A week has passed since Nelson Mandela, our hero, affectionately known as Madiba passed through the velvet curtain into the next phase:
free at last of his physical earthly body. Already the hugeness of his spirit, which has been so highly revered is bringing together people from all walks of life creeds, classes and countries. Yesterday, I attended the memorial ceremony held at the Cape Town stadium and witnessed this for myself. I caught a glimpse of a new world, a world where humanity is brought together as a community and remembers again the important things that only matter in the end. All the important things: beyond materialism and external power and all those other distractions. In the crowd and the flow of the concert, I caught a glimpse of a world without fear, where there is only love and gentle kindness as thousands of people stood together to honour something bigger than themselves. A sense of community became evident, just for a moment, for the sake of Madiba.
It was a free concert. Free transport, well-organized, safe, and so uplifting. We took our children and they had a historical experience. It was so much more contained and orderly than that time in the Grand Parade in 1991, the first time I glimpsed Madiba himself, after 27 years in prison. I had been clinging to a lamp- post, my feet incredibly finding foot room on an electrical box along with six black men whose bodies were firmly pressed against mine. We hung on together, the crowd surging beneath us. Shops were looted, rubber bullets were discharged into the back of the crowd at one point or something like that. The police were trying to control things in their usual inapropriately over zealous manner and Alan Boesak kept telling the comrades to sit down and make space, which was most impractical. Madiba was meant to make his speech sometime in the morning, but we all stood and waited until sunset for our first glimpse of him. The amazing thing was that at that time, I had very little idea what he looked like. He was a mystery figure. The South African press had been banned from publishing images of him. We did not see him: Asinabona- as Johnny Clegg sang in that famous song. “We don’t see them- anymore” – the political prisoners that disappeared for over two decades. But now we are overwhelmed with his image. Its everywhere at the moment. Smiling his beautiful kind smile. It’s also amazing how in his passing, we are finally learning who he really was. He was a living legend while he was alive, but now that he has passed, we are learning and are open to learning more about what happened in those struggle years, and what he endured and how he handled it. It’s all coming at us on TV, in the newspapers, and on the radio and I am finding myself entranced by it as so many are. It’s helping us to shift our consciousness to a new understanding.
When Madiba came out and gave his speech at the Grand Parade- it was electrifying. There was true community there: black, white, coloured, all the people of Cape Town all the class groups squashed together and in it together, uplifted by hope and unity. It was so moving. Yesterday at the Memorial Concert at the Cape Town Stadium, the mayor of Cape Town Patricia De Lille noted in her speech that we have come full circle since that day Madiba spoke at the Grande Parade, but since he died last Thursday that sense of unity and hope has returned again. May it live on.
I was very privileged to meet him personally twice after that occasion. And to actually experience his physical presence for a glimpse in time. To connect with him.
It was during the election campaign in 1994, that I happened to be driving through my home town, Graaff-Reinet on my way to Cape Town when I noticed that Mandela was speaking at a stadium in the coloured township that day. I decided to drive back to town and happened to meet the ANC comrades at the Drosdy hotel. They were looking for the stadium. Graafff-Reinet is a very segregated town and it may have been hard for them at that time to find a friendly person to show them the way, but I drove them a lift to the stadium. There were not many white people who were open to the ANC in small Karoo towns like Graaff-Reinet at that time. Perhaps that is why they invited me to join them as a VIP on stage with them the inside circle who surround Madiba. My hosts were close comrades who had been with him on Robin Island. They told me that it was always cold there. (Cold wind blows from the Atlantic ocean straight off the ice-caps.) They were only given thin cotton clothing and thin blankets at night. They only got maize porridge to eat, every single day. And they had to share a bucket toilet. Those are the things they told me.
But the kind elderly comrades who took me under their wing also told me from the heart that Madiba is truly a man of God.
“He is lead by God.” Said the comrade, who had been with him on Robin Island and was still by his side.
