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Mandela is 90

In the late “80s, the apartheid Security Branch raided my place a couple of times. That sounds more grandiose than it really was: my part in the destruction of the racist regime was minute. The fact that the SB was investigating at all me shows just how pervasive the bastards really were. I also hasten to point out that by the second raid, they had dispatched the intellectual rejects from the absolute bottom of their inbreds” gene pool. Captain Domgat”s line of interrogation included the question: “Are your friends European?”, employing the popular noun by which the racists liked to describe themselves. I could muster no greater wit than to reply that they were all born in South Africa. Captain Domgat was too feeble to rephrase his question. A fearsome interrogator he was not.

All the while a strong wind was blowing through the window, making the pages of my Marilyn Monroe calendar flutter. That made me nervous, because behind the calendar hung a picture of Nelson Mandela. That was contraband: it was illegal to own images or writings by banned persons, such as Mandela (especially Mandela), and illegal to publish these.

I got away with the pic, but had no such luck with a video film of Mandela”s life. Captain Domgat had instructed me to play all my videos. So by the time I got to the tape labelled something like Uncle Bert”s 60th Birthday Party, I knew I was in trouble. I remembered that last time I had stopped the video, it was at the scene of the Sharpville massacre. So I “accidentally” pressed the fast forward button, hoping to arrive at a non-descript scene, perhaps of Nelson and Winnie tasking a romantic stroll (without being stopped by a stupidly moustached cop like Captain Domgat demanding to see their passbooks). Of course, when I caught my “mistake” and pressed play, the film showed somebody building a bomb”¦ I never saw the video again. But I got off lightly. People were persecuted for lesser things.

All this is to mark the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the greatest man alive, on Friday, July 18. I”ve been in close proximity to Mandela only twice. I”ve met many famous people, but none with an aura like that man. I could almost cut it.

I have written before about the day Mandela was released (link here). Now that he is frail and very old, I dread the day he dies. Not because I expect that his death will unleash a torrent of civil unrest, but because a world without Mandela will be a world diminished. Rarely have the traits of idealism, principle, pragmatism, intelligence, integrity, honour, courage, charisma, charm and generosity of spirit coalesced in one man to such degrees as it has with Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Whatever the man”s personal failings, and he certainly was no Gandhi, his peace building in South Africa was nothing less than heroic.

Sadly his legacy ““ a model democratic dispensation ““ is being distorted and wrecked by his successors in the ANC who display little by way idealism, principle, pragmatism, intelligence, integrity, honour, courage, charisma, charm or generosity of spirit. The current leadership, and that which it has replaced, is by and large morally tainted. What heritage of Mandela”s is being sustained when two leaders undertake to “kill for Zuma” should the presumptive future president of South Africa be made to answer charges of corruption and racketeering in court?

Still, even in this political climate, Mandela remains a hero. Everybody wants a piece of him. Every two-bit celebrity or slimy pol who comes to South Africa wants an audience with him. I suspect that these audiences are contingent on contributions being offered to the various foundations in Mandela”s name. If so, how much did it cost Gerri Halliwell to touch Mandela”s arse? And, speaking of fundraising, what sort of wankwit will shell out $17,000 for a platinum bangle bearing the numbers 46664, Mandela”s prison number which now is the name of his AIDS charity? Charity bling is just obscene. That is not to say that Mandelas”s foundations don”t do good work. But I am alarmed by the apparent commoditisation of Mandela (note that I don”t call him by his clan name Madiba, an overused name which at once indicates affection and lack of respect if not employed by those close to him). Oh, but Mandela has loads of pop pals. Ole Blue Shades is a good friend of Mandela”s too, the ingratiating tosser.

The world would be a poorer without Mandela, but a better place without those ghastly 46664 concerts. Before the first 46664 concert in Cape Town, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics pontificated about how South Africa must address its poverty problem. Of course, being thus put in place by this man of stature and relevance, the government lurched into immediate action. And at a more recent 46664 concert in Johannesburg, Stewart”s erstwhile sidekick, the ghastly Annie Lennox, positioned herself next to Mandela as he made a speech about sexual responsibility as a way to fight AIDS et cetera. All the while Lennox was emphatically nodding her head, as if her consent to Mandela”s words would persuade “the kids” to “listen to this man”. Did that delusional cow think that a sign of her dissent would in any way impair the reception of Mandela”s speech?

I blame Mandela”s people who are obviously so clueless as to think that Annie Lennox or Sting are relevant. They probably are the kind of people who”ll profess a passion for soul music. You know, like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. How difficult is it to round up two dozen authentically relevant acts for those 46664 gigs (if one must have them in first place). I”d be happy to invite Mandela around to my place to give him some guidance on the matter. As long as I don”t have to give money to his behemoth, overstaffed charities.

