Nelson Mandela’s Letters from Prison

This Summer  The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela was published. It contains over 250 letter, over half of which previously had been unpublished. Tayari Jones, a professor of English at Emory University, said in the New York Times that these letters reveal Mandela was “as vulnerable as any other human,” especially to being stripped of his family and “the “agony of separation.” He lost “decades of intimacy with a young family, growing away from him in his absence.”[1]

The New York Times published a few of these letters from his imprisonment (11/07/62 to 02/11/90).[2]  Here are some tidbits from these letters:

  • On 02/04/69, in a letter to his two daughters, Mandela said, “Nobody knows when [I will come back to you.] But I am certain that one day I will be back at home to live in happiness with you until the end of my days.”
  • On 04/02/69 in a letter to his wife Winnie, he said that Rev. Norman Vincent Peale had asserted “that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory. . . . Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”
  • In a 11/03/69 letter about the death of his son Thembi in a car accident, Mandela referred to the man who in the prosecution of Apostle Paul had called him a “pest”   and “the ringleader of the Nazarene Sect.” But this “’Nazarene Sect’ was to spread to almost every corner of the globe and be embraced by many nations as their state religion. The man who was described as a perfect pest later became a saint loved and respected by millions of Christians throughout the world.”
  • In a 07/01/70 letter to wife Winnie, he said, “ We fight against one of the last strongholds of reaction on the African Continent. In cases of this kind our duty is a simple one — at the appropriate time to state clearly, firmly and accurately the aspirations that we cherish and the greater South Africa for which we fight. Our cause is just. It is a fight for human dignity and for an honorable life.”
  • In a 08/31/70 letter to another son, Mandela said, “It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness. …This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. . . .Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.”
  • In a 02/01/75 letter to Winnie, he said, “internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. . . .Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. . . . Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. … No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise and win in the end.”
  • In an 08/19/76 letter to wife Winnie, he said that writing to her is “the only time I ever feel that someday in the future it’ll be possible for humanity to produce saints who will really be upright and venerable, inspired in everything they do by genuine love for humanity and who’ll serve all humans selflessly.”
  • In a 05/27/79 letter to a journalist friend, Mandela said that the “numerous messages of good wishes and hope sent by people from different walks of life, have cut through massive iron doors and grim stone walls, bringing into the cell the splendor and warmth of springtime..”

These letters are truly inspiring to those suffering in prison and to those on the outside. They also instruct us on the outside, as Tayari Jones said, “for people in prison, letters remain the best way to engage with a society that has forcibly excluded them”and “someone, somewhere—in a prison across town, in a border detention facility, in a country you’ve never known—is waiting for a letter.”

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[1]  Mandela, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (W.W. Norton & Co. 2018); Jones, What Mandela Lost, N.Y. Times (July 6, 2018).

[2] ‘Hope Is a Powerful Weapon’: Unpublished Mandela  Prison Letters, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2018).

Nelson Mandela’s Announcement of Retirement from Public Life (June 2004)

There are at least three statements by Nelson Mandela which relate to Johannesburg. The first two, which were discussed before, are his statement in his defense against criminal charges in the Rivonia Trial, April 1964 and his newspaper article about South Africa’s first decade of democracy, April 2004.

On June 1, 2004, Mandela announced his retirement from public life in a speech at the offices of The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. Here are extracts from his speech (verbatim) that day.

Announcement of Retirement [1]

“I am turning 86 in a few weeks time and that is a longer life than most people are granted. I have the added blessing of being in very good health, at least according to my doctors. I am confident that nobody present here today will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself.”

“One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release. I intend, amongst other things, to give myself much more opportunity for such reading and reflection. And of course, there are those memoirs about the presidential years that now really need my urgent attention.”

“I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but henceforth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

“This does, however, not mean that the work that we have been involved in, supported and promoted comes to an end. It has been our practice to establish organizations to do certain work and then to leave it to those organization to get on with the job.”

“The leadership of what we call, the three Mandela legacy organizations [6] are present here today as proof and assurance that our work will continue, perhaps in an even more focused way now that the attention shifts from the individual to the organizations.” [2]

“We are now able to concentrate very clearly on the work of these three independent but interlinked legacy organizations. I am very satisfied to tell you that they are in full alignment with one another, each charged to giving expression to a specific aspect of human development. The work of the three foundations is distinct but complimentary and supportive of one another.”

“Thank you very much for your attention and thank you for being kind to an old man – allowing him to take a rest, even if many of you may feel that after loafing somewhere on an island [Robben Island] and other places for 27 years the rest is not really deserved.”

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[1] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Retirement Announcement by former President Nelson Mandela (June 1, 2004).

