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June 2003

UNDILUTED

Mandela's tribute to Sisulu

(Walter Sisulu, anti-apartheid freedom fighter, died on May 5, 2003. He was a lifelong friend and shared the same prison with Nelson Mandela for their ANC activities. They both had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. Released in October 1989, Sisulu was a member of the Internal Leadership Core and elected ANC Deputy President at the national conference of July, 1991. )

No praise is too great for Nelson Mandela. He may have retired as President of South Africa but his leadership and presence on the world stage still continues to inspire. His epitaph for Walter Sisulu recently is classic Mandela and deserves both acclaim and to be distributed widely especially to every reader of Hot Calaloo. This should be required reading for Caribbean organisations and many Caribbean leaders too. So compliments of Hot Calaloo, here it is.

 

Nelson Mandela: Farewell to a friend and a comrade in arms

Xhamela [Sisulu's tribal name] is no more. His absence has carved a void. A
part of me is gone.

Our paths first intersected in 1941. During the past 62 years our lives have been intertwined. We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through
danger and tribulation, nursing each other's bruises, holding each other up
when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom.

His passing was not unexpected. We had long passed the age when either of us would protest against the brevity of life. At the end of the Rivonia trial in 1964, when we faced the prospect of the death sentence, we knew, we resolved to walk the plank, not protesting our innocence, but proclaiming the justness of our ideals and the certainty of their triumph. I know he planned to meet the hangman with a song on his lips.

Yet a silence engulfs me, an emptiness creeps in my being. He would not want it that way. He would want me to exorcise this emptiness by looking back on our lives so that we may look ahead with greater resolve and optimism.

By ancestry, I was born to rule. Xhamela helped me to understand that my
real vocation was to be a servant of the people.

I was drawn inexorably into his circle of friends. We would gather at his
Orlando home. His mother was always able to feed us, hordes of us. We
nourished ourselves on our conversation Γ혀 a pot of boiling ideas about
freeing our people from bondage, about placing Africa on a pedestal.

Whenever I cast my mind back I am struck by Xhamela's qualities. He had
little formal education Γ혀 he left school after standard four. But he was
deep in that circle. His home was our gathering place. He held his own; he
interacted with ease and without a trace of inferiority. He was attracted to each of us, yet he was the magnet that drew us all together.

That was his hallmark: an ability to attract and work together with highly
competent and talented young men, a ready sounding board for ideas. He was a powerful influence who exuded respect for their talents, and a born
diplomat.

He was courageous, and his quiet self-confidence and clarity of vision
marked him out as a leader among us. However, he neither sought nor wielded
his authority by virtue of office. He was ever ready to draw others into
leadership. When he was banned by the apartheid regime from holding office
in the ANC, he smoothed the way for Oliver Tambo to take up the post as the
Secretary General. He never asked of others what he was not prepared to do
himself.

Rivalry between organisations was to be expected in prison. Many among us
prisoners were perceived to be leaders of one or other organisation. But all prisoners saw Xhamela as the leader of all of us, irrespective of the
organisation one belonged to Γ혀 a leader of the entire people.

Since the birth of democracy, many among us have taken up high office,
travelled the world and received numerous awards from all over the globe
acclaiming one's leadership. Walter Sisulu did not become a member of
parliament, a cabinet minister or a president, and neither has he been
showered with awards and decorations as others have been. Yet he towers
above all of us with his humility and intrinsic dignity, which needs no
extra decorations to proclaim it.

When one lives as closely as Walter and I have, it is easy to take each
other for granted. I felt secure in the knowledge that he would be there for me.

In a peasant society a person walking with a stout stick, a staff Γ혀 longer than an ordinary walking stick and lesser than a pole Γ혀 is a common sight. One always has it around. It aids one maintain a steady, firm gait. It is a crutch one leans on, helps you not to falter in your walk. It is also a weapon to help one defend oneself against any unforeseen danger that may arise in the journey. With it one feels secure and safe.

Such was Xhamela to me. He was blessed with that quality that always saw the good in others, and therefore he was able to bring out that goodness. He had an inexhaustible capacity to listen to others, and therefore he was able to encourage others to explore ideas.

Of course, there were moments when I found him vexing and frustrating. I
grew into the idea of an ANC Youth League from a position of militant
African nationalism. Our first objective was to radicalise the ANC, to shape it into militant leader of the African people mobilised into mass struggle.

