Goodbye Nadine Gordimer (November 12, 1923 – July 14, 2014)
I’m fairly certain that I learned of Gordimer through Mari. As usual, she was so right in her recommendations. Gordimer’s work was simply beautiful, her mastery of language enviable. In 1991, Gordimer wond the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was the first South African to win, and the first woman in 25 years to win. Gordimer was an outspoken opponent of apartheid, and as a result, three of her books were banned in her country. In 1991, Los Angeles Times correspondent Scott Kraft said of Gordimer that “this unassuming, strong-willed white woman has used her manual Hermes typewriter to give the world some of the most perceptive and uncompromising works of fiction ever written about her homeland, South Africa.” After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked to meet with Gordimer. Here is a link to Gordimer’s essay on Nelson Mandela, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2013.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the Nobel Laureate:
“I’m a candle flame that sways in currents of air you can’t see. You need to be the one who steadies me to burn.” (from The House Gun)
“At four in the afternoon the old moon bleeds radiance into the grey sky.” (from “My Father Leaves Home”)
“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” (from “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer”)
“Any writer of any worth at all hopes to play only a pocket-torch of light — and rarely, through genius, a sudden flambeau — into the bloody yet beautiful labyrinth of human experience, of being.” (from “Writing and Being,” Nobel Lecture, 1991)
“A desert is a place without expectation.” (from “Telling Times”)
“I never thought about the prize [Nobel] when I wrote. Writing is not a horse race.” (after learning that she had won in 1991)
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (1995)
July 18, 1918 to December 5, 2013
I have always been in awe of this great man. I remember the protests at the South African Embassy in 1984 when it became de rigueur to be arrested for protesting against apartheid. We were living in Northern Virginia at the time, so it was constantly on the local news. By the time the protests began, Nelson Mandela had been in prison for over 20 years, having been convicted in 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy and sabotage against the state of South Africa along with Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni. Mandela was released in 1990, after spending 27 years in prison.
In 1993 Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
But it was what happened in 1994 that really sticks with me: South Africa’s first free elections. The news reports and images were powerful, and they have stayed with me all these years.
It was not until April of 1994 that South Africa’s first all-race elections were held. Lines for the election stretched for more than a mile in some areas and with voters waiting up to 12 hours to cast their ballots in others. Though many feared violence would erupt, over the four day election period from April 26 to April 29, but peace remained in tact. More than 17 million black South Africans over the age of 18 voted for the first time during those four days (from Avoice)
I remember the historical first free election in South Africa in 1994, the articles about the long lines of people waiting hours and hours for the privilege of voting. The election lasted over four days because that’s how long it took to process everyone who wanted to vote.
“My parents never saw this day. My husband never saw this day,” regretted Mildred Motsuenane, a blind, arthritic mother of 10 children. The gray-haired woman was weeping in triumph after balloting in a church in the Soweto ghetto that was ringed and ringed again by a patient throng. Emerging into the sunlight, she could not see how elegantly the lines of voters laced the hillside sprawl of the dirt-road town.
For a long time, my bulletin board at work held a copy of a quote from one of the oldest individuals to vote in the election. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what the quote said or what happened to it; I just remember that it made me misty-eyed. I have tried to include some contextual articles below for those of you who do not remember those incredible days in 1994.
Over 17 million people voted; can you imagine that many people in our country voting? Standing in line for hours and hours, no shelter, no seating? I can’t see that happening here. Here are a few of the quotes from voters that I could find:
“I have waited all of my life for this day. No long queue is going to stop me.” ~ unknown voter
“I am so happy to have lived to see this day. It is the day Mandela is coming to us.” ~ Albert Madiwane, 108, voting for the first time in his life
“We’ve been waiting five hours, but other people have been waiting 40 years.”~ Thomas Lethiba, 24, a Soweto voter
“It’s finished, it’s finished, for the first time in 82 years. At the age of 82 I am free!” ~ Martha Motseli, voting for the first time in her life
“That was one of the things that worried me—to be raised to the position of a semi-god—because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed.”
In the U.S. we take for granted what other countries are willing to die for: basic human rights, democracy, free speech, clean drinking water, medical care, books . . . As a country, we choose to elevate our athletes and movie stars to positions of fame and fortune. We adore the moneyed, and we forgive their sins so easily (Wall Street, anyone?). We want our politics to be uncluttered and easy.
Nelson Mandela became a hero the hard way. He believed in an idea, and he worked tirelessly for that idea until the day he died. Mandela was the voice and face of freedom for so many. His death is a loss for peoples of all nations and creeds.
Recommended Reading (from me), specifically on Mandela:
One of the things that I really like about blogging communities is that when the blogs are flashing by on the screen, you can come across some real gems. In fact, that’s how I’ve met all of my regular correspondent with whom I check in daily. But there was one blog that stopped me in my tracks, literally. And I backtracked to the original post, which came from a blog called “Letting Go.”