[2] The Mandela Legacy organizations are The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. The last of these established a joint venture with The Rhodes Trust to create a Scholarship and Leadership Development program for young leaders from 25 African countries. This blogger was present in July 2003 when Mandela announced this new venture at Westminster Hall in London. (See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Celebrating the Rhodes Scholarships’ Centennial (June 21, 2011); Nelson Mandela Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes (May 20, 2018).)

Nelson Mandela’s Decade of Democracy Article (April 2004)

As we have seen, the fifth and last concert in South Africa by the Minnesota Orchestra was in Johannesburg, which is where Nelson Mandela in 1964 was arrested and charged for four major crimes that he attacked in a lengthy statement to the court in the Rivonia Trial. Now we examine his April 2004 newspaper article on South Africa’s first decade of democracy. Another connection with that city occured in June 2004, when he announced his retirement from public affairs that will be discussed in a later post.

Decade of Democracy Article [1]

In April 2004, Mandela wrote the following article in The Sunday Times about his country’s first decade of democracy:

“Freedom in our lifetime was a slogan of hope, encouragement, sustenance and inspiration to generations of our freedom fighters, anti-apartheid activists and the masses of our people suffering oppression, exploitation and degradation.”

“A struggling people and their liberation movements have to hold on to the hope of freedom even under the most difficult circumstances, against the greatest odds and in the darkest hours. We, the people of South Africa and the freedom movements of our people, have suffered many moments and eras of deep despondency when it must have appeared that the so much longed for emancipation was never to be attained, at least not in our various and respective lifetimes.”

“Measure that against centuries of colonial rule and dispossession. Against decades of apartheid rule, the most structured form of racial domination and discrimination the world has known after the Second World War.”

“A decade may in mere measurable terms seem to be nothing in human history. As a people, we South Africans know this decade of living together in peace, in the acknowledgement of our common humanity, in the democratic accommodation of our differences within our national unity to be a human achievement that in its impact and magnitude transcends and belies the brevity of its years.”

“I have so often heard us being described by people across the globe as a miracle nation. We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds. Not only did we avert such racial conflagration; we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive non-racial and non-sexist democratic orders in the contemporary world.”

“Perhaps we do not always appreciate the magnitude of that achievement and its inspiration for a late-twentieth and early twenty-first century world yearning and searching for hope and meaning. For once history and hope rhymed, a famous poet reminded me and us, speaking of the miracle of our transition and the wonder of our democracy.”

“This first decade was one of laying foundations, of early building, of consolidation. Much of it had, by the nature of our divided history, to consist of breaking down, of un-doing. The government over which I was chosen to preside had to take stock and come to an understanding of the structures and rules that governed our nation and our lives under the perversion of apartheid; to initiate the process of de-legislation and re-legislation; to create a new system of legislation and regulation governed by the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.”

“That government – the government of national unity – was in itself, by its mere nature, a celebration and demonstration of the will and the capacity of the South African people and their elected leaders to make democracy work. It brought together three historically antagonistic political movements in a co-operative venture to make our country succeed, to establish and consolidate our democracy, to unite our people in their diversity.”

“When I reflect on this first decade of our democracy and more particularly for the moment on those first foundational five years, I have to pay tribute to the wisdom and the considered rationality of the leaders of those participating parties and all the members of that first Cabinet. They all will have opportunity and reason in their inevitable memoirs to reflect and report on my moments of impatience, anger, folly and irrationality, I suppose; what will remain with me is the memory of collegiality, shared patriotism and the pride of country.”

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[1] Nelson Mandela Foundation, Decade of Democracy (Sunday Times April 2004).

 

Nelson Mandela’s Defense Statement at His Trial (April 1964)

As we have seen, the fifth and last concert in South Africa by the Minnesota Orchestra was in Johannesburg, which with a population of 4.4 million in a metropolitan area of 8.0 million is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. The city was established in 1886 following the discovery of gold.

There are at least three statements by Nelson Mandela which relate to Johannesburg. The first, which will be discussed below, is his statement in his defense against criminal charges in the Rivonia Trial, April 1964. The other two will be covered in subsequent posts: his newspaper article about South Africa’s first decade of democracy, April 2004 and his statement on retirement from public affairs, June 2004.

The Rivonia Trial

On July 13, 1983, Mandela and nine other anti-apartheid members of the African National Congress (ANC), who were hiding out at a farm near Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg, were discovered by the police, arrested and jailed.

Their criminal trial commenced on October 9, 1993, in a court in nearby Pretoria on the following charges:

  • “recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage;
  • conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic;
  • acting in these ways to further the objects of communism; and
  • soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathisers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.”

The trial ended on June 12, 1964, with the court convicting Mandela and seven of the other defendants on all four counts and sentencing them to life imprisonment. Mandela and six others were sent to the prison on Robben Island near Cape Town. The other defendant, who was white (Goldberg), was sent to Pretoria Central Prison, which at the time had the only security wing for white political prisoners in the country. Below is a photograph of Mandela during the trial. 

