Mandela Dug Women

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

MOSS-CAMPBELL-FARROWBack in the late 1980s, a girlfriend of mine in South Africa was commissioned by a newspaper to make a painting of Mandela. He was anticipated to leave prison soonish, and since no image of him was allowed to be shown anywhere, nobody had any idea what he looked like after 27 years in prison (it was a tip from the CIA to the South African Security Police that landed the “Black Pimpernel” in jail). So my friend made the painting, it was printed, and she wasn't far off.

And then she met him at some do, and was introduced as the painter.

She told me that her first impression of him was that he was very, very sexy. In fact, he came on to her as a man, and she confessed that if he had merely crooked his little finger at her, she would have followed him anywhere and let him have his way with her.

An old biddy, a friend of my father, a racist, confessed that if there was one black man who could put his shoes under her bed, it was Nelson Mandela.

When Mandela was young, he liked to swan around in suits and long silk scarves.

Mandela was a ladies man.

He met the queen of England once, after not having seen her awhile, and wrapped her up in a bear hug, and said “Ah, Elizabeth! You are as beautiful as ever. How do you manage to keep so young?” and while all the courtiers were beside themselves with embarrassment at god-knows-how-many protocols of etiquette were being trounced, she blushed, giggled and said helplessly: “Nelson!”

It was with this same charm — a sense of mischief, warm humor, and unfailing grace and politesse — that Mandela wooed his jailers and the politicians with whom he negotiated his freedom while he was still in prison.

Here is what happened, since no one is telling the story now, and it's not often told anyhow.

You may recall that on June 16th, 1976 the black youth of Soweto marched against a Department of Education edict that said half their subjects would be taught in Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor.

On that day in 1976, I was working on the top floor of the tallest building in Johannesburg, and we saw the smoke rising from Soweto. In the chaos, the authorities didn't clamp down on black newspapers with their usual alacrity, so we read enough to realize it was a major police riot that started because the trigger-happy white cops had opened fire on kids marching peacefully — and not a case of black people going Neanderthal apeshit as the official media told us. (In America, Fox News is pretty much EXACTLY like the official media of apartheid. Growing up in a fascist country makes it fairly easy to spot those tendencies elsewhere. The first time I heard Ronald Reagan speak, my racist-fascist detector went on automatic red alert, and that was before Reagan called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. The biggest difference between President Reagan and any South African apartheid President is that Reagan had more hair.)

On June 16th, somewhere between 600 to 3,000 school kids were shot dead by South Africa's Security Police. The country was stunned. Protests broke out everywhere. The time had come for change. We all waited for President John Vorster, an old pal of my Dad's, to come up with some big announcement about some compromise, some lessening of the weight of the state on black necks. But when Vorster spoke, this is what he said:

“This is a storm in a teacup.”

That's when I decided to get the hell out of Hell. (Today I feel a little flicker of the same perplexed fury about Obama's coddling of Goldman Sachs, Big Oil, Big Pharma and the like.)

Vorster shrugged off the greatest event in the history of South Africa, but there was a massive metamorphosis in the psyches of the black kids. Unlike most of their parents, they refused to succumb humbly to oppression. They did not fear the Man. They did not fear the guns of the Security Police. They were too young to make any compromises with life. Or death. They walked right up to the armored vehicles of the oppressors, Molotov cocktails in hand. It was a revolt of the fearless Twenty-Somethings and the Teens and the Tweens and the Toddlers. The never-ending intifada of South Africa's black youth had begun.

Meanwhile, as the revolt of the youth continued, and incarcerated youngsters joined Mandela on Robben Island at “Mandela University,” Winnie Mandela was being persecuted by the authorities in Soweto, and stirring so much shit, the government banned her in 1977 to the little town of Brandfort in the Free State.

This was before Winnie did things so bad, the people of the neighborhood tried to burn her house down. This was before her involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Stompie Moeketsi by her bodyguards, the Mandela United Football Club. Stompie was an activist; detained without trial at the age of 12, he'd been South Africa's youngest political prisoner. The man who slit Stompie's throat, Jerry Richardson, said Winnie ordered him to kidnap Stompie and three other boys. The boys were accused of being police informers, and beaten. In 1991 Winnie was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault, and sentenced to six years in jail; on appeal it was reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence. In her appearance at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with Stompie's mother present, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a friend of the Mandela family, appealed to Winnie to speak the truth, but she remained defiant and called her accusers all sorts of names. No doubt being persecuted all her adult life had been traumatic, but it's clear this exemplary symbol of defiance went rotten, and that her moral compass spun right off true north; she has never shown the slightest remorse, because she obviously doesn't feel the need to. The defiance that sustained her against the apartheid authorities, now makes her refuse to admit to any culpability in a brutal murder.

In 1994 Nelson Mandela was granted a divorce from Winnie. He had wanted a quiet divorce, but she made a big fuss, so he was forced to reveal their dirty washing. He told the court that he'd been “the loneliest man” after he came out of jail, because she never entered his bedroom while he was awake. She was having an affair with a younger colleague, Dali Mpofu. Mandela said that having a marriage in name only was “embarrassing” and that Winnie “takes opportunities at public functions to show affection for him,” which he found distasteful.

OK, let's get back to the good old bad old days, when Winnie was a worldwide symbol of defiance against apartheid.

