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Yvonne Chaka Chaka: “Post Mandela, it is crucial for Africans to believe that there is more black excellence”

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Yvonne Chaka Chaka: “Post Mandela, it is crucial for Africans to believe that there is more black excellence”

Soweto-born Yvonne Chaka Chaka is unarguably one of Africa’s best-known faces. The talented music legend and human rights activist is the founder of the Princess of Africa Foundation, and has served as an ambassador for numerous organisations, including Unicef and Rollback Malaria. She is a recipient of many awards including the World Economic Forum Crystal Award for her humanitarian work. She was interviewed by reGina Jane Jere

 

I count myself very lucky to have been born in Madiba’s lifetime. And even luckier and happier that my family and I were able to spend time with him on many occasions in my own household.

Madiba was a very special and amazing man. I remember the first time he came to visit me at my house – he was so humble, playing with my young children then and eating my home-cooked food. After dinner he said to me: “I called your phone three times this week. Why does your little boy always answer the phone? But anyway I am here now and I want to tell you that I have come to personally say thank you.” I said: “For what Tata? I should be the one thanking you.” He just smiled and started asking me about my, parents and where I went to school and so forth.

I remember asking him on this first visit – which was before he was President: “Are we now going take all the nice houses away from the white people?” And I still recall his exact answer: “Anger and hatred towards other people will never make you a better person.”

I protested that these were the people who put him in prison for 27 years for doing nothing wrong! I told him my own story of  racism under apartheid, narrating to him how I still had scars on my body from dog bites from the time my mother worked as a domestic for a white family. The white boys in the area she worked in would set dogs on us at any opportunity. Looking me straight in the eye, he said: “I know and I understand it will not be easy to forget such, but forgive you must.” That is the man that I remember and celebrate everyday. He was such a selfless human being.

I remember asking him on this first visit – which was before he was President: “Are we now going take all the nice houses away from the white people?” And I still recall his exact answer: “Anger and hatred towards other people will never make you a better person.”

But in celebrating him, we should also remember how Madiba always championed and talked about his liberation struggle comrades. When speaking of the struggle, he always said “we”, never “I”, referencing his colleagues – the Tambos, the Sisulus, the Govan Mbekis, the Miriam Makebas, and so forth.

That to me was the selfless and inclusive spirit that he embodied and should inspire us all. We should all be grateful to all of these men and women who fought for us, to give us the dignity and sense of being which we enjoy today.

Change starts with us

But of course things went wrong somewhere and we want things to change. When Madiba walked out of prison in 1990, South Africans wished for a better country for all, not just the few. We all wanted better services, proper health care, better schools for our children, no corruption, equality and an end to discrimination and racism.

But corruption has taken away the services that ordinary people need and deserve. That is not to say corruption takes place only in South Africa or Africa. It is all over the world, and Madiba’s dream as a pan-Africanist, was a better world for all – not just South Africa.

But it is also us as a people who have contributed to the failures we face today. Change starts with all of us. It is our onus to make the Madiba values a reality. We always have to self-examine and check where we are getting things wrong ourselves and how we are helping fix them.

But, of course, a better world will come with good leadership and accountability. However, my view is that different generations will always have different types of leaders. Madiba was one of those good leaders, and I for one will say, even if others differ with me, we were lucky to have had him as our first President because if we had had somebody else with different solutions to the political environment, I think the story of South Africa would have turned out differently.

I protested that these were the people who put him in prison for 27 years for doing nothing wrong! I told him my own story of  racism under apartheid, narrating to him how I still had scars on my body from dog bites from the time my mother worked as a domestic for a white family. The white boys in the area she worked in would set dogs on us at any opportunity. Looking me straight in the eye, he said: “I know and I understand it will not be easy to forget such, but forgive you must.” That is the man that I remember and celebrate everyday. 

I must be honest though and say that because of my personal experience with apartheid as a young child, I was angry at how things were turning out in the lead-up to Madiba’s release and soon after his release. I could hear myself say then, “Let us take up arms”. People talked of the Rainbow Nation, which is a good thing, but I found myself saying things like, “but there is no black in the rainbow”.

