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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Poets hail Nelson Mandela's life
By Shen Liknaitzky
BBC

A book of poetry celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela has been launched to mark the South African statesman's 88th birthday on Tuesday.


The book, titled Halala Madiba (Hail Mandela), is more than an anthology about one man.

It is also the story - through poems from around the world - of South Africa's freedom struggle.

The poets include former statesmen, reggae and rap artists, performance poets, and even a 12-year-old child.

It follows the trajectory of Mandela from freedom fighter to "grand old man".

It was the long years of incarceration on Robben Island, beginning in 1963, which inspired the first poems.

One of the earliest is "And I Watch it in Mandela" by South African John Matshikiza, written in 1974.

It is not for the safety of silence
That this man has opened his arms to lead.
The strength of his words hangs in the air
As the strength in his eyes remains on the sky;
And the years of impatient waiting draw on
While this man burns to clear the smoke in the air.
There is fire here,
Which no prison
Can kill in this man;
And I watch it in Mandela.

This poem was written during the darkest days, but it is full of fire - and a sense of what was to come was borne out when Mandela was, eventually released.

Like everyone else, John Matshikiza remembers that day: "I was in London, I was with my mother and my daughter and my partner and we were all just bowled over by what was happening.

"We'd been waiting all of our lives for this. That is all I can say. It was the whole of my life."

Freedom

That same day in February 1990 was evoked by poet Chris Mann in his poem "Tamed", published in 1992:

You come out onto the dais,
distant as a god, a totem, raise
your arms and we roar
with an adoration like a rage.

As well as spanning more than 30 years, the poems come from everywhere in the world - most of course from South Africa, as well as many from elsewhere on the continent.

Armindo Vaz d'Almeida, a former prime minister of Sao Tome and Principe, wrote "Poem to the Southern Wind" in 1987. This is an extract of a translation from the original Portuguese:

And the steps of men keep going
patiently counting the stones of the road
long road on which you
encapsulating the spirit of insurgency
like a light of inspiring brilliance
you rise against the pale destiny
imposed on your mutilated flag.

Critical

But perhaps surprisingly, the collection also includes poems that are critical of a man seen by many as a hero.

"There is also one really interesting poem which is written by an apartheid - one could call him - apparatchik, someone who worked within the apartheid state," says Richard Bartlett, the editor of the collection.

"He wrote a poem saying that Mandela got what he deserved and that if he hadn't been thrown in prison South Africa wouldn't be as free a country as it is now and this was written in the mid 1970s, so that is one of the poems that is not just praising Mandela."

Gerrit Fourie's poem "Rivonia", written in Afrikaans in 1976, translates as follows:

Let them be remembered, and what they wanted to do:
let the fear and the blood and violence, death
hatred, vengeance, vandalism and looting, anguish,
pain, agony, noise and racket and rape,
let this, the rejection of order, discipline,
civilisation, love of humanity, let this, I say, never
in all eternity as long as there are those who can think, ever
be forgotten or denied.

But the majority of the poems are conducting an intimate conversation with Mandela himself - from the endless years when he was in prison to the moment of release and beyond.

Published in 2004, Jekwu Ikeme's "When Mandela Goes" imagines life after a man who has dominated South African history for more than half a century.

When you go chosen soldier in the crusade of dreams
our tears shall not cloud your journey home.
When you go Madiba your nobility shall be our lasting inheritance
this land you so love shall continue to love
we shall trail the long and majestic walk
your gallant walk shall be our cross and shepherd.


Reada selection of your poems about Nelson Mandela below.

