Mandela at 91

By VONANI BILA

Old, frail & with an unsteady gait
charlatans drag you to an election rally
somewhere in a stadium in port elizabeth
somewhere in a stadium in johannesburg

Madiba, you raise a clenched fist
steadfastly urge the nation not to throw in the towel yet
on the bruised & battered movement in the ring
the maddening crowds yell in delight
you shout Amandla with a royal sparkle
but the heart sings a melancholy song
the crowds roar Ngawethu
Madiba magic delivers an election victory on a platter
but will Msholozi the new captain at the union buildings
find the trail through the labyrinth of woods, the road of darkness . . . ?
will he mend the cracks & holes of the house that promised us warmth
but burn us up in the fires of greed . . . ?
fifteen years into democracy, we remain the most
unequal, lopsided country in the world

* * *

But what kind of comrades
haul their beloved wobbly Tata
to the bloodthirsty crowd
just to garner the votes
when Tata should be soaking his body
in a bath of salts
a cool breeze?
What is left of a liberation party
when the fog has clouded its vision
when leaders bask in the glory old struggle days
the glowing legacy of diminishing stalwarts
Mandela, Tambo & Sisulu
yet the masses burn in rdp shacks
& die of AIDS?
What is left of a people’s liberation movement
when brandy-drunk comrades can’t even do a toyi-toyi anymore
because their stylish crocodile-skin shoes might shed the skin?

* * *

Oh, Baba Rolihlahla Mandela
your hands quiver as you cast your vote
greed burrows at the heart of ubuntu & solidarity
your children refuse to see your wrinkled face & grey hair
perhaps you are still a young lion at heart
they drag you to mend the mess of a fractured party—
a punctured tyre
a leaking bucket
is that love, Comrade Mandela?

 

Vonani Bila is founder and editor of the poetry journal Timbila and directs the Timbila Poetry Project in Limpopo Province.

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Mandela at 91

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