It was 1992. As an American college student I read Cry, the Beloved Country. New and exciting words like Afrikaner, Soweto and Sophiatown rolled around in my head. I loved the way they sounded, felt, and tasted in my imagination. It was the beginning of a certifiable geographical crush. This country captured my heart and continues its magnetic hold like a celebrity obsession. I still get choked up when I hear Shosholoza.
It was 1994, and the world waited with baited breath and tiresome expectation for the inevitable blood shed. People who live in complete oppression and indignity, finally free from their oppressors don’t go easily into that good night. They rage. It’s what we expected. It’s what we deserved. The beloved country, open wounds gaping while the world winces in judgement.
Silence. And then, more words came. Mandela. New South Africa. Arise. Forgiveness. Prisoner. President. Integrity. Humility. Compassion. There was no blood. There was instead, astonishment. Cynics and pundits gargled their malevolent, prescient warnings back into their throats. I admired this country from a distance; in wonderment of her spirit, her people.
If you would have told me in 1994 that in 2013, I would be living in South Africa, that I would be here in this land when the greatest of presidents would leave us, I never would have believed you. But this land welcomed us, gracious in her imperfections; welcoming in her spirit. We found redemption for our complacency. I walk the halls of the same prison that held Nelson Mandela and know, there is life still to be given in this country.
To be here, listening to friends retell the stories of the miraculous transition from Old South Africa to New South Africa, to be here, watching Black, White and Coloured kids swim together at the same beach, and to know, this ideal was one of many hard-fought battlegrounds.
To be here, at this time, in this country, with these people, with this legacy, is one of the most humbling privileges of my life. I stand here with you, and without a doubt South Africa, you have earned the right to Cry, the Beloved Country.
And this time, the world weeps with you. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
*photo: Marc Alexander Art-find him on facebook. He’s incredible.