I am a Baobab tree
The wind blows strong against my branches,
Yet I am unmoved
My roots go deep within the soil which is my heart, my home
Throughout the changing seasons,
I hold fast to my principles
I stand tall among my enemies and provide shelter for my friends
I am a Baobab tree
I am Nelson Mandela
Chantal, USA

They have guns, you have roses They want to promote war, but you peace And it is you dear old man Who showed roses can gain against guns Peace can gain against war
Sinan Kaygusuz, Istanbul

They locked a hawk in a cruel cage
And yet a dove fed on solitude, emerged
Cast power aside to become our Moses
And with gentleness shows us truth
Mandela Mandela we've needed you
Why didn't they know who you were?
J Reknar, Hamilton, Bermuda

You are,
our hope
our inspiration
our future

You have,
shown us love
taught us forgiveness
exemplified dignity
brought us freedom

You have,
taught them love
shown them greatness

Your are,
great
love
compassionate
the messiah
Katukula Mwiya, Mongu, Zambia

It's just another day in life,
Heart of Africa,
I can't wait to see you from a distance.

You took up the shield
Not to blame but understand
Tried and trusted
That one day,
That one time,
Men will understand.

We thirst to hear those words again
Peace, humility, unite and reconcile,
Among the great men of Africa.

Lord keep heart of Africa.
God keep Nelson Mandela
Long live my Hero.
Long live Heart of Africa!
Prossy Nannyombi, Entebbe, Uganda

I can see quadruple rainbows in the sky,
The mystical optical phenomenon,
With multicoloured arcs,
With continuous spectrum of light,
Their beauty is inexplicable in my imagination.
Yes, I can see quadruple rainbows in your eyes.
Samuel E Ebenya, Abuja, Nigeria

From beneath the dusty Earth,
Emerged a son of the soil to bring hope,
Not only to the inhabitant of his native land,
But the Planet Earth itself.
When you still walk on the face of our Planet,
May the Angles of the GOOD Lord hover over that part,
Of the Earth that you set foot on,
May these Angels multiply,
So that true and complete freedom of the Human soul,
Be achieved here on the Planet.
Amongst the brightest stars of the Heaven,
You have your place there.
May the days ahead continue to be good for you Madiba and for all.
May God Bless your soul, Halala Rolinhlanhla ka Madiba.
Golden Gadzirayi Nyambuya, South Africa

Who Is Mandela?
Is he a Hero, No
Is he a Saviour, No No
Is he a Statesman, No No No
Is he a Model, No No No No

He's not ONLY that but he's ALL those,
a hero, Saviour, statesman, model
And he's even more than these combined

He is the American Martin Luther
He is the Indian Gandhi
He is the Israeli Moses
But for South Africa, for Africa
and for the rest of the World

His name will be sang throughout ages
His fame will continue to spread
His patience, courage, principles,
will be yearned for always
And his life will be imitated at all times

Long life Mandela
And Happy Birthday to You.
Noel-duku Rubena, Khartoum - Sudan

Mandela, Nelson
A true African son
All your life you defied the odds
Even presently when you are old
You stand up for what you believe and value
With defiance and eloquence
Determination and bravery
Tolerance and patience
Will always be seen
In you, our great African son
A living legend
not only in Africa
but in the entire world
Happy Birthday Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela
God Bless You!
Abdalla Alwi Bafagih, Toronto, Canada

You are an inspiration to this nation
and other nations.
It because of you,
that a black man can walk in the street freely.
It because of you,
that a black child can get the same education as the white one.
You put South Africa and rest of Africa in the world map.
They thought you were going to come out of Robben weak,
but you came out even stronger.
Bongumusa Derrick Gumbi, Durban, South Africa

Happy Birthday to Mandela!
Oh what a man so brave and strong
I see struggle and hope in his eyes
After all these years he stands so tall
A coloured hero for all the times
Nelson Mandela... this is his name
He reigns from the great Africa
It matters not if he's a saint
His unwavering fight for freedom we remember
Happy birthday to Mandela!
Dana Augustin, Castries, Saint Lucia

The mark of a great man is moderation and integrity
He never sticks to his ideas
Tolerant with others
Omnipresent like the sun light
Solid like a rock
Flexible like a reed
Life happens and brings his way
Nothing is impossible for him
You will always be with us
Happy birthday Mandela
Eva Mateo, Madrid, Spain