 

 

 

Mandela’s Statement at the Rivonia Trial [1]

After the prosecution had finished its case, on April 20, 1964, the trial turned to the defendants to offer their evidence, and Mandela, an attorney, opened this phase with a three-hour speech from the dock (not the witness stand) that became the emotional center of the trial and thereafter generally was considered one of the great speeches of the 20th century and a key moment in the history of South African democracy. Mandela concluded with these words, “I am prepared to die,” which became the name given to this speech, which is extracted below.

“In my youth in the Transkei [2] I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of . . . [our leaders] were praised as the pride and the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.”

“I do not however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppressionof my people by the whites.”

“I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto [we Sizwe or MK or Spear of the Nation] as the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC)]. I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons.”

“ Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensityof bitterness and hostility between the various races of the country which is not produced even by war.”

“Secondly, we felt that without sabotage there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the Government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.”

“But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed [MK] were all members of the [ANC], and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believed that South Africa belonged to all the people who lived in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an inter-racial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. . . . “

Mandela then reviewed the history of the ANC from its founding in 1912 until 1949, during which “it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater.. . .”

“Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. . . .”

“In 1956, [ Mandela and other ANC leaders] . . . were arrested on a charge of High Treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act. The non-violent policy of the ANC was put in issue by the State, but when the Court gave judgement some five years later, it found that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. We were acquitted on all counts, which included a count that the ANC sought to set up a Communist State in place of the existing regime. . . .”

“In 1960 there was the shooting at Sharpeville, which resulted in the [Government’s] proclamation of a State of Emergency and the declaration of the ANC as an unlawful organisation. My colleagues and I, after careful consideration, decided that we would not obey this decree. The African people were not part of the Government and did not make the laws by which they were governed. We believed in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the Government”, and for us to accept the banning was equivalent to accepting the silencing of the African people for all time. The ANC refused to dissolve, but instead went underground. . . .”

“In 1960 the government held a referendum which led to the establishment of the Republic. Africans, who constituted approximately 70 per cent of the population of South Africa, were not entitled to vote, and were not even consulted about the proposed constitutional change. All of us were apprehensive of our future under the proposed white republic, and a resolution was taken to hold an All-In African Conference to call for a National Convention, and to organise mass demonstrations on the eve of the unwanted Republic, if the Government failed to call the Convention. The conference was attended by Africans of various political persuasions. I was the Honorary Secretary of the Conference, and undertook to be responsible for organising the national stay-at-home which was subsequently called to coincide with the declaration of the Republic. As all strikes by Africans are illegal, the person organising such a strike must avoid arrest. I was chosen to be this person, and consequently I had to leave my home and my family and my [law] practice and go into hiding to avoid arrest.”

“The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organisers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The Government’s answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilize its armed forces, and to send Saracens [Muslims], armed vehicles, and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force designed to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the Government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to [the establishment of [MK].”

“[June 1961.] What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it out and, if so, how?”

“We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem . . . was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.”

“It must not be forgotten . . .that by this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene. There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of Bantu Authorities and cattle culling in Sekhukhuneland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the Government attempted to impose Bantu Authorities in Pondoland. . . . In 1961 there had been riots in Warmbaths, and all this time . . . the Transkei had been a seething mass of unrest. Each disturbance pointed clearly to the inevitable growth amongst Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out – it showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it. Already small groups had arisen in the urban areas and were spontaneously making plans for violent forms of political struggle. There now arose a danger that these groups would adopt terrorism against Africans, as well as whites, if not properly directed. . . . It was increasingly taking the form, not of struggle against the Government – though this is what prompted it – but of civil strife between pro-government chiefs and those opposed to them conducted in such a way that it could not hope to achieve anything other than a loss of life, and bitterness”.

“At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence [in this country] was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.”

“This conclusion . . . was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of struggle, and to form . . . [MK]. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice. . . .”

“As far as the ANC was concerned, it formed a clear view which can be summarised as follows:

  • It was a mass political organisation with a political function to fulfil. Its members had joined on the express policy of non-violence.
  • Because of all this, it could not and would not undertake violence. This must be stressed. One cannot turn such a body into the small, closely knit organisation required for sabotage. Nor would this be politically correct, because it would result in members ceasing to carry out this essential activity: political propaganda and organisation. Nor was it permissible to change the whole nature of the organisation.
  • On the other hand, in view of this situation I have described, the ANC was prepared to depart from its fifty-year-old policy of non-violence to this extent that it would no longer disapprove of properly controlled sabotage. Hence members who undertook such activity would not be subject to disciplinary action by the ANC. . . .”

“As a result of this [ANC] decision,. . .[MK] was formed in November 1961.. . . We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which blacks and whites would fight each other., , [We viewed] the situation with alarm. Civil war would mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war, racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already had examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of inter-racial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?”

