Archive for June, 2013


I have been fortunate enough to have had the honour of meeting President Nelson Mandela on a number of occasions.

I first met Madiba in Stockholm in Sweden in 1990 just following his release from 27 years on an Apartheid island that was meant to break him and his comrades.

It did not break Madiba.

It only strengthened his beliefs is justice, equality, and dignity for all.

I was 18 when I met Madiba for the first time.

And then through the years, I had the honour of meeting him again, always briefly, and always leaving me with a feeling that is indescribable.

“Mandela” the symbol, and Mandela the human-being are inextricably fused, and it is that symbol and it is that unswerving passion and compassion and selfless sacrifice that Mandela embodies, that shall always be my personal moral compass.

I do not believe in God.

I do not believe in religion.

What I do believe in are the very principles and the beliefs that Mandela and so many others fought for, and achieved, and though the war is far, far from over, what Mandela and his comrades, and ordinary South Africans and indeed all the peoples of the world still fight and aspire towards – a world less cruel, a world that is kinder to the weakest economically disenfranchised, a world that offers dignity and health-care and support and human respect to all living beings, regardless of class, culture, creed, race, and all the many divisions that human-beings have created.

“Mandela” the symbol MUST endure!

Far too many have fallen, far too many have been cut down, assassinated, murdered by the forces of privilege and capital for “Mandela” the symbol to be simply grieved over and then transformed into an emblem for the ruling party.

“Mandela” belongs to all the world.

There is a story my father told me, about going to an anti-Apartheid meeting in the back-waters of Kerala, a southern Indian state in the 1980’s.

They were being transported by boat to the venue and the man who was rowing the boat was singing a song in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala. The words ‘Mandela’ could be heard in the boatman’s song, and so my father asked the boatman who this ‘Mandela’ was that he was singing about.

The boatman was shocked that ‘people from the city’ didn’t know about the man whose face the world had not seen in decades, and whose struggles and ideals touched the deepest backwaters of Kerala to such an extent that boatmen sang songs for a man locked up on an island on the other side of the world.

That is “Mandela” – the symbol for oppressed people everywhere.

That is “Mandela” – the belief in a better less cruel, and more just world.

And that symbol, “Mandela” shall never die.

It is up to all of us to ensure that “Mandela” lives on.

And “Mandela” shall live on in our daily actions, how we treat the sick, the elderly, the economically disenfranchised, the oppressed, on other words, the 99% of this world.

“Mandela” shall live.

Mandela Lives.

Saying Farewell to Madiba…

Today, as our thoughts and tears and love flow to our beloved President Nelson Mandela,

We, human-beings the world over,

say thank you, Madiba!

Thank you for your life, a life of principle,
a life of struggle,
of torture, of pain, of loss,

of a selflessness that you have embodied so completely.

In this often cold and callous world,

where we have been jaded by war, by intolerance, by racism, prejudice, and so so much economic and social injustice,

your living spirit shall live on!

your body, that has endured so so much,

your heart, your mind, your very self, which injustice and tyranny tried so hard to break,

shines on!

Your spirit shines and shall be the torch that we, your children the world over,
shall carry forward…

you may be struggling for life today,

but you have breathed life,

into the hearts of countless downtrodden people this world over.

I don’t know what to say,

my heart breaks today,

I want to cry, and I am crying now,

with a sense of loss and of sadness that I have felt when my mother passed away,

I cry for my loss, selfishly,

but I know you have walked the long walk to freedom,

the long and arduous walk from struggle and sacrifice to healer and peacemaker and statesman and father, yes,

father to us all…

I will miss you, My father,

I will miss your comforting presence,

I shall miss your smile,

and mostly I shall miss the gentle solace that you imbibed in us all,

your children the world over…

Live on, you shall, Madiba!

in the shacks of the Sowetos of the world, you shall live on in that eternal quest for economic freedom,

in the eyes of the pained and tortured,

you shall live on!

in the whispered prayers,

the silent thoughts,

of the dispossessed of this world who still continue to be left behind in this cruel world,

you shall live on!

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, as you make your way to join the ancestors,

Hamba Kahle Comrade President Nelson Rolihlahla “Madiba” Mandela!

Travel well, and go peacefully…

Impotent Rhyme

Impotent Rhyme…

… Winter winds sweep away the walking wounded,

Obscene ostentation batters the collective conscience,

Lies are spun,

Into cobwebbed deceit,
‘for the people, by the people, of the people’,

Hollow sounding words,

Stripped bare of all weight,

The husk of democracy lies moulting in the coffers of capital,

As deals are brokered,
IPO’s floated,

Dollars and cents soiled with the fresh blood of human chattel…

… Plugged ears drown out the cries of the anguished,

Blue-chip variables douse humaneness,

Leaving embers callously extinguished,

While heaving plates are prepared,

No expense to be spared,

To feed privilege the spoils of the massacre,

Into which all may be ensnared…

… Lost for thoughts and at a loss for rhyme,

When death rains down as we silently mime,

This farce that is cloaked to shroud the slime…

… Oh yes, do not be too smug,

We are all, as one,

Hysterical accomplices to the perpetual crime,

And as the others decay in the filth,

Smeared by the grime of endless time,

I remain impotent,

Clinically neutered,

Merely spewing forth yet more banal rhyme,

Dazzled by this illusion that blinds, deafens, renders mute,

As I slip into the web to be willingly seduced,

While humanity itself,

Into a mere commodity is reduced…

My Ramblin’ Lament…

(Inspired by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter, and a much younger Bobby Dylan)

I’ve been rambling along,

Hither and thither,

Whistling the bars of my unfinished song.