Here is some music to celebrate Mandela”s birthday. Hugh Masekela”s urgent and danceable Bring Him Back is a live version of his 1987 song (which could not have anticipated that Nelson and Winnie would one day divorce). Brenda Fassie was the queen of South African pop, which did not prevent her from making political statements such as this excellent song about Mandela, released in 1989 when the regime was making its last bitter stand. I posted the Bright Blue track a year ago: Weeping, from 1987, was the first big hit by a white South African group to blantantly criticise the apartheid regime. It features strains of the struggle anthem Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrica, yet it was not banned on state-owned radio. Peter Tosh”s Apartheid, from 1977, probably does not express Mandela”s mind (“You in me land” sounds more like Mugabe”s gig), but it was a popular song among anti-apartheid activists during the struggle. I needn”t introduce 1984″s Free Nelson Mandela (also reposted) or Sun City from the following year.

Brenda Fassie – Black President.mp3
Hugh Masekela – Bring Him Back Home (live).mp3
Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City.mp3
Peter Tosh – Apartheid.mp3
The Special A.K.A. – Free Nelson Mandela.mp3
Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Asimbonanga.mp3
Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3

The other files are of historical interest. Two files of Mandela speaking, on recorded during the Rivonia trial which sentenced him to life imprisonment, the other from his first speech as a free man in February 1990 (on this clip he restates his iconic manifesto from the Rivonia trial). The other spoken file is the judge, Quartus de Wet, sentencing Mandela and his co-accused (including the saintly Walter Sisusulu). Note his use of the word non-European; perhaps he was Captain Domgat”s uncle. Then there are sounds from the struggle: the freedom song Rolihlahla (Mandela”s Xhosa name), the full anthem (compare to the hybrid version of South Africa”s current national anthem), and a clip of chanting to the wardance-like toyi toyi.

(Links below updated on March 16, 2009)

Nelson Mandela – Demand for equal rights for African People (Rivonia Trial).mp3
Rivonia Trial – Sentencing (Judge Quartus de Wet).mp3
Nelson Mandela – Day of release from prison, Cape Town 1990.mp3

Struggle Songs – Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrica.mp3
Struggle Songs – Rolihlahla.mp3
Struggle Songs – Toyi Toyi Beat.mp3

  1. ib
    July 17th, 2008 at 17:16 | #1

    Heavy shit, reading your brush with the Security Branch, AMD; and all the more poignant that I am reading it on your blog. I think the major thng, obviously, is that you were in the thick out there, whereas here in Glasgow local councilors were simply falling over themselves to rename half of the city’s main thoroughfares – Nelson Mandela Place, for example – and using, I felt then, the apartheid struggle as an excuse to host some feeble party. Grinning like loons and congratulating themselves on being ‘cosmopolitan’and “international’.On the subject of Mandela’s birthday, I would be hypocritical if I didn’t point out how disappointed I was that he didn’t speak out earlier against Mugabe.That, and the banqueting with Kofi Anan while the shit went down in Rwanda.Forgive me if all this comes over as being disrespectful to his huge role in creating an anti apartheid legacy. I can’t help but have considerable reservations.

  2. Any major dude with half a heart
    July 17th, 2008 at 17:30 | #2

    I don’t recall the Rwanda thing, but on Mugabe I think one must see that in context of ANC politics. A few years ago, Mandela spoke out strongly against Thabo Mbeki’s disastrous HIV/AIDS policy. Essentially, Mandela was told to shut the fuck up, old man. Even by people in the ANC who agreed with him. To speak out against government policy on Zimbabwe would have been seen again as a challenge to his successor, undermining the government et cetera in defiance of the party discipline he had himself fostered. Even Archbishop Tutu was heavily criticised by the ANC for going heavy guns against Mugabe a few years ago. And Tutu is not accountable to the ANC.As soon as the ANC started to condemn Mugabe (in a big fuck you to Mbeki), Mandela did so as well. Of course I wish he had done so sooner — Mad Bob doubtless would’ve attacked him for being a senile has-been — but I understand why he didn’t.I have no doubt that Mandela would himself acknowledge that he has made mistakes. But I don’t think he made them for reasons of callousness or indifference.

  3. ib
    July 17th, 2008 at 18:36 | #3

    Thanks, AMD, for responding to my comment so eloquently. My understanding of the intricacies of ANC politics is not served well by my distance from events.My ambivalence to celebration is partly informed by what I see – from afar – as an eagerness by many only to embrace Mandela as a figurehead for their own self-serving ends.Respect.

  4. Any major dude with half a heart
    July 17th, 2008 at 21:41 | #4

    Oh yeah, I despise these piggybackers. And I hold Mandela's people responsible for commoditising their boss by letting these leeches reflect in his glory. But I don't think the motivation of Bono & Blair types diminishes Mandela himself. That was sort of the reason for the paragraphs about that whole 46664 deal.It's like that in South Africa as well. All those people who thought of Mandela as a terrorist now carry on about "Madiba". Grudging respect to FW de Klerk, who at least doesn't pretend that he has anything more than respect for the man.

  5. The Vinyl District
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:03 | #5

    A real compelling read…thank you…

  6. Liz
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:26 | #6

    I was going to write something about him, but how can it compare with this?

  7. billie
    July 18th, 2008 at 10:44 | #7

    Thank you for sharing this. Nelson Mandela is a well respected man even in the Philippines. I can’t believe that he’s 90 already.

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