Celebrate His Life
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity. It is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.
Resentment is like drinking a poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter. I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret, that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.
As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.
Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
My earlier friends will know that the South African struggle for freedom from apartheid has always been a very big deal to me, and inspired Christopher, my hero in African Me & Satellite TV. At the very pinnacle of my list of the greatest people who have ever lived is Nelson Mandela. The news that he is spending his fourth day in hospital with a lung infection came as quite a shock, and totally blocked out all thoughts of writing or editing today. I’m mainly just remembering.
It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t always be around. But he’s ninety four years old, and nobody gets to live forever. Still – right now I can’t shake the sensation of a very large rock in my belly. When I lived in Cape Town, a while after his release from prison, I was late for a meeting, and getting more and more freaked out by the traffic system having gone mad. Cars were heading in the wrong direction, and everything was just jammed up. So I bounced my car up onto the kerb, and belted off in the direction of my appointment – six inch heels notwithstanding. Suddenly I came up against a wall of jostling, shoving people. I was getting later and later, so I shoved harder, until I popped out amongst a line of people standing quietly. Finally I stopped, and actually focused on where I was. I looked left, and there, two people up, he was. Nelson Mandela. Smiling the smile that only he can smile, and gently shaking the hand of an old woman. It was a Mr Bean moment. I must have looked as out of place as a carbuncle on a pretty nose in that line-up, with my high heels, short skirt and make up. Before the burly security guys speedily heading in my direction could reach me, and before I could gather my wits enough to run like hell so as not to get arrested, he was in front of me, holding out his hand. I’ll never forget those beautiful smiling eyes, or the warm comfort of having my hand in his. He moved on, I wasn’t arrested, I missed my appointment, and life went on.
His words and deeds have always inspired me. His dignity, grace and the love that beams palpably from his face inspire people across the globe, and everyone knows his name.
He once said a while back,
“Forgiveness is the most powerful weapon in the world”.
Not many can say that and mean it. I used to prefer the ideals of the military wing that he had also believed in, of the ANC – Umkhonto we Sizwe, or The Spear Of The Nation, and they were right too. It did take violence to win their battle for freedom.
He said, at his Rivonia trial,
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
And he has lived to see the start of his dream being fulfilled, and to carry on inspiring people all over with his beautiful soul. Get well Madiba, there are millions sending you their love today.
I’m going to tag on a couple of much earlier posts, “written” by Christopher, my hero in African Me, as a memory of what that battle was about.
Now that I am dead, and I watch these people relive my life, I desire only to describe to them how I feel now, and to tell them that there is no need for their terrible sorrow.
Now that I am spirit, I have no colour or race, no accent, no pain. I feel the bliss that is eternity, and I wish that I could share it with them, these gentle scatterlings brought together by my human death, who now love me as I was never loved in human form.
I stand unseen beneath the Msasa tree, with the joyful souls of Felix the cat, and Cher the dog, whose painful deaths were the catalyst of my own pointless murder, as these people think of it. But no, I want to shout, there is no death. There can never be such a thing. We are all immortal, and these small passings from one place to another are not as terrible in reality, as they are in the eyes of people.
I watch them read my diaries, crying for me, crying for the days of my life, while wondering how a small black boy living in those times, those times they call apartheid, how did that child come to be writing a diary.
But even so, my story begins before that day. In spirit I remember all, see all, even the days of other lives, other forms, in other worlds, but these are stories for other days.
CHRISTOPHER – The Diarist
Do you wonder how a Zulu boy came to be writing in a diary, while his friends played in the sun, and pushed their wire cars through the dry grass?
In 1953 we lived in Sharpeville. It was new then. My mother worked as a maid in Ventersdorp, and my father worked on the mines in Johannesburg. He was a proud man, but uneducated. The only lie he ever told me, that I knew about, was that he could read. I knew he could not. He blamed poor vision, and always had me read the newspapers he bought out loud.
He came home once a month after payday, smelling of the big city and exciting journeys on Putco buses. My mother and I were eager for these homecomings. He would bring a big parcel of meat with him, some small gift for her, and a packet of hard lemon sweets for me to suck. If I was very careful, I could make this packet last until his next return.
After our feast of meat, my mother would go to sleep, and I would sit at his feet, and listen to the exciting tales of the doings in Johannesburg. The great new music of Snowy Radebe, and stories of miners getting drunk on home-brewed skokiaan and stabbing each other to death in the shebeens of the townships. I loved to listen to my father.
One month he came home with an extra parcel, and a very angry face. He handed me a paper to read for him. I never forgot those words. The words of Hendrick Verwoerd.
“Natives must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans is not for them”.
At the time those words merely confirmed to me that I was inferior to white people. The few that I had seen till then had been smiling and happy, well dressed, and always driving beautiful shiny cars. I was very impressed as well, by the fact that all white children had shoes. To my twelve year old brain it was very simple, I had seen their superiority with my own eyes. I nodded in agreement.
For the first and only time in my life my father smacked my face. Beatings on the backside were acceptable, but being struck in the face was something else. I looked up at him in shock, and I saw the strange mixture of shame and anger on his face.
