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Abena Busia, Ghanaian writer and activist currently teaching at Rutgers University in the United States, wrote this poem in 1990 in the immediate wake of Nelson Mandela's release from prison but it has never been published previously. She read it movingly at a public gathering in Johannesburg in July of this year and at that time graciously agreed to SAR's presenting it in our pages. (jbv)

vol 13 no 1

Testament for the first accused: Nelson Mandela for the twenty-seven years
Abena Busia


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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 13 No 1, November 1997
Page 16
"Poem"

TESTAMENT FOR THE FIRST ACCUSED:
NELSON MANDELA FOR THE TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS

BY ABENA BUSIA

Abena Busia, Ghanaian writer and activist currently teaching at Rutgers University in the United States, wrote this poem in 1990 in the immediate wake of Nelson Mandela's release from prison but it has never been published previously. She read it movingly at a public gathering in Johannesburg in July of this year and at that time graciously agreed to SAR's presenting it in our pages.

I know Patrice Lumumba had been sometime dead,
and Sylvanus Olympio only just,
though I'm not sure why,
As I try to re-connect myself with my child's mind,
and the memories of events that jumble there-
A knowledge of our distant world, pieced together,
through overheard conversations
and voices on the radio.

In 1962 the world was a very different place:

I didn't know where Montgomery was,
but I'd learnt the meaning of boycott.
Didn't understand Mau Mau,
except it taught the impact of lies,
and what all freedoms cost.
I remember your name, and vague talk of a trial,
and treason being a serious thing;
Sisulu and Mbeki, Goldberg and Mahlaba,
Kathrada, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni, at Rivonia.
These names I have learnt through the years,
but at the time, what I recall for sure,
Is Abebe Bikila's second Olympic Gold,
And Cassius Clay proving he was the greatest,
By the time you made your statement,
And disappeared.

We have not seen you since.

I didn't mark your fiftieth birthday,
but in Ghana J.B. Danquah was already dead,
and we had lived through coups
and countercoups already,
at the start of a second republic.
While Baldwin warned of The Fire Next Time,
the White Rhodesians declared UDI,
and the Zimbabweans braced for war.
But we were killing our brothers already in Biafra,
while the whole world watched,
and a young Christopher Okigbo reminded us
that even the poets were dying.
And you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Though James Brown danced us off the streets,
And "Soul came to Soul" in Ghana,
No one remembered Paul Robeson, and
Mahalia Jackson sung her last.
Singing "We Shall Overcome",
Through frustrated Freedom summers we left
Mississippi, Watts, and Newark burning-
And Medgar, Malcolm and Martin dead. All dead.
And you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

In an angry and lonely world,
we marked the passage of your tenth year
reading Letters to Martha, and Soledad Brother.
All "Souls were on Ice"
As Arthur Nortje killed himself in an Oxford room,
and an exiled Kabaka died.
We freed Angela Davis, but, on your desolate island,
You were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Your sixtieth birthday reminded us
"This struggle was your life".
But by then, your life had become our struggle
as we buried Hector Petersen,
and a hundred slaughtered children
on the scorched streets of Soweto.
With a jailed Thandi Modisi
We "Cried Freedom" for a murdered Steven Biko,
People young enough to be your children,
And children younger than your children, dead,
So many of them dead.
Yet you at least were still alive,
But you were still not free.

We shouted Frelimo and another empire fell,
Antonio Jacinto "Survived Tarrafal",
But Augustinho Neto was dead.
Eduardo Mondlane had been many years murdered,
And we have since mourned the wreckage
of Samora Machel
On the South African side of Mozambique's mountains,
And you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

By your twentieth year,
Anwar Sadat had sued for peace in the Knesset,
And had been later killed for his pains.
And Haille Sellassie the Lion of Judah, had disappeared
Leaving no memorial, except a three thousand year
Imperial kingdom, now decades at war.
And in Eritrea, Tigre, the Sudan, the Spanish Sahara,
The "Harvest of our Dreams" "Reaped a Whirlwind"
of nightmares
And we searched for Jannani Luwum
amongst Kampla's martyred.
Marley, who sang for Manley and Mugabe,
was so young dead
But you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

The decades bring the deaths of leaders,
the power and the myth that was Nkrumah
lie broken, like his shattered statue
On the Accra streets.
And in the same week that Jomo Kenyatta
"Faced his sacred Mount Kenya" for the final time,
Kofi Busia's "Challenge to Africa"
in Search of Democracy

Ended. All your peers dead.
But you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

Yet, on a continent being "liberated" "redeemed",
"revolutionised",
Proclaiming "Uhuru", the people were marching.
Twenty-five years after Sharpeville, we march-
Ten years after Soweto, we march.
And when they killed mothers and babies
On their march through Mamelodi,
Still, with them, we march,
For you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

By the time we reached your seventieth birthday,
Another generation of children
Had learned to call your name.
We carry old images of your face, in our hearts,
And on the T-shirts on our backs,
As an icon of a new morning.
The Tembu warrior prince, the lawyer-activist,
The prisoner.
Around the world we marched in our millions,
Demanding your return into this troubled world,
So sadly bereft of heroes,
For you were still alive,
And you were still not free.

You disappeared from our view,
in a world which had taken no small step on the moon
for man;
no Apollos, no Challengers, no Salyuts.
No photographs of the furthest planets,
no walks in space.
The small steps taken on earth for mankind
had included
No Flower Power Love concerts in Woodstock,
No One Love Peace concerts in Kingston, Jamaica
No Art Against Apartheid freedom concerts in Sun City,
No Bands in Aid proclaiming "We are the World".
That world had known no "Cultural Revolution" in China,
No drafted U.S. troops in Vietnam,
No "Killing Fields" in Cambodia.
No vanished Prisoner Without a Name
in a Cell Without a Number, mourned by the
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo- And through this all
You were still alive,
And you were still not free.

And now it is the Lord's Day,
the eleventh of February 1990,
And it is five a.m. in Los Angeles, California,
It is eight a.m. in New York and Kingston Jamaica,
It is one p.m. in Stockholm, London, and Accra Ghana,
And half the marching world has paused-
To keep vigil,
For it is three p.m. in Cape Town, South Africa,
And we wait to see your face.
After twenty-seven years of fighting, marching
and singing
We keep a ninety-minute watch;
To see you take these next few steps
On this, your No Easy Walk
To our uncertain Freedom;
To witness your release into this changing world,
Unceasingly, the same.
For you are still alive,
But we are still not free.
Amandla Mandela,
A Luta Continua.

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