“The avoidance of civil war had dominated our thinking for many years, but when we decided to adopt sabotage as part of our policy, we realised that we might one day have to face the prospect of such a war. This had to be taken into account in formulating our plans. We required a plan which was flexible, and which permitted us to act in accordance with the needs of the times; above all, the plan had to be one which recognized civil war as the last resort, and left the decision on this question to the future. We did not want to be committed to civil war, but we wanted to be ready if it became inevitable.”

“Four forms of violence are possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to test it fully before taking any other decision.”

“In the light of our political background the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality. This is what we felt at the time, and this is what we said in our Manifesto. . . “

“The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and would in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.”

“Attacks on the economic life lines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on Government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people and encourage them to participate in non-violent mass action such as strikes. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line, and we were fighting back against Government violence.”

“In addition, if mass action were successfully organised, and mass reprisals taken, we felt that sympathy for our cause would be roused in other countries, and that greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African Government.”

“This then . . .was the plan. [MK] was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members right from the start, that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations.. . . “

“[MK] . . . had its first operation on the 16th of December 1961, when Government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban were attacked. The selection of targets is proof of the policy to which I have referred. Had we intended to attack life, we would have selected targets where people congregated and not empty buildings and power stations.. . .”

“The Manifesto of . . .[MK} was issued on the day that operations commenced. The response to our actions and Manifesto among the white population was characteristically violent. The Government threatened to take strong action, and called upon its supporters to stand firm and to ignore the demands of the Africans. The whites failed to respond by suggesting change; they responded to our call by retreating behind the laager [an encampment formed by a circle of wagons].”

“In contrast, the response of the Africans was one of encouragement. Suddenly there was hope again. Things were happening. People in the townships became eager for political news. A great deal of enthusiasm was generated by the initial successes, and people began to speculate on how soon freedom would be obtained.”

“But we in . . . [MK} weighed up the whites’ response with anxiety. The lines were being drawn. The whites and blacks were moving into separate camps, and the prospects of avoiding a civil war were diminishing. The white newspapers carried reports that sabotage would be punished by death. If this was so, how could we continue to keep Africans away from terrorism?”

“I now . . . turn to the question of guerrilla warfare and how it came to be considered. By 1961 scores of Africans had died as a result of racial friction, . . . . [including the March 21, 1960 killing of 69 unarmed Africans at Sharpeville].”

“How many more Sharpevilles would there be in the history of our country? And how many more Sharpevilles could the country stand without violence and terror becoming the order of the day? And what would happen to our people when that stage was reached? In the long run we felt certain we must succeed, but at what cost to ourselves and the rest of the country? And if this happened, how could black and white ever live together again in peace and harmony? These were the problems that faced us, and these were our decisions.”

“Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the Government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war became inevitable, we wanted to be ready when the time came, and for the fight to be conducted on terms most favourable to our people. The fight which held out the best prospects for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare.”

“The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, ‘Drive the White man into the sea’. The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter. [3] It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because . . . big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC’s policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society. . . .”

“The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party’s main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasise class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonise them. This is . . . a vital distinction.”

“It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal – in this case the removal of white supremacy – and is not proof of a complete community of interests. . . . ”

”I have denied that I am a communist, and I think in the circumstances I am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are in order to explain what my position in . . . [MK] was, and what my attitude towards the use of force is.”

“I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. After all, I was born in Umtata, forty-six years ago. My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Thembuland, and I am related both to Sabata Dalindyebo, the present paramount chief, and to Kaiser Matanzima, the Chief Minister for the Transkei.” [2]

“Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organisation of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There was no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.”

“It is true . . . that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent states. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of the world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.”

“ I believe it is open to debate whether the Communist Party has any specific role to play at this particular stage of our political struggle. The basic task at the present moment is the removal of race discrimination and the attainment of democratic rights on the basis of the Freedom Charter, and a struggle which can best be led by a strong ANC. In so far as that Party furthers this task, I welcome its assistance. I realise that it is one of the main means by which people of all races can be drawn into our struggle.”

“But from my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world.”

“I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country’s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouse in me similar sentiments.”

“I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than that of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from West and from the East.”

“Our political struggle has always been financed from internal sources – from funds raised by our own people and by our own supporters. Whenever we had a special campaign or an important political case we received financial assistance from sympathetic individuals and organisations in the Western countries. We have never felt it necessary to go beyond these sources.”

“But when in 1961 . . . [MK} was formed, and a new phase of struggle introduced, we realised that these events would make a heavy call on our slender resources, and that the scale of our activities would be hampered by lack of funds. One of my instructions, as I went abroad in January 1962, was to raise funds from the African states. . . .”

