tribute mfundi vundla

A LETTER TO A FICTIONAL FRIEND

Chommie

When one is called upon to consider Mandela, truth is all one needs.

You see, chommie, as I write this epistle I'm working myself into a spiritual state. What others call flow. I am doing this in order to relate my treasured moments, my Mandela special moments to you.

I am trying to enter the unconscious to make my way to truth. A difficult task, chommie. When you consider Mandela you have to wade through myth, false adulation, crass commercialism nurtured by the constant deification of Mandela.

Bear with me, chommie, as I belabour the point.

My approach re Mandela ... my crabwalk towards the Tembu prince ... comes out of my recollection of the world occupied by those who refused to be their niggers, their kaffirs. Robert Resha, Ida Mtwana, the second president of the ANC Women's League, the Transvaal chairman of the ANC, Elias Moretsele, JB Marks and others forgotten during the annual Union Buildings handouts of Baobabs, the Friends of Oliver Tambo and other orders.

It was one of those sunny winter afternoons on the Highveld, chommie. Mandela drove up in his Oldsmobile to 1650 Mfeka Street, Western Native Township. Wearing an overcoat, he entered a humble three-room brick house, which 10 of my siblings and I called home.

Soon his comrades arrived. Robert Resha, Ida Mtwana and Elias Moretsele. Maybe it was an ANC national executive committee meeting. I am not sure. It certainly was not a central committee meeting of the Communist Party because I did not see JB Marks. Perhaps JB was at a central committee meeting haranguing his comrades.

They talked into the night and we, the children of 1650 Mfeka Street, sleeping on the floor, eavesdropped on revolutionary talk. Something of the order of how to resist the ethnic cleansing of Sophiatown. What was to be done to those who wanted to make them and us their kaffirs.

Chommie, the next morning Mandela was up and raring to go. His Oldsmobile wouldn't start because the morning frost affected the car's ignition capability. My father, PQ, ordered us to push the car. I remember watching the Tembu prince pulling the choke while his foot danced on the clutch. We pushed and pushed and voila, the car started and off he went ... to the front... to the zone ... to the truth ... to fighting those who wanted us to be their niggers.

That was the winter of 1952. That's the last time I saw him chommie.

The next time I saw him was four decades later. In 1992, I saw him stepping out of a US military aircraft at Los Angeles Airport. I was in the welcoming party, chommie. I told him who I was and he penetrated me with a look, smiled and moved on.

It's a long ride, chommie, from 1952 to 1992.

Closing the gap, reaching out to the new Mandela was something I realised I had to learn. I confess I also looked at him with my Hollywood eyes. You see, chommie, I was in 1992. one of those writers who worked in the sweatshops of Hollywood searching for the next great story, the next great Oscar-winning movie. I realised I wanted to cage Mandela. He was mine. I pushed his Oldsmobile when I was a six-year-old so that he could go and make revolution and fight those who wanted us to be their kaffirs.

I got hot under the collar when I watched Mayor Bradley, ex-cop, shoot-first-questions-later-cop, kissing Mandela's feet. Jealous. You be the judge, chommie. People were taking my Mandela from me.

I want to do the crabwalk, tapdance like Sammy Davis jnr, Usher or the new king of pop, Chris Brown. I am making my way to the Tembu prince. The year is 1997. Three years into our democracy. An excited Friedrich Stark, my boereseun chommie who produces "Generations" with me, runs into my office. He is almost out of breath, the result of nicotine poisoning.

Nelson Mandela wants to see us, the producers and cast of "Generations". I dismiss him. Why would Mandela want to hang with soap stars and soapie producers? Surely he has better things to do. I advise him to check the veracity of the invitation.

It was true, chommie. Mandela was extending an invitation to lunch with him at his residence in Pretoria. Was I wrong, chommie? Was Mandela, in extending a hand of friendship to me and my cultural collaborators, my posse that kept South Africans off the streets at 8pm Monday to Friday, allaying my fears that Hollywood had stolen him from us?

Parks Mankahlana welcomed us and in a minute the greatest statesman of the 20th century walked in. I don't know whether you've met Mandela, chommie. When you see him up close you want to cry with joy because you are looking at truth.

He told us we were nation builders. He said our role in getting this divided society talking and laughing together was important. He mentioned Francois Pienaar, Amanda Coetzer and Hugh Masekela. Placed us in the same league as them, chommie.

In a moment of joy, Sedwyn Joel pulled out an acoustic guitar and started singing. Soon everyone, Sophie Ndaba, Connie Masilo, S'thandiwe Msomi and Florence Masebe, joined in. The lunch was turning into a wonderful shindig and Mandela was chilling. We were in that spiritual zone of truth. What others call flow. Lounging with the Tembu prince, The greatest statesman of the 20th century.