Nelson Mandela Goes To His Ancestors

African Update – 03/01/14

He sacrificed a glittering career as a lawyer, sacrificed what was arguably the most beautiful wife in the world, sacrificed his children, and was prepared to sacrifice his life, leaving them all behind. All for the freedom of the far greater majority of the oppressed. That was Nelson Mandela.

That selflessness is what is embodied in the African philosophy of Ubuntu: I am because you are. In modern times of western cultural domination and greed, ubuntu is very ill? Perhaps Mandela is best remembered for his reconciliation project where he forgave his white tormentors. Perhaps the finest illustration of his project was during his presidency. In 1995 he invited Percy Yutar (1911-2002) for lunch. Yutar was the man who prosecuted him in the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1963. It was that trial that sent Mandela to prison for 27 years. As an Armenian Jew Yutar had himself suffered anti-semitism at the hands of the powers that be – The Afrikaners. For that reason he remained for a while a junior state prosecutor and was forbidden from joining the attorney general’s office in Cape Town. Now as Deputy Attorney General of the Transvaal province, he was eager to please his bosses at the Palace of Justice, Pretoria. In cross examination of the defendants he was relentless.It is also worthy to note that Mandela was trained by Jewish lawyers, and worked very closely with Jewish revolutionaries like Joe Slovo.Mandela was convicted. Yutar insisted on the death penalty. Mandela declared that he was prepared to die for the ideal of equality and non-racialism. It was not to be. Judge President Quartus De Wet (1899 -1980), found a technicality to deviate from the recommended sentence of death. Some say he did not want to make Mandela a Martyr. But the Judge knew that Mandela did not deserve to die. He sentenced him to life imprisonment .The loophole was that Mandela had been charged with Sabotage instead of High treason. The imponderable remains: What would have happened to Mandela and his legacy if he had been hanged?But to Mandela, after his release from prison 27 years later, this was not the time for winners and losers. He understood Yutar’s position. After a kosher lunch with him he held his hands like lawyers do and said “You were only doing your job”. Mandela was the ultimate peacemaker. And blessed are the peacemakers. Yutar recollects that when he arrived for lunch, all the guests were seated. He realised that no seat had been reserved for him, neither was one reserved for Mandela. He was about to leave when he was approached by the chef who said “Are you Percy Yutar?, the President asked us to prepare a special kosher lunch for the two of you”. Yutar was in tears.At his Presidential inauguration in May 1994 his gaoler was invited as a VIP guest. He subsequently had tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the wife of the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd.In a world of political pettiness, and factionalism, he captured the global imagination. And when he walked into a rugby stadium wearing the springbok rugby jersey of the captain, at the rugby world cup in 1996, Johannesburg, the conversion of his arch enemies was complete. They chanted “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson”’. They even sang at the stadium the black liberation song “Shosholoza”Said Thabo Mbeki who was his deputy and who succeeded him as President in 1999 “Mandela’s death is the end of an era”He was an idealist, a romantic and a pragmatist all rolled into one. And yet he simply wanted to be like everybody. He wanted no personal glorification but to be judged by his ideals of freedom and justice - a timeless universal ideal. He said “ I don’t think there is much history that can be said about me. I just want to be remembered as part of that collective”He also said “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” .He had that elusive quality that is uncommon: an effusive generosity of spirit. He was father, lover, fighter, politician, peacemaker, everyman.That is what made the overwhelming majority of White South Africa come to his party. Most embraced the change he practised; change from an uncompromising revolutionary to a unifier. They believed. He saved them from a prison house and it was freedom for them as well. But whether it was justice is still being debated.One would have imagined that when Mandela embarked on his reconciliation project immediately prior to the first multi-racial elections in April 1994 the races were at each other’s throats in the streets, but that was not the case. Yes, there was tension and extreme violence perpetrated by various formations, but whites and blacks walked the streets of Johannesburg without animosity. It is also to the credit of the black population that they agreed to see beyond hatred and revenge. South Africa is a complex and remarkable country.In his latter years his son-in-law, Dr Kwame Amuah, married to his eldest surviving child discussed with him the prospect of death. In response to Dr Amuah’s desire to write a book on the subject of death Mandela said “how do you write about death when you have not experienced it? Rather write about love, because it is something we all experience.” Love was the compass that gave direction to his project.Dr Makaziwe Mandela, the wife of Dr Amuah is in no doubt about what made her father. She narrates: “The name Mandela originated from our great grandfather Mandela, who was born in 1820. He was the son of King Ngubengcuka, the fourth monarch of the aba Thembu (ethnic grouping from the Eastern Cape). Mandela gave birth to Chief Mphakanyisa Henry Gadla Mandela who gave birth to our father Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. It is indisputable that Nelson Mandela’s development, beliefs and convictions, as well as his principled stand on inclusivity and forgiveness were derived from sitting at the feet of his elders. It is what he learnt from African values that made him the world icon that he is today. It is that African philosophy of Ubuntu practised all over the continent.”Nelson Mandela, as Larry King has said is the greatest figure of the 20th Century. Having inspired a better world, his rest will be well deserved as he enters into conversation, not with himself, but this time with his ancestors. His ancestors in turn will no doubt laud him for a job well done in upholding their values. And the world cannot thank him enough.Pusch Commey is a lawyer and author of several books. His magnificent book 100 GREAT AFRICAN KINGS AND QUEENS is available on, and all major online bookshops. He writes for New African Magazine, and for Humanitas.

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Book of the month

Xoliswa Ndoyiya: Ukutya Kwasekhaya

Xoliswa Ndoyiya: Ukutya KwasekhayaTastes from Nelson Mandela’s kitchen

A collection of recipes by Nelson Mandela's personal chef, this book contains the food served to visiting heads of state, celebrities, politicians for more than 20 years. Featuring some of the favourite former South African president's favourite meals including samp and beans, farm chicken, tripe, this book also features paella, peri-peri chicken, prawn curry, and myriad of other delights. With simple, delicious and nourishing recipes, it will interest those who wish to prepare meals that are both elegant and healthy.More

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New titles in our library 12/2016

Our library has aquired a number of new and interesting books. Here is the list of the latest titles.

  • Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith
  • Fashion Cities Africa by Hannah Azieb Pool
  • Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanismby Christopher Lee
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Robinson, James A., Acemoglu, Daron
  • Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures With the Ever-Living Poet by Edward Wilson-Lee
  • A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present by Richard J. Reid
  • Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture by Sarah Van Beurden
  • Children in Slavery through the Ages by by Gwyn CampbellSuzanne MiersJoseph C. Miller
  • Global Health in Africa: Historical Perspectives on Disease Control by Tamara Giles-Vernick
  • Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos by Gary  Stewart
  • Women and Slavery, Vol. 1: Africa, the Indian Ocean World, and the Medieval North Atlantic by Gwyn Campbell
  • Women and Slavery, Vol. 2: The Modern Atlantic by Gwyn Campbell
  • Cahier d'un Retour Au Pays Natal by Aimé Cesaire
  • Healing Traditions: African Medicine, Cultural Exchange and Competition in South Africa, 1820-1948 by Karen Elizabeth  Flint
  • Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies by Antoni Verger
  • Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry by Matthew M. Heaton

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