at the mandela memorial

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014


On the night I learned of Nelson Mandela’s death, I was in Stouffville’s Barnside Studios, recording the final vocals for the soundtrack CD of “Selah’s Song” – an original folk musical with themes that resonate deeply with Mandela’s story. It was an emotional experience for me to sing these lyrics to the show’s “title track” that night:

‘cause the drumbeat of war that we hear all around

is a sound so afraid and alone

There’s another drummer drumming somewhere

With a rhythm that’s calling us home…

Won’t you sing, sing, sing with me?

Won’t you sing a song of peace?

Two days later, we were on a plane, headed to South Africa for a long anticipated trip to visit family. And three days after that we were at FNB Stadium in Soweto  along with tens of thousands of others for the official Mandela memorial.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a rainy Johannesburg morning, and as we made our way toward the stadium over three hours before the scheduled “start” of the event, we could already hear the people singing from half a kilometer away. We watched group after group arrive – many of them singing and dancing. “Struggle songs” from the apartheid era, and the oft-repeated refrain “Mandela, you’re my President!”

“Siyabonga, Mandela” – “We are grateful, Mandela.” These too were words that were sung, and spoken, and sung again. What a moving experience, to be in the midst of this grateful, grieving, boisterous crowd, knowing that anyone over 20 years old had experienced firsthand both the brutal reality of apartheid and the difficult and costly transition to democracy. Now all were challenged and inspired yet again by this freedom fighter who emerged after 27 years in prison, determined not to seek revenge but to lead his nation in seeking real healing and reconciliation.

Immediately upon our return to Stouffville, I was plunged headlong into dress rehearsals and then an intense weekend of 4 performances of “Selah’s Song” at 19-On-The-Park. As we shared the laughter and tears of Selah’s story, with its reflections on the power of song and ringing call to peacemaking, I couldn’t help but hear the South African songs of struggle and hope ringing in my ears as well.

“There’s another drummer drumming somewhere with a rhythm that’s calling us home…”

“Siyabonga, Mandela.” Thank you, Mandela, indeed.


(this piece was written for publication as a column in our local community newspaper).


(In the background of the above picture, you can see a couple of journalists from an Afrikaaner newspaper interviewing Karen and Andrew, my brother and sister-in-law. That article and photos were published here. Karen and Andrew have written articles on this experience here and here.)

(The man standing at the top of the picture is Mzwandile… there is an inspiring article about him here.)