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Weep not for Madiba

There will come a time
When history turns
When new heroes are birthed
And made more giant by fading memory
Of him who has now passed

Not yet interred
The time has already come
For those without sin
To cast their first
He should have done
He did not do
He could have done
They hurl

Empty vessel revolutionaries grown fat on
Revolutionary speak
Unexercised by revolutionary acts
Already vulture his legacy

Lesser mortals see fit
To remind us of his fallibility
Devils mock his un-saintly moments
Short poppies lust for growth
By taking aim at his celebrity

The time has already been
When the claims to his legacy
Are rendered hollow by the deeds of those
Who most make such claims

There will be a time
For anger against them
Who pirate his name
Who for thirty pieces of silver
Betray his life
Who in selling him out
Have sold us short

He needs no defending
His defence is written
In his people’s hearts
In statues strewn across the globe
In reams of tributes from high and low
For a life well-lived

It is we who must make our destiny
Who must constantly free ourselves from tyrannies old
From tyrants new

Yet when we weep
We weep not for him
We weep for ourselves
For having had too little of him
For what has come after him
For the likes of him who are not on our horizon
We mourn what has become of us
So soon after his light burned a path of hope

Trite exhortations call on us to keep him alive
Yet if we have become
More unequal
More divided
More inhumane
While he lived among us

What shall become of us now?
What shall we become now?
What becomes us now?

December 2013


  • Mike van Graan is the executive director of the African Arts Institute and is an adviser to Arterial Network, a pan-African network of artists, cultural activists, creative enterprises and NGOs active in more than 40 African countries. He is also an award-winning playwright.