Cry the Beloved Country- Hamba Gahle Madiba


I grew up in the most openly reviled country in the world.  Before I was old enough to understand the reasons, I was aware that hatred of South Africa was built on essential misconceptions. Its flagrant disregard of pretence made it conspicuous, not because it was worse than the more nuanced and subtle hatreds, the hypocrisies that lay concealed under laws elsewhere, particularly in Britain, but because its were worn onthe sleeve. It was easy to target what was visible. Yet I believe that that very visibility contributed to its redemption. Mandela was called out by that essential and brutal honesty, however deeply misguided its expressions. Reconciliation needs the truth as fundamental to it, and the truth was inescapable.

Near my first home.
Near my first home.

My early life was spent close to others not far from heroic, in quiet ways and my family all served South Africa with the deepest affection, the most emphatic allegiance. When Mandela walked downstage into the spotlight of South Africa’s liberation it was to eclipse the many others left in the darkness, and those he called out from the wings were, understandably, those whose loyalty he embraced and acknowledged. Mostly his fellow sufferers, and mostly black. Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, so many self controlled stars that ushered him forward, and stood back. There were many white ones too but in the black and white simplicity of the foreign press they are seldom seen. That is the way of a very bright light and his extraordinary self-effacing heroism flattens the perspective. I am driven to want to call out others, to fill the curtain-call of his life with those whose love for South Africa he expressed, and they were many, and many were white. He acknowledged it, always, but others forgot.

His death has struck in me a deep well of longing and homesickness.  It is a longing to recapture something seldom expressed. The country he loved and saved from itself was always more complex than portrayed. From a distance South Africa was reduced to easy generalisations. Apart from all whites as the oppressors there were smaller ones: Afrikaners were ‘verkrampte, at best paternalistic; Capetownians were smug and the citizens of Jo’burg  rude, thrusting and materialistic; English speakers ( well sort-of English) were too selfish to heed their consciences but held privilege ( and mining rights) instead. From a distance these clichés could survive, ( and clichés all hold vivid but only part truth) and the man whose long walk to freedom bound them into a new alliance seemingly did so un-aided. F.W de Klerk gets occasional acknowledgement, though not enough, because his courage was to risk complete loss, on the strength of his personal trust, and to take the frightened ‘wuth’ as we might say.

Nothing I would like to write is to diminish the ‘favoured son’ Mandela’s qualities or achievements, but perhaps to explain the dancing in the street outside his home in Soweto. We all loved what he loved. If Madiba was the ‘father’ it was to the family we grew up in, and the love for which never left us, even in its darkest days. Of course there were, and are, opportunists, who turned their coats in the political winds, the new members of the ANC in 1990 no different from the new minted Nationalists in 1950 but that would be true anywhere.

Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ was written and published in 1948, the fateful year in which South Africa was closed, the Nationalists, having rigged the constituency boundaries swept to power while Jan Smuts was helping to create the League of Nations and had his back turned, disregarding his country’s own fortunes. The classic literature of South Africa; Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm; Herman Bosman’s Mafeking Road, Fitzpatrick’s ‘Jock of the Bushveldt’; all express the intense and conflicted affection for not only the landscape but the people, all the people. This remains so in its contemporary fiction: Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, J.M Coetzee, Athol Fugard, Lewis Nkosi (who was for a time, before he had to flee in 1960, a close friend). It is too easy to imagine these are the words of the elite, liberated to ‘expose’ or articulate only because somehow, against the odds, enlightened and international.

I was blest with a possibly unique family; unique in how many divides it straddled, how many influences it absorbed. I have stories to tell, vignettes, and episodes, and perhaps the time has come to tell them. In honour of Mandela and to remember the raw material he had at his disposal. I believe it was that he recognised, and which tempered his self-control, because few were outright villains, and none were saints, but almost all were lovers.

Cape Dutch
Cape Dutch

Author: philipparees

A writer ( mostly narrative poetry) of fiction and non-fiction. Self publisher of fiction and Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God (Runner-up Book of the Year (2013), One time builder ( Arts centre) Mother of four daughters: Companion of old man and old dog: One time gardener, lecturer, wannabe cellist, mostly enquirer of 'what's it all about', blogger and things as yet undiscovered.