I’ve roamed for too long,

Walking on oceans,

Yearning to finally belong.

Wasting my youth,

On pride,

Leaving me nowhere,

Left to hide.

Washed up against many an alien shore,

Eyes stinging, heart crushed,

My laughter a suffocating facade,

Tearing my self apart,

Vanishing into my own charade,

Dreading each new start,

Welcoming each inevitable end,

Flinging sentiments that may never mend.

I’ve been rolling through,

A life of fortunate circumstance,

Reaching for nothing,

achieving even less,

Comforted by this shroud of blandness,

Dusting all memories off my chest,

Aching for release, for peace, for rest,

And still scribbling unsound verse,

With my thirty pieces of silver,

Tucked in my jagged purse.

So I roll and roam and ramble still,

Leaving everything behind save my will,

Dreaming still of the promise of bliss,

The whispered rhymes of a salty kiss,

Of hope released, of true emotions unbound

Dreaming always,

Of a simple love that may still be found…

(Inspired by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter, and a much younger Bobby Dylan)

For Comrade Vuyisile Mini
(Born in 1920 – Executed in 1964)

Your voice rang out, comrade Mini,
as you walked to the gallows.

You sang, comrade Mini,
you sang the songs of defiance and of freedom!

You were born in a country, rife with racial prejudice,
a second-class citizen, in the land of your ancestors,

and you grew into a gallant fighter,
a Trade Unionist,
leader,
singer,
a member of The Spear of the Nation Umkhonto we-Sizwe,
a poet, a father, a husband, a comrade-in-arms!

A true South African patriot,
you stood tall,

singing as you walked to the gallows,

singing songs of defiance and freedom and struggle.

Today we remember you, comrade Vuyisile Mini,
and we honour your sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice.

And though the Apartheid regime may have cut your song short,

you live today!

You live in the voices of the children,

voices that sing in Khayelitsha,
in Gugulethu, Soweto, KwaMashu, Mamelodi, Atteridgeville,
Diepsloot.

You live in the rivers and in the streams,
from Limpopo to Mpumalanga to KwaZulu-Natal.

you live in the rich soil of your beloved South Africa.

You live in our mornings, our bright African mornings,
and,
your spirit rolls over the plains and peaks and valleys,
of this land that is still healing,

you live, comrade Vuyisile Mini!

You live.

Amanda!

The Struggles Continue…

_______________

The following account is taken from the South African History Online website (http://www.sahistory.org.za) :

Ben Turok, a previous co-accused of Mini’s in the 1956 Treason Trial, was serving a three-year term in Pretoria prison for MK activities at the time of Mini’s execution. He recalled the last moments of Mini’s (44), Khayinga’s (38) and Mkaba’s (35) lives in Sechaba, the official ANC journal:

“The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near… It was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards.

And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. And then it was Khayinga`s turn, followed by Mkaba, as they too defied all prison rules to shout out their valedictions. Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section.”

Mini’s unmistakable bass voice, ringing out loud and clear, sent his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. Charged with emotion, but stubbornly defiant, he spoke of the struggle and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. After his 1964 execution, Mini was secretly buried in a pauper’s grave at Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria.

Mini is remembered not only for how many unions and workers he organised but, as Luckhardt & Wall put it, “more importantly for the spirit and dedication they brought to the struggle.” To honour his stand, the ANC Mission Office in Tanzania opened a Furniture factory that was known as the Vuyisile Mini Factory (VMF). In addition many of the songs sung by the freedom fighters of today are Mini’s compositions. The bodies of Mini, Khayinga and Mkaba were exhumed in 1998 at Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria and he was given a heroes funeral in Port Elizabeth.

– from the South African History Online website (http://www.sahistory.org.za) :

Stars drowning in a sea of tears,

The milky moon shrouds unnamed fears,

Whispered vows are brittle when spoken,

Empty hearts lie as sentiments are broken,

Wishing I knew then all I know now,

Without mercy having to grovel and bow,

All the while the tears flow ,

And a crushed heart is all I have to show…

Apathy, Hypocrisy, & Cappuccino…

In cafés,
Over canapés,

Between smiles and laughs and gossip,

Apathetic hypocrisy mutates with every sip.

I’m guilty of the above,

Time after time after time,

When holier-than-thou tid-bits are traded,

As humanity’s conscience gets inebriated, and faded.

While the many search for scraps in the dirt,

All I do is sermonise, consume, and flirt.

Expecting my scribbles to absolve my greed,

My hubris grows steadily,

On pomposity it does feed.

So forgive me if I appear caustic,

My hypocrisy stabs and makes me sick.

