Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Birthday - When “Queen Elizabeth” Marked Her 70th Birthday

“You can dance, you can live/ Having the time of your life/ Ooh see that girl, watch that scene/ Digging’ the dancing queen...”

The birthday woman was everything in “Dancing Queen,” that great song of ABBA, the sensational Swedish group that took the music world by storm in the 1970s. A lover of songs, a great dancer and a lady fondly called “queen” by fellow student nurses in the 1960s, not only by virtue of her being pretty but also by having many things unusually common with the reigning Queen of England. She bears Elizabeth like the queen, both share the same birthday, April 21 (she was born April 21, 1943 while the queen, her namesake, was born April 21, 1926). Again both were born on the same weekday, Wednesday! Still they seem to have a common passion for music. One of the queen’s hobbies is dancing. So is her fairy tale alter ego.

Elizabeth Ayodele Oderinde, retired nurse and Iyalode Ijo of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Ayetoro, Osogbo, was indeed a dancing queen on December 21, 2013 as she belatedly, due to what family sources described as unforeseen circumstances, marked her 70th birthday. She regaled her audience with fanciful dance steps and a flamboyant display of joy at reaching the remarkable 70th milestone after such a long walk in life.

Tagged a celebration of “God’s Goodness,” the two-part event was an opportunity to go down memory lane. An offspring of migrant workers who literally traversed the length and breadth of the old Western Region in search of greener pasture, little Ayodele was born in Gbongan and had her primary and post-primary education in Agege, Lagos, Otan Ayegbaju (her hometown), Ile Ife, and wherever the call of duty took her parents. She later enrolled at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Abeokuta, for a course in midwifery and another in general nursing qualifying as a state registered nurse. She started work as a midwife at the Igbaye Maternity Centre, Igbaye, near Inisha in present day Osun State before crossing over to the popular Jaleyemi (Our Lady of Fatimah) Hospital, Osogbo. She eventually retired as a senior matron in 2000 having earlier transferred her service to the state’s ministry of health in 1977…

Inside the St. Benedict’s Cathedral Church hall, Popo, Osogbo, venue of the reception, the bandstand had a busy day beating the drums and singing songs of praise in high decibels. The celebrant could not help displaying some few more dance steps to the admiration of her husband, a retired principal, children and grandchildren in tow. Other relations, guests, former colleagues and teeming well-wishers did not miss out on the spectacle. Like in ABBA’s song they watched the scene, saw and clapped all the way, “diggin” the dancing queen. It was happy time and she had the fun of her life.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wreaths of Paradox


A kaleidoscopic interplay of some happenings and historical events on the life and times of Nelson Mandela


* Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 1918, towards the end of World War I, into a royal family. Paradoxically he chose rebellion and embraced revolution later in life on the wings of the African National Congress, ANC, to wage war against apartheid and its patrons.

* His name ROLIHLAHLA literally means, “pulling the branch of a tree.” His other less known name but of much traditional importance is his circumcision name, DALIBUNGA, which means father of the BUNGA traditional ruling body of the Transkei, the rural area in Eastern Cape where he was born. MADIBA is more of a term of reverence than a name per se. It is a clan or communal name used for older people, especially men deemed fit to be so honoured. Thus Mandela’s ancestral MADIBA name is also a preference for Nelson which is seen more as a colonial legacy hung on his neck by a teacher who could not actually pronounce his jaw-breaking but more meaningful ROLIHLAHLA.

* His father expected him to grow up in the village and tend the cattle. He was a troublesome and restless youth often indulged in traditional stick fighting. He eventually left Qunu to look for greener pasture on the other side of the fence in the city and thus began his long walk to political relevance in the annals of South African history.

Ironically the man who left prison in 1990 apparently to come and bury what remained of APARTHEID chose to be buried in his ancestral homeland of Qunu among his fellow blacks! Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, architect of apartheid, would be happy in his exclusive white graveyard.  

The day the world gathered in Johannesburg to pay tributes to the memory of Mandela was a day full of drama, irony and paradox. The main backers of the apartheid regime, for example, Britain and the United States, US, with their huge investments in the white dominated territory, took the centre, waxing in eloquence and praise singing Mandela.

* Up till five years ago, 2008, the person they were eulogising was still legally on a US terror watch list. Before then Mandela and some ANC leaders, including the foreign affairs minister, could only enter the US with a special waiver from the secretary of state because the ANC had been designated a terrorist organisation by South Africa’s former apartheid government.

