Nelson Mandela on Day After ReleaseNews is coming out of South Africa that the country is bracing itself for the death of Nelson Mandela, who is now on life support.

This man, who was labeled a terrorist, imprisoned, eventually freed and literally changed his country — I cannot begin to express how rare such a man is, or how much more we need people like him today. As I watch my own country flailing through the throes of a second Civil War, different from our first, yet just as vital to be won, and I wonder when our Mandela comes, or if it’s even possible here.

Many of us around in the 80s remember the songs of protest that were aimed at the South African regime, and so even for us Non-South-Africans, Mandela is a huge figure. I recently saw this story on the internet, that claimed The Special AKA track “Free Nelson Mandela” as the most potent protest song ever recorded.

I disagree. I say that this song, by South African band Savuka, fronted by Johnny Clegg, was even more powerful. It was released in 1987, by a mixed-race band, in Apartheid South Africa, at a time when Mandela was still in prison, and also called out the names of three martyrs of the South African liberation struggle – Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, and Neil Aggett. Listen to the track. I’ll include the lyrics below.

Johnny Clegg and Savuka – “Asimbonanga.”

Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (we have not seen mandela)
Laph’ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me

Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett

Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (in the place where he died)

Hey wena (hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (when will we arrive at our destination)


One Reply to “Asimbonanga”

  1. Can’t read this without thinking of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” as well. The world is lucky to have had even one Mandela – but we could sure use a bunch more.

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