Xhamela firmly held to the view that the ANC should be a uniting force of
the African people. Only this would shape the platform for the ANC to claim
the leadership and unite all the oppressed against the system of white
minority rule. Today the ANC and through it the African people are able and
required to set the tone and national agenda for our country. The real
challenge is to formulate and present this in a way that unites all South
Africans Γ혀 black and white Γ혀 to share and work together in the common
objective of eradicating poverty and creating a prosperous, non-racist and
non-sexist South Africa. Walter's vision of an ANC that unites and
constantly expands its support across South African society remains as valid today as is was at that time.

There were also times when Xhamela and I crossed swords in the National
Executive Committee of the ANC. At times the clashes were so sharp that some of the comrades were taken aback. Such incidents happened before we went to prison, while we were in prison and even after we came out of prison. We had grown up and lived in the strong culture of vigorous debate in the ANC. None of these sharp exchanges were allowed to harm our friendship and the bonds that held us in the ANC. In fact when we differed with each other or another comrade, we in the ANC would go out of our way to draw the one we differed with closer into the ANC. Walter, as Secretary General of the ANC went out of his way to cultivate such a culture of vigorous debate, free of any trace of vindictiveness.

Despite the pain of struggle, Walter in his inimitable way would claim that
life has been bounteous to him. First and foremost he would claim the gift
of a lifelong partnership with his wife, Albertina, and their family. Living one's beliefs, combined with a generosity of spirit, are qualities
that both Walter and Albertina shared. It made them a very special couple
who moved together in thought and action at all times. Because they as a
couple were totally giving of themselves, they were at all times secure in
their relationship.

Above all, he would claim the gift, the privilege, of having lived to see
freedom reign in South Africa. In a sense I feel cheated by Walter. If there be another life beyond this physical world, I would have loved to be there first so that I could welcome him. Life has determined otherwise. I now know that when my time comes, Walter will be there to meet me, and I am almost certain he will hold out an enrolment form to register me into the ANC in that world, cajoling me with one his favourite songs we sang when mobilising people behind the Freedom Charter:

Has your name been enrolled
in the struggle for freedom
Permit us to register you
in the struggle for freedom.

I shall miss his friendship and counsel. Till we meet again, Hamba kahle,
Xhamela. Qhawe la ma Qhawe. (Go well, Rest in Peace, Xhamela. Hero among
heroes.)


Hot Calaloo went back to Jamaica but so also did Ezra S. Engling

"The Return of the Native"

Ezra S. Engling , May 2003

The spirit of home was evident even as I settled down in the Miami terminal to await the final leg of the journey to Kingston. Once we had boarded the Air Jamaica flight, the only memorable event was a man calling his relatives in Montego Bay on his "cellar" (sic) phone to apprise them of a change in travel plans. His vocal presence was so strong that those on the other side of the dialogue could probably hear him without benefit of cellular technology. The Miami-Kingston ride was pleasant. As we approached the islands of the Greater Antilles, I was assailed by a Wordsworthian spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions which climaxed as we crossed the turquoise waters of Kingston Harbour and approached the Palisadoes spit for landing.

Immigration and Customs were a cool breeze. What a change since the last trip home! This led to the even more welcome absence of taxi drivers and sundry hustlers vying for custom, and generally harassing the tourist. I effected a seamless transition from the airplane to the car of my waiting friend, lifting mine eyes unto the Hills, and remarked on the physical improvements of the city. For one thing, there was a new route which hugged the coastline from the airport to the downtown area, the old and formerly default Rock Fort route now used for uptown destinations.

I was soon to reflect on the wisdom of my decision not to drive from the airport. Not only were there more cars than the roads were meant to support, but the manner of driving was disconcerting even for someone who had driven in New York traffic, and other "Third World" cities. This was demonstrated the following day when I had secured the loan of a friend뭩 car. It was distressing to be driving too closely to the left curb, missing men on bicycles by inches, and activating the windscreen wipers instead of turning signals. One could not help noticing too the models of the cars in an island said to be in economic crisis. I mean, some of these were just being released in the US! Unfortunately, the "crissness" of the vehicles did not always correspond to the driving nor the personalities of the drivers, and the instances of "Bootoo in Benz" were legion. Yet, I enjoyed the experience, even as I invariably reached for the gearstick with my right hand, caressing the door handle.