* Amidst tributes, eulogies and elegies from fellow world leaders, Jacob Zuma’s voice was hardly heard. The political chief mourner hit a wall of jeers and boos any time his name was mentioned over the public loudspeaker. While the sporting nations were turning the traditional one minute silence in honour of the dead to one minute of seemingly unstoppable applause for Mandela, the angry crowd inside the First National Bank, FNB, Stadium were giving the referee’s substitution signal for change. Has Zuma hit the rock in his race for political relevance in post-Mandela South Africa? What could have made South Africans clap for FW de Klerk, former apartheid warlord, and jeer at an incumbent black president?

* But Zuma is a fighter and fighters are no quitters. Like Mandela, he is likely to fight on. It took his mentor (Mandela) years before he could get his law degree. He enrolled for the course in 1939 but he serially, by design or default, failed his law examinations until 50 years after (1989) and that was while he was in prison. Hitherto he was able to practice law in the 1950s with his friend, Oliver Tambo, with his two-year diploma which he got after his first degree.

* Winnie Mandela had a standing ovation when she was called to the stage. To most ANC supporters, she is the Mother of the Nation. She fought with both body and soul to sustain the momentum of the struggle in the townships while her husband was in jail and the men were in the trenches.

* The artifacts of the Nelson and Winnie Mandela Museum in their former home on Vilakazi Ngakane Corner in Orlando West, Soweto, attest to the relevance and popularity of Winnie. Mandela himself once jokingly remarked how famous Winnie had become in his absence that he was forced, on his release from prison, to be introducing himself as Nelson, the husband of Winnie Mandela, to world leaders and friends!

* President Goodluck Jonathan was equally hailed by the appreciative crowd not because of him per se but because of Nigeria’s unflinching support for liberation struggles throughout Africa. ANC was the biggest beneficiary of the nation’s gesture right from the days of Tafawa Balewa to Murtala/Obasanjo military regime. At the UNO, Nigeria was at the forefront of the diplomatic onslaught against apartheid. It was the Sani Abacha regime that almost made nonsense of the nation’s contributions in this regard when it confronted the big man, MADIBA, over the latter’s humanitarian intervention over the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental activist.

Rain beat a tattoo rhythm on mourners who came to the FNB stadium as early as 3am for the 11am event. They wore rain boots, raincoats and shared umbrellas for further protection against the biting cold. Asked why they had to expose themselves to such chilly weather, they were quick to quip back: “What is one day in rain compared with 27 years in jail?” It was a response that captured the true essence of the man called MADIBA. December 10 was payback day, a somewhat surreal global farewell for an individual once labelled a terrorist by the Western world.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

INHACA, the Mozambican Fantasy Island

The tourists come to sunbathe, swim and snorkel midmorning, and, in the afternoon, dine and wine in the splendour of a 'fantasy’ hotel while the 'natives' spend the whole day eking a living out of fishing… and ferrying stranded visitors on their backs to the often submerged jetties

The aircraft finally taxied to a stop. As usual, the air hostesses formed a guard of honour and beamed artificial smiles as they bade everybody goodbye. Some of the passengers were in no mood, though, to return artificiality for artificiality. They hurriedly went down the gangway to land on a long stretch of macadamised platform that looked like a disused tarmac. In twos and threes, they plodded their weary legs to the terminal building and meandered their way to the kiosk that passed as arrival hall where stern-looking immigration officers and customs men and women were lying in wait. Welcome to Maputo International Airport, Mozambique.

For the itinerant journalists among the passengers, it was another opportunity to know more about Africa, their continent. One of them was particularly ecstatic. He had longed to visit the country since he missed a golden chance to do so in 1986 when he was a member of the media team that accompanied the then foreign affairs minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, on a whirlwind tour of the frontline states. The itinerary had included visits to Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and a stopover in the then Congo (Brazaville) on their way back home. Somehow, they managed to visit all the countries except Mozambique for what they later gathered to be security reasons. The country was engaged in a civil war and flying on the periphery of the South African airspace (then under the grip of the apartheid warlords) to reach Maputo could compromise the safety of the entire entourage. After failing to secure a safe passage to Mozambique, Lagos (then Nigeria’s seat of power) ordered a detour. A few months later, the Mozambican president, Samora Machel, was to die in a mysterious plane crash along the same route while on his way back to Maputo from a neighbouring country.