The female speaker on this site has many entries about her recovering battle with alcoholism and her so far successful sobriety, as well as her travels. But the one particular post that caught my attention was called called “The Plague Years” ( http://louisey.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/the-plague-years/).
This post is incredibly stark in its depiction of the reality of AIDS in Africa, while at the same time being very moving in how the author shares with readers her own experiences amid all of this devastation.
Woke up this morning and thought about having to go to two funerals later today, both of them for young people who died of AIDS. It is not a certainty that the funerals will take place because the municipality still has to organise workers to dig the graves. The graveyard has overflowed the old fenced area and extended down the hillside, hot rocky ground that is not easy to dig. Every day of the week there are burials and it is mostly children who die because their little bodies are too malnourished to fight the opportunistic illnesses.
There are times when I feel this plague will never end. I have been going to funerals here and in Zimbabwe, in Kenya and Botswana and Mozambique since 1985, more than 20 years, and sometimes I feel I will keep watching these premature and unnecessary deaths until I myself am ready for the grave.
The society in which we live shapes us for better or for worse. The material conditions of our lives shape our values and sense of community and altruism, and limit or enlarge the possibilities open to us. Unrelieved poverty opens the door to plagues such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and AIDS. If we have no retrovirals because the government does not want to believe AIDS really exists, thousands are condemned to death. If we have no AA or Alanon because nobody will admit he or she is alcoholic or battling to live with an alcoholic spouse, the struggle to stay sober is that much harder. If it is taboo to speak about AIDS or alcoholism so that there is no education in schools or on the television or radio, the lethal ignorance continues unabated. The discourses around shame and secrecy are the hardest to tackle.
All around me on this bright lovely morning there are birds singing, church bells tolling, childrens’ voices on the playing fields across the road — and all I can hear is the deafening silence of a conspiracy to prevent anyone from speaking the truth. It is forbidden to speak about sexuality in Xhosa, especially if you are a woman. The churches outlaw the use of condoms. And the death rate keeps soaring.
Here are some facts just about one of the countries involved in this epidemic: Zimbabwe is the third largest HIV/AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an AIDS fact sheet distributed in 2005 by the Kaiser Foundation. That means that almost 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and at least 120,000 of them are children. Young women between the ages of 15 to 25 make up about 77 percent of the infected population, and the projected life expectancy for females ranges from 30 to 34.
In a January 2008 article The Boston Globe cited the following statistics:
An April report by WHO and two other UN agencies said only 6 percent of children in need of treatment were getting it.
The government reports that more than 2,200 Zimbabweans die every week of AIDS complications.
According to the World Health Organization, 321,000 people need antiretroviral medicines, or ARVs, and only 91,000 have access to them.
As If That Wasn’t Enough To Hurt Your Heart
Thanks to another blogger with whom I have recently begun to correspond, I am now obsessed with watching “West Wing” YouTube videos of memorable scenes. For example, from one of the earlier seasons, there is the episode called “Excelsis Deo” in which Toby is moved by the plight of a decorated homeless veteran who died wearing a coat that Toby had donated to charity. The coat still had Toby’s business card in it, so he was informed of the man’s death. The episode ends with the Dire Straits’ song “Brothers in Arms” playing in the background, the White House staff being serenaded to Christmas Carols by a children’s choir, and Toby in Arlington Cemetery with a full honor guard.
Okay. They could have stopped with just the full honor guard. That by itself is enough to give me goosebumps at anytime. Thank god they didn’t put me through the bugler’s “Taps.” I did have to make it through the folding of the flag and presentation on bended knee to the family member. Yes, I am crying openly by now. The link to this particular scene is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfOfUtkbiHQ.
But wait, I’m not finished. There’s Leo’s funeral. Enough said on that one. Or, there is the famous mood episode called “The Two Cathedrals Press Conference,” in which President Bartlett is asked if he is going to run again; that’s a classic for the staging alone. All of Bartlett’s team fall into line behind their President, and the scene is a shot of just the men from the thighs down.
But the single best scene from any episode of “West Wing,” the scene that embodies the best of Aaron Sorkin’s writing for his tenure on the show, the scene that I dare you to watch and not be moved by, comes from the epiode “20 Hours in America.” In it, President Bartlett delivers one of the best speeches to be heard ever—not just television speeches, not just pretend president speeches, but best speeches ever. The rhetoric in it burns.
Just a taste (but without the video, it’s like reading Obama’s speeches rather than hearing them):
“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”
(I don’t even want to think of how badly W. would have mangled this. How do you type visually shuddering?)
And I so want to put the link in here, but I don’t know if that would be stealing from Willpen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/) since she just ran the YouTube link on her site. So go to her site and watch the video there, and be sure to let her know that I sent you. It’s worth the hop and skip to see this. Trust me.
So, now that I have completely ruined your day and evening with truth and near truth, and the power of words to hold the human heart, let me close. There will be more later. Peace.