In this tribute to the spirit of a nation rising courageously, if still painfully, from its knees, South African rocker Johnny Clegg is joined onstage by Nelson Mandela, who proclaims, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world. And at peace with myself.”
Mandela’s joyful presence here reminds me of another beautiful peace-making soul from our own shores, Sr. Thea Bowman, who grew up in the deep south, and spent her life as a Catholic nun breaking through all kinds of boundaries (see Hope Sings, Chapter 9). While dying of cancer, Sr. Thea was asked if she had any regrets. She replied, “I wish I had danced more, I wish I had run around more, I wish I had used my body more joyfully and more creatively.”
Nelson Mandela turned 95 yesterday, and people around the world celebrated his witness. Sr. Thea Bowman died on March 30, 1990, at the tender age of 52. (I’m 48, by the way, and I’ll be seriously pissed if I don’t get at least a few more decades!) Let us give thanks for these two great spirits, and strive to do joyfully and creatively as they have done. And may the merciful God, in the fullness of God’s own time, bring Mandela peacefully home.
God bless you Madiba! God bless Johnny Clegg, and artists everywhere who embody the hopeful spirit of humanity rising. And God bless the people of South Africa, as they prepare themselves to say goodbye to the “father of the nation.”
Postscript: wonderful retrospective here about the role of music in the South African freedom struggle, including 1970s footage of Johnny Clegg playing alongside Sipho Mchunu.