Exuberance in Motion

If Nelson Mandela is not becoming one of the most written-about people in history, ranking with Muhammed Ali, Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and a number of others, then it may not be far wrong to say that he is the most popular statesman on the globe.

There is a memory I have which is in some ways unusual.  In the late-1970s when Mandela’s freedom was only graffiti on township walls, the apartheid government allowed international journalists on Robben Island.  Photographs of Mandela’s cell were published widely.  I was struck by one of the pictures which he had tacked onto his wall.  Even though it was small you could see what it was:  a naked young black woman running ecstatically along a beach.  What a lovely photograph for a man in prison to put up on his wall, I thought.

A year or two later I was in a doctor’s waiting room and paging through a National Geographic when I came upon that very photograph.  It was magnificent – an image of irrepressible joy and freedom!  I confess here that I stole that magazine from the waiting room.  I have it with me today.  I share the memory.

The description of the woman in the National Geographic is as follows:  Exuberance in Motion, a Jarawa woman dances an explosion of merriment that lasted for several hours… “I’ve never seen people so happy before”, said author Singh.

The article was of the Andaman Islands, off the east coast of India where the people look uncannily African.  It would be this too, that would have appealed to Mandela.  The reasons for that picture, near a striking one of Winnie, must have been many.   It was a fragment, as the poet says, that he shored against his ruins.

Will van der Walt ©


November, 2012

Image Sources:

The photograph of the cell is from either The Cape Argus or the Cape Times (Reuters?).  The clipping was undated, but is estimated at 1979.

The National Geographic photograph “Exuberance in motion” is by Raghubir Singh who also wrote the article [National Geographic “The Last Andaman Islanders”, Vol. 148, No. 1, July 1975.]

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