But as black people, we are so forgiving and Madiba propounded that – which in my view is both a good and a bad thing. A bad thing because sometimes forgiveness does not allow for healing. For example, here in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was praised as a good thing, but the TRC did not reach everybody and there are people who still have wounds to heal in this country, while the perpetrators have been forgiven.

I for one have stories to tell and so would my mum. In as much as I appreciate that Madiba preached forgiveness and reconciliation, I still have my wounds and my questions against the oppressors still remain unanswered. I still ask myself, why was I made to feel so inferior? Why did the colour of my skin make these people treat me so badly that they would set dogs upon me as a child? I still have the scars to remind me of that daily. And I don’t think I got the answers for this horrific apartheid treatment.

But over time, I have learnt to free myself, and I think that is one way that I have translated Madiba’s ethos into my own personal life. I won’t even discriminate against the people that caused me so much pain.

However, I was recently interviewed by a group of journalists and they told me that from speaking to people across the country especially the young people, many of them, feel Madiba ‘sold out’.

As someone who knew him at a close level, how do I explain that? Well you know what, the fact of life is that you cannot please everybody. Some people were happy when Madiba was released, some were not. But the good news is that he helped us to be where we are today.

Don’t take freedom for granted

All I can say to the South African youth we call the ‘Born Frees’, those who are born after 1990, is that they should never take the freedom that Madiba and his colleagues brought for granted. A lot people died to give them that. Others were in exile fighting for our freedom, and ended up not enjoying a free South Africa because they got killed – look at what happened to Chris Hani.

My message to these ‘Born Frees’ is that the playing field has been levelled for you. Now it’s your time to work as hard as possible, like anyone else in a free world. Life is no longer restricted, you do not have to carry passes and permits like some of us did growing up.

But of course there is still a lot to be done to meet the needs of our people. That is when the question of good leadership and governance kicks in. It take us to the type of leadership that we have had before and the one we currently have. Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership should not fail our people, again.

But at the same time, Africans should also stop thinking that solutions to our problems lie in white people’s hands. I get really upset when people say life was better under white minority rule, because all they know now is stealing and corruption in the government. This is a misplaced argument and notion.

Post-Mandela, it is crucial that our people believe that there is more ‘black excellence’ out there in Africa. Our children need to be directed to more heroes and heroines. Youths need to believe that they can be the future Mandelas and create their own legacies.

Post-Mandela, it is crucial that our people believe that there is more ‘black excellence’ out there in Africa. Our children need to be directed to more heroes and heroines. Youths need to believe that they can be the future Mandelas and create their own legacies.

Mandela was their catalyst but the youth can now move his ideals to a higher level, given the right conditions and amenities. Self-esteem therefore needs to be inculcated into our youth. They need to be unapologetically told to never ever have anybody convince them under any circumstances that they are not good enough. Mandela was born in a rural village and look what he became – all because he had self-belief. It is key to teach them that black is good.

I will tell you a story that Madiba told me one day. He said he was going on a visit to Ethiopia and as he embarked onto an Ethiopian Airline plane he saw these tall African men and he asked them: “Where is the pilot and they said, ‘We are the pilots, sir.’ ” And he told me that he turned to one of his colleagues and whispered; “they are black.”

That’s how far we have come. But things have changed; we now have so many top black role models and we should celebrate that and begin to believe in ourselves and our capabilities. Only then will we shape the Africa that we want and the Africa Madiba envisaged.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was praised as a good thing, but the TRC did not reach everybody and there are people who still have wounds to heal in this country, while the perpetrators have been forgiven.

As I celebrate him this special month, I remain humbled that I had the opportunity to interact with my Tata Madiba and other liberation leaders at a personal level. I will forever be grateful that he selflessly brought us a South Africa we can now all call home.

 

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Written by Regina Jane Jere

reGina Jane Jere is a Zambian-born London-based journalist and founding Editor of the New African Woman magazine the sister-publication of the New African magazine of which she was the Deputy Editor for over a decade. The mother of two juggles a wide-range of editorial and managerial duties, but she has particular passion on women’s health, education, rights and empowerment. She is also a former Zambian correspondent for Agence France Presse, and a former Africa Researcher at Index on Censorship. She writes extensively on a wide range of issues, from politics to women’s rights, media and free speech to beauty and fashion.

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