Hamba kahle, Madiba


In 1995, my wife, son and I spent a little over six months in South Africa, in Cape Town. It was a heady time. Giants roamed the earth, often right around the corner, sometimes in the same room. Madiba aka Nelson Mandela. Walter Sisulu. Albertina Sisulu. Govan Mbeki. Sister Bernard Ncube. The list goes on. The Rugby World Cup was on. The RDP, the Reconstruction and Development Programme, was in its most intense moments. Women were organizing. Workers, students, gay and lesbian people were on the move. Those living with HIV and AIDS were organizing like crazy. Everybody was organizing. And the buses, the Golden Arrow buses, the bus for us, encouraged everyone to smile.

South Africa was one big hopeful project, and so much of that hope passed through the very body of Nelson Mandela. He helped people of all communities and persuasions focus the light of hope into the fire of transformation. While the policies of Madiba’s own government and those that have followed have often worked precisely against the hopes of the marginalized, the violated, the disenfranchised, today we remember the person. So let me tell you a story.

In 1995, my wife, son and I were watching Dali Tambo’s People of the South, a talk show of the highest kitsch and a great family favorite. That evening, Madiba was to be the guest. Mandela came out, sat on the sofa, surrounded by women in antebellum United States frills and bonnets. Madiba and Tambo talked for a while, about the government, about hopes for the future, about their families. Dali Tambo is the son of Adelaide and Oliver Tambo, the President, and then National Chairperson, of the African National Congress until his death in 1993.

And then Dali Tambo introduced the next guest, Jermaine Jackson. Jackson entered. Madiba stood up, shook his hand, looked him straight in the eyes and said, in his unforgettable voice and manner, “I have always been a great fan of yours.”

And he meant it.

That is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, better known as Madiba. During the 27 years of imprisonment, apparently, he was organizing and teaching and leading, always by example, while dancing and singing to the Jackson 5.

Nelson Mandela brought dignity, humor, principle, humanity, great shirts and an extraordinary, almost magical, transformative capacity to every encounter: as a young lawyer and boxer, as a representative of the ANC, as a founding architect of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the anti-apartheid struggle, as a prisoner on Robben Island and then in Pollsmoor and Victor Verster Prisons, as a democratically elected President, and finally as an elder.

He touched each of us, and for that reason, he is loved. We remember. Hamba kahle, Madiba.

(Photo Credit: MzansiGirl)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.