Written shortly after his death, His Day is Gone was Maya Angelou’s tribute to the late first democratically elected president of South Africa and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. In the poem, Angelou pays tribute to the Mandela’s fighting spirit, chronicles his life and highlights his infinite legacy as a man and leader whose conviction to the cause of his people was felt all around the world.
Maya Angelou first met Nelson Mandela in Cairo, Egypt, in 1962. Angelou was living in Cairo at the time and Madiba was on a secret trip to London, via Egypt’s capital. Although the two had arranged to correspond after meeting, Mandela was arrested shortly after he returned to South Africa. It would not be until 1993 at President Clinton’s inauguration, where Angelou recited a poem, that the two would once again be in the same place.
24 years ago today, on February 11th 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl.
He had served a total of 27 years behind bars, most of it on the infamous Robben Island, after being convicted of treason during the Rivonia Trial in 1964 for his involvement in Umkhonto we Sizwe - the ANC’s armed wing.
Both before his sentencing and upon his release, Mandela made two iconic speeches. The first, delivered during the Rivonia Trial, lasted three hours. Referred to as the “I Am Prepared to Die" speech, it was inspired by Fidel Castro’s "La historia me absolverá" (History Will Absolve Me) and is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.
After his release from prison in Paarl, Mandela delivered another iconic speech that began similarly to Mark Antony’s equally iconic speech in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, but with a vastly different message: “Friends, Comrades and Fellow South Africans...”.
It was raining on the 10th of December, 2013, the day of Nelson Mandela’s memorial at the FNB Stadium in Soweto. Throngs of people queued up to pay their final respects to a man whose legacy as one of the most instrumental figures in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle continually swings back and forth between a militant ‘any means necessary’ freedom fighter, to a docile pro-democracy grandpa-like activist - all depending on whose doing the reporting. And thus, depending on what sector of the populace you represent, you’ll take the bits and pieces of Madiba that best suit your memory of him.
Present at the memorial were mourners from all walks of life - some young, some old, some who preferred the MK co-founder and boxing enthusiast, and some who saw him as their ticket into the mythical “post-racialism” that exists in the so-called ‘Rainbow nation’. There to capture some of these faces was South African photographer Jono Wood, on a personal mission to capture “a different look and feel to main stream media.”
As familiar as most of us are with Nelson Mandela the political and human rights activist and public statesman, behind closed doors, he was a man that loved and was loved by man. Grazia’s South African arm looks back on his past marriages and reflects on Madiba, the husband and father.
Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.
"I was not born with a hunger to be free,” Nelson Mandela writes in his autobiography. He immediately explains, “I was born free - free in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields near my mother’s hut, free to swim in the clear stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the stars and ride the broad backs of slow-moving bulls. As long as I obeyed my father and abided by the customs of my tribe, I was not troubled by the laws of man or God.”
Woolworths teams up with South Africa’s most famous choir, the Soweto Gospel Choir, to create a singing flashmob at one of their stores in the country to commemorate the death of one of South Africa’s most recognizable anti-apartheid freedom fighters - and the country’s first democratically elected president - Nelson Mandela.
As beautiful as the choir’s rendition of ‘Asimbonanga’ is, this blatant marketing stint from one of SA’s largest retail stores just doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Is it the fact that they made them dress up as Woolies employees (there’s no shame in being a Woolies employee) when the choir is distinctly known for always wearing their traditional South African garments when performing? Or the fact that Woolies has a mostly white and upper-class clientele that taints this sort of performance, giving it an almost minstrel-y effect? I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too cynical. Either way, no amount of beautiful singing could make me feel whatever it was that Woolies was trying to make listeners feel.
“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” - Nelson Mandela
Revolutionary, anti-apartheid leader, peacemaker and world icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandeladied at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, just before 9 p.m. local time on December 5, 2013. He was 95 years.
Mandela, who spent 27 years in jail for fighting the racist white rule of apartheid, gave his life to see the liberation of his people. His courage and resolution will forever serve as a great example of human dignity.
The world honors your memory. May you rest in peace, Madiba.