In the Brandfort ghetto, there was no phone, so Winnie would brazenly march to a pay phone in the white town and use it. Soon she was charged with breaking her banning orders. By law she needed an attorney to represent her in court, and it so happened that the only attorney in town who could do that, an Afrikaner, used to be the college roommate of a guy who had gone to the big city and become the Minister of Justice or something. So the attorney called his friend and asked if he'd get into trouble representing this well-known shit-stirrer Winnie Mandela, who had already organized the local ghetto into a hotbed of uppityness. His friend said it's totally OK, so this Afrikaner attorney met with Winnie as her attorney. She would come to his house to discuss her case and while there, she became bosom buddies with his Afrikaner wife, trading recipes and knitting tips and jokes. So he calls his pal in the big city and says, listen, maybe you guys should talk to Nelson Mandela, these people are reasonable people we can make a deal with, and besides, Winnie Mandela is great to hang out with.

So a little later it happens that Mandela is sent from jail to a hospital because of some ailment, and the friend of Winnie's attorney and some other Afrikaner Cabinet members say, hey, it would have been beneath our dignity to visit Mandela in jail, but now we can go and see him in the hospital. So they arrive there and a smiling Mandela gets up from his hospital bed and graciously introduces them to the staff of the hospital, seeing as he had everyone eating out of his hand within minutes of arriving, and the Afrikaner big wigs walk out of their session with Mandela basically liquified: they're stepping on air, their pants charmed right off their thick Boer legs, their closed Afrikaner minds now spinning wildly from the Mandela reality distortion field. Soon they're taking him on secret trips out of jail, and then they release him and unban the ANC. That's essentially how South Africa's black and white holocausts were expiated, and democracy came to South Africa without a massive bloodbath, all through the charm and forgiving spirit of one of the greatest men who ever lived.

BeyonceAnd now of course I'm tearing up, because a miracle is a miracle, and this one man did it, with an unknowing assist from his then wife. (If only America and Davos Man and Wall Street and Obama could absorb one iota of a spittle of a splat from this man's spirit.)

My brother, who lived through the whole thing, and lost four friends to Security Police bullets, told me he saw Mandela only once look like he was about to lose his temper. It was when, during the negotiations, the white President De Klerk insisted that the ANC renounce violence and give up their arms. Barely containing his anger, Mandela pointed out that De Klerk's people, who had murdered black people for decades, were hardly in a position to tell anyone else to renounce violence. De Klerk shut the fuck up about renouncing violence after that.

So that's my Mandela story. Here's a poem I wrote about him.


so this is why I've been

in New York all this time

to stand at the UN

and vote for a man

Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela

his life cut by twenty-seven and a half years

yet he said, I'm not bitter

I'm not bitter?

up here in the north

we sure could learn from his south

here the smaller the brain

the bigger the mouth

you liked New York, Nelson

but I have to warn you

we poopscoop our dogshit

and giftwrap our bullshit

we're all prisoners in a dark sitcom

some talk revolution

but the closest they get

is to call Doctor King

an Uncle Tom

praise-sing Rolihlahla

Nelson Mandela

your mother Nosekeni

your eldest son Thembi

they too went underground


unable to go their funeral

where did you go?

the last walk to hell

a deep descent

but you came back

your back unbent

you knew a nation

marched from Lagos to London

Beijing to Boston

Moscow to Cuba

Makgatho, Maziwe

Zenani and Zindziwe

how proud for them yeah

that you were their tata

my father was proud

when you went to jail

he, a ten-foot crackpipe

I couldn't inhale

his idea of father

came straight from hell

he touched me only

to beat the shit out of me

and when he finished

he beat the shit as well

all those years I made up

two fathers for me

the one I could smell

whiskey-fart near

the other one gone

island-bound, gagged

Nelson, he ain't here

I liked having one father who was missing

he made up for the one

who was too much there

but far from my fatherland

on the isle of Manhattan

where the hype high-fives

to maroela-tree size

you get to spot self-deception

it wears a funny green hat

check it out

the cold smile of fact

Nelson, I can never dig my tata

the way I love you

but marooned in my whiteness

how long? very long

in my self-imposed exile

I know one thing that's true

the father who is my father

is my father

and the father who is not

is not

is you

amandla! – power

awethu! – is ours

the price of freedom has been paid

in blood, in pain, in tears, in rage

hey, dad, I count the scars

you wrote on me

I price the resentment

I kept forever on simmer

I total up the rage

I ate each New York night for dinner

but now today

as I make my cross

with Rolihlahla I say

sweet freedom at last

I'm not bitter

Winnie & gracaSome countries are lucky in their leaders, and some are unlucky. When 9/11 happened, America was unlucky enough to have Bush/Cheney as its leaders. Satan himself could not have thought up a more amoral and shit-scared crew of hapless boobs. When South Africa needed someone to lead us out of apartheid, we were lucky enough to have Nelson Mandela.

Mandela once described himself, after he had been president of South Africa, as “an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record.” He also said that resentment is like taking poison and thinking it will kill your enemies.

Will there ever be a great man again, like Churchill, FDR, Gandhi, MLK, or Mandela? Great men happen because of great challenges. So yes, there will be great men again, because of three great challenges facing the human race: the oppression of women (if Malala goes into politics, she could be a great woman); the growing worldwide inequality between the rich and everyone else; and the man-made destruction of our planet's ecosystem. These problems may throw up great men again, as well as great women.

Let's hope they do, because we can't seem to achieve great things without them.