International Nelson Mandela Day
We arrived home 2 weeks ago after being away in Europe for just over 3 weeks. Home – the reality was as joyful as the anticipation. All was well on our return thanks to Jane (Kgomotso, her African name) our housekeeper; Angie our ginger cat was happy to have us back home to lord it over us.. The winter garden looked healthy, bright and green though I was warned beforehand that the cold bite was due the next day. And boy did it bite. From the northern summer climes to hard hitting bitter biting cold. Snow all over South Africa. The temperatures plunged overnight … and it is still cold cold cold. Up here on the highveld (Johannesburg, 2000 mts above sea level) the cold is different – the skies are bright blue, so it is deceptive.
Our European trip was eventful and wonderful. There are a few photographs at the end of this post.
As eventful on our return was the rescue of the Thai schoolboys in the cave and the death of the courageous Thai Navy Seal diver Saman Kunan. And learning that their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, taught them to meditate to stay calm in the cave, made my blood corpuscles expand in a good way. The Wimbledon semi finals kept us on the edge of our seats, Kevin Anderson (SA) playing against John Isner (US). The 5th & final set was Anderson’s, 26:24, the longest in Wimbledon history. Anderson lost to Djokovic in the finals. The soccer World Cup was also pretty exciting, some of it we watched while in Europe. The political dramas around the world are worrying, here in South Africa also. Every day our heads spin at the latest uncovering of graft and corruption of those in power. Riots, strikes, violent protests are the order of the day –
Today is Nelson Mandela International Day, a day set up by ‘The Elders’ 16 years ago to honour this man and all for which he stood. Today is the day of his birth, 100 years ago. Yesterday afternoon I watched the live TV broadcast at the Wanderers Stadium, just a short way from where I live in Johannesburg. Persons in the past who’ve been invited to give the annual lecture include Mary Robinson (former prime minister of Ireland); Kofi Annan former general secretary of the UN; Ellen Sirleaf former president of Liberia; Kgalema Motlanthe former president and deputy president of South Africa and many other dignitaries over the years.
Yesterday’s invited guest was US former president Barack Obama. There were several speeches beforehand, the first given by Prof. Njabulo Ndebele, academic and chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. My heart swelled at listening to him. One of his anecdotes was of Richard Stengel, American editor, journalist and author who collaborated with Mandela’s book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. Stengel and Mandela were in an airplane over Natal when Stengel saw that the prop of the plane had stopped turning. He told Mandela who merely nodded his head – You’d better tell the pilot, he said. Which Stengel did. The pilot was aware and said he’d alerted ground forces in the event of a crash landing. Stengel relayed this back to Mandela who merely nodded his head and said yes. They landed safely. Afterwards Mandela expressed his real fear of this incident but he also spoke of his fear for humanity. Stengel relayed how calm and calming Mandela was in his ability to suppress his inner fears so as to be brave for other people.
Mr. Mandela has also said that if the poor and marginalised do not have a future, then those who are privileged also do not have a future –
Patrick Motsepe founder of the Motsepe foundation followed Prof. Ndebele’s speech, then Graça Machel widow of Mr. Mandela. She made her husband come alive for us when she spoke of him. Her essential message was to recognise our common humanity. Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa our president then stepped up to the microphone to rapturous applause. It was lovely to see him beaming and looking much less stressed and exhausted than he usually does. He spoke inter alia of the need to clean up and fix our broken institutions. And the need for accountability and responsibility of each and every person.
Mr Barack Obama followed also to rapturous applause. He gave a rousing speech, highlighting many advances in all fields made since 100 years ago and the strides in the last few decades. He spoke of the current danger of going back to the old ways, of authoritarianism, nationalism, restriction of freedom of speech. The more things change the more they stay the same. He reminded us of the value of activism at the grass roots level.
I’ve excerpted a few of Obama’s statements thanks to the FB feed of Don Maxwell Searll.
“It is in part because of the failures of governments and powerful elites to squarely address the failures and shortcomings of this international order that we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business.”.
“We have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken these last decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of power and privilege and injustice and exploitation never completely went away.”
“It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists both in the United States and in South Africa.”
“The politics of resentment and fear and retrenchment began to appeal. And that kind of politics is now on the move.”
“On Madiba’s 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads. A moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be.”
“I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal and they’re endowed by our Creator certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation and pursuit of a common good.”
BUT what really was heart stopping for me was Prof. Patrick Lumbumba’s (Kenyan legal expert and scholar) speech that he gave on campus at the Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, Eastern Cape last night. As wonderful and inspiring as the memorial at Wanderers stadium was with its audience of 15000, Lumumba’s speech was much more powerful (not related to but named after Patrice Lumbumba, the first and only elected Prime Minister of the Congo Republic who was assassinated – believed to be by the CIA – a few months after Congo gained formal independence 50 years ago)…The clip below is long. Prof. Lumbumba starts speaking at 59 mins into this video after being addressed by I think a Xhosa headman singing his praises (added after I realised my mistake – not a Zulu warrior) for about 5 mins. He reminded us not to repeat the mistakes of history. It is so worth watching – not the whole meeting but Prof. Patrick Lumbumba’s speech. … what questions would Nelson Mandela have asked if he was alive today? He would have asked questions as in eg ‘how is it that a country’s people (Africa) so well endowed, are still so poor?’ He would not have stopped at that question, he would have asked, ‘how is it that people are still fighting and killing each other?’ He would not have stopped at that question .. Nelson Mandela would have asked ‘are we liberated from the pain of killing our brothers and sisters?’ He would not have stopped at that question, he would have asked ‘how is it that Africa produces what it does, but does not consume it; but consumes what it does not produce?’ … but you can hear him for yourself … he talks for about a half hour … the last 30 mins. He urges us to continue petitions and protests, we need leaders not dealers, we need teachers not cheaters.
I heard Mr. Mandela’s personal chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya speak today. She served him porridge every single morning for 19 years when he was at his Johannesburg home, with nuts, raisins and currants. One morning he asked for Frosties for breakfast. Ooooo Tata she said, no you cannot have sugar. Why do you want Frosties? Are your grandchildren encouraging you? No, he said, I’ve listened and honoured my mother eating porridge for breakfast for a long time now and now I want a change!
Well, this has been a long post, probably my longest ever. But I wanted to share this historic moment which makes me think and feel that more than ever, we need to find it in ourselves to continue opening our heart, to realise the common humanity we share, to practise kindness and the art of giving, the art of listening, the art of appreciating what we have, to continue to wonder at the small things that bring us joy, to continue to be curious about this strange mystery called life.
A few days in Paris, this one overlooking the Seine, close to Notre Dame Cathedral, before flying to Lisbon to catch a taxi to Sintra –
From Basel after 4 nights in Zurich, we embarked on the boat for the river cruise up the Rhine. So many photos of beauty, hard to select one … this from the deck in Canal d’Alsace
There were many excursions to places of historical interest when the boat docked. We could either join planned excursions or walk about towns at our own leisure. We did both … I’ll write about some of those places another time –
7 nights later after cruising through countryside of great beauty we docked in Amsterdam where we spent two nights on the boat. We did a cruise seeing Amsterdam from the river. We also did a lot of walking. The one below is standing outside Anne Frank’s house –
Thank you for reading. May this find you well and may your centre hold.