Two Nobel Laureates on an Apartheid street

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Oct 30 2011, 07:01am hrs
Being black is our only crime, innocently sang South Africans struggling against humiliation, denial of liberty and physical torture under white Apartheid rule. The revolution to dismantle such racial isolation was totally driven by swaying to beats, music and impromptu songs. Speeches or lectures in meetings are too laborious and intellectual, said one of the black political heroes, People connect better when you drive a simple message with the natural African rhythm of life.

In their daily life during Apartheid days, blacks were continuously uprooted from home to segregated areas, given passes that prohibited entry to most places. Protesters were gunned down indiscriminately and en masse, their bodies strewn untended. That was the time when blacks would stealthily pick up murdered bodies from mass killings to bury them as per Christian rituals. Its very painful to go through old documentation of that time. White missionaries had entered their land, converted and baptised unsuspecting natives into Christianity. Yet these religious fundamentals disappeared disrespectfully into thin air in the white mans craving for dominance. After attaining freedom, the black community fished out the bones of known people and intellectuals who were tortured, and gave them fitting reburials. Aside from total breakdown of human dignity, abject poverty drove black people astray towards crime, yet the demoralised homeless would sing and hum together, Ancestors, tell us why black is our mistake that white people hate us so.

Their hero of heroes is known as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name. Even from the ferocious, highest security, solitary imprisonment cell of Robben Island he could inspire South Africas youth to mutiny against their white oppressors. From 1976 to 1986, adolescent students and college-goers revolted braving gunfire. Poets and singers, who inspired the uprising, were exiled. Desmond Tutu, the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town rose to global fame as an unequivocal opponent of Apartheid. When the world was sensitised to black persecution and inhumanity practised by South Africas white government, economic sanctions were imposed on it. In 1985, the US and UK stopped investments in South Africa, the Rand currency plunged more than 35% pressurising the government toward reforms. What finally resulted was Madibas freedom after 27 years in 1990 and South Africas liberation in 1994.

Madiba initially started opposing Apartheid with Gandhis theory of nonviolence. But after a certain time, he understood this was not going to work. He fled the country, got trained in guerilla warfare, and returned to advocate fighting with firearms. Students became violent, retaliated the governing regimes violent attack with counter-attack. He understood his enemy so strategically that when imprisoned he ignored a foolproof escape opportunity a fellow prisoner planned. Sure enough that turned out to be a government ploy to kill him if hed tried to break-out and blame his death on crocodiles and sharks in the waters encircling the island. He knew his country required him, so he had to take every precaution to keep himself alive.

When their beloved Madiba was released at age 72, the black masses were ecstatic and, of course, pelted out victory celebrations in song, dance and rhythm under the African sky. Madiba bore a peaceful temperament, grudged no anger towards the white regime, but he, too, danced in his now famous typical swaying style. His powerful leadership had inspired several black African intellectuals, musicians and singers to create world propaganda against South Africas white dictators. From 1960 to 1990 musicians like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela among others not only messaged the world of tyrannical rule through song, they also influenced world music with African beats and rhythm.

Whats most remarkable in erstwhile Soweto Apartheid colony, that was forcefully created by whites to segregate blacks, is that it produced two Nobel Laureates. And both live on the same street, the only street in the world that houses the homes of two Nobel Laureates. Madiba won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984. When in Soweto, we saw white people freely cycling around, our guide Japh said this signals that this is not a trouble-prone area unlike downtown Johannesburg, an anti-Aparthied epicentre. But socially, the black-white divide continues in South Africa. Is it hypocrisy on the part of so-called sophisticated Western societies that they chose to give the most admired Nobel Peace Prize to anti-Apartheid workers just to assuage their own guilt feelings Or to keep the blacks in check, and non-hostile in future In India, weve gone through colonisation, but the visible experience revealed to every visitor to South Africa compares more or less to Auschwitz-Birkenaus mass murdering museums where innocent Jews were brutally killed by Hitler.

Madiga is a superb intellectual, strategist, fighter, influencer and leader in the body and mind of every black African. Hes got about 250 awards worldwide, international rock concerts, songs and films were inspired by his struggle for social justice. His statue adorns several public places in the world. As you enter Johannesburgs Sandton Square you suddenly get dwarfed by a 6-metre Madiba, not on a pedestal, but allowing you to reach his ankles. My curiosity was aroused in Johannesburg airport when I saw large Madiba photographs inside a garment boutique chain. Called Presidential, this store was selling colourful, African origin batik printed shirts that was trademark Madiba dressing style. Ive seen San Franciscos Alcatraz prison sell prisoner outfits, but what an extraordinary tribute this was to the freedom fighter imprisoned for 27 years, who emerged to liberate his country and become its first democratically elected President from 1994 to 1999. I find it outstanding that people can experience his iconic image by wearing a Presidential shirt. In this last part of my African sojourn, I leave the identity of 93-year-old Madiba for you to discover. When you search you will find that everything can be diminished when we as human beings have tenacity and self confidence to overcome woes.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top managements. Reach him at