“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).
“Mama Africa” was the name given to me in the Maasai Village in Kenya in 2005. I felt especially proud because I knew “Mama Africa” as the greatest musical revolutionary in the world, and one of my heroes – Miriam Makeba.
I had spoken of her not two years ago at lunch with her first husband, famed South African musician Hugh Masekela, who was performing here in Miami. She didn’t start out being a revolutionary, but sang of her life in South Africa under apartheid.
She sang the truth, and was banished from her homeland because of it. But she never wavered. It was her life. Some loved her for it, as I did. Others wanted her dead.
She outlived them all – until the Lord called her home at 76 this week – doing what she loved – singing for a political target (Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, who had received death threats after writing a book exposing the Camorra – the Naples-area crime syndicate).
I found it ironic and prophetic even as I listened to the voice mail of one of my dear white South African friends, Mark Hennegan. He was the one who introduced me to Hugh Masekela as well as Nelson Mandela’s sister, Ambassador Barbara Mandela; and Tony Cedras, who not only played for Paul Simon, but also honored me by playing at my 64th birthday celebration.
Mark had called to talk about the election of Barack Obama as the first African- American president of the United States. Mark was an Obama enthusiast; I was not. Mark is a Democrat; I am a Republican.
We had these great protracted debates in his restaurant on South Beach, Madiba’s, over some absolutely scrumptious South African dishes and wine. I often referred to him as the white boy who thought he was black. He had grown up as apartheid crumbled, with black South Africans who took care of him and his family.
He was my dear friend, and I loved him and his family. As two people who had grown up under racist regimes in different countries, we disagreed only on the part the Democrats and Republicans played in the civil rights of American blacks.
He was an Obama fan to the bone. To me, Obama was still a Democrat who I felt had manipulated racism to ensure the party’s continued power over black folk.
But even so, Obama had made history – not just for black folk, but for the world. While he was not my candidate, he was now my president. The emotional part of me was proud and elated. The more rational part said, “Now let’s see what his political policies really are.”
The more prominent issue was what his win did for the psychology of black children, and for those adults who had lost hope in a system they thought had abandoned them. They did not realize that whether they succeeded in their quest, all they had to do was dare to dream.
This was what Miriam Makeba had sung about. Even though she couldn’t even go home for her mother’s funeral, she continued to fight what she saw as injustice to her people.
I wrote to my black Republican friends during the last days of the election that if Obama won, we would be the butt of cruel jokes and mean words, but that if he lost, we would suffer an even greater fate.
We were already being demonized for just being out of the group and off the plantation – “Uncle Toms’’ and “sell-outs” – all for being Republican when most other blacks where Democrats.
We had also seen how black Democrats were when they lost an election. We knew they would not be gracious when they won, particularly when the winner was Obama.
Truer words were never spoken. But Miriam Makeba wrote the rule book. When they want to hurt you for speaking out, she would say, just keep on singing until the Creator says, “my good and faithful servant, come home and be at rest.”
Rest, my sister. Well done, “Mama Africa.”
Congratulations, Barack Obama.