So as I take leave of you today,

I have nothing more to say,

So as I slip off my masks,

I stand exposed so you may know,

My charade can only grow,

Fatter stiil,

On apathy, Hypocrisy, and cappuccino…

D-Day June 6, 1944

Mowed down by lead spewing from Nazi machine guns,

Young men sliced on the the beaches of Normandy,

Blood stained the salty sea crimson,

Torn limbs and lifeless bodies scattered along Juno, Gold, and Omaha beach,

Young men, shredded by shrapnel,

Holding the line,

Inch by blood-soaked inch,

As the fascist juggernaut was brought down to its knees,

And still the fight raged on,

From the eastern front to the acts of valour,

Carried out by partisans in the name of freedom from the jackboot of Nazism,

There was a young man called Spartaco Fontanot and I end this poem with a letter he wrote to his mother :

Dear Mum*,

Of all people I know you are the one that will feel it most, so my very last thoughts go to you. Don’t blame anyone else for my death, because I myself chose fate.

I don’t know what to write to you, because, even though I have a clear head, I can’t find the right words.

I took my place in the Army of Liberation, and I die as the light of victory is already beginning to shine … I shall be shot very shortly with twenty three other comrades.

After the war you must claim your rights to a pension. They will let you have my things at the jail, only I am keeping Dad’s undervest, because I don’t want the cold to make me shiver…

Once again I say goodbye.

Courage!

Your son.
Spartaco

(Spartaco Fontanot, metalworker, twenty-two years old,member of the French Resistance group of ‘Misak Manouchian’, 1944)

* – from Eric Hobsbawn’s book ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914 – 1991’

Love, Trepidation, and Paltry Verse…

She said ‘I love you’,

‘I know’, said I.

‘Why can’t you feel for me as I feel for you?’, she asked.

my words were knotted,

twisty and convoluted,
bereft of all passion,
devoid of all life,

I felt myself shrivel up and curl away,

Lost on the highways of past transgressions,

‘I love you’, she whispered.

I remained mute …

As mute as I am today,

merely scribbling verse on dead parchment,

Torn and broken and splintered,

While dreaming the elusive dream.

‘I want to tell you a secret’, she whispered in my ear as we lay on a sea of poppies,

‘I love you’, she said.

I was silent.

I still am….

Am I Blind?

I walk on,

Smiling as I toss some coins into the outstretched hand,

Self-conscious of my privilege, naturally I am,

Indignant if anyone were to question my motives,

I walk on,

Leaving the shadow of a mother clutching her emaciated baby against her dry breasts.

Am I blind?

As I spout hollow rhetoric,

As I scribble these words,

As I nod and agree and am shocked by the failure of the city council to get their act together,

I spout platitudes, over dinner conversations, as I shovel fillet mignon into my gaping mouth,

I bemoan the state of the nation, the Palestinian tragedy, the war against the poor,

As I chastise the waiter for fucking up my fillet mignon,

I bloody well ordered it medium-rare.

Am I blind?

I make polite conversation with people I can barely tolerate,

I laugh at the insipid jokes,

I listen to the raw racism,

The stabbing religious bigotry,

The hubris of knowing ‘the truth’.

Am I blind?

As I sip my Earl-Grey tea and butter my scones,

All the while pleasantly commenting on the failure of the government to do this or that.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

Leaving the mother clutching her emaciated baby to her dry breasts.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

From myself.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

From my mother, and yours.

I walk away,

Alone.

Am I blind?

Willfully sightless?

Gleefully disco-deaf?

…So fuck the rest of the bleeding heart liberals,

Cos’ I pay my taxes,

And I break no laws,

Oh and I bloody well work hard,

I pay my way, god dammit!

Am I blind?

Am I Blind?

I walk on,

Smiling as I toss some coins into the outstretched hand,

Self-conscious of my privilege, naturally I am,

Indignant if anyone were to question my motives,

I walk on,

Leaving the shadow of a mother clutching her emaciated baby against her dry breasts.

Am I blind?

As I spout hollow rhetoric,

As I scribble these words,

As I nod and agree and am shocked by the failure of the city council to get their act together,

I spout platitudes, over dinner conversations, as I shovel fillet mignon into my gaping mouth,

I bemoan the state of the nation, the Palestinian tragedy, the war against the poor,

As I chastise the waiter for fucking up my fillet mignon,

I bloody well ordered it medium-rare.

Am I blind?

I make polite conversation with people I can barely tolerate,

I laugh at the insipid jokes,

I listen to the raw racism,

The stabbing religious bigotry,

The hubris of knowing ‘the truth’.

Am I blind?

As I sip my Earl-Grey tea and butter my scones,

All the while pleasantly commenting on the failure of the government to do this or that.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

Leaving the mother clutching her emaciated baby to her dry breasts.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

From myself.

Am I blind?

As I walk away,

From my mother, and yours.

I walk away,

Alone.

Am I blind?

Willfully sightless?

Gleefully disco-deaf?

…So fuck the rest of the bleeding heart liberals,

Cos’ I pay my taxes,

And I break no laws,

Oh and I bloody well work hard,

I pay my way, god dammit!

Am I blind?

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