“Christopher,” he said softly. “I am sorry.”
We remained silent for a long time, and then he said.
“I cannot change my life. I am too old. Our ancestors were warriors. They must look on me now in shame, as I sweat and slave in the bowels of the earth, for the gold of Africa to make the white man rich. But not you, my son. You will not shame our ancestors.”
He handed me the extra parcel he had brought, and I opened it. I was surprised to see books. They where very old and tattered. Then he pulled another book from his satchel. This one was brand new. It was a very bright pink with a picture of a laughing purple horse on it. I took it from his hand and read the inscription on the cover, “My Diary”.
“You will write in this every day, and show it to me when I come home. You will also learn all that is in these books I have bought for you. Every word. You will tell me what you have learned from these books, and I will know if you lie to me. I have found a shop that sells these old books very cheaply, so I will bring you more to study from.”
My strange education begun on that day, and the beating I received with the sjambok the next month for not filling every page of that pink book, instilled in me the habit of my life to come.
I pulled the books towards me, and examined the titles. The Life and Times of Henry VIII, Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, A Treatise on White Magic, and Brought To Bed, the memory of which is enough to bring a blush to the cheeks of even a ghost.
And so I learned of all of these things, and because of my father’s inability to read, I learned of many more strange and wonderful things in the years to follow.
CHRISTOPHER – The March That Was Not
They are sitting on the verandah now, my diaries scattered among the remains of their lunch. Princess feeds them too much. They are laughing. Except for Sam. Samson, my son, the son that was taken from me. He is not laughing. He is filled with rage. Even as his hatred for Suzette Hertzog consumes him, he is silent as she reads aloud from my diary, and the hair on their heads touches as they lean over my writing. Hers the colour of the moonlight, and his black as a starless night.
Aah, they are amused about the march that we lost heart for. There was nothing amusing about our struggle for our freedom, our dignity, and the return of that which was taken from us, but sometimes there were moments that stood out, moments where white and black recognised their mutual humanity.
I remember that day so well. We had planned a march in Soweto. It was hot, we were hungry, and we were angry. Then the ratels came, and the saracens, those terrifying death-dealing vehicles. We expected death on that day, of course, our marches seldom ended without such. We did not care. Our eyes were red with the light of battle. We roared, and raised our fists. The noise was powerful.
The young white boys of the army and police cocked their weapons, fear etched into the faces of these children, forced to fight a war which most of them never really understood.
And then a police vehicle drove in fast, and pulled up so suddenly that it slewed sideways, raising a cloud of grey dust from the road. In the small silence that followed, the drivers door was flung open, and we briefly saw the scowling face of a high ranking officer, before it dissapeared completely.
Of course we are a superstitious people, and I am sure that the blood of each man turned to ice at the complete vanishing of this person. We stared as the dust settled, until one of the white policemen begun to laugh hysterically, and there at his feet, chin level with the ground, was the still scowling face of the officer, who in his haste had failed to see the ditch that he had stopped beside.
Our laughter grew loud, and mingled, black and white, which is as it should be.
I watch Suzette wipe the tears that begun with her laughter, and now creep down her face in sadness. I wish I could give her comfort, this daughter, this soul that entwined with mine, at the end of my life.
CHRISTOPHER’S DIARIES – 20 March 1960
Something big always happens on my birthday. Usually something bad. This morning when I went to the bus stop, a guy came up to me. He said he was Pan African Congress. He said that I should not go to work, today was a stayaway. He said we had to fight the pass laws. He said that we had to fight for our liberation, and for the freedom of our leaders in jail. We had to stop the aggression against the sons and daughters of Africa, that had begun with the theft of our country three hundred years ago. He said that we should not be called kaffirs and be spat upon as we stood on the soil of our own land. The ANC was too soft, he shouted, we must heed the words of Robert Sobukwe. All men were to leave their passes at home and go to prison.
I had no wish to fight. I never have, so I walked back to the centre of town, where I found Terry. He was excited.
He said, “It’s time man, it’s time!”
People were chanting “Izwe Lethu – Our Land”. We ended up at the back of a large crowd, and followed them towards the police station.
Jets flew overhead. Everyone cheered and waved their hats. It was exhilerating, until a terrible thing happened. The fence around the police station was pushed over. It was not intentional, but people at the back of the crowd were pushing so that they could see what was happening.
The police begun to shoot. I turned and ran. Terry ran too. I ran as fast as I could. I looked back over my shoulder, and I saw people falling. They were being shot in their backs as they ran away. I saw the sparks from the muzzle of the sten gun on the saracen as it swung around, firing everywhere.
I ran into a house, threw myself to the floor, and covered my head with my hands. I have never been so afraid. When I realised that the shooting had stopped, I got up. I was shaking so much that I could not walk properly. I went outside.
Bodies lay all around. Men, women, children. People were crying. Most of the bodies were quite still, blood was everywhere. I went home. Terry was standing at my gate.
We sat on the couch for hours, listening to the wailing outside. We heard sirens come and go, and then there was silence.
I heard that sixty nine people were killed, many of them children, most of them shot in their backs as they ran.
Apparently some were armed. They had small stones in their hands.
I turned nineteen today.