I’ve Crossed Famous Rivers

(Ndiwelimilambo enamagama)


For Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, born July 18th 1918



A slow dripped stone worn by indignities.

No epiphany, revelation, moment of truth

just the long rotten row of African Only.


Die wit man moet altyd baas wes.

The pale man must always be boss.

Die kaffer op sy plek. Nigger in his place.


Rolihlahla, Mandiba, Dalibhunga, Mandela.

Tree-shaker, clan-man, chief à la Bhunga

Russet, white-bellied, stripe-thighed impala


anteloping Africa. I’ve crossed famous rivers.

Less sprinter than long-distance runner coping

boundary by boundary hoping to let both


the bred Thembu kingmaker and royal mentor

first hit his stride as he shed skin by skin,

clan, tribe and stock but also to become


his names for all his people. Tree-shaker,

pathfinder, painstaker, a cross country

pacemaker moving dangerously out ahead.


Even as a boy to win but never to humiliate.

Discipline inscribed in years and genes of grit,

a stubborn smile that seems to begin in an eye


of a student once expelled for making a stand,

a tearaway eluding a planned tribal match,

a gardener of Robben Island sharing among


prisoners and warders his overspill of fruits,

Antigone crying at Creon’s unlistening will.

For 28 years never to stand still


Even on the same spot wearing out a shoe

to keep on and on running no matter what.

Talk, plot, debate, argument, growth.


Decades of gestation. A small village boy

he’d whiten his hair with ash in imitation

of his beloved father. Now parent to a nation.



Nkosi sikelel iAfrika. God bless Africa.

Laps of honour in a stadium of success.

Forgiveness. To win but never to humiliate.


Under a frost of grey a wise smile creases.

Yes, to father a country, but to have lost

my children’s laughter? I’ve crossed famous rivers.