Today, apartheid is officially dead in South Africa. The civil war in Mozambique has ended. The Mozambican people are out of the trenches, salivating their freedom on the major avenida (avenues) of Maputo and the lanes in the ghettos. Tourists and mercantile opportunists are hovering around what remains of the poor country after the Portuguese settlers had run away with the capital and skills that could make the crippled nation stand upright again. While the market-driven economy is still being propped up by donor nations, the country, itself, is taking advantage of its tourism potential.

Mozambique, like some African countries on the fringes of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, is blessed with natural, beautiful beaches that spread over 2,515 kilometres on the Indian seaboard. The beaches, coupled with an array of magnificent mountains and ‘fantasy islands’, constitute a magnetic pull of sorts that draws tourists to the country with a force which Isaac Newton, the discoverer of the Law of Gravitation, may even find difficult to explain.

It is this unexplainable force that probably drew the Nigerian journalists invited to witness the 2006 CNN/Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Award ceremony in Maputo to undergo a sea trip to Inhaca, one of the much-advertised ‘fantasy islands’. The promo was too inviting to ignore: “(Tourists) depart from the Maputo Mariner or Catembe Jetty (tide dependent) at 0800 hours. On arrival at the island, you can visit the beach or swim and snorkel in the lagoon or enjoy a walk to the east side of the island to see the pelicans and flamingos…”

They all jumped at the offer, oblivious of the ominous warning that the “tour may be cut short due to weather conditions”. Even if they were aware, there was no stopping this bunch of crazy, adventurous, bubbling journalists. Would they have cared a hoot about the unfolding re-enactment of the age of discovery which their journey to Inhaca symbolised? The euphoria was too much and off they went to brave the waves to seek a new world which is just a mere dot on the mighty Indian Ocean! They wanted to see the legendary birds that feed on fishes and swallow snakes, the coral reefs that look like pre-Cambrian sedimentary rock formation on the beach, and the ever-changing coastline subject to the whims and caprices of the tidal currents that sometimes kiss the shoreline in a dazing, even idyllic, romance or, if in a foul mood, hold it in a ‘tsunamic’ death grip.

They saw hell!

Yes, hell they saw. Ocean waves hit their boat at speedy intervals with a force strong enough to torpedo their dreams but, like the early explorers who set sail to discover Africa and the new world, they persevered and pursued their once-in-a-lifetime chance to sail out of Africa to ‘discover’ their own ‘new world’. They saw the massiveness of God’s creative imagination in the ocean waters that spread endlessly to seemingly nowhere. The more they looked, the more they saw. Water, water everywhere but none to drink. These latter-day mariners were teased to no end. What a paradox! The salty ocean waters could not quench their thirsty minds. That was even the least of their worries. Marooned in the middle of ‘giant’ waves and predatory sharks cruising somewhere in the deeps, they began to understand the full meaning of life. It takes only the brave, the courageous and the daring to embark on kamikaze trips to conquer new heights. The history books and the famous Guinness Book of Records are full of examples of brave men and women who defied the deeps, the heights and even the force of gravity to rediscover the essence of man in the universe. Great explorers like Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Vasco da Gama, Mungo Park, David Livingstone, John and Richard Lander and a host of others once dared the consequences to expand the frontiers of their immediate environment by plunging into unknown waters and territories. They dared, like the modern-day scientists who have put men in space, on the moon, and now in a floating station thousands of kilometres away in outer space. The trend continues even on a personal level. For instance, a woman has sailed round the world in a solo effort. Multimillionaire Richard Branson (of Virgin Airlines) has attempted to fly round the world in a hot air balloon. It is all in the quest “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” like Ulysses, Alfred Tennyson’s poetic character. For the advancement of learning, men of ideas will continue to experiment and raise the stakes for the rest of mankind.

The journalists, many of whom are admirers of late Tai Solarin, the renowned educationist and writer, took a cue from the old master and model who once said that if man had to be looking and looking all the time before leaping, many a man would remain transfixed while the rest of mankind would have leapt and conquered new territories. They damned the consequence by setting sail across the Indian Ocean in an open boat with rain coats as lifejackets! And, like the old explorers, they endured the turbulence of the waves to ‘discover’ an island where opulence and poverty compete for attention. The tourists come to sunbathe, swim and snorkel midmorning, and, in the afternoon, dine and wine in the splendour of a ‘fantasy’ hotel while the ‘natives’ spend the whole day eking a living out of fishing, selling coconuts and ferrying stranded visitors on their backs to the often submerged jetties.

