Tag Archives: Cape Town

Dancing with Speeches #21 Nelson Mandela

In 1994 Nelson Mandela stood in front of his nation in Cape Town and delivered his first speech as President of the Republic of South Africa. From this platform he looked over Table Bay and could see Robben Island where he had been imprisoned and he talked about democracy founded on the majority principle.

We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.

Rising up to rise others up along the way, to unify a nation divide, to set prisoners free, to invest in democracy as the primary tool of liberation from division and hatred is noble. It is a quest that starts with resistance, that experiences repression, violence, imprisonment, often creating with martyrs sacrificed along the way leads to building a movement that has a life of its own.  Finding a way home to justice and equity where those previously disenfranchised are restored, made whole and opportunities appear not as a privilege but a right, requires a collective consciousness but more importantly a collective compassion to transcend old wounds to bring spectacular healing powers to policy and programs, to hearts and minds.

As South Africa transitioned to democracy, unfurled a new flag they embedded an old song ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika‘ into the national anthem. It was composed in 1897 as a hymn with lyrics from the five most widely spoken of South Africa‘s eleven official languages – Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza), and English (final stanza).  The hymn, a promise, a prayer  is a call to action, a call to be blessed.  The blessing: to be saved from war and suffering, and to hear the crags echoing the landscape. Surely these are the blessings that come when we turn our attention to the highest forms of democracy? How do we hear from the crags, those rugged outcrops among the cliffs? The wail of the wind, the natural power of the flowers pushing through to bloom, the migratory birds nesting from predators, are these not the blessings from the refuges created by the crags?  Or are they places of exile, holding the freedom fighters till they can come down to the plain?  The land and the sea are both blessing and blessed.

Constructing an order where justice is the foundation was the challenge of South Africa and having their first democratic elections in 1994 to elect Mandela was hard fought and looking out over Robben Island on his inauguration day was great staging. There is always imprisonment before liberation, captives need to be set free.  Being locked up internally before the blessed release of forgiveness is true for us as individuals as it is for a nation.

As my country prepares for another national election, our own Robben Island where we detain those seeking freedom from persecution is invisible from our coastline. Manus and Nauru are a long way off our shores.  The freedom fighters of South Africa looked to their own people for a solution and found a political one through the African National Congress and a world wide wave of disapproval to apartheid that eventually brought democracy.  The clumsy efforts of our world to bring democracy to war torn lands creating a refugee movement unprecedented for more than two generations means people are finding their way to far flung places like Australia and yet we are not fully embracing that offering asylum could be part of our contribution to bring democracy too. Who knows ?  We may well be incubating a future Nelson Mandela for Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka from in the safety of our land.

The journey to freedom Mandela took throughout his life, is not so different to those who seek asylum. Refugees are exiles and the anguish they have being estranged from their homeland, the fear of being returned, the lack of protection offered. He too was exiled, estranged and hidden from view. I will leave it to one of South Africa’s poet laureate’s to remind us to make a bonfire to the maps that no longer serve us and to give dignity to each person.  Without dignity the citizen experience cannot emerge and democracy is compromised.

If destroying all the maps known
would erase all the boundaries
from the face of this earth
I would say let us
make a bonfire
to reclaim and sing
the human person

Refugee is an ominous load
even for a child to carry
for some children
words like home
could not carry any possible meaning
but
displaced
border
refugee
must carry dimensions of brutality and terror
past the most hideous nightmare
anyone could experience or imagine

Empty their young eyes
deprived of a vision of any future
they should have been entitled to
since they did not choose to be born
where and when they were
Empty their young bellies
extended and rounded by malnutrition
and growling like the well-fed dogs of some
with pretensions to concerns about human rights
violations

Can you see them now
stumble from nowhere
to no
where
between
nothing
and
nothing

Consider
the premature daily death of their young dreams
what staggering memories frighten and abort
the hope that should have been
an indelible inscription in their young eyes

Perhaps
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say:
to have a home is not a favour.

Sanctuary of the Labyrinth

I’ve walked the labyrinth: in San Francisco in Grace Cathedral, in Toronto next to Trinity church that supports the city homeless, behind St George‘s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town, in Alice Springs at Campfire in the Heart and in McLaren Vale along the shiraz walking trail of the old railway line.

Each time I’ve walked the labyrinth I have been visited by new thoughts, I’ve been comforted and had some revelation. The very act of walking in and out, tracing and retracing my own steps, strengthens my narrative.

I’ve walked the labyrinth many ways: on my own, with the love of my life and with a group. I’ve walked with a specific intention, meditation or song. I’ve found that the deeper the intention for the walk, the deeper the experience.

I recently learnt of a virus of the inner ear that causes an illness called labyrinthitis – it is not very pleasant causing dizziness and disorientation. I have been reflecting on this affliction and noticing when it flares up. It seems to take hold when there is a need for re-calibration and balance. The condition making sure that its host knows that recalibration and rebalance is required! Walking the labyrinth is similar in a way. Perhaps if you need to recalibrate and find your balance this walking meditation you might be saved from physical symptoms.

Hildegard I know you spent a lot of time in your life not well and I wonder if this ever had to do with your needing to re-charge, straighten up after being dizzy or unsettled by one phenomena or another?

The labyrinth is not a maze, it is one single path that leads to the centre and the same one leading you out. Going in deep and faithfully taking one step at a time is surely the only way into the centre, and once there to find your way out requires a good deal of fidelity and courage. Being true to your path is the universal quest. The ritual walking of the labyrinth reflects the common path of human experience. We all enter the path, and we all exit the path.

And in the places I have walked a physical labyrinth I add my steps to those who have gone before and have left my footprints for those who follow.

Grace Cathedral nurtured the first wave of AIDS in San Francisco and held so many of the gay community to its bosom. The quilts, the prayers, the poems and the sanctuary it was and continues to be is an ongoing testament to the fidelity of San Francisco to its gay community.

Toronto’s Trinity Church has a strong and fine history of being a place for the homeless to feel safe, find a meal and receive friendship, a sanctuary, especially in the winter time.

Cape Town Cathedral hosted so many moments of civil disobedience, solidarity and prophetic witness by black and white throughout the apartheid years. It welcomed everyone and in doing so putting all of the congregation at risk – it was a sanctuary on more than one occasion for those fleeing arrest, bullets and persecution. It grew its own prophets led by Desmond Tutu.

Campfire in the Heart is a sanctuary on the edge of a township riddled with racism and flooded with ancient stories holding the fragile land and communities together. It stands as witness, and is invitation to all, with warmth, wise counsel and deep compassion in the pores of those who are there and in each grain of the red sand on which it lies.

The old train track at McLaren Vale is surrounded by houses on one side and vineyards on the other, nestled in the valley behind the main part of the township the labyrinth is a quiet, still place where the wattle birds, magpies, honeyeaters, galahs and parrots sing to all those who walk the path there. The old red gums hold the stories of the land and provide the sanctuary to support the pilgrim.

I keep going, on my labyrinth way, and as I head into the half way mark, between fifty and sixty, I accept that I have now turned from the centre and am  heading out. Gathering up the lessons I have learnt on the way in, savouring the moments, reflecting on where I have trod, noticing with new eyes what I didn’t see on the way in and gratefully stepping forward.

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