Happy 94th Birthday Madiba, I wish Sonny saw you inaugurated in 1984.

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No – the title is not a typo. Read on and you’ll understand.

IN 1989/90, before the whole world saw Nelson Mandela being the first elected Black president, voted in by the people of South Africa in 1994, MaBrr (Brenda Fassie) wrote one of the most powerful songs, that predicted an outcome of peace and jubilation. Read the Lyrics at the bottom of this post and think about how in 1990, they were prophetic! Obviously it was banned, because MaBrr was awesome, and apartheid was like, totally the dumbest thing ever!

Very few predicted that when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he would call for peace and forgiveness, and an end to violence. MaBrrr knew, that we wouldn’t fight, but we’d dance for our president. I play that song for a guy I work with, he says when he feels down it gives him hope and gets him fired up. It makes me want to dance my ass off. Today I am playing it, at random intervals throughout the day, as I do every year because it’s Madiba’s Birthday. Happy 94th to the world’s most endeared man, and the people’s president. Today, we sing and dance for our president’s birthday (and we miss you MaBrr – 3 Nov 1964 – 9 May 2004).

This is what Mandela means to me:

I remember being told in std 5, “When your parents go to the polling station, stay at home, because there will be violence” etc. My mom is political, so we were driving through townships helping people to get to polling stations, and my mom said, you can come, because this will be the greatest day you will ever experience, and we will not take that away from you because of fear. When I was young, I didn’t understand why my parents had beds made up in the garage for people who couldn’t go home because there was violence, and why they told the police there was no one in the house, when I knew there were people in the garage. You see, they did not lie. Yes, my parents were allowing ‘black’ people to stay at our house, which was against the law, but there wasn’t anyone in the house, and when the police checked, all was “as it should be” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because we had to hide people in the garage. Because I went to a polling station in a white area, and everything was routine, people were standing in Line to vote, like they had the privilage their whole lives. I went to various polling stations in the ‘townships’ – and I am not sure anything could ever come close to the jubilation I witnessed. People voting for the first time, being recognized as equal citizens, officially! It was like lightning striking through the air – there was so much energy. I have had to stop writing this many times, because I’ve started welling up. I know this seems silly, but I have the originally released inaugural R5 coin. I remember my mom telling me to keep it because it will be worth something someday. I never knew how much. You see, I keep it somewhere safe, and whenever I happen upon it, I sit, once again amazed at how peaceful,  jubilant and rowdy that day was. Mandela gave us a day of pure unity, pure freedom, pure jubilation and ultimately peace, in a Nation that had never seen any of this. A nation who’s minds had been corrupted. Its people turned against one another. I see the images in my head, of Uncle Alan Thabede coming to visit, and telling us, he had voted, I still remember that look on his face.

And this is about Sonny:

Most of all when I look at that coin, I end up crying. Like I am now. Sobbing and ruining my make up. Like all of this just happened yesterday. I see the face of “Sonny”, laughing as my terrified face rushed away from him into the air, my blonde curls blowing into my face and blinding me as I tried to grab onto his dreadlocks. He looks a little similar to Lucky Dube (Lucky, we miss you). It was exhilarating and scary as he was throwing me in the air, repeatedly. I would be terrified and then we’d laugh hysterically when he caught me again. He ALWAYS caught me again. He didn’t know whether to laugh harder at my terrified face, or my rowdy high-pitched giggles. I know this is an arbitrary memory, and I think I was probably four years old. For me it is one of my favorite. I will never forget it. You see, as a four year old, Sonny Sishange was my favorite person in the world. He used to go down on one knee, to talk to me at eye level, and used to say I was a princess. I think about the looks he must have gotten when he sat down for a tea party with me on the sidewalk outside my dad’s work, in Ladysmith, Apartheid South Africa. He didn’t care. His nickname was Sonny for a reason. He was the brightest and happiest person in the whole world, I am sure of it. His soul exuded pure Joy. He died about three days later, and that is why I remember so clearly him throwing me in the air. For him 1994 was too late. The day he threw me in the air was the last time I saw him. I remember when my dad told my sister and I that he died. Our hearts were broken. It was the first memory I have of death, it was the first time my world shattered. It was the first time I missed someone, and understood I would never see them again. I wasn’t sure if my dad was lying, or if somehow, he had heard the wrong name, but he was there. He saw it happen. Sonny was supposed to visit us that day. I waited but he never came, and neither did my dad. When my dad had gone to fetch him, he was under the weather and showed symptoms of a heart attack. My dad rushed him to the nearest hospital. He was still okay when they got there, but a doctor refused to admit him, because of the colour of his skin. By the time they got to a ‘black’ hospital, it was too late. I remember when Chris Hani was assassinated, how scared and angry everyone was. I remember when Madiba became president, how no-one was sure how that day would go. Broadcast around the world, a new beginning, a blast of light, shattering inequality, but it was all 10 years too late, and instead, I remember a man who should never have died. If that inaugural coin said 1984 instead of 1994, perhaps me and Sonny could play heads or tails with it as a prelude to some game. Perhaps, if Madiba’s freedom, and the freedom of our people had been a little earlier, Sonny would have been around a little longer. He would have had to tell me he was getting a little too old to play catches when I was 13. Maybe when we moved away, we’d have lost contact, and I’d have run into him somewhere, and been so excited. I am some white brat who misses a friend, but for many families, 1994 came too late. For me, I wish it was 1984. Two years after I was born, and about two years worth or reform time, that would have meant changed attitudes, and compassion, and unity, and freedom and healthcare for all that Madiba brought into power with him. Sonny would have gotten medical treatment in time. Many families, have a year they wished it happened. The truth is, apartheid should have never happened at all. We know this, but it is always good to say it out loud.

Alan and Sunny are to this day, the only people my dad worked with, his whole career, that I remember. Alan’s face is still one that makes me smile. They were the only two who ever smiled at me, or ever took the time to pay attention to a little girl playing outside when they came to visit. I cannot remember very well, but I am pretty sure they were the only ‘work friends’ of my dad’s that ever used to visit us at home. The rest I only used to see when we would go to the Moth Club late at night to fetch my dad. I didn’t like any of them and don’t remember a single face or name.  They were stupid. They are filed under the drunkard work friends that used to keep my dad away and make my mom upset. I realize now that I am older, that Sonny and uncle Alan were probably not allowed into the Moth Club, because of their colour. Stupid Moth Club, with their stupid cannons, always smelling like damp. I do however believe, that uncle Alan and Sonny would rather visit us at home anyway, cause then they got to play with me!!!!! My memories of them are always wholesome. So to me, that coin reminds me of them, and how they knew how people treated them, but they always made two little girls believe that there is no such thing as skin colour in friendship, and it means everything to me. That pureness that I’m sure Madiba dreamed of every day.

Lyrics: Brenda Fassie – My Black President

The year 1963
The people’s president
Was taken away by security men
All dressed in a uniform
The brutality, brutality
Oh, no, my black president
Him and his comrades
Were sentenced to isolation
For many painful years
For many painful years
Many painful years
Of hard labour
They broke ropes
But the spirit was never broken
Never broken
Oh, no, my, my black president
He broke ropes
But his spirit was never broken
Never broken
Oh oh oh, my president
Now in 1990
The people’s president
Came out from jail
Raised up his hand and said
Viva, viva, my people
He walked the long road
Back, back to freedom
Back, back to freedom
Freedom for my black president
Let us rejoice for our president
Let us sing for our president
Let us pray for our president
Let us sing, let us dance
For Madiba give us freedom
We thank you Lord
For listening to our prayers
Night and day
Oh oh oh, my president
Madiba
My president
I will die for my president
I will sing for my president
I will stand and say
Viva, viva, viva, viva, viva, viva
(Also check out, too late for Mamma)