A dark past,
A past that seemed pessimistic,
Times when there was no iota of hope,
Mandela sailed through,
With all the guts it took,
Mzee, Tata, call him what you like,
Swam through the dark past,
Waded to a future full of hope.
Wish all people had the same fighting heart!
Omar Babu, Cologne, Germany

I wish I was there
Grandfather, in your fiery bosom where
All our hopes cocooned
Birthed a rainbow moon

You wanted it this way
Aged one, to make today
Sing the song your shackles taught us
Forgiveness our pain must reverse

We dare to dream now
Africa's father, though we know
The dragons you fought are not yet dead
But they will see red
Olusegun Oyedele, Johannesburg (Nigeria expat)

A voice of hope
Crying within confines
Faint but clear
Isolated and tortured

A strong belief
In justice and equality
Self denial and sacrifice
For others

At long, long last
Brought freedom and joy
To a people Long suffering!
John Nzunda, Dar es salaam, Tanzania

They named our student union after you
Mandela.
Never was there a greater
Man ever.
You defeated evil with dignity, a
Man forever.
Your name will never be forgotten
Mandela.
Adam Williams, Manchester, UK

Ichie Madiba we hail thee!
the scion of our fathers gone,
fiercely fearless, gallant defender of the weak,
a warrior with the heart and talons of an eagle,
who shared the abode with darkness,
yet brought forth light and life to our people,
you shine forth in the hearts of dark and white,
to bind the souls of the victim and the vampire,
that good may triumph over villainy.
may your lights burst forth at dawn,
and cast the shadows of hatred,
may your hoary hairs release wisdom,
which your prudent heart has birthed,
live long Madiba!
may your days delay oh Madiba!
ao your eyes would beyond the new Afrika!
Felix-Abrahams Obi, PT, Abuja, Nigeria

His destiny was not always clear
But his path he found without fear
His dreams were mine and yours
And he claimed it without too much use of force
Yes, he's an old man now...
But do you know any man with more affection than him?
Long live Rolihlahla, long live!
Hector Mawonga, Windhoek, Namibia

Mandela will be free! Mandela will be free!
My Father chanted and stomped his feet,
Us both watching the News.
I saw bright blaring pupils in my fathers ecstatic eyes.
I was five, But who was Mandela?
Crowds and dancing people, including my own father,
dancing in our red haired Irish living room.
Vinnie O'Dowd, Drogheda, Ireland

As tall as he can be
so are his beautiful deeds
Papa you proved to the world
that integrity and honesty can win
after enduring so much pain for standing high
high for the silent minority with no voice.
Florah Wahome, Nairobi, Kenya

Bravo Mandela, peoples' inspiration
Brave Mandela, receive congratulation
Happy birthday, courageous grandfather
Hero everyday, blessings father
Josephat Kioko, Mombasa, Kenya

When he could barely walk he stood strong and stood Tall
When they beat him back down to a fall,
he once again arose with a call... a call of freedom
The man that shouted when he could barely talk,
the man that stood when he was already struggling to walk
The man that stood up and said No
No to the disgrace that stood before him,
the man that took your bruises so you didn't have to
The man that continues to Shout when he can barely talk
Matthew Reynolds, Birmingham

A dove of peace,
set in a cage,
once released,
gave birth to an age,
when he goes remember: he suffered, and forgave.
David Litvak, Quebec City

Years ago,
a star from the sky
made his journey to the earth,
protesting the limit of sky,
and searching for freedom,
the star was captured,
some people dared to
create darkness putting their guns
in front of the star,
but the star never stopped shinning,
it lighted the thousands of candles
in the land of darkness,
one day, the star found the freedom
on the land of man,
and still burning to spread the ray of freedom
the forbidden continent
and spreading the rays of inspiration
to the whole world.
Kamal Kumar, Kathmandu, Nepal




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