15 thoughts on “Cry the Beloved Country- Hamba Gahle Madiba”

  1. “I believe it was that he recognised, and which tempered his self-control, because few were outright villains, and none were saints, but almost all were lovers.”

    Perfect, P. I hope you do write your stories. It’s the least one can do in tribute to such a man, and such a place.


  2. So good to see you on such a day! Was feeling pretty blue before.Thanks for encouragement. I have been hesitating but it seems we need some bitter gall to spur the passion necessary.


  3. I was very moved by your words. I have often wondered what the changes in South Africa entailed for the white population. I also thought it was good that you acknowledged others, including F.W. de Clerk. While my esteem for Mandela was monumental, it is obvious he did not do it alone. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    I also wrote about my feelings on Mr. Mandela. I hope you will take a moment and read my latest blog post. Thank you.


  4. So great to find your post Philippa! Yes, we’re feeling the loss of this great man and wondering who will fill his shoes, if indeed any can. I loved your post thank you and so important to give due where it is. I’m nearly about to do a blog on him … unsure what I will write at this stage but I too feel compelled to say about the others, black and white, nearly forgotten …


  5. I sometimes think I was hugely blessed in those who were part of my childhood and adolescence, Trevor Huddleston was my school chaplain, Albert Luthuli had been at College under my grandfather’s directorship in Natal ( long before he won the Nobel or was known for his stewardship of the ANC) , in a way I had been privy to the soil in which Mandela rooted, and it was only when brutality took the reins that a fighter like Mandela was the answer. Although he led, he was also fostered, and what fostered his struggle ended with producing de Klerk. The dynamics of South African history all fed into it, and on our farm near Harrismith on a rock were carved the names of Retief and his band fleeing from British oppression. A fiercely independent nation, that I feel proud to be part of. I have so much material from which to weave stories. Have been looking at your book and its subject matter…we have much in common


  6. Hope your country of origin continues its move toward a more equitable society without destroying what it already has. So far, it has managed an extremely difficult transition better than anyone expected, not as well as some hoped (some are never satisfied).

    Mandela could have gone for bloodshed and revenge, and become a dictator for life, as others have done. Instead, he chose the path of a true statesman. And then gave up power to the duly elected leaders who succeeded him.

    I hope you do write some of the stories – they are part of you.



    1. Welcome Alicia, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I quite agree and have some trepidation about the possibility of what Mandela envisioned ever being fully established, although the booing of Zuma at his memorial suggests demands will continue for Mandela’s South Africa.

      The problem, as everywhere, lies in the leadership, and very few leaders are not self-seeking. One has only to look at the disgusting fortunes made by the Blairs, (and continuing) to see greed is not limited to those who never had (where it is more understandable) but to those who exploit temporary power to line their future, and who always had more than enough.

      I lived in a country awaiting a bloodbath. I pray it was permanently averted by Mandela!


      1. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely – I don’t get why people who have enough money to live for the rest of their lives want more, more, more.

        In every country. Greed is not only a sin, it is a sickness that doesn’t confer happiness. I watch CSI Miami sometimes, and I always notice the huge fleets of boats at the many docks in the city – just sitting there. The more you want and have, the more it costs to maintain it. You read about the German cardinal who spent so many millions on a residence – I expect better from our Church officials. And the South American millionaires – in countries of such great poverty. The new Chinese millionaires – who benefit in a country where people are still starving.

        It is enough to disgust.

        I pray Mandela’s legacy is good for South Africa – and an example for the world – long after now. He wasn’t perfect – nobody is – but he will be remembered as one who tried very hard to do the right thing.


  7. An excelent piece that goes to the heart. The truth is never easy or simple, life is always complex. I really do wish you write your memories because I really want to read them.
    Thank you for this opportunity to better understand your country.


    1. Welcome to my virtual home Joanna, and thank you for visiting and speaking out. I feel much encouraged about the idea of stories to reveal just the complexity you refer to. I have some already written and just awaiting publication. The New Years resolution made early!


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