page 1 - Visiting Poet [RiHp32yGK2U]

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ZA COM NMPP 2009/57-13-1


Visiting Poet [RiHp32yGK2U]


  • 1992-12-29 (Creation)

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1 audio clip
In-point: 33:29
Out-point: end of CD, 43:55

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Name of creator

(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

Biographical history

Name of creator


Biographical history

Editor and author. Collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (published 1994). Co-producer of the documentary Mandela, 1996. Editor of TIME magazine.

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Rick Stengel

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Scope and content

Nelson Mandela always enjoyed telling the story of how dramatically the Xhosa poet Mqhayi had burst into his young world, shattering myths and inspiring him to see beyond the barriers he had taken for granted. His telling and retelling of this story was based on Mqhayi’s visit to his Methodist boarding school Healdtown where he was sent to finish his high school education. His account draws the listener into the late 1930s institution ruled over by the colonial figure of Dr Arthur Wellington, whom virtually no one would question – until onto the stage strode Mqhayi who showed his rapt audience how they were the most important of all people. Mr Mandela ends by explaining that he later did, however, learn that it was backward to be tribalistic.

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Access by permission of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

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Copyright held by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

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  • English

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MANDELA: Now, because I liked the story very much, you know, because this fellow was a hero of mine. He was actually a poet laureate of the African people and he had come, for example, to Mqhekezweni, when I was a young man.

STENGEL: You met him?
MANDELA: Yes. I met him. Well, I met him at Mqhekezweni, but at a distance. Then I went to Healdtown to do my matric there. Now he lived in that area, in the Ciskei and one day, it was announced that Mqhayi was visiting the institution, Healdtown institution and that day was declared a holiday. Now the teaching staff was composed of black and white, all highly educated people and so we all assembled in the hall. There was the stage and there was a door leading to the stage. And the only person who has ever used, had ever used that door, was the Governor of the College, a Dr Arthur Wellington, who used to boast on several occasions to us, ‘I am the descendent of the Duke of Wellington who conquered Napoleon and saved civilization for Europe and for you, the Natives’, he used to say that and we used to clap. Later the word ‘Native’ you know, became unpopular with us and we insisted that we should be called Africans. But those days, referring to us as natives that the Duke of Wellington had saved civilization for us as well, we would clap! Now he was the only person who would use that door, but on this particular day, there emerged, there came in, a black man with a leopard blanket and a leopard gear on his head and carrying two assegais. Now that was something, you know, which we had never seen before. A black man, an African using that door. Because not even the white teachers had ever used that door, only Reverend Arthur Wellington, Dr Wellington. And Dr Wellington followed him, took a seat on the platform. Then there was, this chap was asked to address us. Now there was a wire across the stage for the curtain. It was a, man-, what-you-call, a manual curtain, you had to pull it to close it and pull it aside to open it. He was then asked, Mqhayi was asked to address us. It was a disappointment to me because I had heard such a lot about Mqhayi. I thought he would be a tall chap, you know, with striking personality and with a face full of intelligence. And who would be poetic, you know in talking, right from the beginning. It was a different type of chap. He was medium height. His eyes were sunken, you know, and an unimpressive face and then he started, now he was carrying these two assegais, he then started speaking, very slowly, looking for words as if struggling to get the correct word. He went on for some time in this fashion and then as he was warming up, he started, you know, making gestures, moving his assegai, swinging it. And in the course of swinging it, the assegai hit this wire. Now that transformed the whole situation and for some time he commented on this incident and the thrust of his remarks, which were well formulated, ‘this is not just an assegai hitting a string of wire, this is a clash between African and European culture. A clash between what is indigenous, which we value, and what is foreign, which we reject. Today it’s a clash which produces no results, it’s a clash which produces a stalemate. But the days are coming when African culture will prevail upon foreign culture’. Now he was saying this in the presence of Dr Wellington and the white teachers whom we feared, you know? And even African teachers we feared, because they were people with degrees and so on and we were still doing matric and that type of thing. And then having said this, he called upon the nations of the world to come for the division of the stars. And he says, ‘you Europeans and Americans, I give you the constellation, the group of stars known as the constellation, I am giving you these stars because they are the largest number of stars to be found together. You are a greedy community that fights over plenty. When there is enough and to spare for all of you. Because of your greed, you have started wars which have brought a lot of suffering to human beings throughout the world’. Then he says, the Asians, the Indians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Malays, he gives them another group of stars and he says, ‘you are many also, more than the European and American nations but you have an advantage because you have had a rich and old civilization. We look upon you to lead the world in living in a civilized manner’. Then he comes to the Africans and also divides the stars. But he said, says ‘now come you House of Xhosa, I give you the Morning Star because it is the most important of all stars. It is the star for counting years. The years of manhood’ and when he says so, you can see that he has reached the climax of his comments, because he goes down and kneels with one knee and we just exploded and clapped and when we went out, we said, ‘we didn’t know that we Xhosas are so important, more important than other nations’ and we had this feeling of self-pride but of course later, we realised that this was narrow, because the African National Congress was working for the unity of the African people, not for, of, one tribe. Its policy was not to extol just one tribe. But at that time, we were students. I was only 20 at that time. Backward, you know coming from a countryside.

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