Hamba kahle Madiba. You have passed.
Last night in a dance class we kneeled at the foot of the drummers, we knelt with palms upwards absorbing the offering, the main drummer our Senegalese brother Dembis held the sticks like he was holding his life, the skins were exploding with sound, he drummed he drummed he drummed until he stopped tears pouring from his eyes, he hung his head, he threw his sticks down, his hands pressing on the drum, his locks wet with salt, he cried, and cried and cried. I got home to the news of Madiba’s death and then I realised- Dembis could feel Madiba’s spirit leaving his flesh. This far away but so close.
Madiba belonged to us. Every black body excluded from the world, every black body welcomed in the embrace of their mothers, their lovers, their people, their freedom songs, their drum rhythm.
I don’t want to hear any of the ‘big men’ give eulogies, none of these heads of state, no rock stars. No. Many of them and their countries even wished him and the struggle dead when it was raging against a lucrative apartheid system. Madiba was from the left, the black left, the African left, the global left that extended across countries fighting for freedom from colonial rule and an end to racism and classism. His armed resistance and his affinity to Communism put him on the US terror list- he was not taken off until 2008 when it had gotten too ‘embarrassing’ and Condolezza Rice with the Congressional Black Caucus called for a revision. Remember when he came to London after his release where did he go? Brixton. Home of a black/left community that had persisted with their campaigns to FREE MANDELA against a British government that wanted apartheid to stay. It was like that across the world. Everyday people. ‘Nobodies’. He was with us. Also one of us. And we were with him.
In the liberated South Africa, Madiba stood with LGBT activists to ensure that the Equality Clause in the South African Constitution included sexual orientation, Madiba stood with Treatment Action Campaign activists to call for full access to anti-retroviral drugs when his own comrades (President Mbeki and Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala Msimang) refused to. He was complex and tactical, by no means perfect politically or personally.
Still, I am not listening to those ‘big man’ eulogies. Madiba was part of a struggle for PEOPLE’s POWER. Many fell in that fight. Many. He was part of a MOVEMENT. And that movement was led by the call ‘Amandla! Awetu!”- Power to Us! Power to the People! He meant something to us because he was of us, and maybe thats why he says to just remember him as someone who has done their duty on earth. As in- we also need to do our duty on earth. Stay awake, stay focused, keep mobilising. If he lives in us, through our drumsong, as inspiration- it is because he serves as nourishment, as water to help us keep walking. Rest in Peace and we will continue, we promise- to continue.