survived 27 years of jail. WITH HARD LABOUR.
Second, Mandela survived tuberculosis in jail. (He contracted the disease by breathing in rock-dust day after day, as he broke stones at a quarry on Robben Island. The stone was white limestone, and the sun’s firerce rays glared from it and ahine into Mandela’s eyes, permanently damaging
his eyes. One day, , when I washaving lunch with him, he sent his white stewart to go to his bedroom to bring some eye medicine called “Real Tears”, which he squirted into his eyes whenever the pain became acute. The effect of the eye damage were with him till he died.
Third, Mandela survived a dangerous operation on his prostate gland, carried out by a white surgeon provided to him by the state that had imprisoned him for life – a state that he knew had no love for him. Indeed, his family had great reservations about allowing the operation to be carried out. But bravely, they all accepted the fact that if he didn’t have it, he might die of prostate cancer. All die be die, abi? If the surgeon killed him, it could be taken as if it was prostate cancer that had killed him! Ah, what secret pain that family has had to endure!!
But Mandela grew to reach the safe, expendable age of 95!
When we cry over him, therefore, it must be tears of joy.
Madiba, da yie wae! Woabeyo nea onipa betumi ayo! (Sleep in peace, Madiba. You’ve done everything that a human being could have done!)