All this time, Mandela was going round a soccer field in front of the pavilion where we were standing, shaking hands with a huge crowd of people all around the soccer field. This took a long time, but eventually he got to the stage where he shook hands with all the people on the stage and eventually got to me, I was the last person before he reached his seat. His handshake sent an electrical current of energy right up my arm and my hand tingled for a long time afterwards. It was not imagined, it was real. It was a pure vibration- an energy of love. I am very sensitive to peoples energy, it was nothing I had experienced before.
The next time I met him was at his birthday party years later. I had been one of the artists who painted a picture to decorate the huge space where the event took place. Hundreds of AIDS orphans and HIV positive children attended the party. I brought my friend Suzan Ievers with me. She had full blown AIDS and was in a wheelchair. (She had been advocating for AIDS awareness and safe-sex very actively in the most courageous capacity in spite of her illness and right to the very end. Last night at Madiba’s memorial, Annie Lenox made a powerful cry for this same cause at the concert. Well done Annie! I loved the way you did that!
So at Madiba’s birthday party – Pigeon in her wheelchair and me beside her waited in line to shake Madiba’s hand. This time I had brought a gift for him. It was an amethyst crystal cluster. I had chosen it because it was beautiful and it helps one remember ones dreams. I did not want to take too much of his time, and in retrospect I guess I should have not been so fearful and played so small, but what I did was naively put the crystal in my right hand and when he came to me, I said: “I have a gift for you Madiba, and put it into his hand when he shook it.” Quick as a flash Madiba turned to his body-guard who must have inspected it and given the all clear that it was not a bomb. Then Madiba turned back to me. He stood still and so present, holding his cheek for me to kiss in an attitude of silent gratitude and forgiveness . I kissed his cheek. Again I was awed by his auric energy. Pure love. Pure presence. Pure dignity. I was so humbled by this great man, that I did not have a chance to explain to him the significance of the crystal and why I wanted to give it to him. Later at the birthday cake and speech part of the occasion I saw him looking at me. I wished that I could have spoken to him more. There was a deep connection. A soul understanding. I felt like I made a friend.
What I feel I have learned from Madiba in retrospect, now that we are being flooded with information about him and how he lived his life, is that he was so completely aware, conscious and in his truth in everything he said and did. That kind of discipline is what we can all learn so much from. And in his passing we are glimpsing that little piece of heaven as one does when someone we love passes through the curtain to the next life, that little glimpse of light and hope as we see his divinity. It is an opportunity for great change. I can only hope that it can bring the shift we need, but in order for it to happen, we all need to walk in his footsteps and be the change we hope to see, just as he did.
People who are prepared to live beyond their comfort zone are so few and far between. When we remember Madiba and all the things he stood for we are given the opportunity to grow and stretch ourselves. To reach up to the sky and look up. To unravel ourselves from our distractions: our cellphones and computers and media noise, and to listen to our true spirit call, and to God and to feel the truth of who we really are and what is really right for the common good.
He is a legend and a king to our children and so his spirit will live on. Yesterday, we took this poem, written by my daughter Zia, aged 9, to the shrine at Parliament in Cape Town and laid it there among the wreathes of flowers:
” If I could write a note to Mandela, this is what it would say: I was not born when the “Big Thing” happened, but thank you anyway.
I would not talk about prison, because that’s what he always hears, and if I did, his face would turn red, and on his cheek, some tears. He would say he only talked about good, and I would say: so true. If I could I’d talk only of good but nothings as good as you.
But if I could say only one thing, I’d say Mandela you were a great King.”
By Zia Thembisa Kingwill-Cloete aged 9.
Madiba would like us to dance for him now. To let go of our uptight fears and to dance as he tried to show the audience at this concert by Johnny Clegg.
“It is music and dancing that makes me at Peace with the world, and at peace with myself.” Madiba said that day in 1999. So much to learn from that: Being at peace with oneself and the world brings peace. May the world begin to dance for inner peace and by doing so create world peace.
Lets all give it a go.
Check out the concert here:
- Cape Town’s Mandela Memorial: The tribute Madiba deserved (dailymaverick.co.za)
- Annie Lennox Performs At Nelson Mandela Tribute Show (contactmusic.com)
- Desmond Tutu: Thank you for the gift of Madiba (itv.com)