I never had the good fortune to meet Nelson Mandela.
Yesterday, I took a friend to Mandeville, for a funeral of a neighbour. We spent a good amount of our trip stuck in traffic during the morning rush hour leaving Kingston heading west along the Mandela Highway. We were in no rush and were able to watch how other motorists coped with the loss of one lane westbound, to allow JUTC buses to ride freely eastbound into the city. No one was apparently excercised enough to offer any violent protest. I commented that Jamaicans, for all their apparent indiscipline, are a quite good a obeying rules. No driver took the option of sliding along the inside hard shoulder to get past the blocked road. Only a few motorcyclists decided to ride against the flow and take the bus lane to head west (not so unreasonable). A motorcade carrying the Governor General also did the same, as they sped out of the city. If the drivers felt like protesting, then constructive non-violence seemed the order of the day.
After the funeral, we needed to do a few errands in Mandeville, which involved getting a JP to sign some documents and then take them to the Post Office. We waited patiently for the JP to do his work, and talked amusingly with him and others in his office–who happened to be related to my friend. We then headed back towards Kingston.
During the drive back, my friend reflected on how death seemed to be making itself known more frequently as friends and neighbours seemed to dying more frequently. She was saddened by how many people she’d met during the day who had lost a loved one during 2013. She commented about how glad she was that my father, for whom she cares, had managed to stay alive after some bad bouts of illness, recently. I commented that we, Christians, are very conflicted about death. We say that it’s good, as it opens the path the Heaven and eternal life, but we then lament people’s passing.
Partway through our journey back, we heard the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. We were listening to Irie FM and Mutabaruka’s ‘The Art of War’ program. Muta cited news from CNN and BBC, then soon made a call to a Jamaican lady now living in South Africa, who was a close friend of the Mandela family. She told him about the plans for Mr. Mandela’s lying in state, and was going to find out about the funeral and then get back to Muta. We were struck by the irony of yet another death in 2013 of a ‘loved one’. Muta played clips that celebrated Nelson Mandela’s life and we sang along and tapped our hands as we drove.
I changed channels to listen to RJR and Dionne Jackson-Miller’s program ‘Beyond the headlines’. She was speaking to Jamaica’s Prime Minister, who shared memories of her contacts with Mr. Mandela. Our PM was speaking to the people, freely, as she is good at doing, and being very prime ministerial. I thought it interesting that she’d agreed to be interviewed for this purpose :-).
Within minutes we were on the outskirts of Kingston, again, heading back into the city, driving along the Mandela Highway. As I drove along during the evening, listening to tributes, I felt we should all have stopped our cars and had a moment of silence.
So many things that Nelson Mandela did and said affected our lives positively. He gave Jamaicans the great joy of visiting this country, in 1991, and thanking its citizens for the principled stand they had taken against Apartheid. He showed his appreciation for the way Jamaican musicians had helped many who fought against oppression. I loved the clip where he paid tribute to the words “Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your rights.” I loved Dr. Rex Nettleford explaining what the crowd of Jamaicans were chanting: it was not “Mandela”, but “Man deh ya” (our way of saying that the man is here).
The links between Jamaicans and Mandela is truly strong. I don’t believe in coincidences. Things happen for a reason. It’s not a major event in Jamaica to drive along the Mandela Highway, but I will hold onto the fact that on the day that Nelson Mandela died, I travelled along that road. Would that his thinking and actions continue to guide us to our destinations.