The acid test came on the third night, as I was driving from UWI to Ardenne, in the middle of a power-cut. No traffic lights, not a policeman in sight, nor a single motorist observing the Four Way rule. It was each man for himself, with Matilda뭩 Corner traffic headed in a dozen directions at once, advancing inch by miraculous inch. Swinging recklessly out from behind an Old Hope Road-bound, left-turning bus, I promptly found myself in the right-turning lane toward Barbican Road. But I soon fell in with the program, the left-turning signal of the car at one with my heart-beat. Accepting and extending courtesies, accompanied by downright, force-ripe, shoving, I engaged my teacher뭩 gift of peripheral vision and meandered my way across the intersection into the correct lane, without incident or accident. Who says there is no method in the madness? Who says there is no God?

Perhaps the most memorable incident of my trip was my encounter with the police, the following day, by Liguanea Post Office. I guess I was driving fast, and as it was after midnight, with very few cars on the roads, I might have failed to signal as I changed lanes on Hope Road, but I did not run any lights. I first heard the sirens immediately after I had crossed Old Hope Road. My automatic response was to get out of the way so that the police could get on with their important business. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was the business of the moment.

One squad car pulled alongside me and ushered me into an island which served as a bus stop. I noted out of the corner of my eye that 2 other squad cars were already in position in front and behind me, lights flashing. Next, the leader of the expedition jumped out of his car, with a supporting cast of five, all armed to the teeth and open for business. On the surface of my consciousness, I was impressed by their efficiency, strangely calm, unafraid, but silent river run deep. And before I could shut it, my mouth had initiated the following exchange:

Good morning, Officer. Is there a problem...?

You carrying a licensed firearm, Sir?

Yes. You want to see it?

No, don뭪 reach for nothing, just come out o the vehicle and step away from it.

I did as I was told. I expected then be frisked, patted down and cuffed, but they were having none of me. I was a little disappointed. All that drama, and not even a "you have the right to remain silent..."? Obviously, I had been watching too many American cop shows. The civilized exchange continued:

You been drinking, Sir?

No, Officer. It look like I was?

Well, Sir, you was weaving through the lanes and seem to be out of control.

Not at all, Officer. I wanted to stay in the left lane but I always end up in the bus stop island. And at Golden Dragon Restaurant, I switched to the right lane. If my driving seemed erratic is because I have not driven here in a long time.

Meanwhile, the guns were still at the ready, just in case I missed a step in this highly complex choreography. Witness the climax (or rather, anticlimax) of the scene:

OK, Sir, we goin to check out the firearm now.

(not believing my ears) What?

The gun that you carrying.

(shocked, confused, knees suddenly weak) What? Gun?

Sir, you no tell we that you have a licensed firearm?

(light bulb!) Oh, sorry, Officer, I thought you ask me if I had a valid driver뭩 license, and that is what I was reaching for....

It was to laugh, really. Chief relaxed, and so did his men. I could feel it. Actually, I think he would have laughed out loud, had he not been afraid that it would have been bad form in a figure of intimidating authority. The essence of courtesy to the last, he stiffened half-heartedly and cautioned me to have someone drive me. I thanked him and wished them good morning, and suddenly they were off, in search of bigger fish to fry.

As I continued on my journey, I could imagine the matter of their conversation. It also came home to me, by way of a delayed reaction, how this silly misunderstanding could have ended with a bang instead of a whimper. The fact is that in the couple of weeks preceding my arrival, the police had been under serious attack from the criminal elements, and only a few days earlier, a cop and his partner had been killed at a traffic light in broad daylight. The police were now definitely on the defensive, and when they had reason to stop someone, no longer was the primary concern about the driver뭩 license and registration, but rather if he were armed.

In the remaining days of the trip I regaled my friends with the story. I was having such a great time. I enjoyed the renewal of friendships and the opportunity to eat more than my share of Jamaican patties, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas and roast beef, bulla and real bread, enjoy ice-cream flavoured by local fruits, and drink coconut water. In one of her famous pieces of dialect poetry, our First Lady of the Jamaican Language, Dr. the Hon. Louise Bennett wrote these lines way back in the 1940s about the homesick Jamaican in London:

Me dah dead fi drink some coaknat wata
Si a breadfruit tree
Lawd fe walk unda bi bwiling sun
An bathe eena di sea.

I was never as homesick as the persona of the poem, but having returned after a long absence, I can certainly relate to his/her feelings. I look forward to the next trip.

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