Connect to share and comment
On his 92nd birthday, celebrating the South African leader's love of music and dance.
Editor's note: In his 92nd year Nelson Mandela continues to inspire people around the world. Here's a story about Mandela that is one of GlobalPost's favorite stories of 2010.
BOSTON — To see Nelson Mandela so moved by a song that he gets up and dances is delightful.
On Mandela's 92nd birthday it is gratifying to draw attention to his love of music and dancing.
He strides in rhythmic steps and swings his friendly fists, occasionally punching the air with joy. To see the great leader shake the burdens off his shoulders and shake a leg is truly beautiful, a victory of the human spirit. The Mandela strut has been emulated across South Africa by dancers of all ages and races.
In "Asimbonanga," South African musician Johnny Clegg sings a song in Zulu, an ode to the imprisoned Mandela and to several others killed in the anti-apartheid struggle. It is at once a mournful song and one that celebrates those lives.
In a magic moment, when Clegg was performing that song in Germany in 1999, Mandela came onstage and danced. Then he took the microphone to declare: "Music and dancing makes me at peace with the world ... and makes me at peace with myself."
Then Mandela urged everyone to get up and dance. Who could refuse?
(In this video, Mandela comes onstage and dances at 2:42)
Mandela was once a man about town in Soweto and Johannesburg, going to the jazz clubs to enjoy performances by Miriam Makeba and Dolly Rathebe.
Today Mandela is fragile and cannot walk without assistance, let alone dance.
Even in failing health, however, Mandela has scored another triumph with the World Cup. He campaigned vigorously to get the world’s largest soccer tournament to be held in South Africa. Though he is increasingly frail, Mandela was to attend the tournament's opening. But then the death of his great-granddaughter in a car accident the night before brought the grieving leader to cancel.
A month later, Mandela's appearance at the closing match drew cheers at the stadium and from viewers around the world.
Nelson Mandela has loomed large during the 27 years I worked as a journalist in southern Africa, first he was a revered anti-apartheid prisoner, then he was a magnanimous head of state and now he is an influential statesman, lending support to campaigns against AIDS and child poverty.
I most recently saw Mandela three years ago at the offices of his foundation in Johannesburg. Hunched over and shuffling his feet as two assistants supported him, the thin, white-haired man moved across the hallway, speaking in a faint, almost child-like voice: “Yes, yes, I want to meet these schoolchildren. It will be good to see their play.”