The world has lost an icon with the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela yesterday. We can’t begin to find the words to say all he stood for in the history of humanity that can go so crooked at times. Mandela was hope where it was hopeless and light where it was dark. If he had not lived in that era of South Africa’s life, the country may never have been the country it is now.
In the cell opposite Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, was our poet friend Dennis Brutus, who wrote It is The Constant Image of Your face and A troubadour I traverse, all reviewed previously on this blog. Both of them were partners against apartheid, working in the quarry together, cracking stones and being tortured. It is fitting we honour the memory of Mandela today with poetry that was written by a man who knew him first hand. Dennis Brutus wrote this poem after Mandela was released from prison and was on his way to finally assume presidency of South Africa, unify a nation standing at a point of indecision on its future and teach humanity a lesson on forgiveness.
Here is Dennis Brutus’ tribute,
For Nelson Mandela
Yes, Mandela, some of us
we admit embarrassedly
wept to see you step free
so erectly, so elegantly
shrug off the prisoned years
a blanket cobwebbed of pain and grime;
behind, the island’s seasand,
harsh, white and treacherous
ahead, jagged rocks
bladed crevices of racism and deceit
in the salt island air
you swung your hammer grimly stoic
facing the dim path of interminable years,
now, vision blurred with tears
we see you step out to our salutes
bearing our burden of hopes and fears
and impress your radiance
on the grey morning air
My name is Dela. Even before I was old enough to know anything about this world, my cousins called me Man-Dela, in tribute to the greatness of a man whose life touched everyone who believes in the greater humanity, irrespective of country. I bid him peaceful rest. We will tell our children this, that we lived in the time of Nelson Mandela.