The Mandela dance, the Madiba magic: Celebrating 100 years of Nelson Mandela

There are many angles in which to enter the world of Nelson Mandela. One of those angles is the Mandela dance that South Africans have come to call the Madiba magic. This is the angle that President Cyril Ramaphosa used as a hot button that differentiated Nelson Mandela from former US President Barack Obama during the Mandela Lecture.

Indeed the Mandela dance served as magic that went long way in loosening the rigid old muscular South Africa. It disarmed and melted hardened attitudes. The Madiba magic played a significant role in South Africa’s seismic change and led to national resurrection. It captured our hearts and mind s and became the rallying cry of Mandela’s mission of dissolving hard attitudes in a way bleach dissolves dirt.

But how can we better understand the Mandela dance aka Madiba magic? What is its source and inspiration?

The Madiba magic is located within the African value system. To ancient Africans the most important art form was the dance. Dance as an art had a sacred function that catalysed people into a community and glued them as one people.

The African dance is quite the reverse of primitive, for instead of being the mere instinctive expression of a person’s feelings for pleasure, it had a larger scope and intention. In the dance lied an inherent message that had profound implication in the way people lived. That is the scope and intention. And this scope and intention was the warp and woof of Africans.

The ultimate aim of the African dance rested on its ability to remould character, reform attitude and energise humanity that is prone for sluggishness and depression. The dance was livid because it wanted people to be lively. This is the way that Nelson Mandela used his dance moves. Nelson Mandela grew up in a very traditional family still held the age old African values. His dance moves were arms that disarmed. They were a hammer that hammered down his ideas of humanity united in diversity. 

It is difficult to bring diverse people together as one. But regardless, this is a messy task that needs to be performed. It is as Dr Martin Luther King Jr said in December 10, 1964 when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. He pledged his life to “a super highway of justice as Black and White men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems”. He further said: “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history”.

Having friends from outside ones race is certainly like walking into an unfamiliar world where one may not have the cultural skills to navigate that world. The natural flow of humanity is to identify with those like them in colour and background. The majority of people feel comfortable with, as they say, “their kind”.

The Nelson Mandela’s dance moves were magic; they were deodorizing and comforting ritual to a diverse people that distrusted each other. Every time he was dancing it was as if he was saying: So you want to have other people to become welcoming and sociable to you, eh? Good idea. You have to do one thing: become friendly towards other people, loosen up.

Over the years, since Nelson Mandela departed the public stage, the question to ask is; have we continued where he left? Have we grappled with that arduous, messy, but inescapable task of nation-formation? Perhaps we avoided the task out of laziness, a sense of convenience, or a naïve believe that things will just happen. But things cannot just happen.

A nation is visualized and then carefully, deliberately, consciously planned and built.

And now find ourselves in the nightmarish situation of belonging to a nation that reflected little or no sense of community; a space called South Africa that has no spirit lifting narrative but mistrust among the races. The mistrusts have birthed monsters that have since menaced all of us, exposing the seams and fissures of a space we imagine as a nation. We are spinning and spinning in a dizzying, ridiculous, violent dance. It is easy to blame others while refusing to look at yourself. The convenient thing people do is to condemn as racist, Black groupings that highlights the plight of the suffering Africans. 

We are one human race and must live with one another, as loving and forgivingly as is humanly possible. Forward, ever; backward, never.

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