Elegy for Nelson Mandela

We demonstrated to resist
The old white men of state.
“He’s just a bloody terrorist,”
Said dad, “He kills, he maims. He’d hate
To leave his five-star gaol
Or see the loath’d colonialists fail:
It’d rob him of his cause.
A terrorist stays out of power
And leaves those dull political chores
To those who work. Now, every hour
They come in droves to Joburg’s squat
Or southern farms, their homes forgot.
The money’s good; if life’s so bad
They’d work in Mozambique or Chad.
There’s no one forcing them to stay
They could just up and go away.”
And so my dad summed up this traitor,
Comparing him to one who later
Lent his face to Occupy;
A fine redemption for the Guy.

And so, with Robert, Charles and co.,
Nelson could have led to more
Repression, hatred, death, but no;
Released, he stepped onto the shore
Across from Robben Island’s wall
And looked around and called on all
Who raged, yet loved this frightened land
To close their ranks and hand in hand
Not merge, but share their beating colours
And curve up high in one broad arch
Of pride and curiosity and valour
A multicoloured choir to march
Upon the future world
And see a dream unfold.

Mandala free at last in glory:
A happy-ever-after-story.
It seemed to be a prince’s tale
A proof that honour will prevail.
He could’ve simply sat aloft
His throne and murmured wisdom, truth
An academic scepter-holder, soft
On enemies and mightily aloof
From the mire and filth of the change
That gripped a nation in rifle-range
Of fifty thousand pale-faced boys
Ignoring all the stench and noise
That filled the townships, villas, farms
And biting dogs, drumbeats, alarms
That punctured life and barged ahead
And made my father shake his head.
You could’ve just stopped, Mandela.
You’d earned your freedom, Mandela.

And yet you shared it out with those who gnarled and pushed and rose to charge
And channeled all their panicked pain in dreams of tolerance and calm
Not dreams aloft, but even staged upon the rugby field’s crushed grass
The world was witness to the change and witness to your sovereign balm
And started to believe in you and all the hope the world at large
Reserves for wonders, swept towards the Cape whose name began to pass
Its truth across the land which rose in song and dance and bountiful mirth
And fanned the feeling, strong and warm. Your wisdom touched the slow red earth
And urged mankind to build the homes for equal souls and bridge the cleft
That murderous picks had struck, creating races crude and poorly traced
Upon our sense of right and wrong and black and white, with nothing left
To give us any reason to rethink on what our lives are based.
And I am sure that secretly, we never thought that death could strike
You down. Our future: Eden? Hell? Our fate now left for us to make.