The story of Inhaca is like the story of Africa, of which it is a part. For centuries, the continent remained unknown, unexplored and unexploited by the outside world. Then came the age of 'discovery', Vasco da Gama and company came calling and the continent’s destiny changed, culminating in the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884/1885 and the partitioning of the continent into British, French, German, Belgian, Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Mozambique, as a Portuguese colony, was fully exploited and drained to the dregs until 1975 when the ‘natives’, under the political aegis of FRELIMO, finally secured their flag independence after waging a guerilla war for 11 years.

But it is not easy to shake off 500 years of political, economic and, even, mental colonisation. The Portuguese hold on post-independence Mozambique is all-encompassing. Once listed as the world’s poorest country in terms of per capita income, Mozambique is a country whose economy is still being largely controlled by the Portuguese, the Arabs and, lately, the Asians who own most of the big companies and control the support services.

With the death of Marxism, the country has opened its doors to foreign investors, a euphemism for capitalists, though the avenues (avenida), lined with red acacias and lilac jacaranda, still bear telltale signs of the past experiment championed by the late Samora Machel. Most of them are named after Marxist-Socialist leaders like Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet state, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere (of the Ujamaa socialism fame) and the father of the nation himself, Machel. The usual Marxist slogan — “The Fatherland or Death” — is no longer etched on public walls and billboards. What remain standing are the statues and mosaic murals of the much adored Machel.

Today, reality has crept in through liberalisation of the economy, thereby “opening sesame” for international wheelers and dealers. And once again, the brave, daring but, of course, rapacious entrepreneurs who had once fled to safety in Portugal and South Africa during the war of liberation are back to “strive, seek and find” new opportunities in Mozambique. For latter-day adventurers like these entrepreneurs and the never-say-die journalists who braved the odds to seek new frontiers, Inhaca Island will always remain a metaphor for courage.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Passing Of A Legend

 At last the inevitable has happened.  Nelson Mandela, the man with the proverbial nine lives, is no more. Death finally had the courage to deal the final blow on the world’s statesman last Thursday, December 5, after hanging on the thread of life for so long. The significance of the event is not lost. Even Death held Mandela in awe. For more than five months, the whole world was agog with rumours and speculations of his impending demise.  Some of Mandela’s relations had even given up hope as they haggled and bargained for funeral rights, rites and rice! It was a helluva of a struggle! The undertakers and the media also laid siege to his home and hospital bed like vultures, yet Death seemingly spared the anti-apartheid hero more time to prepare for his final exit. 

And when death finally came last Thursday, it came in its usual style of tiptoeing to the threshold of Mandela’s home under the cover of darkness to strike. He had waited enough. The tall man who smiled with his eyes like his fellow world hero, Mahatma Gandhi, is no more. Though expectant, after being in coma for so long, Mandela’s death has come like a thunderbolt from nowhere. The entire humankind is “shattered and shocked” on the “sudden” passing on of the Xhosa warrior, activist and scourge of the villainous apartheid warlords who was respected and honored worldwide. He was not only the world’s most famous political prisoner he came out of prison to also become the most celebrated leader of a rainbow nation.

It is in this regard that Mandela’s exit will be most felt. The legacy he has left behind is that of a peaceful South Africa. A man who was imprisoned for life for fighting a just cause of self-determination for his people and who spent 27 years in solitary confinement was expected to come out full of bitterness and the temptation to seek a pound of flesh. Not Mandela. He saw the larger picture of a united, free and truly democratic South Africa.  To him the only way to forge ahead is not by invoking the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye but the spirit of forgiveness after all the years of suffering and indignity in the hands of the racist warlords of the apartheid era. Because of his greater concern for peace and the advancement of post-apartheid South Africa he bent backwards to placate the blacks, hug the coloureds and embrace the whites to forge a rainbow coalition. His laudable efforts did not go unnoticed by even his erstwhile oppressors. “He was a very remarkable man...a great unifier whose emphasis was on reconciliation,” noted F. W. de Klerk, the last apartheid president in a tribute to Mandela, his friend and joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Joyce Banda, the Malawian president, sums up the Mandela legacy in Africa. “As a leader, you must forgive. You must do something to unite the nation,” she said in a tribute to the memory of the Madida who remained a modest man to the last.

Asked what should be written on his tombstone sometime ago, his response was down to earth: “Here lies the man who has done his duty on earth.” Indeed he has done his part and left the stage but the world has refused to stop clapping since last week. The standing ovation may continue till eternity.
He deserves it.