“On my return to the Republic, I made a strong recommendation to the ANC that we should not confine ourselves to Africa and the Western countries, but that we should also send a mission to the socialist countries to raise the funds which we so urgently needed.”

“Our fight is against real and not imaginary hardships. . . . Basically . . . fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity, and we do not need communists or so-called ‘agitators’ to teach us about these things.”

“South Africa is the richest country in Africa, and could be one of the richest countries in the world. But it is a land of extremes and remarkable contrasts. The whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery. Forty per cent of the Africans live in hopelessly overcrowded and, in some cases, drought-stricken reserves, where soil erosion and the overworking of the soil makes it impossible for them to live properly off the land. Thirty per cent are labourers, labour tenants, and squatters on white farms and work and live under conditions similar to those of the serfs of the Middle Ages. The other thirty per cent live in towns where they have developed economic and social habits which bring them closer in many respects to white standards. Yet most Africans, even in this group, are impoverished by low incomes and the high cost of living. . . .”

“Poverty goes hand in hand with malnutrition and disease. The incidence of malnutrition and deficiency diseases is very high amongst Africans. Tuberculosis, pellagra, kwashiorkor, gastro- enteritis, and scurvy bring death and destruction of health. The incidence of infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. . . .  The secondary results of such conditions affect the whole community and the standard of work performed by Africans.”

“The complaint of Africans, however, is not only that they are poor and whites are rich, but that the laws which are made by the whites are designed to preserve this situation.”

“There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages. As far as Africans are concerned, both these avenues of advancement are deliberately curtailed by legislation.”

“I ask the Court to remember that the present Government has always sought to hamper Africans in their search for education. . . . ”

“There is compulsory education for all white children at virtually no cost to their parents, be they rich or poor. Similar facilities are not provided for the African children, though there are some who receive such assistance. African children, however, generally have to pay more for their schooling than whites. . . .The quality of education is also different. . . .”

“The other main obstacle to the economic advancement of the African is the Industrial Colour Bar under which all the better paid, better jobs of industry are reserved for whites only. Moreover, Africans in the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations which are open to them are not allowed to form trade unions which have recognition under the Industrial Conciliation Act. . ..“

“The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true. . . But even if it is true, as far as African people are concerned, it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.”

“The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that we have emotions – that we fall in love like white people do; that we want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that we want to earn money, enough money to support our families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden- boy’ or labourer can ever hope to do this?”

“Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.”

“Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents, if there be two, have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships into the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.”

“The only cure is to alter the conditions under which Africans are forced to live and to meet their legitimate grievances. Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. We want to be allowed to live where we obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because we were not born there. We want to be allowed and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which we can never call our own. We want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in our ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not to be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. Our women want to be with their men folk and not to be left permanently widowed in the reserves. We want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to our rooms like little children. We want to be allowed to travel in our own country and to seek work where we want to, where we want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells us to. We want a just share in the whole of South Africa; we want security and a stake in society.”

“Above all, . . .we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.”

“But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy.”

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.” (Emphasis added.)

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Emphasis added.)

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[1] Nelson Mandela Foundation, I am prepared to die (April 20, 1964); Rivonia Trial 1963-1964,, South Africa History Organization; Rivonia Trial, Wikipedia; I Am Prepared to Die, Wikipedia.

[2] Until 1994, Transkei was an unrecognized independent state in the southeastern region of South Africa; in 1994 it was integrated into South Africa as part of the Eastern Cape Province. (Transkei, Wikipedia.)

[3] The ANC’s Freedom Charter, which was adopted in June 1955 by the Congress of the People, demanded a non-racial South Africa, democracy, human rights, land reform, labor rights and nationalization. (Freedom Charter, Wikipedia.)

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Soweto Concert

Scott Chamberlain, a member of the Minnesota Chorale, in a MINNPOST article has celebrated the August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Church by a combined choir that included the Chorale accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. [1]

Before the concert, Scott’s Minnesota friend, Mariellen Jacobson, met Teresa, “a beautiful, 80-something” [South African] woman.. . . and learned that she was a parishioner of the church. She spoke passionately about the past, and what it was like living through those tumultuous times. In the student uprisings of 1976, some of the young schoolboys fled to the church to escape the police’s bullets and tear gas. The police followed them right into the church and fired live ammunition inside the sanctuary.” [Teresa said you could still see the bullet holes.] ‘Look up at the crucifix. You’ll see that Jesus has three fingers on his right hand and five fingers on his left hand. Yes, one of the bullets had hit the sculpture.’ “And there it was. This brought it home just how real these events were … this wasn’t something for the history book, but part of the life story of real people.”

