Poetry written in honor of Nelson Mandela.

If alive, this one of the greatest leaders on the planet would be turning 101.

I know Patrice Lumumba  had been sometime dead,
and Sylvanus Olympio only just, though I'm not sure why,
As I try to reconnect myself with my child's mind
and the memories of events that jumble there
A knowledge of our distant world pieced together,
through overheard conversations, and voices on the radio.

In 1962 the world was a very different place.

I didn't know where Montgomery was,
but learnt the meaning of boycott.
Didn't understand Mau Mau,
except it taught the impact of lies,
and what all freedoms cost.
I remember your name, and vague talk of a trial
and treason being a serious thing;
Sisulu and Mbeki, Goldberg and Mhlaba,
Kathrada, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni At Rivonia.
These names I have learnt through the years,
But at the time, what I recall for sure
Is Abebe Bikila's second Olympic gold,
And Cassius Clay proving he was the greatest,
By the time you made your statement
And disappeared.

We have not seen you since.

I didn't mark your fiftieth birthday:
But in Ghana J. B. Danquah was already dead,
And we had lived through coups and counter coupe already
At the start of a second republic.
While Baldwin warned of The Fire Next Time
The white Rhodesians declared UDI,
And the Zimbabweans braced for war.
But we were killing our brothers already in Biafra
While the world watched,
And a young Christopher Okigbo reminded us
That even the poets were dying.
And you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Though James Brown danced us off the streets,
And "Soul came to Soul'' in Ghana
No one remembered Paul Robeson, and
Mahalia Jackson sung her last.
Singing "We Shall Overcome"
Through frustrated Freedom Summers we left
Mississippi, Watts and Newark burning -
And Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin dead. All dead.
And you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

In an angry and lonely world,
We marked the passage of your tenth year
Reading Letters to Martha and Soledad Brother
All ASouls were on Ice
As Arthur Nortje killed himself in an Oxford room,
And an exiled Kabaka died.
We freed Angela Davis, but on your desolate island
You were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Your sixtieth birthday reminded us
"This struggle was your life.@
But by then your life had become our struggle,
As we buried Hector Petersen
And a hundred slaughtered children
On the scorched streets of Soweto.
With a jailed Thandi Modisi
We "Cried Freedom" for a murdered Stephen Biko ;
People young enough to be your children,
And children younger than your children dead,
So many of them dead.
Yet you at least were still alive,
But you were still not free.

We shouted FRELIMO and another Empire fell.
Antonio Jacinto "Survived Tarrafal,"
But Augustino Neto was dead.
Eduardo Mondlane had been many years murdered,
And we have since mourned the wreckage of Samora Machel
On the South African side of Mozambique's mountains.
But you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

By your twentieth year,
Anwar Sadat had sued for peace in the Knesset,
And had been later killed for his pains.
And Haile Selassie the lion of Judah had disappeared,
Leaving no memorial, except a three thousand year
Imperial kingdom, now decades at war.
And in the Eritrea, Tigre, the Sudan, the Spanish Sahara
The "Harvest of our Dreams" "Reaped a Whirlwind" of nightmares.
And we searched for Janani Luwum among Kampala's martyred.
Marley who sang for Manley and Mugabe was so young dead.
But you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

The decades bring deaths of leaders,
The power and the myth that was Nkrumah
Lie broken like his shattered statue
On the Accra streets.
And in the same week that Jomo Kenyatta
AFaced his sacred Mount Kenya@for the final time
Kofi Busia's "Challenge to an Africa in Search of Democracy"
Ended. All your peers dead.
But you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Yet, on a continent being Aliberated@, Aredeemed@, ''revolutionized'',
Proclaiming "Uhuru," the people were marching:
Twenty five years after Sharpeville, we march,
Ten years after Soweto, we march,
And when they killed mothers and babies
On their march through Mamelodi,
Still, with them, we march,
For you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

By the time we reached your seventieth birthday,
Another generation of children
Had learned to call your name.
We carry old images of your face in our hearts,
And on the T shirts on our backs,
As an icon of a new morning.
The Tembu warrior prince, the lawyer activist,
The prisoner.
Around the world we marched in our millions,
Demanding your return, into a troubled world
So sadly bereft of heroes,
For your were still alive,
And you were still not free.

You disappeared from our view
In a world which had taken no small step on the moon for man ;
No Apollos no Challengers no Salyuts,
No photographs of the furthest planets, no walks in space.
The small steps taken on earth for mankind had included
No Flower Power Love concerts at Woodstock,
No One Love Peace concerts in Kingston, Jamaica,
No Art Against Apartheid Freedom concerts in Sun City,
No Bands in Aid Proclaiming "We Are The World".
That world had no "Cultural Revolution" in China,
No drafted U.S. troops in Vietnam,
No AKilling Fields" in Cambodia,
No vanished Prisoner Without a Name
in a Cell Without a Number, mourned by the
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo And through this all
You were still alive,
And you were still not free.

And now, it is the Lord's Day, the eleventh of February 1990,
And it is five a.m. in Los Angeles, California,
It is eight a.m. in New York and Kingston, Jamaica,
It is one p.m. in Stockholm, London and Accra, Ghana,
And half the marching world has paused
To keep vigil,
For it is three p.m. in Cape Town, South Africa,
And we wait to see your face.
After twenty seven years of fighting, marching, and singing
We keep a ninety minute watch;
To see you take these next few steps
On this your No Easy Walk
To our uncertain Freedom
To witness your release into this changing world,
Unceasingly the same.
For you are still alive,
But we are still not free.

ALSO READ: Iconic Mandela, by Abena Busia

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