A Million Little Mandelas

Today marks one year since Mandela died. There is no cross left where we can go and bow to be saved by him. He left no ideology. He did not even – in truth – leave us with stock moral messages. In a celebration concert of his life – the last of our recent North American tour – we concluded that the only way to explain his legacy is the deep humanity he possessed and nurtured. His death leaves us with us. His mirror brings us to who we are, or try to be: human beings to the full.

My dear sister initiated the idea to celebrate him in the form of a concert. After all was done, she told me “it was so easy.” She only had to start talking and people started coming forward – a venue sponsored, artists willing to perform for free, media coverage – all from local Albany district communities. Soon enough a very special and inspiring event was brought together – as if the spirit of Mandela waved it on. In a way, it did, of course. But the event opened the realization that all we need in order to move to bring people together and find renewed meaning in life – both individually and collectively – is simply to enact what we are. We cannot pretend to be any more than human, but also not any less.

Mandela was no saint, no Gandhi, no motivational speaker. He is therefore not an example of good conquering evil or of unorthodox behaviour, nor that of an exceptional achiever. His decisions and actions were shaped not by lofty principles following a faith or chasing a goal. He simply had a knack for what is human and for what it is to be human. Humans make mistakes, therefore his readiness to admit to the many mistakes he made. To be human is to feel and recognize inhumanity and to act upon it, whether this is done by peaceful or violent means – and Mandela chose for both of those during the course of his life. The quality that made him stand out, was that he was able, also under the most testing circumstances, to still recognize the humanity of all around him, to draw that out and connect with that – underneath all ideology, enmity and oppression. This is not equal to forgiveness. No human can simply forgive all and everything all the time. But it does open the way toward the wisdom of balancing forgiveness with justice.

Even so, Mandela failed to prevent the economic sell-out of South Africa.  Soon we will return to that land (see our upcoming shows on the Cape South Coast below), where millions are worse off than ever. The noble intentions of a liberation movement to uplift an impoverished majority were already drowned in the pre-1994 negotiations. With all his tact and firmness on the political side, Mandela and much of the ANC did not at the time realize how they bound their own hands on the economic side. The world would not tolerate Apartheid style politics anymore, but it embraced the “Washington Consensus,” driving an aggressive corporatist agenda around the globe with immense (and often cruel) pressures on developing countries to comply. What we have since seen is the slow drain of wealth towards multinational corporations, in cohorts with a corrupted political elite, while the populace is placated by the fizz of consumerism. Instead of South Africa serving as a beacon of a country where humans actually do succeed in sharing equitably, we simply became part of the global wave of increasing income disparities, the hollowing out of employment quality and growing racism and crime.

And yet..

A million little Mandelas are working everywhere. Millions of little Mandelas are working everywhere. In starting the concert of 22 Nov, my sister was a little Mandela. All over North America we bumped into little Mandelas who open up spaces for a humanness to breathe despite shrinking support for creativity, the stifling of education and the economic drain of the middle class. Joke and I had hours and hours of conversation on the long roads across the States, looking into our performances and creations for ways to breathe our humanity more effectively. We decided to stop the “HA!Monthly” as a format to share online creations. These will now be channeled through regular posts without a subscription wall. We are also looking at our stage setup and performance frame – ways to grow the visual and theatrical components as well as providing a more firm feeling-based narrative. This newsletter will also come to you more regularly, not always with a direct message like this one, but always with creative material and updates to everyone regards performances, products and posts (doing away with local event emails).

Reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” i am graphically reminded that we hardly live in a post-ideological world. The most widespread, effective, calamitous and dangerous ideology of our times is free market fundamentalism. Since the fifties, it emanated from the university of Chicago’s economics department and stands in direct contrast with what Mandela has inspired us to be. Klein masterfully exposes its staggering inhumanity around the world and its brilliance in blindfolding us well enough to largely still follow and tolerate its puristic assumptions.

As the year comes to an end, my trust is not in any big saviour or technological innovation to stem this tide. It remains with the many people on the ground who discover and live what it is to be human with one another and the environment and who are able to balance their potentials with their limitations. Like Mandela, we need to reconnect to the human underneath the consumer, underneath the right wing or left wing, underneath the believer or non-believer.

With a million little Mandelas, the course of history can change for the better.


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