Scott added that “Soweto was ready. Long before the concert got under way, a substantial crowd had arrived at the church’s gates, with an excited air of anticipation. Many had never been to a live classical concert before and jumped at a chance to hear how one sounded. Perhaps best of all, a large number of young children were on hand, as Minnesotan Jill Chamberlain discovered. Cousins Tebogo (age 11) and Keo (age 10) were brought by their mother/aunt Josephine. They were seated next to Jill, and once settled, they cheerfully drilled her about concert protocol, how the music would sound … and asked such important questions as what kind of restaurants there were in America and how Americans made their porridge.”

“All in all, excited concertgoers overwhelmed the ticket takers at the door, forcing the concert to start 20 minutes late.”

Scott continued, “the singers of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers and [the South African vocal group] 29:11[named after Jeremiah 29:11]  filled the aisles and belted out the South African national anthem. We were loud, but we were almost certainly drowned out by the 1,300 voices of audience who added their voices to ours. It was a moment of welcome, pride and shared exuberance.”

“The middle-aged [South African] woman next to me was wonderfully fun to sing with — she had a voice that would make any singing group proud. And best of all, she lost none of her exuberance when the orchestra followed up with the Star-Spangled Banner. She didn’t know the words, but effortlessly switched to ‘da-da-da,’ sung with an enormous grin. She loved it. I rarely get hugs handshakes from audience members during an actual performance, but this audience member was giving them out aplenty.”

When the South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye “boldly strode out to center stage in gorgeous traditional dress, [to sing with the Orchestra the South African composition for this very tour, Harmonia Ubuntu], the audience went absolutely crazy. I was so, so happy about the inclusion of this piece. It was good, and deserves wider performance. But more than that, it proudly demonstrated that this concert — and by extension, this entire tour — wasn’t about simply performing western art music at local audiences, but actually engaging audiences and performers alike in a shared musical exchange. It showed curiosity about other music  and a willingness to learn about it and embrace it. It showed respect.”

“And the audience absolutely loved it.”

At the conclusion of this piece, “Goitsemang and Osmo [Vänskä] were greeted with an ear-splitting roar that went way beyond appreciation … it showed love. And from that moment, the audience and musicians were one. We were in this together.”

The Orchestra and combined choir then performed the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (the Choral Symphony). As Chamberlain said, “it is famously one of the most athletic, brutal works to sing in the standard repertoire. But there it was. It was the perfect piece to sing at Regina Mundi — a musical celebration of our shared humanity and universal joy. And the combined voices of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11 made sure that Beethoven’s song of joy shook Heaven itself. . . . If the audience was fired up before, they were absolutely on fire at the end of the Beethoven.”

“And with that, the concert really got going. Next, Vänskä programmed . . . [four] South African songs that cranked up the excitement even further.”

Akhala Amaqhude Amabili is a setting of two Zulu folk songs, linked by a shared motive of a rooster call (Kikilikigi! in Zulu) to rouse up the community and get ready for the day. The audience loved it.”

The next piece by the combined choir [conducted by Xolani Mootane], an a cappella South African song, Bawo Tixo Somandla, “brought the house down. Back in the 1970s, the work was originally written as an anti-apartheid protest song, asking God the insistent question, ‘Father, God omnipotent, what have we done? Why do we kill each other like this?’. . . This was a work incredibly important to me — singing that song, while I could look around the church and literally see bullet holes left behind by paramilitary raids, was powerful beyond words. The audience had already started singing along when Xolani turned on the podium and gestured for the crowd to rise to their feet. They did so with a roar of voices and began dancing with us. It was a musical spectacle that will always, always stay with me, as we together turned that song into a cry for unity and an end to violence.”

The next song, Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane, was gentler, “but no less celebratory song . . .  celebrating God’s creation, where all things—even ferocious crocodiles — are part of a harmonious whole. It is a much-loved, South African favorite.”

“The roof was then blown off yet again with . . .[the final programmed South African song] Usilethela Uxolo, a festive song honoring Nelson Mandela based on a work by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi. This time the audience needed no invitation — as soon as the chorus came in and started dancing on stage, the audience followed suit. It was wonderful, crazy, musical bedlam, with everyone onstage and offstage joining in the celebration. My God what a party! Seriously… World Cup soccer crowds are more reserved. The roar that filled that church when we were done about shook Regina Mundi off its foundation.”

For an encore, the Orchestra “launched into Shosholoza, a beloved standard that functions as a second national anthem for South Africa. The orchestra players set aside their instruments and belted out the first verse through their voices alone, to the rousing support of the audience. When the chorus came in, bedlam broke out all over again. Dancing! Singing! Bigger dancing, and bigger singing! When it was over we got the biggest roar of them all — and that’s saying something.”

When Chamberlain and the other Minnesota singers thought the concert had ended, some of the male singers in the Gauteng Choristers “started to belt out a song of their own. Soon, all the South African singers caught the tune, and in voices again geared to shake the earth and rattle the heavens, began singing and dancing us off the stage in a completely unscripted kind of exit music, to the continued cheers of the audience. It was remarkable. The orchestra members, in the process of putting their instruments away, stopped with wide-eyed amazement and dived for their cellphones to snap pictures.”

