Poets across the world, through a collection of new anthology, tell the extraordinary story of the life and times of the late Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter and, later, President, who became, in recent time, the world’s most revered statesman.
It has been a recurrent issue that the late South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, was a man who lived ahead of his time. He loved freedom and wanted it for all humanity, a move that later made him the world’s favorite elder statesman, affectionately referred to as the ‘granddad-dy’ of the planet.
Although, he was not a contributor to this new collection, some of which were written during his lifetime, his life reverberates throughout the pages. His is the complement that most of the poets latched onto, in appreciating the influence of a man acknowledged as the symbol of anti-apartheid struggle. The sign of high approval rating that sweeps through the poems in the anthology came from the foreword by Nadine Gordimer, a veteran writer who wrote: “The poems in this collection confirm all Mandela had been and is, his relevance at home in South Africa and the world, where conflict proliferates.’’
Halala Madiba: Nelson Mandela in Poetry, a new anthology on the life of Mandela edited by Richard Bartlett and Morakabe Seakhoa, are poems on the life of Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.
The veritable literary heavyweights from Africa, Europe and America and across the world, contributed in the new anthology and, set the stage in capturing what Mandela represented in his lifetime and for humanity today.
Three Nigerian poets, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, John Pepper-Clark and Dr. Jekwu Ikeme, were among the privileged contributors and paid glowing tributes in their poems. Soyinka for example, sets the stage in capturing what Mandela clearly represented in his poem entitled: Your Logic Frightens Me, Mandela.
“Your logic frightens me, Mandela/ Your logic frightens me/ Those years of dreams, of time accelerated in visionary hopes, of savouring the task anew/ The call, the tempo primed/ To burst in supernovae round a ‘brave new world’!/ Then stillness, silence/ The world close round/ Your sole reality, the rest is…dreams”, Soyinka states.
On page 131, Pepper-Clark, whose piece reminds one of how Mandela spent his days in a piece entitled: Mandela, writes “How does the old man spend his day/ In the cage they kept him/ Knowing the wife he left behind/ When bride and bridegroom embraced a flag/ It is no freer beyond the statutory steps/ That take her to him, when twice in a year/ They allow her past her garden in Soweto”.
When Mandela Goes on page 269, by Jekwu Ikeme, looks into the enigmatic icon. A remarkable tribute on Mandela, whose memory remains evergreen, Ikeme states: “ When you go chosen soldier in the crusade of dreams our tears shall not cloud your journey home, we shall receive regret with the tears of triumph, recall yesterday’s summons to distant and strange lands, revive heroic cries in the white quarry of cruel islands, where initiation ceremonies marked farewell to lethargy, where oaths were taken as dusk and conscience stood witness, where blood was split to curb the bad omen of untimely loss, when love for this land saw stars vanish in the fullness of uncertain night”.
The tone of the anthology tells the reader much about Mandela, the great personality that symbolised global freedom to people, even in death, let alone when he was alive as presented in the book.
The anthology of 96 poems focuses on Mandela’s exploits against apartheid in South Africa. It tells the story of a country and those who supported its struggle for justice. Using poetry to paint the picture of the struggle, especially, sharing the pains, while the freedom fighter was incarcerated, shows that distance is not a barrier when it comes to the ‘emancipation of mental slavery’ apologies to Bob Marley, the reggae icon.
The diversity of the themes in the poems manifest in the approaches adopted by the poets, which shows how each of them sees Mandela. For them, Nelson Mandela is a ‘world figure’ as his name reverberates all over the world for what he stood for. Readers of the anthology will adduce the fact that his face, name and story have been disseminated in different languages to the nooks and crannies of the world. An accomplished figure, he is depicted as a star in terms of his kind resolve, personal sacrifice and integrity required in times of social and political crisis.
Although, this is not the first book of poems dedicated to him, but Halala Madiba: Nelson Mandela in Poetry is quite distinctive, because it gathers poems written over half a century ago by poets from different countries, covering both his life and times. Although, it took more than ten years from conception to production, thematically, the relation between politics and poetry as reflected in the collection is quite daunting, even as it opens an aspect of the icon’s life that many are not aware.
Albeit, the selection of poems is not only for the name, Mandela, it boils down to the fact that it evokes thought-provoking appraisals on poetic standards adopted by the poets to drive home their messages. All those poets who drafted Free Mandela into their art, were part of the wider movement and all the poems combine to create a narrative of the struggle to free, not just one man, but all South Africans. The anthology is not about one man, it tells the story of a whole country and those who supported its fight for justice.
The collection is also a historical document recording how the Mandela prison ordeals at the Robben Island changed the story of South Africa and by extension, he became a symbol of political struggle and eventual victory to every political prisoner throughout the world.
A verse from the poem by Maximed Xaashi Dhamae ‘Gararriye’ goes thus: “Because he once said ‘No!’ ‘No!’ to the Prosecutor, ‘No!’ to the judges and jury, ‘No!’ to injustice, No!’ to indignity and oppression,’’ invokes the cry of the oppressed being maltreated by the State. These atrocities still resound in some parts of the world.
The 35 contributors to the anthology included Nobel laureates and other renowned writers from different parts of the world . Their slice on Mandela gives the reader a holistic view of the man, who had come to be globally recognised as the, unarguably, symbol of modern world freedom. Unique as his personality is, he had etched his name in the sands of time. This anthology cannot treat the subject exhaustively but it presents poems as a primary historical document.