How Madiba influenced the arts

In the poem, entitled His Day is Done, Angelou praises Mandela as a ‘modern-day David’ who slew a mighty Goliath and a Gideon, who freed the South African people.

The 85-year-old author of the seminal novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, writes of Madiba:

“No sun outlasts its sunset/but will rise again and bring the dawn/We confess it in tearful voices/Yet we lift our own to say thank you/Thank you, our Gideon/Thank you, our David, our great, courageous man/ We will not forget you/We will not dishonour you/We will remember and be glad that you lived among us/that you taught us and that you loved us all.”

The memorial service for Mandela, who endured 27 years in jail to become South Africa’s first black president, is clearly fodder for more books. The first US black president Barack Obama, whose eulogy at the First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday got the loudest cheer, said of Madiba:

“There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

This will surely be quoted expansively in books. So, surely, if there were  dozens of books in his life, there certainly will be scores more after his death.

The seminal Long Walk to Freedom is an autobiographical work Mandela published in 1994 that chronicles his early life, his coming of age, his education and his nearly three decades in prison. The book has been adapted into a film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, featuring British actor Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his second wife.

There have been many works on Madiba but this film is poignant as it was released only weeks before Mandela breathed his last.

That notwithstanding perhaps the most famous screen act for Mandela is probably reserved for Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 movie Invictus, about Mandela’s first presidential term. 

Apart from the Long Walk to Freedom there have been several books about the global icon authored by himself and with others. He collaborated with Barack Obama on Conversations with Myself. He even tried fiction in Nelson Mandela’s Favourite African Folktales.

There are also several volumes of inspiration quotations by Mandela.

But it was not only in film and prose that Mandela has inspired the arts. Music too. Everyone from Brenda Fassie (“Black President”), Johnny Clegg (“Asimbonanga”)  to Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Hugh Masekela (“Mandela [Bring Him Back Home]” ) and Zahara all sang their tributes to the phenomenal life of Nelson Mandela.

It is not only South African musicians, however, that exploited Madiba’s iconic image. Mega stars from Stevie Wonder, U2 (“Ordinary Love”), Public Enemy, Youssou N’Dour, Simple Minds (“Prophets of Rage”), Santana to Tracy Chapman all had their go on Madiba’s legacy. 

Even Tupac Amaru Shakur sang Mandela in “Just a Breath of Freedom (4 Nelson Mandela)” where he raps: “Held captive 4 your politics/ They wanted 2 break your soul/ They ordered the extermination of all minds they couldn’t control”.

But for the author the best is Tracy Chapman’s ‘Freedom Now’ whose poetic lines go: “They threw him in jail/And they kept him there/Hoping soon he’d die/That his body and spirit would waste away/ And soon after that his mind”.

The musical tribute to Mandela culminated on June 11, 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London in what can be described as the best musical tribute to anyone alive. Grade A artists like Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Tracy Chapman, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Elton John, Bono, Dire Straits and Harry Belafonte were on the bill. 

The event was broadcast to 67 countries and an audience of 600 million watched it. It was variously referred to as Freedomfest, Free Nelson Mandela Concert and Mandela Day.

Malawi’s own Lucius Banda also makes references to Nelson Mandela in some of his revolutionary songs.

Madiba’s magic did not skip any art form. Many painters across the world have attempted to capture his life, especially his historic release from jail in 1990, with their water colours and brushes. He also had a huge influence on the fashion world. His trademark silky shirts are now being marketed as ‘Presidential Shirts’. On a visit to Denmark years ago, Parliament had to waiver the suit-and-tie provision to allow Madiba address MPs in his silky shirt. After that in Denmark sales of the replica shirts shot up. And these shirts don’t come cheap! 

So the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has not only robbed the world of a politician extra-ordinaire, who resisted the urge to hit back at his tormentors who jailed him for 27 years, but also a figure that inspired – and continues to inspire – books, music and other forms of art.

Tenthani is a freelance journalist from Malawi. Tenthani is a BBC correspondent and a columnist in for The Sunday Times. He is a respected journalist in Malawi well known for his popular column ,”The Muckraking”. He is well known for providing political analysis on topical issues.[He has been the subject of controversy for his candid reporting on political issues.He was very critical of the crackdown on journalism during the Bingu wa Mutharikaadministration. He is also a columnist for Associated Press, Pan African News Agency, and the Maravi Post

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