“We in the Chorale had no idea about what the words were, but hey … when we find ourselves in a midst of a musical after-party, we learn fast and join right in. Soon we were singing as well, slowly working our way off stage. But the singing didn’t stop. To our astonishment, our South African peers enveloped us and began marching with us outside the building, and around the church in a musical parade that lasted about 15 minutes. People on the outside rushed forward and joined in the song, reaching in through the fence to give us high fives as we danced across the grounds.”

Scott concluded, “I have never felt so much joy, so much pure, unadulterated joy. Music did that. Music brought us together, wiped out any petty distinctions among us, and for a moment made us one, wonderful family. The universal joy envisioned in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy became real — right there in Soweto.”

Thank you, Scott Chamberlain, for this enthralling and inspiring report.

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[1] Chamberlain, The Minnesota Orchestra’s Extraordinary Experience in Soweto, MINNPOST (Aug. 24, 2018). There also are great photographs of this concert in Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto,as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018). A recording of the concert is available at MPRClassical FM radio. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Nelson Mandela’s Connections with Soweto (Aug. 22, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto) (Aug. 24, 2018).

 

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg)

On August 18 the Minnesota Orchestra played its fifth and last concert in South Africa before a capacity audience of 1,000 that included Dr. Makaziwe “Maki” Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter.

Here is an account of the concert and Orchestra members’ intersections with local musicians.[1]

The Concert

The concert opened with the playing of the South African and U.S. national anthems.  The Orchestra then played the following works:

  • Overture to the operetta Candide by Leonard Bernstein, who shares this year with Nelson Mandela as the centennial of their births.
  • Harmonia Ubuntu, by South African composer Ndodana-Breen with lyrics taken from Mandela’s writings and speeches and with South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, as soloist.
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony) with the combined Minnesota Chorale and South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers and soloists (Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo-soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo, tenor; and Njabulo Madlala, bass-baritone).

Osmo Vänskä returned to the stage after a standing ovation, conducting the orchestra and choir in “Usilethela Uxolo.” He then turned the podium over to Xolani Mootane, who brought down the house with “Bawo Thixo Somandla.” Vänskä again returned to lead the ensemble in a final vocal performance of the unofficial national anthem, “Shosholoza.”

The concert was held in the Johannesburg City Hall, he home of many historical and political events throughout its more than 100-year history. Here are photograph of the Hall and of the Orchestra, both by Travis Anderson.

 

 

 

 

Minnesota-Local Interactions

At a post-concert farewell dinner, the Orchestra’s President and CEO, Kevin Smith, said this tour is, “by all accounts, the biggest project the orchestra has ever done. it’s hard to know where it goes from here, but I think the orchestra will continue to be more adventurous and extensive in how it works and with whom it works and where it goes.”

Roderick Cox, the Orchestra’s Associate Conductor, stayed the next day (Sunday) to conduct the African National Young Orchestra in in Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 after they had rehearsed the work the prior week with Orchestra musicians. According to Cox, his job is to “ take all this vibrant, passionate sound they’re giving and try to contain it and shape it for the music we’re doing, like Sibelius.” An aspiring local conductor, Chad Hendricks, age 27, commented  that seeing Cox, who is black, on the platform, “inspired a lot of kids.” For South Africans growing up in black and mixed-race communities, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, and there isn’t a lot of exposure to this kind of thing. A lot of the underprivileged kids that were here … they’re seeing someone they can relate to.”[2]

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Johannesburg (Aug. 18, 2018); Minn. Orch., Johannesburg/Aug 18.

[2] Ross, A young South African symphony takes its cue from the Minnesota  Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2018); Chamberlain, “Tour’ is inadequate to explain what’s happening between the Minnesota Orchestra and South African musicians, MinnPost (Aug. 17, 2018).

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto)

The centerpiece of the Minnesota Orchestra’s tour of South Africa was its August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church. As shown in prior posts,the township and church played central roles in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, and Soweto was the home for Nelson Mandela before his imprisonment and the site for at least two of his speeches to the nation. [1]

The importance of this concert was emphasized by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, the South African composer of the piece for orchestra and soprano that was performed at all of the South African concerts. He said, “We have a history where culture was used by the apartheid regime to prove its cultural superiority over Africans. So one of the most enlightened things about this tour is that the orchestra is doing a concert in Soweto, the heartland of the resistance against apartheid. For them to go there is huge. It’s going to be very emotional.”

The Concert

Now we look at the concert itself, the highlights being the choral music provided by 50 members of the Minnesota Chorale and 50 members of Johannesburg’s Gauteng Choristers, the latter a group of talented youth from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Below are photographs of the church and of the choirs that night.

