Tribute to Mandela 1918-2013

Mandela5 As the sun sets on our first national day of mourning here in South Africa, I pause to reflect on an extraordinary human being, Nelson Mandela.

Words fail to describe the man we know as Nelson Mandela. As a traditional healer, Sangoma in Mandela’s tribe, the Xhosa nation, I look to nature as a source of renewal and strength. Yesterday I witnessed a bird die in a strange and tragic way. I felt that something powerful was going to happen and true enough on waking this morning I was told of Mr Mandela’s passing.

Mandela’s life was characterized by struggle and harmonized by love. Even though he was old, we ‘South African’s’ could never truly believe that one day he would die. His life and message held us all together. He gave us hope, and made us believe that one person can make a difference. His message of equality, freedom and love between all people on the planet has become a symbol of ultimate goodness for all of us.

Sadly I never met Mr Mandela, however those friends of mine who did describe him as a man of incredible goodness, humour, strength and dignity. He was as he appeared to be on TV, a man who ‘walked his talk’ and demonstrated his beliefs through his everyday actions.

When he was released from prison in 1990 we were all spell bound by his oratory gifts and whenever he spoke on TV we would crowd around and listen to him avidly. He made us laugh, cry and believe in ourselves.  Mandela made us South Africans believe that we can love one another regardless of race, creed or ethnicity. That are future is bright and that we don’t have to live in fear of one another. He was funny and always surprised us when giving serious political talks. He would finish his talks with a human interest story of things that happened to him behind the political veil. We loved him all the more for this and we felt safe and secure in the future of South Africa.

In 1994 we held our first democratic elections. I was in South Korea at the time. I was invited to become a monk in a Zen Buddhist order by my grandmaster, Zen Master Seung Sahn Sunim. I declined, deciding to rather return to South Africa to follow my African calling and becoming an African monk, a Sangoma, traditional healer in the Xhosa nation. During South Africa it was illegal for a white person to walk around in the townships. These were strictly ‘black’ areas and unless you were in the army or police you had to have a special pass to walk in these areas. This made it near impossible for me to find my teacher and follow my calling to become a Sangoma. However after Nelson Mandela became president in 1994 everything changed, and the door to my work and life in townships around South Africa, swung open. I was greeted with warmth and love, like a lost son by my teacher Mum Ngwevu. When she asked me what took me so long to find her, I said, “Apartheid”. Her response was “Ah Thixo, enkosiam”. “Oh God, I’m so sorry!”. I feel a deep sense of gratitude towards Mr Mandela for making it possible for me to fulfil my destiny and calling to become a Xhosa Sangoma.

During the Apartheid years we were all imprisoned because we couldn’t express our human feelings for one another. No-one epitomized this more than Nelson Mandela. He came out of prison like a diamond from the roughest soil and taught us how to be human again without restrictions and fear. We will always honour his memory, and be forever blessed that he walked amongst us, and showed us how we can empower ourselves with dignity and grace. He set an example for us all to follow. Like many South Africans today I feel proud to have had him as my mentor, guiding me along the road of how to be a human being.

In Xhosa we say: Uthando lo thando, ubuntu olothando. ‘Love is love, humanity is love’.  It means that when we act with compassion from the deepest part of us, then we realise our humanity. Mandela was a fine example of a man who overcame huge obstacles and demonstrated ‘Ubuntu’ (humanity).

Hamba Kahle Tata Mkhulu ! Go well reverend Father.

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Written by:  John Lockley  6/12/2013