I went to see a musical the other night, and having bought the whole family tickets I was pretty excited. It was called Madiba and it was based on the life of Nelson Mandela, so I thought it would be educational, and inspirational as well as entertaining.
Well, I found it to be all 3 but the boys were less enthusiastic, and I wondered about that. Yes it was slow in the first half, the dancing and acting and singing was not as good as other musicals we have seen (although the women’s voices were strong) but the second half lived up to everything I was expecting. This half was very moving, focussing on when Mandela was in jail, how he survived and influenced others around him, and his release in 1990. It also focussed on his election as President, and the forgiveness that both he and many people had to find for South Africa to move forward. I thought the actor who played Mandela was very good, and had a beautiful voice which we heard more in the second half.
After reflecting on the boy’s response I realised Nelson Mandela and the fight for justice in South Africa was part of my story, not theirs. Of course the boys know and learnt about him, and about the history of South Africa but that doesn’t really totally cut it.
Rather, for me, Nelson Mandela is someone who has greatly influenced me on my life journey. I was in the UK when he was in jail, and participated in protests calling for his release. I listened to endless talks and presentations about the history of apartheid and the world’s response against it. As a cricket lover, I watched international cricket and rugby without the South African stars, always wondering whether it would ever change. And then, suddenly, it did!
I sat spell bound when Mandela walked free, calling for peace and reconciliation and a new life for all citizens. And felt the hope that abound when he became President.
So the story was more visceral for me, it is part of who I am and how I see the world. The musical came alive for me in a way that was different from Nathan and Pat, and I could overlook its shortcomings.
I was a bit disappointed in their response, but they are an observant twosome. “What has happened since Mandela, look at the country now, it’s a mess”, they commented. Of course South Africa is not the utopia we hoped for, it has so many problems related to corruption, inequality and violence. Its problems are huge, as are the problems for many independent African countries.
What could I say but yes, unfortunately! But the problem we face is that there are not many Nelson Mandelas, just as there are not many Martin Luther Kings or Gandhis, Oscar Romeros or even a Jesus or two, floating around, ready to sacrifice everything for justice. To shine a light in the darkness to what can be as opposed to accepting what is, and then fight for it, not with more guns and violence but with love and fortitude.
But movements like this are more than just one person. While at that time and place in South Africa the light shone through Nelson Mandela, it also shone through everyone who wanted a change, wanted a better world. And in many ways while Mandela was in jail there were ordinary people, sacrificing much to make this change. People like you and me, with jobs and homes and families. .
And it has changed, because of them! Even if there is still a lot of work to be done.
Funnily enough, I was listening to Life Matters on Radio National today and heard a wonderful women being interviewed over a book she has written, called “Always Another Country. She is the story of South Africa as well.
Sisonke Msimang is a black South African who grew up in the country during the time Nelson Mandela was active and then in jail. Her parents were freedom fighters, working hard for justice in South Africa in their own way. Her memories of people staying over, of planning and protesting seemed so vivid. Unfortunately the family moved around the world unable to stay in their homeland for fear of death or imprisonment and so she lived in many countries, hence the name of the book. But when Mandela was freed she came home.
Yet the book is also about belonging as much as anything, because the story doesn’t end there. She now lives in Perth with her husband and children, for while she loves South Africa it has not become a place she can stay. She belongs to the people who love her and who she loves, which can be anywhere. As it turns out it’s here in Australia.
While I haven’t read the book yet, but I will as she was a beautiful, insightful speaker, her final comments on the radio about the post Mandela era were really interesting. And a follow-up to the problems found in modern South Africa.
Yes South Africa is not a utopia. As the boys pointed out. Yes, people who are incredible agents for change and for justice rise at a particular time and place, when they are needed the most. Yet when things return to normal, or sort of normal, sometimes the transition is difficult. People who were outstanding leaders during the 20th century have led corrupt governments in South Africa and made terrible, terrible mistakes for the country and its people in the 21st century.
And the population have allowed them to because maybe they expected so much from them. They allowed them too much power without monitoring what they were doing because of their history and reputation.
That’s why Sisonke loves Australia and Australians. She feels we have a healthy disrespect for our politicians, and so our expectations are a lot lower. A bit sad really, but that means we question them, we analyse what they are doing in our name and we keep them honest, well as honest as possible. I think this is a positive take on our lack of love for our members of parliament and our role in the wider society! We are to be gate keepers for a more just, compassionate and inclusive community. To keep the ideals alive of those who have sacrificed much for them.
Such a challenge for us all!
So, returning where we started, at the musical Madiba, with the family. The musical speaks to me of a time I remember vividly and of a person who was a giant of the 20th century. It’s part of my story, even as a young Australian.
But the book and Sisonke speaks also of what we can do and what people have done, as ordinary citizens, to change things for the better. When there is a light to follow. In a world which seems darker by the day we need both! People to be the light and people who are prepared to help spread that light.
For a better, more just world.