 

 

 

 

The Orchestra opened with the South African national anthem, which was sung with full-throated enthusiasm by the audience of more than 1,000 people, most of whom were black and many lifelong Soweto residents and also included members of the South African Youth Orchestra who had rehearsed with the Minnesota Orchestra earlier in the week. The smaller number of U.S. attendees tried their best to match that joy with the U.S. national anthem.

First, the Orchestra played pieces from previous concerts on this tour—Sibelius’ En Saga and Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.

Especially significant for the largely black South African audience was the performance of  Ndodana-Breen’s Harmonia Ubuntu with lyrics from the writings of Nelson Mandela and the singing by South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye.

Then the Orchestra and the combined choirs of Gauteng Choristers and the Minnesota Chorale performed the Final Movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony). All of the soloists were South African: –Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo,tenor; and Njabulo Madiala, bass-baritone.

Afterwards. David Mennicke, a tenor section leader for the Minnesota Chorale, said this performance of the Ninth Symphony was especially moving. “To sing it in this context with brothers and sisters from halfway across the world—that feeling, that sentiment, that idea of all humanity becoming brothers and sisters—we are actually . . . becoming that.”

The concert ended with the following three South African pieces for chorus and orchestra:

  • Akhala Amaqhude Amabili by J.S. Mzilikazi Khumalo (orchestrated by Peter Louis Van Dijk) is a combination of two Zulu folk “wake-up” songs in which the Zulu cock-crow call (Kikilikigi) admonishes the people to get up and start the day, an important signal for people who had no time-pieces.
  • Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane (arranged by Sue Cook) celebrates nature as evidence of divine benevolence.
  • Usilethela uxolo (Nelson Mandela) by Stompi Mavi (arranged by Gobingca George Mxadana and orchestrated by Jaakko Kuusisto). The text celebrates Mandela’s release from prison, and this song remained a popular tribute to Mandela throughout his life.

The last of these brought the audience to its feet, singing, stepping, clapping and shouting “U-Mandela.”

Interjected in these three songs was one for chorus alone: Bavo Thixo Somandla by Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (arranged by J. S. Mzilikazi Khumalo). In the 1980s this song was adopted by protesters against apartheid. Eventually it became one of South Africa’s most popular and familiar protest songs.[2] It too had the audience singing, clapping and dancing.

After encores, including “Shosholosa,” the unofficial South African national anthem, Orchestra members left the stage while many of the singers cried and hugged one another and the bass singers in the two groups started stepping and singing. Violinist Susie Park with tears streaming on her cheeks said the experience reminded her of music’s pure power. “It’s bigger than ourselves and our perspectives. We have to share it with the world. And that’s what we did here.”

Overlooking the concert was the church’s             stained-glass image of Nelson Mandela.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota and South African Musicians’ Interactions

On the Friday morning of the concert four of the Orchestra’s musicians gave solo and chamber music performances for students at Missourilaan Secondary School. The Minnesotans then attended a special event for their home-based nonprofit Books For Africa, which is donating 40,000 books to this community, some 12,000 of which for this school. Judge LaJune Lange, Minnesota’s Honorary South African Consul, said, “We want to partner with Missourilaan and make it a place of excellence,”

At Regina Mundi, immediately before the concert, Minnesota Orchestra musicians, dressed in their concert black, wandered through the crowd. They chatted with the early arrivals, showing and explaining their instruments to young members of the audience, as their adult companions listened in too.

The principal interactions were those of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers. After all they had to sing together in languages that were unfamiliar to both groups (German in Beethoven’s symphony for the South Africans and African languages for the Minnesotans). That is why they started rehearsals on Monday for the Friday concert although the Minnesotans had sung the South African pieces at home in a July concert, Maya Tester, a Minnesota soprano, said that in South Africa their movements got looser, the dynamics bigger and the pronunciations more precise. There also was a generational difference: the South African singers were in their 20s and 30s while the Minnesotans were 20 to 30 years older.

Conclusion

This concert truly was an awe-inspiring highpoint of the Orchestra’s South African tour. I wish I had been there.

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto (Aug. 17, 2018); Minn. Orch., Soweto/Aug 17; South African composer celebrates ‘Mandela’s message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Minnesota Singers join voices with South African choir: ‘It’s Magic All the Way,’ StarTribune (Aug 17, 2018); Kerr, Soweto crowd rapturously responds to Minnesota Orchestra, MPRnews (Aug. 17, 2018); Singers from two nations didn’t want it to end, StarTribune (Aug. 19, 2018); Ross, Soweto concert is an ode to joy in many languages, StarTribune (Aug. 20, 2018); Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is a universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018).

[2] All of these four South African songs were performed by the Minnesota Orchestra in its July 20 concert at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.  (Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert, dwkcommentaries.com (July 29, 2018).